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Opinion: McCain Wrong on Syria

mccain_1Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a vocal advocate for more U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict, is right about at least one thing—a victory for President Bashar al-Assad is a victory for his allies in Iran.

McCain is wrong on many other accounts, most notably the assumption that a more favorable outcome can be achieved if the United States plays a more heavy-handed role in the conflict: history shows that to be false.

McCain’s June comment on the floor of the U.S. Senate, “I have seen and been in conflicts where there was gradual escalation—they don’t win!” [sic], implies that America’s failure in Vietnam resulted from its escalatory strategic approach.

The impression he creates in his argument is that if the United States had gone into Vietnam hard and heavy from the onset, it would have achieved a more favorable outcome. It’s hard to imagine how one can categorize the massive investment in American blood and treasure in Vietnam as a light response. To suggest that a more robust—non-escalatory—U.S. strategy in Vietnam would have allowed the United States to achieve its objectives is at the very least a counter-factual argument.

Strategic failure in Vietnam can be attributed to many things, but perhaps most importantly it was failure to understand the nature of the war. We should be cautious not to make that same mistake again in Syria.

A better factual example to use when examining McCain’s notion that a robust involvement can create a better outcome in a complex environment is Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).

OIF, in contrast to Vietnam, kicked off with a “Shock and Awe” no-holds-barred attack and an immediate ground invasion, destroying everything held dear to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

This was followed by a complete occupation of Iraq. Despite this U.S. effort, insurgent forces still found access to sufficient weapons to inflict a heavy cost on the American occupation forces.

At this juncture no one is suggesting that we put an occupation force in Syria, but the recent historical example of OIF serves to illustrate that no measure of American military power can assure a desired strategic outcome in a complex civil war such as that occurring in Syria.

A large U.S. commitment in Iraq resulted in what is at best a shaky strategic outcome, so why would any measure of force provide a different result in Syria? Finally, we are left to wonder, if neither a limited approach nor a full-blown occupation can assure a satisfactory outcome, then what should we do?

America can look to its own revolution for an example of how to respond to the civil war in Syria. Specifically, we can look to the role that France played in the U.S. war of independence.

“The first object of France was not to benefit America, but to injure England,” noted naval strategist and historian Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote.

What does America stand to gain for betting on the side of rebels? Here is where McCain is correct. The United States must be firm in insisting that Assad must go. The realpolitik view of this conflict suggests that a Sunni rebel victory has a better chance of creating a favorable outcome for U.S. interests in the region than an emboldened and Iranian-sponsored Shia regime under Assad.

Syria is a nation in the throes of a violent civil war that is clearly very different than that of the nascent American nation in the 18th century. Yet, the U.S. government and the Syrian rebels have one key objective in common: both wish to see the end of the Assad regime. France entered into an alliance with the American revolutionaries solely for the reason best expressed in crime-boss logic that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

After all, the American idea of independence was as clear a threat to monarchial France then as rogue regimes with WMD are to the United States today. In short, the American Patriots and King Louis XVI’s government shared no cultural bonds or political ideology.

The French were not endorsing our anti-colonial independence movement; rather, they were acting in their own national interests.

Like France in 1778, the United States can gamble on the future of Syria by employing its might to blockade Syria’s coast, hinder the Syrian government forces, and assist Syrian rebels to remove Assad and his regime from power. The end result in Syria is likely to be less than satisfying for the United States, but in this case supporting the rebels is better than the alternative.

  • Marcd30319

    Well, Mr. Dolan, I guess the fact that John McCain fought in the Vietnam War might give him some insight that neither of us possess.

    And let’s be candid and acknowledge that the U.S. fought the Vietnam war in a piecemeal, incremental fashion under very tight, restrictive political control from LBJ’s White House and the wiz kids in Robert MacNamara’s office in the Pentagon. It wasn’t until the Easter offensive of 1972, the mining of Haiphong harbor, and the Christmas 1972 bombing campaign that the full weight of U.S. military power was fully unleashed.

    Regarding Syria, if we had set up a no-fly zone that McCain urged from the get-go, we might have been able to forge an alliance with Asad’s opposition initially led by the middle-class before the Islamists infiltrated that movement.

    Of course, that assumed that the Sixth Fleet would be up to the job. Once upon a time, we had two carrier battle groups and an amphibious ready group in the Mediterranean. Now, during the most recent crises, we had to rent a ferry to transport American citizen out of harm’s way.

    I cannot find a pithy closing to this post because I am so embarrassed that we cannot see the strategic situation without kowtowing to political correctness and wishful thinking.

