Syria has become a hotbed of terror with mass atrocities, including the use of use chemical weapons against its own people. As policy makers assess options and struggle with future confrontations with rogue states, they should consider 10 lessons we’ve seen illustrated over the last two or so years:
1. Wars don’t end because the United States turns a blind eye and/or leaves the battlefield. In fact, they get worse.
2. Related to No. 1, crises tend to get worse the longer the United States signals it is unwilling to act. The Post editorial board observes, “The U.S. president has been correct from the start that the Syria crisis offered no good options to U.S. policymakers. That has become only more true as the United States has remained aloof. With little support from the West, opposition forces that espouse a multi-sectarian, democratic Syria have found themselves challenged and weakened not only by Mr. Assad’s forces but also by more radical Islamist fighters.”
3. A “little” chemical weapons use can’t be ignored. Had we acted the first time Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, thousands of victims from this attack could have been spared.
4. “When you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.” Empty words and half-measures have only emboldened Assad, as will a couple of cruise missiles that fail to knock out chemical weapons, don’t do real damage to Assad’s forces and fail to protect civilians. Unfortunately, that is precisely what, according to news reports, the president intends to do. A strike that leaves Assad with his military advantage and does not attempt to destroy chemical weapons will be useless and, worse, convince Assad and others that the downside of using weapons of mass destruction is slight.
5. A distracted secretary of state is an impotent one. Hillary Clinton racked up the frequent flyer miles; John Kerry busied himself with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Neither had the will or the ability to craft a successful Syria policy.
6. Drastic cuts in our military spending based on the assumption that we’re doing less fighting or that conflicts are diminishing inevitably prove unwise. And military leaders such as Gen. Martin Dempsey who serve up recommendations to curry favor with politicians sacrifice their own reputation and the country’s security.
7. We can’t “pivot” from the Middle East. Like it or not, the world often needs a policeman, and it’s the United States or no one.
8. A forceful and influential U.S. presence in the Middle East benefits Israel. One can’t claim to be pro-Israel yet counsel that we do nothing to counter threats from Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.
9. When we demonstrate fecklessness in dealing with certain countries (e.g. North Korea, Russia, Iraq), other countries watch and make their own judgments as to whether the United States will confront them. Weakness and empty rhetoric are provocative.
10. The Senate should not confirm inept and unprepared national security nominees. In doing so, senators endanger national security and must shoulder part of the blame when these characters unsurprisingly fail to perform well in a crisis.