With all of the recent discussion regarding the American role in Syria, I think it might be helpful to review the results of the American role in other conflicts in which we were thought we had an interest but had not been directly attacked ourselves. I think the brief history is very instructive.
In my lifetime: We supported Batista in Cuba but we got Fidel Castro, we supported the Shah in Iran but we got the Ayatollah, we supported Chang Kai Shek in China but we got Mao Tse Tung, we supported President Diem in Vietnam but we got Ho Chi Minh, we supported the Mujahadin in Afghanistan but we got the Taliban. In our most recent crowning achievement in Iraq we removed a Sunni government that was replaced, in the name of democracy, with a Shia government, and thus created a Shia axis with a straight line of troublemakers from Iran to Iraq to Syria and, in Lebanon, to Hezbollah.
With this kind of empirical evidence ranging over 75 years, involving both Republican and Democratic administrations, we can only come to one conclusion. That is, when we involve ourselves in the political affairs of third-world countries, we really do not know what we are doing. In the end, the cover stories — the “Domino Theory,” “weapons of mass destruction,” “we have to fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here” — all turn out to be nonsensical sales slogans with which we deluded ourselves at the time.
So, if this is what happens when we do these things, the next question is obvious: Why don’t we stop doing them?
Do we really understand who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in Syria? I doubt it. If we get involved, will we be able to avoid the law of unintended consequences that will probably get us into deeper trouble as it has in the past? Very unlikely. Are we going to avoid greater involvement than an “unbelievably small” attack? I don’t know anyone who believes that.
So, what should we do? First and foremost, we need North American energy independence. I disagree with the president that the primary test for the Keystone Pipeline is its environmental impact. At this moment in time, I believe the primary test is determining its contribution to energy independence. Yes, regulate stringent safety requirements, but keep it moving. Ditto for fracking, horizontal drilling and offshore drilling. These can be replaced over time as alternate energy technology improves, but we need them now. Let’s also see, calmly, what we can do with safe nuclear as it is our only current non-polluting energy source that can produce the amount of power we need to move the needle.
I also disagree with the Republican position that we should avoid spending taxpayer money for R&D to develop alternate energies and vehicles not dependent on imported hydrocarbons for the same reason. Taking Osama bin Laden at his word, we would not have had 9/11 if we did not have a major Western military presence in the Islamic world as a result of the first Gulf War. As we all know, we would not have had the first Gulf War were it not for the oil in Kuwait and the possibility that Saddam Hussein might have tried to run the table on the whole Gulf oil production capacity had he been successful in his first conquest in Kuwait. Yes, despite all the high-minded Jeffersonian rhetoric, it really was about oil. Not to steal it, as the paranoids on the left seem to believe, but just to keep it flowing without extortionist pricing. Our national need for energy independence, and with it the possibility of avoiding another war, now trumps any free market economic theory.
In other words, whatever future policy we intend to follow in the Middle East should have to stand on its own merits and not be driven by our need for their oil. We should then be able to avoid trying to disguise our selfish motives by packaged them inside some empty slogans, trying to sound as though we were on the side of the angels, when the rest of the world sees right through us.
With North American energy independence and a policy not based on our need for their oil, we can then come to the realization that we cannot figure this one out. In Iraq, the Sunnis and Shias are blowing up each other’s mosques with the congregations still inside. In Afghanistan when the Taliban were in control, they were killing people for simply not being religious enough. In Egypt, there is a struggle to the death between the Muslim Brotherhood who want to use the police power of the state to impose their version of Islamic law by force and those who want to resist and support the military. This is true even though the military has overthrown the democracy for which they supposedly had their revolution.
Further, Hamas in Gaza not only wants to destroy Israel but also wants to impose a Sunni Islamic state on the Palestinians. Hezbollah in Lebanon also not only wants to destroy Israel but wants to impose a Shia Islamic state on the Lebanese. To make matters worse, Israel has an orthodox faction that believes that God runs some kind of divine real estate title company with particular emphasis on the allocation of tribal land in the Eastern Mediterranean and has ordained that their particular tribe is entitled to displace Palestinians from their territories in the West Bank because that is how God wants it.
With this combination of bloodthirsty lunatics and religious fanatics, with rational moderates hiding under the table, it would be the height of intellectual conceit to assume we’ve got this figured out. Let’s come home and stay home. Let’s not sacrifice any more lives, spend any more money or expend any more brainpower in trying to clean up this mess. If anyone has a moral obligation to step in and fix Syria, it is the surrounding Muslim states with lots of money and lots of their own military resources. If they don’t, please tell me why we should.
Let’s also drop the “isolationist” name calling. We can get involved when there is a solid reason to do so and stay away when we are about to start another round of expensive and deadly fumbling around. In this, I also disagree with the president when he describes his opposition generally as “war weary Americans.” What we are weary of, very specifically, is expending lives, money and international goodwill in continuing to try to sort out the madhouse that is the Middle East.
I’m happy to see that we have a shot at eliminating a large stockpile of poison gas which probably poses a bigger threat to Russia, with its own Islamic extremists, than anyone else. Let’s do that, declare victory, let the rest of the region settle its own affairs, and remember that charity begins at home.
Michael Balk lives in Beaver Creek.
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