At Saturday’s session of the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference in Washington DC, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin made some remarks, and among those that prompted the media to go berserk, she said of the potential of US involvement in that conflict that we “should let Allah sort it out.” I actually saw one site on which she was referred to as an “isolationist” for this view, but such claims are laughable given her in-depth understanding of international trade and national security. I saw another site suggesting that she didn’t know what she was talking about, or wasn’t qualified to comment. Either way, it seemed more likely that the sites and authors in question had more trouble with who said it, or how it was said, because I believe the vast majority of Americans probably side with Governor Palin on this issue. Apart from the fact that most Americans haven’t the patience for another middle-eastern military engagement with indistinct goals and a muddled mission, there are some very practical reasons why she is right about all of this. Mostly, it comes down to the fact that it’s a no-win situation for us, because while the horrors of what is going on in Syria is tragic in human terms, nothing the US can do will effect an end to the suffering, instead only adding to it with our own losses.
The reports this past week that the Assad government had crossed Obama’s “red line” on chemical weapons seem not to be as certain or as specific as our engagement should require. There are reports that Sarin nerve gas had been used, and that more than one-hundred had been killed in this manner. If true, it’s an egregious and brutal use of some very insidious weaponry, but it must also be said that if killing one-hundred or more civilians by this manner is a trigger for war, why did it take so long for us to engage Saddam Hussein? In the early years of the Clinton administration, Hussein used precisely this sort of weapon on his own civilians in Southern Iraq.
Advocates of intervention in Syria claim that what we should do is enact a “no fly zone” over that country. They insist that this is as far as we need go, but there are a few problems with this thinking. Russia has recently delivered more advanced surface-to-air missile capability to Syria, meaning that our aircraft would be subject to shoot-down in a much more threatening fashion. Is all of this really worth losing our airmen and our aircraft? I don’t see a rational justification. If this were about defending the United States, our men and women will go to the ends of the Earth in pursuit of our defense, but I know few who think we ought to spend their lives frivolously or as a matter of charity, particularly in a place where we have no particular interests or friends.
The fact is that the so-called “rebels” are simply al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-backed fighters much like those who took down Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. Nobody misses Gaddafi, but as the events at Benghazi last September demonstrate, the volatile nature of an environment only loosely-controlled by provisional governments but dominated on the ground by foreign fighters is not the sort of outcome for which Americans should be fighting.
Bashir Assad is a brutal dictator, but those “rebels” who face him are not much better. We have seen this scenario play out before, and we’re witnessing its aftermath in Libya and Egypt. The attack on our facilities at Benghazi was born of a similar situation, inasmuch as after we provided air cover for the “rebels” in that country, they immediately shifted gears and wanted us out as they began to build their Islamic Republic. In this sense, we have no friends at all, by any definition, so that it’s impossible to understand why we would put Americans’ lives at risk to assist any of them. In this context, it is easy to understand Governor Palin’s sentiment. We don’t have any friends there, no real national security interests, and therefore, no justification for jumping in.
At the same time, the Russians are heavily invested in Syria and the Assad regime. Iran is pledging forces to his defense. Should we really consider placing our already over-stretched forces at risk for this? Do we risk a wider war in the region if some Russian technical advisers are killed in a raid on a surface-to-air missile site? More, if al-Qaeda-connected groups were to take over Syria as they have done in Libya, what will that mean for Israel that must live under the constant threat of Syria. Which is worse for that island of liberty: A neighbor that is predictably antagonistic and dangerous, or a volatile tempest filled with elements that feel no restraint born of relations to Russia or any other major power? I’m not inclined to guess as to how the Israelis might feel about the matter, but I suspect that an al-Qaeda-driven neighborhood is not the most pleasant prospect the Israelis could imagine.
There is one final consideration in all of this, and it goes to the absolutely detestable leadership we’ve had over the last few years: Americans can hardly trust a foreign policy that has squandered opportunities and lives in the manner that has been the hallmark of the Obama administration. Do we wish to subsidize a foreign policy that is concocted by the likes of Samantha Power? Do we wish to see the United States entangled in yet another quagmire in that region in which we have far too few friends given our more than two decades of exertions? How much treasure has been spent, and how much of our blood has been spilled in the pursuit of policies with only vague platitudes about creating or supporting “democracy?” In which pest-hole has that so far succeeded?
When critics of her remarks launch into their narrow-minded tirades against her alleged lack of foreign policy knowledge, or her supposed “isolationist” views, I can’t help but remember that these same critics would attack Governor Palin whatever her position had been. Instead, her remarks serve as a flashpoint not for their true policy objections, but instead for their unabashed, unremitting hatred of Sarah Palin, the person. When one carefully evaluates the facts on the ground in Syria, the hopelessness of the situation becomes evident, and the foolishness of any American engagement there becomes clear. In Syria, we have no friends, but only enemies, who hate us as much or more than they hate one another. Were we to intercede on behalf of the so-called “rebels,” were they to prevail, we would soon find ourselves under the gun to get out. Most Americans are well beyond fatigued by this procedure, as it has been the trend in all our engagements throughout the Muslim world in the last two decades, so that unless the United States or its interests come under direct threat of some sort from actors in the region, our answer should be as Governor Palin wryly noted: “Let Allah sort it out.”