  • Richard Blumenthal

    In his book “John Adams”, McCullough makes the point that the French, both aristocrat and otherwise, were great admirers of America and the American revolution and the Government would have had a difficult time not to show support. One might liken the apparent irrationality of French aristocratic support for the egalitarian American Revolution to the modern beneficiaries of capitalism who actively promote an anti-capitalist socialist agenda because it is in fashion.


    When it comes to Syria, the best course of action is to let the Syrians settle their civil war. As in many cases, in this conflict there are no good guys. Much like Lybia was none of our business, Syria is none of our business. Let the chips fall where they may.

    Not every global conflict requires a US military solution. As a matter of fact, we should be looking very hard at how we could have been so tragically incompetent in both Iraq and Afghanistan from a strategic perspective and try to learn something from our mistakes. When all is said and done we will have done nothing more than burned thousands of billions of dollars and thrown American lives away in those places with no strategic benefit.

    Let’s try to show we’re capable of learning by not acting stupidly in Syria. Maybe one day we will actually be able to act intelligently, but if the past decade is any indication, we’re a long, long way from that standard.

    • Marcd30319

      Like Libya, smart guy?

      • GIMPGIMP

        I’m not getting what you’re saying here. We did intervene in Libya for no apparent reason. It cost a lot of money, we handed the opposition Col. Gaddafi and they promptly executed him. The opposition, a group no better than Col. Gaddafi, and probably much worse, took over. Next thing you know our ambassador and some other people are dead too.

        Our involvement in Libya didn’t work out worth a damn either. Waste of money, worse people in power, dead ambassador, all for naught.

        • Marcd30319

          What part of 100,000 dead do you not get, but let’s ignore that and consider the strategic issues.

          Syria is a partner of Iran, a state sponsor of terror. Syria is the “eye” on the Mediterranean and an outlet to Europe for Iran as it dreams of a new world caliphate. Taking down Asad’s regime would seem to be in the interest of the United States because it would hurt Iran’s ambitions and undermine the radical Islamist movement.

          That’s a good thing, Gumpy.

          From the start, what McCain and others urged was a no-fly zone to level the playing field so that the rebels had a more fighting chance to overthrow Asad. Also, the Syrian rebellion was initially lead by middle-class, pro-Western Syrians looking to overthrow Asad.

          That’s a good thing, Gumpy.

          Now because of dithering on the part of Obama et al., the Russians have supplied Asad with advanced anti-aircraft systems and other weapons, and Al Qaeda and other Islamist radicals have taken over the rebel movement.

          That’s a BAD thing, Gumpy.

          And so is a missed opportunity to set back Iran and get a lick on Vladimir Putin who wants to go back to the good old days of the USSR and the Cold War.

          • a sanchez

            Nothing wrong with using some tomahawk missiles like in Libya to aid that no fly zone maybe even win the lottery and stick a tomahawk up Assad behind, that will sure piss off Putin, Russia ant their propaganda news agency RT news aka payback for the whole Snwoden fiasco.

          • Marcd30319

            Sorry, amigo, but Tomahawks cruise missile are used to bomb targets, NOT provide air superiority and air dominance that a no-fly zone MUST have. For the foreseeable future, this requires manned fighter jets. It requires air defense suppresssion, and you can’t do that with cruise missiles.

          • EveryAtomIsLinked

            Sir, i must question your insistence that Iran should be the ultimate target of US intervention in Syria.

            You mention that Iran is a state sponsor of terror but how many Shia (that is what the Ayatollahs are) plots against the US have you heard of in the last 10 years? On the other hand almost every act of terror in the world has roots in Sunni, Wahhabi extremism – the kind practiced in madrassas across Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan. The very same extremism the usurpers of the Syrian rebellion preach.

            Speaking of state sponsorship of terror, who sponsors the Taliban? Who gave safe haven to Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda cronies? It wasn’t Iran but our Sunni friends, the Pakistanis. So lets not throw that term about like it’s something unusual in the region.

            The truth is that the US is targeting Iran to stay onside with our ‘friends’ the Saudis, whose arch-nemesis Iran is. This intervention is nothing to do with threats to US interests, it is just a bunch of powerful people lobbying for their friends without fully considering the implications.

            The Sunni – Shia schism is the main obstacle that keeps the wolves from western doors. Can you imagine if the US was successful in neutralizing the Shia powers in the region – where do you think Wahhabi eyes would turn to next?

            Strategically speaking, there can be no better US interest in the long-term than to keep Syria in Alawite / Shia hands to ensure that our Sunni friends never forget how much they need us.

