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The Sources of Our Meddlesome Foreign Policy

There isn't a good or compelling reason why the U.S. has been meddling in Syria's conflict.

Ryan Cooper is likewise appalled by America’s “moronic” Syria policy:

In reality, I don’t think any of the actual actions really suffice to explain why America won’t stop meddling in Syria. We’re there because The Blob has a hysterical obsession with the Middle East, because interventions are a lot harder to stop than they are to start, because President Trump is an absolute chump, and above all because of the almost universal article of faith that the American military can do no wrong.

There isn’t a good or compelling reason why the U.S. has been meddling in Syria’s conflict for at least half a decade, but here are what I think seem to be some of the more important factors driving the policy under both the Obama and Trump administrations. The main argument for taking sides in Syria’s civil war has relied heavily on the idea that U.S. “leadership” in the region (and the world) is supposedly at stake, and by opting to stay out of the conflict the U.S. would be “abdicating” a role that devotees of this “leadership” believe is essential for our government to have. The fixation on taking sides in Syria is intensified by bipartisan hostility to Iran, which has been cultivated in Washington for decades. That hostility is driven in large part by the desire of our political leaders to demonstrate their support for our reckless regional clients, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, as a way to show off their hawkishness and prove that they are “tough” on adversaries. The desire to “hurt” Iran by stoking conflict in Syria has long been a top priority of many Syria hawks.

Finally, there is the incessant demand that the U.S. “do something” in response to foreign conflicts. That is related to the preoccupation with “leadership,” but is distinct from it. It is a product of the biases in favor of action and dividing up the world into allies and enemies that plague our foreign policy debates. Our pundits and analysts wrongly assume that there is a “pro-Western” or “moderate” side in every conflict that the U.S. is somehow obligated to support, and they insist that we will be “betraying our values” or some such nonsense if we don’t help members of one faction kill members of another. Our government is now committing acts of war against another state that hasn’t attacked us in part because of this misguided confidence in our supposedly “moderate allies” in Syria.

The “hysterical obsession” with this part of the world that Cooper mentions is at least partly a product of accepting a handful of false assumptions: 1) the U.S. has valuable “allies” in the region; 2) the region is critically important to the U.S.; 3) uncritically backing our “allies” is good for the U.S. and the region. In fact, the “allies” in question aren’t allies at all, and frequently pursue their own goals at our expense and sometimes actively work to undermine our policies. The region isn’t all that important for U.S. security. Support for our reckless clients has mostly produced misery and destruction (see Syria and Yemen as prime examples). Many pundits and analysts are reluctant to acknowledge any of this, and are even more reluctant to say so openly. Then there is of course the significant role of extensive lobbying on behalf of client governments and weapons manufacturers in keeping the U.S. mired in the region’s wars, and that is one reason why there is so little sustained, vocal opposition to the policies that keep taking the U.S. into unnecessary wars.



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