What Long-Distance Wars Fail to Teach

With the exceptions of the American Revolution and Civil War, our national community has not experienced first-hand the trauma of mass combat across the breath of the land. We have not been exposed to the continuous thrum of fighter planes and bombings and automatic weapons fire in panoramic scope and Panasonic sound nor the anxiety of silent periods between episodes bookended by the certainty of a subsequent attack.  Other countries and their populations do. For the most part, our recent national experiences of war have been by way of media, especially television.

It is true that our nation has been attacked—Pearl Harbor 67 years ago and New York City 17 years ago—but we have not endured all-consuming warfare within our borders since the Civil War, over 150 years ago. Syrians, however, live with it continuously. For 8 years war has raged in Syria, claiming millions of deaths, a global humanitarian crisis, and a staggering refugee diaspora. In 2011, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, believing his regime threatened, suppressed demonstrations by military force, jailing thousands of protesters and killing others. A breakaway faction of the military formed the Syrian Free Army and the conflict morphed into civil war, further exacerbated due to many decades of sectarian rivalries between Shiites and Sunnis.

Ostensibly, US involvement was in response to Assad’s brutal tactics upon civilians, including chemical weapons, to sustain his control but likely also in tacit recognition of Russia’s presence in Syria to protect its only Mediterranean naval base and strategic position in the Middle East. In addition, Assad requested Russian assistance in stemming the civil conflict cuckolding US policy. In pursuing its Syrian strategy, the US has allied with Kurdish rebels from the eastern part of the nation, an alliance that has strained relations with Turkey. At present, there appear to be two battle fronts in Syria where the civil conflict may be in a type of end game.

Syria is emblematic of the insanity of war as well as the inordinate difficulties in pursuing international peace efforts or anti-terrorist campaigns. In the east, Hajin, US, and Kurdish forces are massing to siege what is called the last stronghold of ISIS and its caliphate, ending the rule of the terrorist group in 2–3 months. Concurrently, to the west, in Idlib province, Assad’s forces—together with Russia—are preparing to invade in an effort to oust the remainder of the rebels in control of the area and reassert control by the royal regime. Neither of these military efforts is likely to be good news to the 3 million residents of Idlib or the several hundred thousand in Hijan.

… [A] gathering storm pointed to an impending assault by Mr. Assad’s regime and his Russian patrons on Idlib, with aid agencies warning of a humanitarian catastrophe that could drive new waves of refugees into neighboring Turkey. …

Idlib is billed as the endgame in a war that has claimed more than half a million lives, displaced half of Syria’s population, driven millions into “safe” refuge abroad, and triggered the xenophobic, populist explosion in Europe and beyond that exposed the fragility and hollowness of the vaunted global liberal order. …

Idlib has turned into a microcosm where the regional and international power brokers have claimed stake, where all the forces that gave rise to and were birthed by Syria’s traumatic uprising are struggling in a catastrophic battle whose price, as usual, will be paid for by innocent civilians.

            —Kareem Shaheen, The New York Times, Week in Review, September 9, 2018.

And what of countries such as ours? Our powerful military permits a sanitized view of war from a distance, fought with drones based in Nevada and small contingents of special operations fighters as advisers to native militias. How easy this makes it for us to declare an interest in potential conflict anywhere.

So we don’t learn from war—ours or anyone else’s. So they never end.

When was that war to end all wars?




Categories: Issues

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