Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Guest Post: American Interventionism: A Cautionary Tale

Although President Obama has since scaled back his intentions to execute a strike on Syria, his finger still hovers over the proverbial “button”. Military action and U.S. intervention in the Middle East in general, is a bad idea—I know, this all sounds terribly unpatriotic, but hear me out. What the United States government and military officials fail to understand is that there is no such thing as black and white when it comes to the Middle East –there is no quick fix. Did somebody say the War in Iraq? Oh, and the one in Afghanistan too? (Not technically an Arab country, but you get my point). Despite numerous failed attempts, we keep sticking our beak, as it were, into the Arab nations’ business. 

Why has the world’s premier military-intelligence complex been unable to enact viable change in the Middle East up until this point, you ask? Well, I’ll give you one reason, at least. It is because they don’t know what they’re getting themselves into! Enter, sectarianism. Here in the United States, despite our superficial differences, we are a relatively homogenous people. Our nation has had time in the post-industrial phase to develop a sense of stability and balance that nations in the Middle East have not yet been able to achieve. Arab nations are wrought with complexities – religious offshoots within religious offshoots, tribal affiliations, marginalized non-Arab ethnic groups, warring political factions, etc. In theory, the head of the government should deal with conflicts on all of these levels simultaneously, or risk the unraveling of their nation. Sounds difficult, right? That is precisely why, in reality, many dictators, such as Bashar Al-Assad, choose not do so. Let me clarify what I mean when I say “sectarianism” in regards to Syria, as it has a different meaning for every Arab nation. Here is a visual that should help:

As you can see, the map is full of complexities. For simplicity's sake, let’s just say that religious sectarianism is the primary source of divisiveness in Syria, and that the two major players are the Shi’a and the Sunni. Now, to make things even more complicated, the President of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad, his officials and the military—thanks to some careful planning and nepotism—are Alawites. With the start of this revolution in 2010, the already strained relationship existing between these groups was pushed to the breaking point. If U.S. intervention tips the scales either way, the entire nation will crumble. If we support the Sunnis, the oppressed majority could take this opportunity to make the Assad family pay for seventy years of Alawite oppression. By contrast, if Assad emerges victorious in spite of our support for the Sunnis, he will most certainly redouble his efforts to decimate the Sunni population. There is no way to win this war, as America has no say in a religious conflict that has existed in its present form for decades, and traces its roots back to 632 A.D. 

Terrible as it is to say, the existence of chemical weapons does not change this fact. We intervened in Iraq and toppled a dictator for the very same reasons, creating a power vacuum that led to a rapid increase in sectarian violence, sent Iraq into a tailspin and embroiled the United States in a decade-long war. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria makes a similar argument here, also drawing on the 1975 civil war in Lebanon as an example. I know I would not be keen on adding another war to the national agenda and public polls hint that others aren’t too keen on the idea either. Public opinion aside, imagine the devastating impact our intervention would have on ordinary Syrians. For the sake of the civilians, please, America, mind your own business.