Carlyn Meyer writes in a guest column for Informed Comment
For better or worse, Obama came of age well after the Vietnam war. Had he lived through the daily body counts, he may have stood strong against arming the Syrian opposition.
The President’s new ‘strategy’ is to get enough arms to the ‘right people’ in Syria and to centralize arms delivery through General Idris. The goal is to rebuild the opposition’s strength after recent loss of ground to Assad forces. The theory is that once the ‘balance’ between Assad and opposition fighters has been restored, the opposition would be in a more advantageous situation for Geneva !! negotiations. The opposition is loathe to negotiate after its recent set-backs.
We’ve seen this before. Just as Nixon doubled down on a losing war in Vietnam, Obama seeks his own version of ‘peace through strength’.
Although Nixon and his war cabinet knew the Vietnam war would never be won and that political negotiations were the only end-game the US and South Vietnamese had, the President who promised to ‘bring the boys home’ continued and expanded the war several more years at the cost of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of American and Vietnamese lives.
Nixon’s goal was to strengthen the military position of the South Vietnamese so they would have more leverage in peace talks with the Vietcong and North Vietnamese.
Now Obama wants to send more light arms to the Syrian opposition to give it more leverage in any Geneva !! negotiations with Assad.
It was a foolish gamble in Vietnam. It’s not working too well in Afghanistan. Why would it succeed in Syria? Especially absent establishing a ‘no-fly’ zone and taking out Assad’s heavy artillery and missile launchers? That is, deeper involvement.
The President’s calculations stand little chance of working to bring the war to an end. . Meanwhile sending American arms leads the Syrian opposition to falsely hope President Obama will eventually OK a no-fly zone or (as an opposition representative told a group the other night) deploy drones to take out Assad artillery.
In 1993, Colin Powell articulated the Powell Doctrine after Desert Storm. The key lesson he took from Vietnam was the necessity of applying overwhelming force in any military action the US engaged. Get it over and get out. The corollary, of course was if the political will did not exist to go all out, it is not worth the US getting involved period because It will end up in defeat or quagmire.
Cheerleaders for the invasion of Iraq did everything in their power to overturn this seemingly simple tenet of superpower warfare. Donald Rumsfeld claimed the US could go ‘military lite’ in Iraq – leaving chaos in Iraq and a map rewritten for the worse in the Middle East.
This is the danger of foreign intervention in local wars. The lessons of modern history teach third-power interventions are much more likely to inflame and extend hostilities than tamp them down. The expansion of US military power after WW11 is littered with examples.
Carlyn Meyer is a blogger and peace activist.