It’s a critical time, being in the heat of the moment. The fever-pitch chatter about an imminent Western strike on Syrian military facilities from last week has returned, and once again the region plunges into a murky world of rumors and speculation on the when, where and who.
There are already four U.S. destroyer ships in the Mediterranean, with a fifth reportedly on its way. Russia’s only naval base outside the former Soviet Union is at the Syrian port of Tartous, and the country’s Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said Thursday they had a “pretty strong group” in the Mediterranean.
It is as if we have returned to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the very peak of the Cold War, with the world’s superpowers engaging in a serious faceoff and potentially explosive game of brinkmanship. Russia’s real-time announcement this week that the U.S. and Israel had fired missiles in the Mediterranean – an apparent “test” – was a clear warning shot from President Vladimir Putin: America, we are watching you.
This sort of confrontation back in 1962 brought the world to a standstill as the then-USSR and United States hurtled toward all-out nuclear war over a sensitive issue centered on a third-party. The military escalation as ships took up position, the inflammatory rhetoric, the overriding concern with losing face and upholding one’s credibility, the global proxy war – sound familiar to anyone?
That crisis was ended with an under-the-table agreement, but any chance for such a solution today – this week’s G-20 meeting – appears to have gone unused, with both Putin and Obama sticking to their guns.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Congress has been debating the very same issue. Iraq has come up in speeches on numerous occasions, but for all the wrong reasons. The Americans are war-weary, we hear. Just imagine how the Iraqis must feel. Many things have been said about the lessons that should be learned from the Iraq debacle, but few have centered on how appalling life is like for those living there now.
“The day after” is not a concept many of those arguing for intervention have considered. More than 100,000 civilians have died in Iraq since the invasion of 2003. It’s the same number being touted to advocate intervention in Syria, and yet it should be a red flag.
No matter how many times politicians say the words “limited strikes,” they do not become any truer. Even if it were limited in its scope or motives, no strike by a Western country, especially by the U.S., would be limited in its consequences. More than anything, it will give President Bashar Assad and his backers – Russia, Iran and Hezbollah – ample reason to up the ante in their fight against the rebels.
Those behind the decisions to be made over the next few days should think long and hard about the day after and how it looked in Iraq. The inevitable strike, however, should impact the march toward a political solution and yield the conviction by the regime that it’s the only path available to ending the bloodshed.