There are several lessons that one should learn from the current crisis in Syria in terms of history, geopolitical strategy and the balance of powers.
America Has Always Been Reluctant To Engage In Foreign Wars
America has always been reluctant to engage in foreign wars. They waited virtually until the last minute to enter World War I and were literally forced into World War II by the actions of Japan at Pearl Harbour. As such, the current reluctance to engage in Syria is nothing new. However, the ghost of the Iraq War does play a major role in this new found affinity for non-intervention.
Another Reason Why The Iraq War Was So Bad
As with Vietnam, the lies and the treachery which accompanied the Iraq War have in effect produced a backlash and a total loss of appetite for any type of military engagement whether warranted or not, on the part of the American public.
While all war is bad, this is one of the singularly worse aspects of a bad war in that it promotes inaction even when action is most needed. Unfortunately, inaction can be far more costly in the long term.
Echoes Of Munich And The 1930s
In the 1930s, most people considered World War I so bad and so horrible that they were happy to go along with peace in our time. As events unfolded, the price of that peace turned out to be far higher than it would have been had they stopped Hitler at Munich.
US Secretary of State John Kerry was right to raise the spectre of Munich. Failing to respond to the use of chemical weapons now would open the potential floodgates for countries that were in dispute with their neighbours—and there are many. A world flooded with chemical weapons because the powers that be failed to act would be inherently much more unsafe and much more unstable than it is now.
In the end, we could have been left asking ourselves; why did we not stop Assad in Damascus?
Understanding Pax Americana
Imagine a world without American power.
Some would say that that might not be a bad idea and indeed we are all well aware of what happens when America does not live up to its professed values. However, America through NATO has helped to underwrite the longest period of peace in Europe—with of course the exception of what happened in the former Yugoslavia and even then it was American intervention brought that to an end.
In Asia, it is America that holds the balance of power and serves as a protective buffer between the ever-rising China and her wary neighbours—especially those around the South China Sea.
Further, it is America’s global reach and naval power which keep the major sea lanes open for trade. Without this the cost of doing business would rise significantly and diminish global output. The cost of gasoline and our utility bills would be far higher were this not the case.
Both Democrats, who have reverted to their “bleeding heart liberal” best and Republicans who now preach isolationism, seem unable to understand this Pax Americana and why it must be occasionally underpinned by the credible threat of force.
Using American force to send a message that the use of chemical weapons comes with a big price tag is a fine example of Pax Americana.
Securing Syria’s Chemical Weapons Is The Best Option
Even if the west did succeed in toppling Assad; what then? It would mean that a large quantity of chemical weapons would have been left open to al Qaeda operatives in Iraq as well as Syria, with ominous consequences for Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Turkey and even as far afield as the Caucasus region of Russia.
Securing Syria’s chemical weapons, if it can be accomplished, is the best possible outcome for the rest of the world. However, this would not have been achieved without the credible threat of force which emanated from President Obama and his Administration.
Yet, The Killing Goes On
Irrespective of what can be achieved in terms of securing Syria’s chemical weapons, the killing of innocent men women and children continues apace by conventional means. It is an unmitigated tragedy.
There are still no good options in Syria, save for a negotiated settlement but such is the nature of religious wars that they don’t allow for that. It is difficult to settle religious wars by rational means.
The Failure Of The Israeli Lobby
For me one of the most startling observations of the whole Syria debate within the US is the failure of the Israeli lobby to get what it wanted.
Usually, the Israeli lobby gets its way—as it did in the lead up to the Iraq War. In previous times, all a US President had to do was state that inaction would affect Israel and Congress would hastily fall into line.
That did not happen this time. The Israeli government lobbied for the military strike and AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) which is one of the most powerful lobby groups in Washington, tried to mobilise Congressional votes but no one was listening.
This is a highly significant development and a very strong warning to the hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—don’t do anything stupid.
Jonathan Ledwidge is the author of the book A Mannequin For President.