Gary is an author, trial lawyer, Mequon-area resident and town of Cedarburg supervisor. He is a columnist for the News Graphic and writes for several Wisconsin area magazines and is a national columnist with The American Thinker and PJ Media. He lives with his wife, Lisa, and has three sons ages 18 to 28. Gary won Ozaukee County in his bid for the Wisconsin Assembly's 60th District in 2011, but came up just 58 votes short.
The current uprising and civil war in Syria presents a very real dilemma for both President Obama and America. It seems that no two people have the same solution. The problem is so complex that our president is actually taking advice from conservative think tanks and ignoring the advice of a majority of his far-left cabinet. Don't blink, because this may be the only time in history you will witness this. The action America needs to take will not occur in Damascus nor will it be arrived at by analyzing Middle East politics or national intelligence reports. It will only be resolved by facing one of the greatest crises America has ever faced – right here at home.
A short history lesson is called for in order to appreciate the complexity of the Syria problem. It begins in Tunisia, the smallest country in North Africa, with a population the size of New York City. In December of 2010, a 26-year old Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his wares by a municipal official. Mass demonstrations fueled by high unemployment and government corruption followed, resulting in the January, 2011 abdication of longtime Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power. It was the beginning of the 2011 "Arab Spring" - a wave of revolts, demonstrations, protests and counter-revolution in Bahrain, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Sudan, Lebanon, and most recently, Syria.
The fallout from the Arab Spring continues to be the replacement of reliable, relatively secular American allies with unstable Muslim regimes claiming democracy but loudly proclaiming anti-American sentiments. History repeats itself if allowed to, and one can easily see how the Arab Spring could give the world more of the same anti-western, anti-American, and anti-Israel regimes which resulted from very similar revolutions in Cuba and Iran during the 20th century.
This naturally begs the question of proper role that the United States should play in the Middle East. It turns out to be a question which transcends political ideology. Many Americans argue that America should intervene in order to ensure an outcome that protects human rights, helps our allies in the region, eliminates a safe haven for terrorists in the Middle East, and diminishes Iran's influence in the Arab world. Many others feel strongly that America has less power to shape events than it used to and with American military bases in 130 countries, or about 66 percent of the world, we are already spread thin enough. Which brings us to Syria.
As is usually the case, almost every problem in the Middle East has something to do with religion. Current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite Muslim who came to power via a sham election with only one candidate in July of 2000, succeeding his father, Hafez al-Assad. Syria is 74% Sunni Muslim, 12% Alawite Muslim, 10% Christian, and 3% Druze. Alawis follow a branch of Islam which has wandered so far from its roots – including a belief that there are many manifestations of God, including Jesus - that many Muslims no longer consider Alawite to be a form of Islam. Despite promises of reform, poverty, repression, and corruption have grown in Syria. Strong sectarianism, the momentum of the Arab Spring, and the memory of 10,000 Syrian residents slaughtered by al-Assad's father have festered and resulted in major protests in Deraa in March of 2011.
Elements of the Syrian army defected, forming the "Free Syrian Army." This rebel army protected protestors in cities along the Lebanon border. In February of 2012, al-Assad's government began a brutal and indiscriminate shelling of the city of Homs, killing dozens daily. Over 6,000 Syrian citizens have been killed and the city has been surrounded. An effort to condemn the violence in the United Nations was vetoed by China and Russia, the latter of which sells billions in arms to the Syrian army. For months, America, Britain and France, along with Turkey, Israel and Gulf Arab dictatorships, have had to resort to a covert game plan, attempting to shape the outcome in Syria by inflaming sectarian fear and division.
What is happening in Syria is a revolution of the rural Sunni working classes against the Alawite-dominated and Iran-supported government which has profited from the al-Assad regime – seen as a dictatorship by many. Whether to remove al-Assad and/or assist the rebels is a question still being debated in international circles, including right here in America. Last month President Obama ignored advice and strong recommendations regarding Syria from almost every senior member of his national security team, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and then-CIA director David Petraeus. A president who has long believed that the soothing tone of his voice alone can quell the seas, resolve world conflict, and pacify even the most brutal of Middle East dictators went rogue on the very national security team he had assembled around him. In rejecting their advice, he refused to provide arms or assistance to the Syrian rebels and vetoed any possibility that the United States would become more visibly embroiled in the civil war there. Every level of the U.S. government from the Pentagon, the CIA, and the State Department was pushing for the U.S. to assist in fight the al-Assad regime. President Obama personally blocked it.
