When we hear “Iraq,” the first thing that comes to mind is neither the war on terror nor the thousands of Americans who have given their lives for liberating that country. No, the first thing that comes to mind is “The lie.” The lie that then president George W. Bush fed to the American people and the whole world. This bad memory has entrenched so deeply into people’s minds that when people think of former president Bush, they don’t initially think about the big tax cuts for the rich or the collapse of the US economy under his watch, instead they think “Iraq.” Iraq has left people with a very bad taste in their mouth to the extent that we are not ready to jump into another war, thus the low support for any sort of attack on Syria.
It’s not that the American people do not believe that the Syrian regime deserves to be punished for what they have done; it’s just that they don’t want to take any chance for an “Iraq” repeat.
People are afraid that another US involvement overseas would not only mean more American casualties but also mean that the economy would once again take the back seat to the war. Our recollection of what happened last time around will not allow us to once again drink from that well knowing that the nation has yet to fully recover from that Iraq poison.
Obviously, the circumstances are very different from when the decision was being made to attack Iraq to Obama administration’s approach. Prior to the decision to attack Iraq, there was a feeling that the Bush administration with their war rhetoric had made up their mind to go into war and get a regime change. This time around you get the sense that the Obama administration is much more careful with their word choice and they want to make sure that people here and around the world know that the goal is neither to invade nor to push for a regime change, but solely to punish the Syrian regime for their cruel act.
The scary truth is that there are also similarities and great concerns this time around with Syria as we saw with Iraq. For one, there seems to be a “potential lie.” Though this is not a big subject in the media, this is the kind of thing that could come back to bite the current administration in the backside. What am I talking about? I am alluding to the number of casualties from the chemical attack by the Syrian regime. The US has the number of dead at over twice the numbers that even its allies have presented. I believe this could become a bigger story in case something went wrong and because of that I hope Obama doesn’t exaggerate the numbers when he addresses the nation on this coming Tuesday.
Could something actually go wrong with a US attack?
The chances are very slim based on what we hear from the administration and its supporters on both sides of the aisle, but it would be naïve to not think that there is at least a risk involved in an attack. The risk here is to see the Assad regime toppled by the bad guys. By striking on Syria there is a risk of potentially helping the wrong rebel side ascend into power. This is why you hear people who support an attack like John McCain, telling us that the extremists are a small minority of the rebel groups and are not going to be helped by those strikes.
Is Obama willing to take the risk of helping the wrong side?
It’s clear that McCain would love to see the Assad regime toppled and therefore willing to take the risk even though he doesn’t think it’s a realistic one, but I doubt Obama is willing to take the same risk.
Obama knows what’s at stake here. More important than him looking tough on foreign policy, is for him to look strong on the domestic side of things. Obama knows that how he is remembered and judged by history will depend on what happens in the next three years. So far what has defined him is what is referred to as “Obama Care,” I think the president is proud of that, but I am sure he would like to add to it. After all, he did promise a few other things, which I recall, didn’t include starting another war.
Obama knows that for him to be considered a good president he will have to deliver on his promises and leave the country in a better shape than he found it. This would mean to leave the country with a stronger economy but also to deliver on an immigration reform. Those two things would be very tough to achieve if the Syria’s crises got out of control and the US found itself embraced within it.
No. Not Obama. He is wiser than that. He is not going to risk his legacy and the US economy over Syria.
Then, why does he feel the need to strike Syria?
Okay, Obama drew a red line on Syria rather or not he admits it, but the truth of the matter is that America is expected to react in such situations. America talks the talk and therefore has to walk the walk. This is because America and Americans have some values that we stand for. Even though we can’t always get involved in every situation out there, we are constrained to get involved in some extreme cases. And the use of chemical weapon on civilians qualifies as an extreme case.
Obama should be proud that he drew a red line. In fact, most people agreed with him at the time he insinuated to it for the simple reason that he used it as a deterrent to avoid Syria using chemical weapon on its civilians. Clearly that didn’t work out to perfection but to now blame Obama for standing on the side of justice is ludicrous.
With that said, I could see why it’s easy for people looking at the situation today to believe that Obama dug himself a hole with those statements. The truth of the matter is that the president can’t go back and change those words, and even if he could it wouldn’t change the fact that America as the world sole super power has responsibilities. What’s important now is to make sure that the right decisions are made to avoid turning Syria into a sequel to Iraq.
We already see division among the five members of the Security Council similar to what we saw prior to the war in Iraq. On one hand we have The US, The UK and believe it or not France. On the other hand we have Russia and China, with Russia playing the role France played in 2002-2003 as the main voice against a military intervention. In a weird twist of events, France and not the UK is the country screaming “shotgun” hoping the US takes the wheel.
Russia is playing the devil’s advocate as they do not believe that the Syrian regime has crossed the line, or as other nations see it, Russia does not want to lose their main ally in the region just like the French didn’t want to lose their economic interest in Iraq.
So, as the French did in 2002-2003, the Russians are asking to see more proof. They would like to see concrete evidence that the Syrian regime used chemical weapon as they argue that it would be stupid for the regime to use chemical weapon at a time when they have the upper hand in the civil war. And the other side is quick to point out that, “Yes, the Syrian regime is indeed stupid but also dangerous to its people.” So unless something drastic happens from now till the congress votes on this matter, you can expect an attack on Syria.
No one is talking putting boots on the ground, just a small scale attack on precise targets. If you are expecting something major like a “shock and awe” I’m sorry to disappoint but unlike with Iraq, Dick Cheney is not calling the shots. Obama doesn’t want something major because he knows that it’s not worth the risk of bringing extremists to power. So don’t be fooled by the sophisticated weaponries that you hear about in the media, they are not going to hurt as much as it will appear on your TV set.
For those who believe that Obama doesn’t really want to do this and hope that he would back down, you are going to be disappointed sooner than you think because the attack will happen.
And for those warmongers who are hoping that this attack would help bring about regime change, you are mistaken. The Obama administration is taking time in planning out this attack precisely to avoid just that, so don’t hold your breath.
Clearly, Obama is not George W. Bush and neither is Syria, Iraq. The two individuals are different and I’m not just talking look wise. The two countries are very different and I’m not just alluding to the difference in religious doctrines. And the situation couldn’t be more different and that’s not just because of the parties involved. Due to those facts, we can also expect the approach and result to be different. Therefore to you The American people I say, Syria is not going to be Obama’s Iraq.
Fortunately for me, I’m not the president and therefore I don’t have to convince anyone that this is not going to be Iraq all over again. Unfortunately for Obama vis-à-vis the circumstances that he faces, he is the president and hence would have to get The American people on his side. He can achieve that by convincing the majority that a strong response in necessary to prevent further use of chemical weapons on children.
Obama will need to address people’s fear of another Iraq and connect with our sense of humanity. He would need to openly ask the American people to trust him not to take us into another long and costly war. If he can do that, then he would have a strong backing from the Congress which isn’t looking to undermine their president with the world watching.
Mr. President, restore trust.