Tag Archives: war

We’re Asking The Wrong Questions About Syria

Billboard with portrait of Assad and the text ...
Billboard with portrait of Assad and the text God protects Syria on the old city wall of Damascus 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I write this, two key questions remain unanswered, and a third mostly unasked, about a deadly daybreak  attack on Khan Sheikhoun, a northwest Syrian city of (pre-war) 50,000. Hundreds were wounded and as many as 100 killed, apparently chemical weaponry (Turkey’s health ministry believes the agent in question was the nerve gas sarin), on the morning of April 4.

The two most obvious questions are who did this, and why?

The US government (and unfortunately most American media, acting as stenographers rather than journalists as is too often the case in matters of war and foreign policy) have settled on the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad as the culprit. That claim seems very questionable, if for no other reason than that there’s no plausible “why” attached to it.

After more than six years of civil war, the Syrian government has (with Russian assistance) turned the tide. Assad is well on his way to defeating both the Islamic State and the “moderate rebels” (read: al Qaeda) backed by the US, restoring his control over the country.

A chemical attack on  Khan Sheikhoun doesn’t seem to fit into that scenario. Not only does it serve no obvious military objective, but it’s precisely the kind of atrocity that American hawks will latch onto and use as an excuse to continue and escalate the US military intervention in Syria at Assad’s expense.

Cui bono (“who benefits?”) doesn’t always point to the true answer to a question, but in this case it’s reasonable to ask. The Khan Sheikhoun attack may very well have been carried out by the rebels themselves, in an attempt to keep the US entangled in the war, on their side.

Another plausible explanation is that Syrian regime aircraft bombed a rebel facility where the chemical weapons were manufactured or stored, accidentally releasing them. It’s happened before. It’s how a number of American troops, possibly including me, were exposed to sarin during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

Or maybe it was Assad behind the attack, for some reason beyond the ken of distant observers.

But who and why are the wrong questions. The third question — the  right question — is: Why is the US involved in this war?

The Assad regime has not attacked the US, nor has Congress declared war on Syria. There’s simply no defensive — or for that matter even legal — rationale for a US military presence in Syria. Whatever horrors the civil war there may entail, American military adventurism makes them worse, not better. It perpetuates instability rather than bringing peace.

Donald Trump ran for president on a platform of reducing US military meddling in other countries’ affairs. It’s time for him to follow through and order a US withdrawal from Syria.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION  HISTORY

Millennials: Let’s You and Them Fight

English: Marines of Regimental Combat Team 5, ...
Marines of Regimental Combat Team 5, transport a non-ambulatory patient via litter, outside of Fallujah, Iraq in 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An October/November survey covering the midsection (adults between 18 and 29) of the “millennial” demographic  finds that after the November terror attacks in France (but before the December 2 attack in San Bernardino), that demographic’s support for deployment of US ground troops against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria jumped from 47% to 60%.

But when asked a followup question — “[i]f the United States needed additional troops to combat the Islamic State, how likely would you be to serve?” — 85% responded “probably won’t join” or “won’t join.”

Assuming that all or nearly all of the 40% who oppose a ground war answered “probably not” or “heck no,” it follows that the other 45% who answered that way support the idea as long as it doesn’t involve actually putting on uniforms, picking up rifles, and placing their own lives on the line.

I’m a war veteran myself, but I don’t count myself among the “if you haven’t served or won’t serve, you’re not entitled to an opinion” crowd. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion. Even those who don’t actually do the heavy lifting pick up some of the costs. They pay taxes. They support loved ones in uniform. And the risk of personal harm from blowback a la 9/11 and San Bernardino, while minimal so far, is real.

On the other hand, that differential/overlap bugs me. I wish I could get inside the heads of the three-quarters of military-age people in this survey who support the IDEA of a war enthusiastically enough to send OTHERS off to potentially die or return minus limbs or with traumatic brain injuries, but not enough to risk those things themselves.

As the late economist Milton Friedman pointed out, incentives change depending on whose money you’re spending, and on whom. If you’re spending your own money on yourself, you have a great incentive to get value for price. If you’re spending other people’s money on yourself, that incentive lessens; and a little more so if you’re spending your money on someone else. But if you’re spending other people’s money on other people, the incentive pretty much disappears. Why should you care? You’re neither paying the price nor gaining the benefit.

In this situation, what’s being spent by those who support a war but don’t plan to enlist is not money, but lives — the lives of other people (US troops), to be sacrificed for other people (Iraqis and Syrians).

They’re entitled to their opinions. But given the incentives, I’m not inclined to give those opinions too much weight. I’m a little older than the “millennials.” I’ve seen this movie before. In fact, I was one of the thousands of extras.  I’m against another remake.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

NATO: This Deal is a Turkey

Source: Published by the American red cross, i...
Armenian civilians are marched to prison by armed Ottoman soldiers. Kharpert, Ottoman Empire, April 1915. (Photo credit: Wikipedia — Public Domain Photo from Red Cross)

Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty states that an “armed attack” on a NATO member “shall be considered an attack against them all” and that all parties to the treaty must join in to “restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.” Left unspecified is what happens when a NATO member itself launches an “armed attack” on a non-member, as happened Tuesday when Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian Sukhoi-24 bomber near the Syrian border.

Naturally, there are conflicting claims about whether or not the Russian craft was in Turkish airspace. Even if it was, no one seems to be buying the idea that it was “attacking” Turkey. But Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan edges toward such a position on the basis that the Russians are fighting Syrian rebels, some of who happen to be ethnic Turkmen — “our brothers and sisters” — and who may not necessarily be affiliated with the Islamic State.

If Russia responds tit-for-tat, and if Turkey successfully invokes Article 5, NATO members could suddenly find themselves in a shooting war born entirely of their own hubris. Turkey should never have been admitted to NATO in the first place, and both its membership and the existence of NATO itself have long outlived any possible value they might once have had.

First of all, Turkey is not situated on the North Atlantic. Nor on any other part of the Atlantic. Nor anywhere NEAR any part of the Atlantic. Picture the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce recruiting businesses in Denver. Yeah, sort of like that.

Secondly, Turkey has little in common with other NATO members or with “the west” in general. Erdogan is a tinhorn Islamist authoritarian whose regime persecutes political dissenters, treats it as a crime to even mention that a hundred years ago his predecessors systematically murdered 1.5 million Armenians, and only materially supports NATO actions when doing so provides cover for suppressing the nationalist aspirations of Turkey’s (and Iraq’s, and Syria’s) Kurds.

Thirdly, while the 45-year Cold War needn’t imply future enmity between Russia and the US or western Europe’s NATO nations, the Russians and the Turks have been at each others’ throats for nearly 500 years now with few breaks and no end in sight. Sooner or later, they’re going to go to war again. The benefits of having Turkey in NATO are mostly illusory. To the extent they aren’t, they’re not worth the risk of getting “Article Fived” into that war.

If America’s political leaders are truly interested in peace, they’ll withdraw the US from NATO or, at the very least, move to expel Turkey from NATO. But America’s political leaders AREN’T truly interested in peace, are they? Happy Thanksgiving.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY