Monday, August 04, 2014

Gerson Wants to Intervene in Syria, But Can't Explain How

When I read Michael Gerson complain that the United States hasn't done enough in Syria, I think he's being genuine. My problem with his columns is that they show an astonishing lack of thought about the subject, and a complete lack of understanding or appreciation for why most oppose the type of intervention he desires. If anything makes me question his sincerity, it's his dishonest characterization of the President's position:
When the rebellion was a broad, non-radical uprising — the dead in Caesar’s photos — President Obama did almost nothing to help. When radical groups gained momentum, it became an excuse for further inaction, because America didn’t want to create jihadists. We got the jihadists anyway, who are now causing regional havoc. At every stage, Obama defended his policy with false choices and flanking attacks on straw men: Any critics of his minimalism wanted Marines in Damascus. And when he eventually adopted the policy recommended by many of his critics — aid to the responsible rebels — it was very late.
Were Gerson to educate himself, he would become aware that the White House has attempted to identify, train and arm "responsible rebels" since 2012, and weapons and equipment have been provided for almost a year. Gerson works from the assumption that Syria is overflowing with easily identified U.S.-friendly rebels, with sufficient numbers and dedication to defeat all other factions in Syria, take control of the nation and turn it into a western-friendly state. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests something else, entirely. Perhaps Gerson thought this screening test was serious and workable? We're to believe that significant numbers of fighters can be armed, with little to no chance of serious mistakes?

Gerson wants to pretend that the most powerful factions fighting Assad arose in a vacuum, that groups like ISIS would scarcely exist had the U.S. poured arms into the region with little concern beyond a warlord's promise that he really liked the U.S., but there's never been a showing that Gerson's wish was anything more than a fantasy. You certainly won't find substantiation in anything Gerson has written.

Now Gerson complains that a genocide is occurring in Syria, and that the world must do something. Given that he mocks those who suggest that it would be necessary to dispatch a considerable force of ground troops into Syria to arrest the chaos and stop the bloodshed, it would be nice if he would tell us exactly how he proposes that we stop the civil war and its atrocities. He could explain why he rejects Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, General Martin Dempsey's concern that "intervention would end up costing so much, the U.S. military would be unable to respond to crises in other parts of the world". As is par for the course for a Gerson column, those real-world concerns are simply ignored.

You know, it would be great if all of the world's problems were easy to solve. It would be great if all it took for a nation to become a stable democracy was the toppling of its tyrannical leader. It would be wonderful if it were cheap and easy to transform a nation, used to totalitarian rule, into a modern economy with progressive values and a desire for democracy. It would be great if the type of intervention Gerson wants would end the spilling of innocent blood, with no risk of creating a larger, longer or more violent war. But as much as Gerson isn't able to contemplate that such interventions aren't easy, cheap or bloodless -- a reflection not only of an inability to think things through but also to learn from his own past mistakes -- the real world is far more complex. Gerson simply isn't able to process that his eager desire to arm Syrian rebels could lead to any number of outcomes that would be worse for the region and its people than the dismal status quo. Why is Gerson so certain that leader who emerges from the rubble won't be the moral equivalent of Pol Pot? Why does he believe that U.S.-backed forces will do any better at hanging onto their weapons than the Iraqi army that abandoned its arms to ISIS?

Gerson should continue to advocate for the victims of the world, at least the ones he cares about. He should feel free to act as the nation's conscience. But when he wants the U.S. to contribute weapons, support and training to factions in a civil war, I think he owes it to his readers to explain exactly what intervention he proposes, how it can be safely accomplished and why we should believe that it is likely to result in a better outcome. If he cannot do that himself or after consultation with an expert, why should he expect to be taken seriously?

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