Not long ago Obama said that the use of chemical weapons by Syria against its own people would constitute a "red line" which if stepped over would be resolutely opposed. That red line was apparently crossed recently as intelligence reports by France, Great Britain, Israel, and the U.S. all indicate that chemical weapons have been used by President Bashar al-Assad against his own people. Now it appears that Obama is moving the "red line" and the White House appears to be arguing that the red line hasn't yet been crossed.
Since the Vietnam War, America has been gun-shy with regard to intervention in foreign conflicts. The Iraq War didn't help matters, revealing a tendency to mistake power-hungry thugs like Nouri al-Maliki for friendly democracy-lovers. But the Syrian uprising has turned party politics on its head. Liberals, who have long opposed American intervention, including Obama's national security team and even the liberal UK newspaper The Guardian, are now favoring U.S. intervention. At the same time, conservative think tanks such as the Cato Institute, are lauding Obama's refusal to arm the Syrian rebels.
Many liberals are arguing that Syria is not Iraq and it is not always wrong to intervene. Motivated by the brutal murder and maiming of children and their parents by Bashar al-Assad's troops, many on the left are urging U.S. sabotage, electronic interference with the Assad forces' communications, the offer of incentives to high-level Syrian defectors and the public naming of those units directly involved in the current brutality and their commanding officers. Showing signs of concession, they note that while military action to thwart Iran would have terrifying consequences, so too would an Iranian nuclear weapon.
At the same time, some conservatives are applauding Obama's recognition of the need to avoid "stupid wars" as a political renaissance of sorts. Traditionally hawkish Senators like John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have been advocating for arming the Syrian rebels for the past year. But even Mitt Romney backed off of direct intervention last October, advocating a need to work through our international partners – a position similar to that of President Obama. Texas Republican Ron Paul remains staunchly opposed to intervention of any sort, and even his son, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), recently called for moderation and restraint in the Republican Party in international affairs. Even the American Conservative, a bi-monthly conservative opinion journal, is strongly opposed to the idea of arming the Syrian opposition.
There is a first time for everything. This conservative finds himself in the unusual and somewhat uncomfortable position of actually agreeing with President Obama's position on Syria. While I am certain President Obama and I oppose Syrian intervention for different reasons, it is eerily-comforting and at the same time cognitively dissonant to experience the illustion of bi-partisanship on an issue as significant as this. A recent Pew Research poll shows that there is little support for U.S. Intervention in the Syrian Conflict. This includes 68% of Republicans surveyed.
The U.N. Charter prohibits member states from using force against or intervening in the internal affairs of other states unless authorized by the U.N. Security Council or justified by self-defense. U.S. intervention in Syria would be deeply unpopular, both domestically and abroad. It would likely make the situation worse and could commit the U.S. to the significant cost of yet another war abroad. But resisting intervention is the right course of action for a much more compelling reason. Reckless spending, engagement in multiple conflicts around the world, foolish economic stimuli and out-of-control entitlements have laid bare both the folly of Keynesian economics and the obvious choice to be made in Syria. We simply cannot afford to intervene in the Syrian conflict.
We have a greater threat than Syria to face right here in America. Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen testified before the House Armed Services Committee, saying, "The most significant threat to our national security is our debt.” When America’s most senior military member announces that our own profligate spending constitutes a greater national security threat than a nuclear Iran, Al-Qaeda, Syrian uprisings, or domestic terror cells, we all must listen. America's intervention in Libya cost us a billion dollars. Intervening in Syria would cost much more.
As we quickly approach $17 trillion in national debt, our reckless spending endangers our ability to pay for our own national security. America can no longer afford to play policeman to the world – no matter the importance. In fact, all of the reasons give for supporting the rebels in Syria are reasons for slashing entitlement spending, which accounts for nearly half of all government spending. They are reasons for eliminating our federal deficit, reducing our national debt to 30% of GDP, and recognizing that the U.S. government has gone far beyond its proper functions.