Many politicians in Washington–not yet realizing that the still-broken American economy can no longer sustain an informal, globe-girdling U.S. empire—have sought to use Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons on a small scale to escalate U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war. And it’s not only the economy that won’t support a more muscular effort in Syria; after the marathon quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public is also tired of costly (in blood and treasure) involvement in faraway wars that provide a dubious threat to America’s vital interests.
Yet the politicians, on autopilot from prior to the 2007-2008 economic crash, have suggested a Chinese menu of options to do something—anything—more to get bogged down in a country that may be strategic for nearby Israel but is not for the United States. Although sensing that the vast majority of Americans are tired of perpetual U.S. brushfire wars and thus rhetorically rejecting “boots on the ground” in Syria, they have suggested, among other things, providing heavy weapons to “democratic” opposition groups and protecting rebels or refugees with “no fly” zones. These two options, however, seem to have nothing to do with reining in Assad’s chemical weapons. Thus, the politicians seem to be flailing for any excuse merely to deepen U.S. involvement to demonstrate American leadership–without solving the problem that is the alleged intervention trigger.
Politicians are not historians and that is obvious because they don’t remember when the United States flooded the Afghan civil war in the 1980s with heavy weapons and training. The weapons ended up in the hands of the most radical Islamist groups fighting Soviet forces and their client Afghan government troops. Those groups later morphed into al Qaeda and became one of the few threats to American soil in the history of the republic. When throwing weapons into a chaotic civil war, they often end up in the hands of the most ruthless groups—in this case, it will likely be Syrian Islamist radicals.