Thursday, June 14, 2012



According to this morning’s (Thursday, 6/14/12’s, page A8) Wall Street Journal, the CIA and the State Department are ramping up their aid to the opposition in the (Let’s call it what it is.) Syrian Civil War, known as the Free Syrian Army (“FSA”). Our intelligence agencies, working through proxies, primarily the Gulf states, are helping the FSA with logistics and communication, primarily to ease the movement of supplies to the FSA.

In determining and planning its moves in Syria, the U.S. operation is drawing on its experience in Libya, as if that now lawless land, where no effective government is in place and retribution is the guiding force behind the machinations of the various factions formed after the overthrow of the murderous Colonel Gadhafi, is a glowing example of fruitful intervention in other people’s conflicts.

Who knows what’s next? The French would like to go further, asking the U.N. Security Council to vote on a resolution giving U.N. members a mandate to intervene, even militarily, in Syria. Given Russia’s and, to a lesser extent China’s, support of the Assad regime, this resolution will never pass. Russian intransigence on this issue almost makes one grateful for the Cold War.

Why am I currently so happy that the Russians stand in the way of a more robust western intervention in Libya? I can only think of December of 1979, when the Russians invaded Afghanistan. The West, and especially the United States, felt it incumbent to do everything possible to thwart Russian colonization of that landlocked no man’s land. Even the normally pacifist Carter administration was enthusiastic about a surrogate war in Afghanistan, and that enthusiasm picked up considerably when the Reagan administration assumed office. Just as in Syria today, we worked through surrogates, primarily Pakistan but also the same Gulf states whose scores we are helping to settle in Syria. We started out just providing logistical support to what was then called the mujahideen. As the war dragged on through the ‘80s, this support ramped up to the point at which we were providing all sorts of arms, including Stinger missiles, to this ragtag band of resistance fighters. Their eventual defeat of the Soviets, and the Russians’ withdrawal from Afghanistan with their tails between their legs, was considered a major victory in the Cold War and one of the final straws in the fall of the Soviet Union. Both, especially the latter, were exaggerations, but the action in Afghanistan drew wide and bipartisan support in this country; even Democrats who would reflexively oppose anything President Reagan proposed were solidly behind his Afghan strategy.

So what was the result of our Afghan intervention? The mujahideen morphed into al- Qaeda. A scion of a wealthy Saudi family named Osama bin Laden made his bones in Afghanistan and moved quickly up the ranks of the jihadists, primarily through his monetary contributions but also through his charismatic appeal to this group of people who swore to defend and impose their version of Islam to the death. The Taliban eventually cleared out all alternative rulers in Afghanistan, primarily through making peace with bin Laden and al-Qaeda, allowing bin Laden’s people free reign in a largely ungovernable Afghanistan. And the rest is history: worldwide jihad, 9/11, the “war on terror,” Iraq, and Afghanistan, which would have been the Russian’s problem and quagmire were it not for our intervention, has become our problem and quagmire.

While I can’t understand the geopolitical impulse to oppose everything Russia, either Soviet or post-Soviet, does in order to fulfill the U.S. government’s, and especially the U.S. military industrial complex’s, ever present need for a bogey-man, I can understand the humanitarian impulse that leads us to want to do something for the Syrian people against a second generation tinpot who, just like his father, shows no compunction about using anything, including mass murder, to keep his people under his thumb. But we have to use our heads as well as our hearts. The parallels to what appeared to be the successful Afghan intervention but what turned out to be a geopolitical disaster on a massive scale, are too stark to ignore. We try to reassure ourselves, to tell ourselves that we are smarter now, that we have learned from our mistakes, but the historical evidence, and especially the recent historical evidence, provides little support for such a contention.

Yes, we’d like to help the Syrian people; what decent people wouldn’t? But we wanted to help the Afghan people, too. The result was a disaster for us and seemingly endless misery for them. A little humility is in order here; we have neither all the answers nor the capability and resources to help everyone the humanitarian impulse would lead us to help.

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