U.S. Military Strike In Syria, in Context

I can start by saying that a “vital interest” of the United States is something that can be threatened.  President Jimmy Carter, the last good President in my opinion, averred that the flow of petroleum products through the Straits of Hormuz was a vital interest of the U.S. and would precipitate our military intervention if it were threatened.

Expressed in the contrapositive, if it cannot be threatened, then it is not a vital interest.

Thomas Friedman in the New York Times [in a column described by Stephen Walt of Harvard as “filled with quotations from his pal (and co-author) Michael Mandelbaum” but which gives no credit to any ‘co-author’] provides a telling quotation

“We now use 60 percent less energy per unit of G.D.P. than we did in 1973,” explained the energy economist Philip Verleger. “If the trend continues, we will use half the energy per unit of G.D.P. in 2020 that we used in 2012. To make matters better, a large part of the energy used will be renewable. Then there is the increase in oil and gas production.” In 2006, the United States depended on foreign oil for 60 percent of its consumption. Today it’s about 36 percent. True, oil is a global market, so what happens in the Middle East can still impact us and our allies. But the urgency is gone. “The Middle East is China’s problem,” added Verleger.

Walt himself quotes Brendan Green, a visiting professor at the LBJ School at the University of Texas, to the effect that enormous political changes in the Mideast during the last couple of years have had no discernible effect on U.S. interests:

Pre-2011, if you said that Mubarak would fall, that Egypt would experience a mass political mobilization that destroyed its political order several times over, that the streets of Cairo would run red with blood; that 100,000 would die in Syria, that the Levant would be aflame; that the entire region would start to conduct much of its politics on sectarian grounds, and that there would be no end in sight, I think most people would have told you the proposed situation would be disastrous for American interests. Certainly it would be disastrous for American influence in the region. And yet, are we really worse off that we were in 2010?

Walt himself finds the

comment was brilliant. If something as momentous, turbulent, and bloody as the “Arab Spring” can erupt and fester for several years, and yet have hardly any observable impact on the life expectancy or economic well-being of the overwhelming majority of Americans, what does that tell you about the true scope of “vital U.S. interests?”

We readers are subjected to argument by rhetorical question here, which is never a lucid approach.  To be clear then, the vital interests of the United States are what the military forces are supposed to defend.

For good and sound economic reason, the U.S. no longer has a vital interest in the flow of Persian Gulf petroleum.

Experience has shown that no discernible threat to the well-being of the U.S. has arisen as a consequence of the major upheavals in Egypt, Syria, and Yemen, not to mention Libya, since 2010.

The conclusion a thoughtful observer would have to draw is that the U.S. military intervention in Syria, which is going to take place but which has not yet happened at this writing, is yet another imperialist adventure.  It reminds me of Vietnam.  When the Hawks were shown by the Doves that the control of a bit of Southeast Asian swamp was of no vital interest to the U.S., the response was, that that was proof of our noble, unselfish motive in invading: that we had no vital interest justified our killing 2 million Vietnamese and 50,000 American soldiers.

It made no sense then, and it makes no sense now: both were and are exercises in enforcing the U.S. hegemony, by force.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
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3 Responses to U.S. Military Strike In Syria, in Context

  1. Trudy Luz says:

    I think you’re right. I’m glad you wrote this. You are a persuasive political writer. I think (if you don’t mind me saying) you should try really hard to be nice to people (like me and your sons) so we aren’t so dismissive of the very fine qualities you do possess because we find you so difficult to deal with.

    Hope all is well. I look forward to another day of cleaning up the upstairs.

    You do want the pantry book case, correct?


  2. M. Meo says:

    Do consider, that a person who tried really, really hard to nice to people would not have the assertiveness necessary to defy conventional wisdom. No, I do not want the pantry bookcase.

  3. thewordsmithcollection says:

    We must be the Peace we seek.

