The Obama administration is preparing for an expansion of U.S. military involvement into areas from which it should keep its nose clear: Syria and Mali. The news reports are unsettling even as there are attempts by the administration to assure the U.S. public that all is well and that there is no intention for a grand military intervention.
In both cases we are witnessing civil wars unfold. In the case of Syria, it is not only a civil war—that began as peaceful protests—but there has been the active involvement of outside powers, including the states around the Arabian/Persian Gulf such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran. The brutality being committed by both sides has been widely reported and there remains a grave danger that this conflict will spill over into Lebanon, and perhaps Iraq.
In the case of Mali, an internal ethnic conflict exploded with a combination of a military coup ousting the country’s recognized leadership, along with the active intervention of Muslim jihadists from Algeria and other countries armed to the teeth with weapons that were let loose when the Qaddafi regime collapsed in Libya. This was compounded by the intervention of French forces to stop the advance of the jihadists.
The Obama administration is suggesting that they will more than likely provide military assistance to the armed opposition in Syria despite the fact that the armed opposition is a mixed bag that includes Al Qaeda elements, and similar such forces. While it is absolutely the case that the armed opposition are not exclusively jihadists, it is the case that this is a situation that can get very much out of control and is in need of political solution.
Much the same can be said about Mali where the underlying issues are not the jihadists but the combination of the military regime in Bamako and the ethnic conflicts in the country which include, but are not limited to, the demands of the Tuareg population in the north of the country. In the case of Mali, the Obama administration has announced that it will deploy military advisors but not combat troops.
Isn’t that how the Vietnam War started?
Each time that the U.S.A. places its nose into the internal affairs of sovereign countries it not only further destabilizes the situation, but ends up becoming bloodied, with the average soldier and tax payer paying the price. U.S. military involvement in Syria and Mali will simply not help. Should U.S. military assistance bolster the Syrian armed opposition, for instance, this will not guarantee stability, particularly since foreign involvement in civil wars regularly produces an unstable outcome which largely depends on foreigners to sustain. In Mali, U.S. military assistance will not, by itself, resolve both the question of political democracy or ethnic contradictions. That will necessitate political/diplomatic engagement along with significant economic assistance.
The default position for U.S. administrations seems to be, move to military intervention in order to ensure that there are governments that are compatible with the interests of Washington, D.C. This is always justified in the name of human rights and stability, regardless of the actual nature of the political force(s) we happen to be supporting at the time.
And now we hear it once again.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him at www.billfletcherjr.com.