President Trump cancelled a CIA program to give American weapons to anti-Assad Syrian rebels. For an assortment of reasons, this is both a very good think and a real jerk thing to do. I'll explain.
Assad is the dictator of Syria. In theory, the United States does not like dictators and would prefer to help rebels who plan to rise up and install a democracy. It doesn't always work out that way, but it's the noble idea. Supposedly, that's what we were doing in Syria.
We also have a rule that we will not assassinate the leaders of recognized countries. It's considered very impolite and just isn't done. Note that this does not include leaders of groups we consider terrorist or criminal. It also doesn't include a ban on encouraging the locals to assassinate people. We Americans are a civilized bunch.
Syria is a complex issue. It has its dictator, and it has rebels. However, there isn't just one group of patriotic rebels that we can describe as plucky. Instead, there is a host of factions, among them are forces from the Islamic State (called DAESH). The group that the United States has been arming is actually a collection of allied groups who are fighting Assad and DAESH and probably a few other factions as well.
To make matters worse, Assad has the military support of the Russians and there are reports of the Iranians supplying somebody in the fight. What a pickle!
One of the problems in this is that DAESH has been getting their hands on the weapons we send. In some cases, the rebels we support change sides. In other cases, they just lose the weapons or the weapon caches to DAESH troops. Either way, the Islamic State ends up with fresh American arms.
For those of you who know me, you know that I have very clear ideas on violent conflict. You know that I say you should do everything reasonable to settle issues peacefully. It is only when peaceful resolution is not possible that you resort to violence. Once the decision is made to use violence, the violence must be horrible, immediate, and decisive. If it's not, you just end up dragging out the war and resulting in far more people suffering. You cannot be a nice guy at war.
This leaves me with four levels of conflict from which to choose.
If we really want to go into a country and support the locals in violently overthrowing their recognized government, we should go whole hog. This is my philosophy that once you decide on violence, the nicest thing is to make it so decisive and brutal that it minimizes the suffering of the survivors.
If aren't going to go to war, but we are sympathetic to the cause of the rebels, we could always sell them weapons. Presumably, a group large enough to have the means to buy weapons (cash up front, no credit) has a reasonable chance of victory in their war. It is likely that they will be the next recognized government of that country and we can get on their good side early.
If we support the group, but they do not have the resources to actually stand a chance, we should not get involved. This may sound cruel, but it isn't. If they don't stand a chance, but we aren't going to go to war for them, they are probably going to lose. If we give them weapons, it will just take them longer to lose. The longer a war goes on, the more damage is done. These people have been struggling all this time and the survivors are just going to end up back where they were.
The reason that the decision to stop the arms shipments is that they should not have started anyway. Having fresh weapons just prolongs the fighting. Since we are not going to get involved enough for them to have a chance to win, we are just stretching out their suffering.
That's also why this is bad. We already started arming them and were their ally and not we are ditching them in the thick of it. What if you had a buddy who said he would back you up when you were being threatened in a bar, and then that same friend walked away when you started getting your backside beat. That may be the smart thing for the buddy to do, but you are going to hurt because of it. It would have been better for the buddy to say he wasn't going to help from the start, but encouraging you and then leaving is a jerk thing to do.
Without fresh weapons, these folks will be defeated quickly. The dictator who wins will know who they are and is likely to punish them. Since the rebels we were arming were also fighting DAESH, it is likely they will face retribution from that side as well. These people are screwed.
After something like this, we have to ask not only what we can and will learn from it, but what will others learn as well. Our own lessons are easy: we won't learn anything. Sure, we could learn not to get involved if we aren't going in to win, but that is unlikely. We could learn the answer to the question, "Why do they hate us after everything we did for them?" That's not going to happen either.
There are some who will look at this and not ask whether it was a good idea. Instead, they will say it is an example of Trump being Putin's bitch-monkey. It will be viewed from the perspective how it can be used in American politics instead of viewed as the death of rebels that we set up and then let fall.
As for the rest of the world, the lesson will be clear. Many will see this and learn that help and friendship from the United States is fleeting and fickle. They will see that you cannot trust the U. S. and that you have to get what you can but not rely on it. They will learn that we are real jerks sometimes.
The big question, of course, is what did you learn?
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