Monday, September 30, 2013

Choose Wisely

Though the situation of the recent deployment of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict seems to be fading into the background with the self-serving arrangement orchestrated by the Russians, I want to address those that said the United States had a moral obligation to intervene.  While I understand how the scenes of people writhing in pain and suffering the disturbing effects of poisonous gas on the human body incite a primal, or for some, a political reaction, we must go beyond instinct to that which supposedly separates us from all other life on this planet, reason.  When we allow emotion to play too large a role in our decisions, it is interesting how quickly a mere civil war in the seemingly always tumultuous Middle East can escalate to the global threat of the widespread use of weapons of mass destruction.  Something we watched from a distance for years as the casualties mounted to 100,000 eliciting but an occasional comment about what a tragedy war is suddenly became a defining moment for our nation.  It seems that many view our position as lone world super power indentures us with an obligation to always get involved regardless of the potential costs or the absence of tangible benefits.  Somehow our rise to prominence carries with it a price tag of nobility that could lead us down a path of self-destruction.  

For those that clamored to address the evil we saw unleashed in Syria, we must acknowledge that unfortunately evil happens every day in our world.  In some cases it has become so commonplace that we no longer notice it.  Though eliminating evil and those that perpetrate it should always be a goal of mankind, reality makes this a multination venture with no foreseeable end.  As long as there are people there will be evil.  So, unless we intend to be in all places at all times and become a nation solely focused on this crusade, we must make honest assessments of world events with defined parameters when deciding our course of action.  We must have the understanding that military intervention should be the choice only when it is absolutely necessary to protect or defend our national security or that of our allies.  War should be the last option, for when it is chosen it must be fully committed to and executed with the understanding that total victory is the only acceptable outcome.  Initiating military operations is a lot like starting a fire; it can quickly get away from you if you are not properly prepared.  Ironically, if our national government has proven anything in the last five years it is that being prepared is not something they excel at.

Our military is the most professional and technologically advanced force on the planet; its capabilities far beyond that of any potential rivals.  But everything has a breaking point, and what better way to degrade the advantages our forces enjoy than to spread them out and keep them engaged in continuous regional entanglements that never seem to result in a clean or finite outcome.  As history has shown us, small events can rapidly escalate into world wars.  While an isolationist policy is completely unrealistic, choosing our battles wisely is imperative.  Today, we must face facts that we cannot afford the steep price of unfettered idealism.  Being the world’s super hero has weighed heavily on this country.  In the real world there are consequences for inserting yourself in the affairs of others.  And, as anyone who has ever read a comic book knows as the burden builds with the endless number of those needing rescuing, tragedy usually befalls the hero.  Is the cause of the hero’s fall that the people become too dependent on the hero as being saved transforms from a stroke of luck to an expectation?  Are we expected to sacrifice ourselves for the greater good of an undeserving world?  Does our sacrifice gain us anything in a region of the world where we are viewed as the epitome of evil regardless of our endless financial aid and long list of deposed dictators?  We must ask ourselves if the effort in blood and additional debt are worth trading one tyrannical and repressive regime for another.  Hoping for a better outcome this time when history has proven otherwise time and again is foolhardy.  The point of diminishing returns has been reached and we must accept the fact that other people’s battles must sometimes be allowed to play themselves out, or we will travel the infamous road that is paved with good intentions.

Those that do not learn from the past are doom to repeat it.  Some seem very determined to dismiss the lessons of very recent history and become embroiled in yet another Middle East conflict.  This region is in a state of constant strife.  While not surprising due to the overwhelming influence religious faith has in all aspects of this society, we must understand that the resulting passionate discord is something that must come to a conclusion on its own.  It is not our dispute to resolve and our continued interventions in what is essentially a religious civil war does not win us any favor.  Our most logical strategy is containment combined with vigilance in ensuring the fighting does not extend into the areas controlled by our allies in the region or threaten assets we have positioned in the theater.  Outside of that, we have no national interests in this contest.  We must do all we can to divorce ourselves from the chaos in this part of the world or we risk it being the rock upon which we smash ourselves into oblivion for some abstract nobility.  Our repeated forays into the Middle East are the incarnation of the saying - No good deed goes unpunished.

Military action used to be a more cautious decision, but unmanned machines of war have lessened the moment of pause that is associated with sending our men and women into combat.  While any technology that reduces risk and saves the lives of our military personnel is a great thing, we must also consider that this same technology may actually cause our military to be involved in more conflicts and increases the possibility that they will eventually be put in harm’s way to finish a confrontation started by an intended limited action.  This means every decision concerning the use of military forces, regardless of the initial intention to commit ground forces or not, must be made with the same mindset that our men and women in uniform will be engaged.  Murphy’s Law must always be a consideration.  This means the necessity of involvement must be worth the loss of American lives.  Intervention in the Syrian civil war does not currently meet this criterion. 
This trend of intervening in conflicts that do not directly threaten our country or our allies is a new one.  In the past, military force was reserved for times when defense from attack was needed or retribution for attack was justified.  In either case it was personal; our actions were driven by national needs.  Today there is no rhyme or reason for why we engage in certain areas, while ignoring others.  In some cases, situations may be very similar and yet we chose opposing courses for each.  Perhaps it is not the details of the situation at hand, but the politics of the situation that is now the primary determining factor.  It seems to be in this case, for while no military action has been taken to address the attack on American facilities and personnel in Benghazi due to its political inconvenience, strangely enough an attack that no American was involved in somehow rates a more impassioned response from our current administration.  Timing is everything and the Syrian chemical weapons situation occurred after the election while Benghazi happened during it.  Yes, politics is the primary determining factor regardless of the rhetoric about moral imperatives.  Either way this regional conflict simply isn’t our fight, and for those of you unfamiliar with the mission of the US military it is to fight and win our nation’s wars.