U.S. Intervention in Syria: What Is Past Is Prologue

As children we learn life’s lessons the hard way. If we touch a hot stove we get burned, and as a result, we learn not to touch hot stoves again in the future. If as children we are smart enough to learn from our mistakes, then it seems almost shocking that the government has not learned anything from its own blunders throughout history.

Obama, the supposedly antiwar president, recently announced that America will aid the rebels in Syria by sending them arms to fight the Syrian regime. President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons against the Syrian rebels has been used as justification for intervening in Syria’s ongoing civil war.

Though it cannot be denied that the use of chemical weapons is dreadful, to say the least, it seems many Americans may have experienced a slight case of amnesia. After all, it was not so long ago when our government became similarly involved in Iraq, sending weapons and support to Saddam Hussein in his fight against Iran — support which ultimately “built Saddam’s Iraq into the power it became.” Of course, we all know how well that turned out: We supplied Iraq with chemical weapons, and Hussein turned them on his own people.

It would appear that this “red line” President Obama has accused President Assad of crossing is relative according to the date.  What is now an atrocity against humanity (chemical weaponry) was once United States aid. And needless to say, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which our Syrian rebel allies become our enemies as did our Iraqi  protégé.

According to Antiwar.com’s casualty count, the official count of American casualties suffered in Iraq since our occupation there in 2003 has surpassed 32,000. Even though the official casualties number are in the thirty-two thousands, it is estimated that the number is actually somewhere around 100,000. This does not account for the emotional and mental repercussions felt by returning veterans or the 1,455,590 Iraqi deaths due to the American occupation.

The Iraq situation alone seems like enough to make any government official pause and wonder if sending aid, paving the way for further involvement in Syria, is really worth risking our own resources and people. Like Iraq, intervention in Syria is a grave error — but it’s one which can be avoided if historical lessons are learned.

Presently, almost everyone can agree that our involvement in the Vietnam War was nothing short of a disaster. But U.S. intervention in Vietnam did not happen overnight. Like most instances of U.S. intervention abroad, it happened incrementally.

First, American financial backing was given to France during the Indochina War in order to fight off the Vietnamese who were calling for an end to imperialism. As France was discovering that they had met their match in the Vietnamese people, America was naming communism as its new boogie man. In line with Eisenhower’s “Domino Theory,” the United States decided to back Ngo Dinh Diem as president of the Republic of Vietnam. It should not come as any surprise that the predominantly Buddhist population of South Vietnam did not appreciate their new, U.S.-backed, Roman Catholic President. As a result, chaos ensued, Diem was assassinated the Vietnam War started, and the rest is history.

What happened in Vietnam may sound somewhat reminiscent of what happened in Iran in 1953 when the United States helped the Shah come to power. The United States’ involvement in Iran’s political affairs ultimately led to the Iran hostage situation, the Iran-Contra Scandal, and has had long lasting consequences that have affected diplomatic ties between the United States and Iran.

There is a statue in Washington, DC with the inscription, “What is past is prologue” engraved on its front side. It seems almost comical that such a statue can be found in a place where the same mistakes are routinely made over and over again. Nonetheless, its message rings true. History has proven time and time again that intervening in foreign affairs results in more deaths, more debt, and more blowback.

Though self-proclaimed humanitarians may argue that sending arms to the Syrian Rebels is our moral duty, let us remember what happened in Iran, Vietnam, and Iraq. Our government’s interventions have not improved life for any of these people; we have only managed to escalate the tension. If we do not finally allow ourselves to learn a lesson from history, I fear we will be doomed to repeat it.

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