September 4, 2013 by Nash Riggins
It seems the world police have called Syria’s bluff. CIA-trained operatives have been deployed on the ground to help bolster the country’s rebel forces, and Barack Obama is now within inches of attaining what David Cameron so embarrassingly failed to achieve in Britain: Congressional approval to fire a few hundred cruise missiles at Bashar al-Assad’s living room. Even John Boehner has handed the President’s bombing campaign his suspiciously bronze endorsement, and a resolution is expected to go before Congress ASAP. That’s all well and good – but before the bombs begin to fly, America’s warmongering congressmen and women would do well to take a look at their country’s last little sortie into the Arab Spring.
Does anyone remember a particularly flamboyant Libyan dictator named Muammar Gaddafi? No? He had chairs made of solid gold, and his sons were huge Mariah Carey fans, if that helps at all. In 2011, Gaddafi scoffed at peaceful demands for a fair election. After a few unprovoked mass slaughters, protestors decided to arm themselves. The country unsurprisingly slipped into a chaotic civil war. Human rights activists begged the West to intervene on behalf of ‘the children’, and Barack Obama grudgingly acquiesced. He worked closely with David Cameron to unite a sizable UN coalition (including Denmark of all countries), and bombed Muammar Gaddafi into oblivion. The world celebrated his demise, not a single American troop got a scuff on his boot and a secular assembly of opposition groups were handed the keys to Tripoli. In the end, even Fox News struggled to nit-pick at Obama’s successful foreign intervention into a ‘scary Muslim country no one understands’ (although God knows they tried). Yet two years on, things in Libya have gotten worse than ever.
The country has collapsed into pandemonium. As the West anxiously watches the harrowing developments taking place in Syria and Egypt, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has completely lost control of his country. Mutinous military units and security forces have captured Libya’s oil ports and are threatening to sell the country’s black gold on the black market. Most of the rebels have been on strike since July over low pay and alleged government corruption, and Ali Zeidan simply doesn’t have the resources to take back his oil fields. Consequently, production has fallen from 1.4m barrels a day to around 160,000 barrels. The country is now running on the last of its cash reserves – and if things don’t shape up soon, the government will go broke by December. That means the few public servants Zeidan still controls will be let go due to lack of funds.
Meanwhile, secessionist militias in the east have taken control of entire cities, and Libyans are living or dying by the grace of these anti-government forces. Popular protests against the rebels have ended with gunfire. In June, 31 protestors were shot down for conducting a peaceful demonstration outside the barracks of the Libyan Shield Brigade. Journalists covering such protests are starting to turn up days later with at least one bullet in their heads, and the prosecutor in charge of investigating such assassinations, Colonel Yussef Ali al-Asseifar, was blown to smithereens by a car bomb last week. A fresh civil war appears imminent – or at the very least, a feudal stalemate reminiscent of post-Soviet Afghanistan. If ever there was a breeding ground for extremism, this is it.
So, if that’s a textbook example of a successful US military intervention, what the hell is going to happen when bombs start flying in Damascus? One look at Bashar al-Assad’s political competitors, and it’s pretty safe to say the aftermath of the dictator’s inevitable fall will be disturbing at best.
When protesters first took to the streets of Damascus in 2011, they were dominated by secular, western beliefs and a great desire to implement some form of representative democracy. A few of those beliefs continue to live on in groups like the Syrian Democratic People’s party; however, the majority of rebel forces have become dangerously riddled with religious fundamentalism. Does anyone remember Abu Sakkar, the rebel commander who cut out a government soldier’s heart and ate it? Well his group, the Farouq Brigade, is one of the less extreme Islamic factions. In fact, two al-Qa’ida groups have largely taken the opposition helm: Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. Every time the groups capture a new city from Assad’s forces, they move swiftly to oppress women, ban alcohol and fire on secular protesters that stand in their way. Members of the Forouq Brigade have already vowed to wage a second war against these two al-Qa’ida linked groups the second President Assad falls. Bearing that in mind, Barack Obama and temporary BFF John Boehner should take a moment to contemplate that a glorious end to Syria’s current civil war will only be celebrated with the launch of an even bloodier one. It may seem like things can’t get any worse in Syria. Yet the truth of the matter is things can get much, much worse (and probably will).
By no means should the prospect of a second gory conflict be permitted to paralyse American lawmakers with fear. For too long, Bashar al-Assad has been allowed to trample on the will of his people. Over 100,000 innocent Syrians have been butchered, and now families are being choked to death by toxic nerve gas whilst they sleep. Something has got to be done, and someone needs to act. But if we’re to take just a single lesson from the clusterfuck that has been allowed to fester in Libya, it’s that a simple bombing campaign won’t fix a damn thing. If the US is serious about bringing peace to Syria, that means boots on the ground, billions spent in infrastructure and education and teaching warring Islamic factions how to coexist in harmony. In short: it means another Iraq war. Even after a decade of patrolling and rebuilding, things will not have been made right in Damascus. Cynical as it may sound, things in Damascus may never be right again.
So please, Mr Obama, do something. Aim a cruise missile at Bashar al-Assad’s palace and topple this cruel dictator. But unless you’re willing to invest a decade of American aid and manpower to forcefully oversee the country’s peaceful transition to democracy, don’t feign surprise when Syria plunges into anarchy again two years down the line. Chaos begets chaos, and the West is on the cusp of entering a war it can never fully understand. Act or not, the outcome won’t be pretty.