Has U.S. foreign policy endangered our security? (November 1, 2005)

Lost amid the hubbub of Washington scandals, SCOTUS nominations, natural and man-made disasters, Iraq deaths, and a dozen other sordid, fetid Republican-created messes is an increasing tension with Syria over the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. There's been a UN resolution over the mess, some concern from the Lebanese media that

…"U.N. May Sanction Invasion of Syria if it Fails to Cooperate on Hariri's Probe," [according to] Naharnet on the eve of the Security Council vote. Naharnet is the English language news site of An Nahar, one of Beirut's most popular newspapers. While U.S. officials repeatedly denied the U.N. resolution would lead to military action, the Christian-owned, anti-Syrian paper was not assured."

Bush, of course, in his usual completely untrustworthy style, assured us all that war with Syria would be the "last resort." (Of course, we all know by now that a military invasion of Syria is part of the neocon plan.)

"War should be the last resort." It's almost a cliché, isn't it? But what does it mean? And why does this worn-out axiom hold true?

Believe it or not, there are Realpolitik reasons for waiting to go to war. Because war is expensive (both in human life and in dollars), because someone always loses in a war (and it might be you), war should be an extreme option and the last step of diplomacy. (Isn't there a Bismark quote about that?) But the threat of war can also be useful. If a nation is acting against our national self-interest, it can be useful to posture and threaten war to settle issues diplomatically and favorably to us.

But when you're at war, you can't raise the stakes. You are at war. There's nothing more you can do. There's no threatening, no diplomacy. And meanwhile, soldiers and civilians die, infrastructure is destroyed and must be rebuilt, the costs rise, and political and economic pressures mount.

Does anyone seriously think we will invade Syria? I don't. Not with a war grinding away in Iraq, a war that's already unpopular. Not with the Bush administration under attack and weakened politically at home. Not with already huge budget deficits. If the U.S. opts to invade Syria, almost certain disaster would follow. It could be the end of the economic and political well-being of our nation.

Syria knows this. Other countries know this. They know the U.S. is engaged in a ceaseless, ugly war in Iraq. They know our army and economic infrastructure can't handle multiple, simultaneous wars. Not that I think Syria is a real threat, but what about other countries that see the U.S. back down against Syria and decide to pursue political agendas that run contrary to our interests?

The irony is that the invasion of Iraq was supposed to have the opposite effect. According to the neocons, the Iraqi invasion would serve as a warning to the rest of the world. If you don't do it our way, we'll roll the tanks in, your people will rejoice and embrace American democracy, and the world will be safer. Instead, other nations now know we can't pursue war as an realistic option.

America's continuing struggle in Iraq has made us weak.

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