You might remember that on the same day another twig was added to the Royal Family tree, there was another, less important story in the news: 400 jihadis were sprung from Abu Ghraib Prison west of Baghdad in a brilliant operation carried out by Al Qaeda Iraq.
….I wrote about the big Abu Ghraib breakout at the time, asking the big question, “What do you do with 400 escaped jihadis?” Do you infiltrate them into Iraq and attack the Shia regime, or do you send them west into Syria where the jihadis have set up their own feifdoms?
My guess in that article was that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, leader of AQI/ISIS, would send the bulk of the 400 ex-POWs west to Syria, where they can tip the fight for power in his favor–not so much against Assad’s troops but against other claimants for the emir-ship of the jihadi zone.
And that seems to be exactly what happened. First the State Department casually mentioned, in one of its bland routine condemnations of violence that “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, also known as Abu D’ua, is now based in Syria and has changed the name of AQI to the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS).”
Yes, we might be sending a message that using chemical weapons is unacceptable. But we will also be sending this message:
You can be a hardcore militant whose goal is to set up a fiefdom in an unstable neighboring country (Syria) to serve as a base of operations for destabilizing a fragile government that we have spent lives and treasure supporting, and we will attack the government that would oppose you.
That, too, is a statement. A fucking stupid statement. I understand why people want to do something–chemical weapons are awful (though when the U.S. used phosphorus–also a violation of chemical weapons treaties–in 2005 in Falluja, I think, at least, some of those calling Syria’s action unconscionable were quiet then). But we have little ability, short of a full-scale invasion, to do something about the situation, except possibly make it worse in ways we can’t even understand:
These pro-intervention responses (likely not representative of the whole country, granted) are indicative to me of a country still not yet at ease with its role as a superpower (~50 years isn’t very long, granted). The idea of firing missiles on a country for the sake of one’s own credibility is inward looking, and smacks of insecurity. The idea of one sovereign nation ‘punishing’ another equally so.
There is only one good reason to intervene in Syria: to prevent more innocent civilians from being burnt and gassed to death in their own homes – one can only imagine the true horror. And while that is a fine reason for wanting to intervene, it doesn’t change the essential fact: none of the options laid before us will likely be effective in achieving that long term.
While hundreds of nations across the world would like to ease the suffering, they know implicitly that they don’t have the capability to do so effectively, and so the debate never even begins. While in the US — the world’s ‘only’ superpower — we wrestle with arguments of why and how, because we can’t see the elephant in the room: we’re powerless to help! (1). As a superpower the US cannot concede this explicitly. If strikes are launched, it will show that the US cannot concede this implicitly either.
(1) caveat: The US could of course launch a full scale invasion and win comfortably, but as we know from Iraq, it would not ease civilian suffering in the short and medium term, and the loss of life to them and us is too great.
Just something to keep in mind.