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Libya and Syria: Apples and Oranges?

Yesterday in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Leon Pannetta and Joint Chief Martin Dempsey said that the Pentagon had favored a plan put forth by David Petraeus and Hillary Clinton to arm parts of the Syrian opposition. The White House declined to go along with the plan and Petraeus and Clinton were sidelined by other events. The Times story reports the vehemence of Senator John McCain on the U.S. refusal to arm the rebels. The number of deaths in Syria as a result of the conflict certainly outstrips anything that happened in Libyia where Europe and the U.S. did intervene on the grounds of "the duty to protect." No major power is making that argument now. Why? There are good reasons, of course, but are they sound? Story Here.What is behind the Administration's decision? One of the major ones is said to be weapons dispersal, a topic covered in another Times story about Libyan weapons flowing into Mali and other North African hot spots. C. J. Chivers, who seems to be the Times's weapons expert, has that story.

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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My guess is that Obama is and was in the right, and such bodes well perhaps for the USA drawing back from the War Party's policies including an attack on Iran. And Stephen Walt believes it. And that makes a majority. One thing that is certain is that McCain's treatment of Hagel on Iraq was that of a lunatic hawk--And who is behind all these disasters for our forces, our budget and our civilization.Israel of course.One of the great mysteries about the Imperial Lobby is that the parents and the grandparents of these guys and gals were part of the Jewish Enlightenment and in the forefront against the Vietnam war. Power corrupts and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.

I follow you up to "lunatic hawk," then you go off the cliff. There is no one cause for differences between U.S. policy toward Libya and Syria. France led the fight in Libya, dragging in NATO and a reluctant U.S. This is a policy no one has pursued in Syria where Turkey, Jordan, and Israel have responded very cautiously; even Iran for all of the bluster is acting cautiously with an eye on Russia. Everyone is stepping gingerly as they did not in Libya.It seems to me that it is Jordan that has the most to fear from the Syrian situation, including a long Syrian civil war when Assad "falls." Turkey and Israel can defend themselves.

Margaret--I was referring to Syria, not to the Donnybrook of the Arab Spring of Colliding Actions, Reactions and Re-Reactions.And to the monomania of McCain. Yes, I believe that everything that is done or not done in Syria happens because of Israel's asserted short or long-term interests. Or more accurately, Bibi's..depending on his domestic uncertainties. The War Party in the USA is bipartisan and without opposition--except for the recent and new assertiveness of Obama--who will hold us back from the cliff of attacking Iran and from the intended and unintended consequences, short- and long-term.William Cohen, hardly a John McCain, predicted on BBC that Israel's Lebensraum imperialism would last as long as the Cold War. Of course, he is assuming that the Lobby's unilateral and unapposed power will not decline and that in the end the Israelis' "Patriotism" will remain at a hysterical and controlled pitch.

DB: "Everything that is done or not done in Syria happens because of Israel."You can't believe that...even on probability theory. The many actors in Syria itself as well as Syrians in exile have made things happen. Somewhere Lebanon has a hand in this, if only wishing the whole thing would go away. Hezbollah? an agent of Israel. Hmmm...getting to sound a little paranoid."The War Party in the USA is bipartisan and without opposition." A close read of the Defense Department and Pentagon over the past year suggests there is a great deal of opposition to the Congressional hawks and their allies in many think tanks, not just neo-con ones. Testimony from Panetta and Dempsey notwithstanding, the military has said no, and so has Obama. (And for Hillary fans: good to remember what a hawk she has been and apparently remains).

I imagine these agencies also supported arming the Taliban after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. The U.S. government at one time provided arms to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and to Iran also. What reason is there to believe the intelligence agencies would get it right this this time?

From the outside, it is hard to see what getting "it right this time" would mean. There are Sunni factions and Shia factions being supplied by the Gulf States. There are the Kurds (always well armed) and the Christians (not well armed) who have remained neutral or supported Assad. Now the Kurds are breaking because they have come under attack, perhaps by some factions in the Syrian opposition. The Alawites are well armed because Assad is one of them. Then there are all the "foreigners"--Iraqis, Iranians, and militants from the former Soviet Union, etc. More than the U.S., Russia has reason to worry about weapons' dispersal; perhaps one of the reasons they have resisted outside intervention.Do Washington warriors like Clinton and Panetta watch too many TV shows and movies about how great our intelligence is.

MS:1) Everything that is done or not done BY THE USA in Syria happens because of Israel. NO ONE OPPOSED KAGAN ON HIS PUSHING BO ON AFGHAN. WHEN PETRAEUS WANTED A CERTIFICATE OF PURITY HE WENT TO MAX BOOT NOT TO HILARY: THE PLACE TO LOOK FOR DISSENT--NOT JUST CHATTER--IS THE LOBBY. THERE IS NONE.2) The executive of the War Party is the Lobby&Bibi's Guys.3) Probability and the laws of motion are irrelevant. The 29 standing ovations for Bibi is the relevant evidence. The congress is theirs--and the vast continent of the media--except for the stalwart few and only since 2006.4) The standard is Stephen Walt. Has he ever made a serious error of fact or analysis?Good Morning

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