Mac McPhail Contributing columnist
September 11, 2013
Unintended consequences. It’s a term we have heard before, especially in reference to military action by the United States. But this time the warning was not from an anti war activist. It was from Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in reference to possible U.S. involvement in the civil war in Syria.
“We have learned from the past 10 years, however, that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state,” Dempsey wrote to senators John McCain and Carl Levin on Monday, Sept. 2. “We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action.”
In technical terms, the situation in Syria is a “mess.” The United Nations estimates that over 93,000 people have been killed in the civil war over the past couple of years. President Assad’s government army has been battling rebel forces, who are trying to bring down his cruel dictatorship. Assad is being supported by the Iranian government and to some extent, by Russia. The rebel forces actually are broken down into several different factions. There is a group fighting that want to bring a progressive, democratic style government to Syria. But there is also a large faction of the rebel forces which are heavily involved with Al Qaeda, the same people that caused tragic events of 9/11, and other extreme Muslim groups.
The call for direct U.S. military involvement grew after Assad’s Syrian government forces recently used chemical weapons to kill over 1200 civilians and rebel forces. This use of chemical weapons by Assad crossed the “red line” set by U.S. President Barak Obama last year. President Obama is now requesting approval from Congress for the use of limited military force against the Assad government, inorder to send a message about the use of chemical weapons. I suppose it’s OK to kill many thousands of people with guns and bombs, but the U.S. won’t tolerate gassing people. Jon Stewart, from “The Daily Show,” said if the president was as concerned about the use of guns in killing people as he was about people being killed by chemical weapons, he would ask Congress for permission to bomb Chicago.
If we get involved in Syria, on whose side will we be? It won’t be Assad’s. But if it is the rebels, who exactly will we be helping? And if we help the rebels win, who will be in power after it is over? Will it be democratic moderates, or “death to the U.S.” Islamist extremists? That’s one of the big possible “unintended consequences” of our involvement militarily in Syria.
There are others. How would the U.S., becoming involved militarily in another primarily Muslim country, look to the rest of the Muslim world? If we bomb Syria, will it stop Assad, or just embolden him? Will his allies, Iran and Russia, become more involved? What if Syria or Iran decided to retaliate for our military action by bombing Syria’s next door neighbor, Israel? You don’t have to ask if Israel would respond. You know they would, with force.
General Dempsey is right. We have learned a lot the past 10 years about “unintended consequences.” Remember how that Iraq war was going to be a “cakewalk,” and the “Mission Accomplished” banner hanging over the aircraft carrier, as President Bush spoke. Remember when we were told that Iraq would be a “beacon for democracy in the Middle East,” and how Iraqi oil would help pay for our military involvement? Well, it’s been ten years, and over three trillion U.S. dollars spent and over 8,000 American lives given, along with many more thousand soldiers returning home permanently scarred physically and emotionally. Iraq is far from a “beacon of democracy.” Muslim factions in Iraq continue to be at odds with one another, with whoever is in power oppressing the others. The onetime large Christian minority has been reduced dramatically as Iraqi Christians flee the country to avoid persecution and death. American soldiers fought bravely in Iraq and the end results have no reflection on their service. But Iraq did not turn out as was intended.
You can’t always be sure what will happen, especially when it involves countries and military action. And sometimes there is such a need and a necessity that you have to act. But is this a time for the U.S. to act militarily in Syria, or are we headed for another list of “unintended consequences?”