tales from the “what could go wrong?” files, part ??? of infinity

There is a growing outcry from the National Security Professionals (no, really, they’re professionals!) for the United States to Do Something about Syria. Last month it was Leon Panetta and Martin Dempsey, the outgoing (so, like, he doesn’t have to deal with this bullshit, you know?) Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs Chairman, respectively, agreeing with John McCain, who’s never met a foreigner he didn’t at least briefly consider bombing, that America should Do Something (in their case it was arming the rebels, although McCain and his fluffer Lindsey Graham want airstrikes or maybe even an American invasion). Yesterday, ThinkProgress reported that James Jones, the first National Security Advisor in the Obama Administration, is now also suggesting that America arm the rebels, which coincides with similar calls from Carl Levin, the highly influential Democratic Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. This is how these things go. Bad things happen in other parts of the world, and disingenuous people with agendas to push selectively decide that in Some Places it is Incumbent Upon America, As The World’s Only Remaining Superpower, to Do Something. They’re always sort of vague on What it is that America should Do (and I’ll explain why “arm the rebels” is still vague nonsense despite sounding like a specific thing), which is so that if and when something goes wrong they can evade actually having to answer for being wrong, or stupid, or stupidly wrong. McCain does this all the time. He’s never conceived of a war that didn’t make him salivate, but then when we actually make one of the wars he’s pushing and things go bad, somebody else is to blame.

Anyway, we’re told that Bad Things are happening in a Certain Part of the world, and how can America just sit there and do nothing when there is a moral imperative to Do Something? People are dying, man! Or some Bad People are about to build a Bad Weapon, and then people might die, man! What’s strange about this is that all these people who seem to care so much for the sanctity of human life in Syria, or the potential danger to sacred life that might come from an Iranian nuclear weapon, had nothing to say about similar or greater losses of life in, say, the Congo, Rwanda, or Darfur, and they all seem to be influential figures in the national security establishment of the only nation on Earth to ever use nuclear weapons against an enemy. The Things that America might or should Do are always Military Things, because you can’t funnel taxpayer money to defense contractors without blowing some shit up or selling some shit that will blow other shit up negotiations are for pussies, and also because Military Things are really the only Things we do well anymore. There’s a line from the film Syriana that kind of applies here:

When a country has five percent of the world’s population but does fifty percent of its military spending, then the persuasive powers of that country are on the decline.

But, you know, America cannot sit idly by while (some) people around (one particular part of) the world are being slaughtered. Bashar al-Assad is a Bad Guy, although it’s unclear why he’s a Worse Guy than, say Mobutu Sese Seko, who we allowed to mistreat the people of then-Zaire for over 30 years, or Bosco Ntaganda, who’s now going to face justice at the International Criminal Court that we won’t support, but he’s undeniably a violent thug. The people of Syria, and humanity in general, will be better for his removal from power, as was the case with Saddam Hussein, but that does not make it America’s job to remove him, just as it wasn’t our job to remove Saddam despite the fact that, yes, people were dying, man! We had to Do Something! Of course we ran through a number of more imperative-sounding excuses for going after Saddam, all of which turned out to be bullshit, but the “people were dying, man!” defense is the only one that seems to still resonate among the Iraq War’s defenders, and even for many pundits who get that Iraq was a failure, their biggest fear seems to be that its failure will prevent America from Doing Something the next time people are dying, man, which seems to be right now, in Syria.

And arming the rebels seems like a not-so-bad idea, doesn’t it? It keeps American troops out of the fight, keeps our involvement even lower than it was in Libya, and represents a “compromise” between the obviously crazy peacenik hippies and the Very Serious folks like John McCain, who are Very Serious and Respected because they want to bomb the hell out of everybody but maybe don’t have a great sense of what is politically feasible. And as anybody in the mainstream American media would tell you, Compromise on anything, for any reason, with any outcome, is an end all unto itself. This General Jones, he’s a retired four-star general and former National Security Advisor, and he’s pushing for arming the rebels, so it must be a good idea, right?

“Yeah, if you can identify where they’re going and you know who the people are,” Jones told AOL Defense. “I’ve been out of government long enough that I’m not involved in the details.”

“To the extent that you can identify that those people that are in the lead position to take over the government, and they’re people that you feel comfortable with, in order to reduce the killing and hasten the end of the regime, you should do that” [i.e. provide weapons], he said. “I think you would want to arm the right group. The question is, what’s the right group?”

See, sounds great to, wait, what? If you can identify where they’re going and if you know who the people are and if you can figure out the right group, and if you feel comfortable with them…um, is that a lot of conditionals? When we’re talking about shipping advanced weaponry into an unstable part of the world, that seems like a lot of conditionals. I mean, it’s not like we have a track record of identifying partners in the Islamic World who later turn out to be not so friendly to us. And it’s not like there were elements among, say, the Libyan rebels that were linked to, I don’t know, al-Qaeda. Certainly there are no elements among the Syrian rebels that have al-Qaeda ties, right? And it’s just weapons; what could go wrong?

The UN is concerned that unsecured weapons stockpiles from the depots of the late dictator Muammar Qaddafi are flooding into Africa and the Middle East from southern Libya, where the new, elected government exerts little control.

Oh, yeah, this sounds like a great idea. I’m sold.


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