Monday, August 22, 2016

It's All Fun Until Somebody Loses an Eye: From the "No One Could Have Foreseen This" Casebook

It looks like the US had another one of those "Oops!" moments in Syria recently.
The Pentagon warned the Syrian government Friday not to strike U.S. and coalition personnel in Syria, a day after the regime carried out airstrikes in an area near American special operations forces, prompting the U.S. to scramble jets to protect them.
Daniel Larison, who wrote about this incident, pointed out that the longer US troops remain in Syria, no matter how "non-combat" their role supposedly is, the more likely it is that the protection will fail and an incident will turn into an excuse to invade.
When the U.S. backs proxies in a foreign civil war and puts U.S. forces on the ground with them, it opens the door to new and unexpected conflict with other armed groups in the country. By extending protection to U.S. proxies in Syria, the U.S. could find itself drawn into yet another conflict in Syria. Anti-regime groups would have a strong incentive to put the U.S. in that position. The more U.S. forces that are sent into the country, the greater the chances of an incident that could lead to a wider war, and Clinton is on record in favor of sending more special forces into Syria. This episode underscores the absurdity of the administration’s many statements that U.S. forces aren’t in combat in Syria, and it reminds us how quickly a supposedly “limited” intervention could spiral into something much worse.
I wonder again: what are US forces doing in Syria -- a country which is neither our client nor our ally, with whose government we aren't even nominally friendly, but with which we are not, supposedly, at war either?  Suppose that some foreign government, Russia for example, were to station its troops in the United States in order to extend protection to its proxies here.  Suppose some other country were to decide that white supremacists, say, were its proxies in the United States.  Suppose Mexico decided to station some of its troops in the US to protect its citizens here -- in a purely advisory, non-combat role, of course.  Would most Americans, regardless of their party affiliation, consider such intervention and presence a sign of that other country's disinterested commitment to peace?

It's tempting to speculate that US troops are in Syria as bait, with the conscious intention that some of them will be hurt or killed by the bad guys so that the US can invade and kill lots of civilians, including children.  (The recent viral photo of a little boy, a drowned refugee, outraged so many Americans -- nobody gets to hurt or kill Syrian kids but us!  When that picture turned up on my Facebook feed last week with much lamenting about the sadness of this world and the badness of people, but what can you do, I pointed out the US' support for Saudi Arabian killing of civilians in Yemen, which Americans could do something about by pressuring our government to stop its participation in the atrocities.  The reaction (or rather, non-reaction) was predictable.  It's so much more satisfying, as Noam Chomsky has been pointing out for decades, to weep about the crimes of our official enemies than to notice the crimes of our friends.)  If Hillary Clinton wins this election, it's a good bet that US intervention will escalate; but very possibly Trump will do the same if he's elected.

Still, going by the US' record, our leaders aren't thinking that far ahead; they are, on the evidence, too stupid to do that.  It never occurs to them that if they put American troops in hostile territory, someone will shoot at them.  I recently saw an item about US troops in Ukraine a couple of years ago, where some of the locals threw stones at them.  Again: what were US troops doing in Ukraine?  One can't expect grunts to have a realistic idea of what they're getting into, I know, but the Wise Leaders who sent them there should have known better.  It wasn't the Existential Danger Donald Trump who made these blunders, it was a Democratic administration -- but Republican politicians and pundits have been agitating for a US invasion of Syria for years too.  But no one could possibly have foreseen that anything would go wrong.  We are America, after all, and nothing ever goes wrong on our watch.