MAENNER: U.S. is repeating same mistake made in Libya
Opinions Column: Maenner's Musings
In the wake of his most recent military strikes against the high value targets of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program, President Donald J. Trump was celebratory in his tone and demeanor, commending U.S. allies Great Britain and France for their assistance in, what he coined, a “perfectly executed strike.” Further illustrating his lack of historical consciousness, Trump bookended that tweet with the infamous words: “Mission Accomplished!" But while certainly not done with intent, the harkening back to the banner, which was prominently displayed behind former President George W. Bush onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln as he declared that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended” could not be more fitting. In many respects, the situation the United States finds itself in concerning the Syrian Civil War parallels its involvement in Iraq and Libya over the past couple decades, and much like his predecessors, Trump seems determined to follow in the same mistakes.
While certainly a war criminal due to the fact that he has committed numerous atrocities against his own citizens, the sad truth of the matter in Syria is that the Assad regime is still the best and most pragmatic option to lead the embattled nation into the future. Though heavy-handed authoritarian dictators run contrary to the principles held by the U.S., the one thing they do provide their nations is a semblance of stability, which in the modern day Middle East is a crucial interest for not just the citizens of these countries, but also for the U.S.
After the removal of former President Saddam Hussein and former Colonel Muammar Gaddafi from power in their respective nations, sectarian violence broke out in each with the newfound power vacuum that existed in each. Under the rule of Hussein, born a Sunni Muslim, the Shia Muslim majority was largely held in check from instiling its will on the religious minorities within the country. While conditions may have been poor in the nation, much of that was a direct consequence of the imposition of sanctions by the U.S. after the first Gulf War. Writing from a first-person perspective about the circumstances in Iraq following the toppling of the Hussein regime, Wael Al-Sallami stated that “Instead of living safely in poor conditions, Iraqis became somewhat wealthy, but lost all measures of personal safety. Where once they just had one tyrant to be afraid of, now they have hundreds more!”
The situation in Libya following the death of Gaddafi can easily be considered as worse, as the lack of planning for a post-Gaddafi Libya led to many of the same issues seen in Iraq: the rise of sectarian violence due to an apparent power vacuum, violence against religious minorities and the absence of a transition plan for the central government. Due to the constant militia fighting and the formation of multiple parliaments claiming authority over the nation, former President Barack Obama has deemed the lack of foresight following U.S. intervention in the country to be his “worst mistake.”
Worst of all, though, was the unintended consequence of indirectly helping the spread of ISIS through failure to actually follow through on the idea of “nation building.” Though the U.S. has aided the now Shia-led Iraqi government in military training and battle planning in order to expel ISIS elements from Iraq, the long drawn-out process has come with its setbacks and outright embarrassments in the process. For Libya, the infancy of a new central government backed by the UN has struggled to gain legitimacy with the entire country, leaving the future of Libyan politics disjointed, and in many respects, in disarray.
For the U.S. in Syria, it is imperative that the same mistakes of the past are not repeated yet again in the region. The clear lesson put forth by the conflicts in Iraq and Libya is that sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you do not. Though Trump has made it clear that his policy is to defeat ISIS in Syria and then leave, the only way to completely assure this result is to ensure that a power vacuum does not come to exist inside of Syria. With the Assad regime currently consolidating former rebel-held strong points, it is time that Trump actually brings the change he promised to American foreign policy and attempt to join the Russian Federation in promoting an end to the civil war. As it stands, the question is no longer if the Assad regime will keep power, but rather when the conflict will end and how many lives will be lost in the process. While penalties for the actions of Assad can certainly be brought about later on in the process, the current U.S. policy in the region needs to be to work toward stability, not incite further chaos.
Hunter Maenner is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in criminal justice and political science. His column, "Maenner's Musings," runs on alternate Mondays.
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