General (ret) Barry McCaffrey, MSNBC’s favorite four-star military analyst, is telling Americans how easily the modest application of American air power from carriers could bring down “the murderer” Assad. After all, McCaffrey argued, Damascus is barely 50 miles from the Mediterranean. Predictably, McCaffrey caveats his remarks noting it’s premature to act today. However, when the timing is right, McCaffrey insists, the U.S. should act in concert with our allies and ‘friends’ in the region.
Given the fragility of our economic condition and the disastrous strategic and fiscal consequences of our interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan the idea of intervening yet again in the region, this time on "humanitarian grounds," may seem incomprehensible. Unfortunately, it’s not.
McCaffrey is a good bellwether for what the bipartisan elite is likely to do. He’s one of those rent-a-generals, ready and willing to serve the cause of military intervention regardless of Administration or ideological justification, especially if it’s profitable like Iraq and Afghanistan. And, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta already insists the President can send forces based on "international authority" without seeking explicit Congressional authorization beforehand.
The point is America’s bipartisan foreign policy elite of Demoplicans and Republicrats is eager for a new American military intervention and Americans should ask why? There really are lots of reasons.
First, just because there’s no real prospect for secular democracy to succeed anywhere in the Muslim World, least of all in the aftermath of an Islamist takeover, does not really matter. Ultimately, decision-making inside the Beltway is shaped primarily by the military capability to act, not by the need to do so or a rigorous analysis of how U.S. military action does or does not serve U.S. national interests.
Second, the bipartisan elite subscribes to the idea that whatever military action the U.S. government initiates, it is inherently justified on moral grounds, even if, as in the case of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan the military action turns out badly for the U.S. In Syria, the moral justification is a “massacre.” But whether the perpetrators were Ba'athists, Muslim Brotherhood splinter groups that have fought the Ba'athists since the '50s or one of al Qaeda’s independent franchises is unknown. For the Bipartisan interventionists it probably does not matter.
Third, knowing there is no appetite for military action that involves the use of American ground troops, the bipartisan foreign policy elite wants to intervene in Syria using other peoples’ soldiers. The idea is to act under the guise of NATO with the help of Turkey’s new Sunni Islamist leadership. Why not?
Working with the large, powerful, well-equipped and disciplined Turkish Armed Forces beats the hell out of relying one more time on the hapless French, bankrupt Italians, or worn-out Brits as we did in Libya and other places. Happily, in addition to the Sunni Arab Islamists determined to eliminate Assad’s secular regime, the growing Sunni Islamist majorities that are ejecting secular leaders from power from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean will celebrate the invading Turkish Troops as liberators.
But inviting the Turks to invade is not without risk. 21st Century Turkey is no longer governed by secular, pro-Western elites with the support of the old Turkish General Staff, most of which now resides in Turkish jails. Instead, Turkey's "democratic" Islamists are ambitious, angry and contemptuous of the U.S., Europe and Israel.
More important, Turkey’s Islamists promote a revival of the pre-WW I Ottoman Empire with the goal of restoring Turkish dominance over the Caucasus and Central Asia including oil-rich Northern Iraq. In contrast to Iran, a weak, divided and dysfunctional society, Turkey is economically strong and united. With almost 60 percent of its population under the age of 30, Turkey also possesses the largest and most powerful armed force in NATO after the United States.
What does this mean? Well, with the removal of Assad through U.S. assistance Israel will be compelled to watch as Turkish Forces arrive on the Golan Heights. In the years ahead, a regional Turkish-led alliance of Sunni Islamist States will emerge from the Nile Delta to the Caucasus reinvigorating the challenge of fighting a multi-front war, something Israel has not faced since 1973. It would also raise fears inside an effectively disarmed Europe, a region with millions of Muslim Turks inside their borders.
As witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan, wish-based ideology of the kind the bipartisan elite employs to justify intervention makes the retreat from irrational policy pronouncements impossible even when the American population finally discovers they make no sense. Target sets for air strikes do not constitute a strategy. Messrs.’ Romney and Obama should keep their cool.
Unless, Syria’s behavior presents a clear and present danger to the vital strategic interests of the American People, the U.S. Government should live with the unpleasantness and move on. In the case of Syria, the United States should definitely move on.
Colonel (ret) Douglas Macgregor is a decorated combat veteran and the author four books on military affairs. His most recent is Warrior’s Rage from Naval Institute Press.
Douglas Macgregor, PhD