As we all talk about war in Syria, and wait with baited breath to see just what action the US will take in response to Assad's use of chemical weapons, I am making my way through Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill. Scahill, who also wrote Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, continues his detailed account of the US involvement in the "global war on terror."
The history of our expanding war, military funding of questionable governments in Arab countries, attacks on supposed al Qaeda militants which end up killing innocents -- often supporters of the US -- is an important perspective as we consider our moral position against Syria's attacks. During the Bush years, our own president was a puppet for Dick Cheney's masterminding of expanded presidential war powers. What has come to be known as the "Cheney Doctrine" -- that if there is a one percent chance of a terrorist group obtaining weapons of mass destruction the US must perceive it as a certainty -- has led not only to deadly attacks in foreign countries with little justification, but to former US supporters joining the ranks of al Qaeda and other anti-American groups.
Tragically, Obama, who once planned to reign in such acts, has become ever more adept in using those special forces to capture or kill those whom his administration determines to be suspected terrorists. We have an ever-expanding "kill list," reviewed by the Obama's security team on the incredibly nicknamed "Terror Tuesday" meetings.
What we also have is a continuation of a Keystone Kops atmosphere where too much questionable intelligence has led to deadly mistakes.
Where President Obama has succeeded, however, has tended to be in those actions in which he has had a world audience. The operation resulting in the killing of three Somali pirates holding hostages on the Maersk Alabama was low-key, but precise and heroic. And of course, the operation resulting in the death of Osama bin Laden was breath-taking in its combination of intelligence and military skills.
Which leads me to the hope that if the world's eyes are on President Obama as he plans his response to the atrocities the Syrian government has committed on its people, he will take precise and effective action. His decisions thus far, involving cautious evaluation, and the input of Congress, could well lead to support and cooperation from the international community.
As to whether we should take action, and the idiotic focus by the media on the "red line," we should be aware that Assad has escalated his acts in a manner that can only draw attention and approbation; he is a bully looking to see how far he can go. And the consequences have been an estimated 100,000 deaths and two million refugees.
Each of us brings to our opinions about this war our experiences of past wars. Some recall that we waited too long to join in the battle against Hitler, others the tragedy of the bombing of Japan. Then there was Vietnam, and our government's evasions and our own soldiers, those who were tortured or lost their lives, and those who engaged in atrocities against our enemies. And of course, we have the continuing nightmare of Afghanistan, along with the Iraq war which destroyed so many lives to topple one tyrannical leader.
But we need to look at this war from what we know is happening within its borders. We cannot imagine, but we should try, a country in which the government has turned against its people, in which our own towns could be attacked, our families killed. All we could do would be to look to the global community, in the hope that they would intervene.