    If massive bombing (or a full-scale invasion) begins, meet at Terry Schrunk Plaza (SW 3rd and Madison) from 4-6 PM the day of, or if bombing begins later than 4, the day after. This is the standing community call to action and we know other groups will be there with their constituents too.*

    Looks increasingly likely that the United States will use this chemical gas attack in Syria, which is said to be the result of Syrian government action even through there is no evidence that it is or that it isn’t the result of rebels action, for the United States to attack Syria. If and when that happens, here is the plan for the People’s response here in Portland:

    Emergency Plans in case the US begins a massive new attack on any country, prompted by the recent escalation of talk about Syria despite lack of any proof of who was responsible for the recent chemical weapons attack reported there.

    The plan is: If massive bombing (or a full-scale invasion) is begun, meet at Terry Schrunk Plaza (SW 3rd and Madison) from 4-6 PM the day of, or if bombing begins later than 4, the day after. This is the standing community call to action and we know other groups will be there with their constituents too.

    *Side note: Since Terry Schrunk is currently closed, we may have to meet in Chapman Square, which is one block north but at the same intersection.

    Unending wars with munitions sales to both sides of each conflict is not a legitimate basis for our economic well-being or national security. If we ever hope to move forward, we must secure the peace, invest in our people, rebuild our infrastructure, repair our schools, deliver non-profit single-payer health care, and create a sustainable future for generations to come.

    “The two words that really describe Syria today are stalemate and deadlock,” says Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics. “This is the worst scenario because what political deadlock and military stalemate mean is that it’s turning into a war of attrition, it’s a long war, it’s a costly war. Neither side has the means to deliver a decisive blow. What this means is more casualties, more escalation, and more suffering for the Syrian population.”

    The death toll in the war is now said to be well over 100,000.
    The United Nations estimates that more than 1.5 million refugees have now fled Syria.

    And this is what they have been saying about the Syrian crisis in other world capitals.

    Russia: Foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich called on the international community to show “prudence” and observe international law. “Attempts to bypass the Security Council, once again to create artificial groundless excuses for a military intervention in the region are fraught with new suffering in Syria and catastrophic consequences for other countries of the Middle East and North Africa,” he said in a statement.

    China: The official Xinhua news agency, which can be read as a reflection of government thinking, similarly said the “current scenario” was “reminiscent of the lead-up to the Iraq War, which the United States staged with allegations about weapons of mass destruction that later turned out to be false.”

    Turkey: Foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said of the alleged gas attack : “This is a crime against humanity and a crime against humanity should not go unanswered, what needs to be done must be done. Today, it is clear the international community is faced with a test.”

    Australia: Kevin Rudd, the prime minister, spoke to Obama. He said afterwards: “I do not believe the world can simply turn a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons against a civilian population resulting in nearly 300 deaths, or more, and some 3,600 people hospitalised.”

    , Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey told Congress that the United States must “anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action.”

    “Should the regime’s institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control.”

    Conor Friedersdorf from The Atlantic agrees and says U.S. efforts to stop atrocities could even make the situation worse.

    “Intervening in Syria could have catastrophic consequences for America and for the region,” he writes. “Non-intervention would pose no threat to us, and wouldn’t preclude us from alleviating suffering elsewhere on a huge scale (and with no risk of accidentally killing innocent civilians in the process).”

    Friedersdorf suggests that perhaps a more “cost effective way to help people” is for the U.S. government to spend millions helping Syrian refugees.

    8 Reasons Not to Go to War in Syria

    by Peter Suderman

    Is the U.S. on the march to war in Syria? Over the past week, the stage has been set for yet another military intervention in the Middle East. Calls for U.S. action in Syria have grown louder following reports of a chemical weapon attack in Damascus said to have been carried out with the knowledge and approval of President Bassar al-Assad’s regime. In the past few days, hawkish rhetoric has grown increasingly aggressive, and additional reports today indicate that the U.S. is no longer seeking approval from UN or NATO allies for a strike. But the case for action in Syria is thin—and there are plenty of reasons to avoid becoming mired into another Middle East conflict. Here are eight reasons to avoid war in Syria:

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