Syria: The Next Theater for War?



The U.S. government is blaming Syria for skirmishes at the Israel border. So far, the U.S. has resisted pressures to intervene against the Syrian regime, despite its crackdowns against civilians somewhat resembling those of Libya’s. Hawkish Senators and others have lately called for war with Syria, and of course American political leaders have been toying with the idea of attacking this nation since the height of the Bush years, when the hilarious line was that Saddam’s WMD were being stashed there. So why the restraint? Syria is a great ally of Iran, and the Obama administration seeks Syria’s assistance in persuading Iran to abandon its nuclear program and sponsorship of anti-Israel violence.

Strange how that works, but that’s realpolitik for you. The U.S. cares so much about protecting the oppressed peoples of the world against despots that it will refrain from its normal policy of bombing nations for the sake of peace, if there is the potential to get the repressive foreign state on board in convincing another such state to be less belligerent itself.

As for the Iran nuclear program itself, so far the evidence does not show it to be a credible threat to anyone, not now and not in the near and foreseeable future. But the talking heads keep referring to the program as though it is a weapons initiative, rather than a civilian energy undertaking. The administration seems to bask in this conflation, although, as with many other lines of propaganda, it is never explicitly said by high officials directly. To the contrary,in 2007 the National Intelligence Estimate found with “high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair testified that the intelligence community stood by this assessment in March 2009. The International Atomic Energy Agency has corroborated this in its annual reports. Yet over and over we see American policy shaped by this notion that Iran’s nuclear program is some sort of threat. Much of the hysteria concerns the bizarre Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is characterized as a dangerous dictator, although he doesn’t have the power over the Iranian state that is often assumed.

In any event, it is perhaps a silver lining that fear of Iran may be forestalling U.S. war for a change. But if the calculation shifts, the U.S. could find itself in yet another conflict.

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