          • Marcd30319

            The target is getting rid of Asad, a long-time ally of Iran, and replace him with a homegrown, more pro-western government. Irrespective of this Sunni – Shia schism, at the end of the day, the radical jihadists have one shared goal – subjugation of the infidel or death to infidels,

          • GIMPGIMP

            100,000 dead in a civil war. Ok. What part of that is our business, problem, concern? Vital to our national interests? Using people dying as a justification to start a war is ridiculous. We have allowed many genocides without intervening. There’s nothing special about this particular group of people dying. It’s a war. People die. We do not have a national policy for intervention because people die.

            A no-fly zone over someone else’s country is an act of war. Are you really suggesting we should start another war?

            As for the strategic value of ridding the world of Assad in order to stymie Iran, I don’t believe it for a minute. The rebels taking over in Syria would likely be worse than the Assad regime. As to Iran, I don’t believe having Assad gone will have the predicted effect.

            What precisely will staring another war accomplish other than stopping Iran from taking over the world, which they’re in no position to do without a war?

            If you say that the justification for starting a war in Syria is to pump money into the department of defense and contractors who support it, then I would say that’s at least a rational justification, although completely unethical and immoral. Other than that, I can’t see any reason to do it.

          • Marcd30319

            Your reading comprehension and cognitive reasoning are truly astounding, Gumpy.

            Did you NOT read in my response that the Syrian rebellion was a home-grown, middle-class, pro-western movement initially?

            Did you NOT read in my response that I said that It was only the Obama administration’s dithering that allowed that home-grown, prop-western movement to be taken-over by the Islamists?

            Did you NOT read in my response that I said Iran is a state-sponsor of terrorism. This is the judgment of the U.S. State Department over the last several administrations, so this is a bipartisan consensus.

            Did you NOT read in my response that said Syria is a longtime ally of Iran, and it has been a transit point for terrorism. As well as sponsor of terror on its own right. Taking Assad down and installing a pro-western government would deny Iran access to the Mediterranean.

            Unfortunately, Obama’s dithering allowed the Islamists to take over the home-grown, pro-Western rebellion movement. So arming these radicalized rebels make NO strategic sense NOW. But that does NOT prove that McCain was wrong.

            As far as your observation about a no-fly zone being an act of war, that is yet another non sequitur. During the 1990s, we ran two no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq authorized by the UN Security Council. Also in the 1990s, NATO ran a no-fly zone over Bosnia per Chapter VIII of the UN charter. It is conceivable that NATO could have authorized a no-fly zone in Syria at the get-go of tis crisis had anyone had any strategic vision. Unfortunately, more Obama dithering ensued, and the opportunity was lost.

            Finally, when you said that the justification for starting a war in Syria is to pump money into the department of defense and contractors who support it, that was not a non sequitur but slander.

            You have NO sense of history, politics, and geography. All you have is wishful thinking. I am sure you live a very lovely life because ignorance is bliss. Dangerous and delusional perhaps, but blissful.

          • GIMPGIMP

            I read your response and understood it just fine, but I do not accept your statements as proven fact. Even if it’s agreed upon by a bipartisan majority, it doesn’t make it a fact.

            If Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, and all we have is the word of the same government that said Iraq had WMD for an absolute fact, what does it really matter. We can counter that without starting a full blown conventional war, which is foolish.

            A no fly zone over any sovereign nation other than your own is an act of war. Just because the nation is too weak to effectively fight back doesn’t make it anything else.

            I said that if the reason for proposing starting a war in Syria was to pump money into DoD, at least it would be rational, not that it was actually happening. It’s no slander to say that we’ve started wars for reasons of financial advantage before. It’s a historical fact. Other than that, starting another war is indefensible.

            You’ve called me names and talked about me and what I know or don’t know plenty, but you don’t know me, what I know, have done, or am doing. You’re welcome to your opinion, but I don’t care what you think about me and I don’t accept your statements as fact just because you believe them.

            Enough of this. Have a good weekend. We disagree.

    • a sanchez

      The oil wars are just to prevent OPEC countries from being in the position to economically threaten the USA with another pesky 1973 oil embargo.

      Iran, – Pending
      Iraq, – Check
      Kuwait, -Check
      Saudi Arabia – Check
      Venezuela – Dead president and western hemisphere so Check too.

      everything else in between is irrelevant.

  • Guest

    Any man that spend 7 year as a POW deserves a presidency b4 meeting his maker.

    Isn’t that how most minorities voted for Obama? or do we actually believe they read the Obama political ballot outlines?

  • a sanchez

    Any man that spends 7 years as a POW deserves the presidency

    What? Isn’t that how most minorities in the USA voted for Obama? or do we actually believe that they took the rime to read the the man’s political ballot outlines?