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Art Hobson: The folly of Syria's civil war

Conflict demonstrates that war is not the answer by Art Hobson | December 20, 2016 at 1:00 a.m.

How to capture the folly of Syria's civil war, and the tragedy?

The battle of Aleppo finally draws to its agonizing conclusion, an ending that could have been predicted in 2012 even as the rebellion was achieving early success in eastern Aleppo. The rebels, Sunni Muslims allied with the U.S. and with Sunni nations such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia along with Sunni Al Qaeda terrorist elements, hoped to overthrow the Shiite Assad government allied with Russia, Shiite Iran and Shiite Hezbollah terrorist elements. It was predictable Assad's forces would fight hard to prevent regime change, it was predictable the rebels could succeed only with the help of American air support and boots on the ground, and it was predictable in the wake of decades of U.S. military failures all over the Mideast the pragmatic Barack Obama would have the wisdom to abstain from yet another regime-change fiasco.

And so, as befits real tragedy, the fall of the rebel's position in Aleppo was fated years ago when the drama was foolishly set into motion. We can be thankful it is finally ending and regretful only that it did not end sooner, before over 400,000 people had died and millions of refugees had aimlessly flooded Europe, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The rebels should never have pursued this hopeless war, and the U.S. should never have supported it.

One of the few brave and wise U.S. leaders concerning Syria is Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat from Hawaii, a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard who volunteered for two tours of active duty in Iraq. Her web site carries a petition calling on the president to end the "counterproductive regime-change war in Syria" because it strengthens the true terrorists, namely Islamic State and Al Qaeda. She asks if we have learned nothing from the Iraqi quagmire and the Libyan fiasco.

We've got to follow our brains instead of our emotions. Regimes such as Assad's, Muammar Gaddafi's or Saddam Hussein's do not generally threaten us. America's efforts to fix them through military means can only fail while angering Middle Eastern people and making the world a more dangerous place. We can, however, help defeat extremist organizations such as Islamic State and Al Qaeda provided Middle Eastern nations are willing to lead the way.

Additional U.S. meddling would have made the Syrian civil war even worse. It was seriously suggested, by Hillary Clinton (for whom I did vote despite her foolishly hawkish foreign policy views) and others, that the U.S. establish a no-fly safe zone including Aleppo. This would only have extended the war, could have led to war with Russia, and would have required thousands of ground troops and a massive U.S. air presence.

And suppose that, miracle of miracles, the rebels had won? Just as in Libya and Iraq, there is no credible leadership in Syria capable of sustainably and democratically ruling all factions, including Sunni and Shiite. Gabbard estimates a never-ending occupation by hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops would be needed to bring order to post-Assad Syria.

The underlying Mideast problem is fundamentalist religion: None of these nations will be able to sustain democratic government until they get over their infatuation with extreme Islam. The Syrian civil war, for example, is largely a struggle between Islam's two denominations, Sunnis and Shiites. We should help Mideastern nations resist the most violent forms of Islam as represented by Islamic State and Al Qaeda, but we must let them solve their own problems with dictatorial leaders while, of course, providing humanitarian assistance, especially education.

War is hell. War is the worst thing humans do. As the rebels in east Aleppo collapse in the face of Assad's merciless ground and air onslaught, they have called, in vain, for Assad to declare a truce. But nations on the verge of winning a war are not likely to declare a truce. The rebels throughout Syria should surrender to save civilian lives. Once you enter a war, all you can expect is hell. It's not surprising that east Aleppo ended the way Berlin, Dresdon, Tokyo, Hiroshima, London, Warsaw and many other cities ended in 1945.

Even the sensible Barack Obama pursues a dangerously aggressive policy regarding the Mideast, Russia and NATO. I hope Tulsi Gabbard, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and other progressives will guide us toward more peaceful policies in the future. America must stop listening to the siren call of the war hawks.

Commentary on 12/20/2016

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