The stories out of Syria are utterly heartbreaking. The government of Bashar al-Assad has been shelling civilians indiscriminately in what can only be a desperate act to maintain control. Brutality has worked for the regime in the past, but this has taken it to a new level. It has become a civil war, with Arab nations openly arming the Syrian National Council that is likely to be recognized as the legitimate government by an international panel.
We do not know much about what is happening in Syria because the news blackout has been very effective. What we do know is that outside of that nation things may be hardening rapidly. This highlights the limits of what the USofA can do in a world of revolution – and also the great opportunities if we change how we do things.
The situation is a bit puzzling to most Americans because we are used to simply imposing our way on nations like Syria. A few cruise missiles, a bombing run here and there, and soon we have a different situation. That will not work in Syria for the same reasons we knew it would not work in Libya. Strong action by our military will only hurt the reputation of the rebels in the long run – they have to have the commitment from other Arab states in a leadership role. Then an international military operation might possibly start.
This is important because it highlights what we get by spending around $700 Billion every year on Defense, roughly 43% of global military spending. We can push buttons and make things blow up hundreds of miles away, but without the commitment of the rest of the world we might only make things worse. For far too long our very capable men and women in uniform have been asked to do things that were better left to diplomats and politicians unwilling to do their jobs.
That’s the problem with a strong military – you tend to use it, even when you shouldn’t.
Syria itself is far more than heartbreak, however. Its longtime alliance with Iran is being strengthened and highlighted. Once Syria breaks, Iran will be utterly alone and will have shown its hand as a dangerous force in support of despotism and disaster. Arab states’ action against Syria is probably just a prelude to what they will feel compelled to do against Iran. And there is considerable pressure mounting in Iran that, like Syria, is not well reported to the world.
The role of Russia ibacking al-Assad could prove to be the next domino after that, but it will take far more than embarrassment in Syria to topple Putin. But he has his own problems.
Over the short run, we will have higher oil prices. This situation will not be resolved quickly if it is to be resolved well, and that will cost us. This cost is relatively unimportant, even as our economy struggles to gain momentum. It is much harder on the people of Syria, who need relief immediately. It may be coming soon because the world appears to have had enough.
If Syria does fall and pressure is increased on Iran for either democratic reforms or open rebellion, most of our need for a strong military deployed in forward bases around the world is greatly diminished. We cannot go on a cutting binge now, but we may have tremendous opportunities in the near future if we do this properly. The price of gasoline right now is an utterly trivial thing compared to the stakes for us if we have the patience to do this properly. I think we can expect the press and the Republicans to whine relentlessly about it, however, so it will take some guts to stay the course. A little directness and honesty from the administration asking us to be patient would be very useful.
However this plays out, we can be sure that a brutal dictatorship has been laid bare and will at least never have the influence it once had. Their ability to cause mayhem with terror groups and proxies fighting Israel will never again be what it was. Hopefully, they will cease to exist completely and there will be a real chance for peace in that part of the world. But as heartbreaking as it is to watch, our role is to support, not force, the revolution that will change everything. We’re not used to doing things this way, but there is a good chance that we won’t need anywhere near the force we’ve had if it is done well.
Bless you, people of Syria. You have struggled for so long.