A Tale of Two Civil Wars


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The Syrian civil war is now more than a year old. The Syrian army has killed some 10,000 people—and counting. Although Damascus has made promises about ceasefires and diplomatic settlements, it’s not in Bashar Assad’s DNA to countenance any challenge to his rule. Recall that his father slaughtered 20,000 Syrians to staunch a 1982 uprising. The younger Assad’s army—what one observer describes as a “hellish killing machine”—is on its way to eclipsing that grisly milestone. For instance, Assad’s henchmen ushered in this week by attacking refugee camps, firing across the Turkish and Lebanese borders, and making a mockery of the latest UN peace plan. In response, President Barack Obama has offered little more than promises of non-lethal aid and intonations about establishing “a process” to transition to a “legitimate government.” Inaction in the face of such butchery is easy to criticize, of course. Since America cannot intervene everywhere, presidents have to draw the line somewhere. But it’s difficult to understand why the president has chosen to draw that line at Syria, especially if we consider Obama’s response to the Libyan civil war just one year ago.

Recall that in announcing his decision to intervene in Libya (by bombing Qaddafi’s forces), the president declared, “We cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy, and his forces step up their assaults on cities…where innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government.”

That sounds like a fairly accurate description of Syria. Yet this time around, there’s no help on the way for the rebels—at least not from Obama. Instead of a Libya-style air war, Obama’s reaction to Syria is beginning to look a lot like Washington’s non-response to the mangling of Bosnia almost two decades ago. As Senator Joe Lieberman recently observed, “I feel like we are reliving history.”

When Yugoslavia began to descend into civil war in 1992, Western Europe seized upon the crisis as an opportunity to prove it was ready to keep the peace. It was, as one European diplomat famously declared, “the hour of Europe.”

Washington took the hint and stepped aside. It would be a fateful decision. Europe’s confidence in itself and in the UN was badly misplaced. As historian William Pfaff notes in The Wrath of Nations, “In the Bosnian crisis, the United States didn’t act, so everyone failed to act.” He argues that international organizations like the United Nations “proved an obstacle to action, by inhibiting individual national action and rationalizing the refusal to act nationally.”

The result: some 200,000 dead and millions of refugees.

As a candidate, then-Governor Bill Clinton had promised to end the bloodletting by arming the outgunned Bosnian Muslims and striking Serb artillery with U.S. airpower. But before he could take any such action as president, Clinton was blindsided by Somalia. And so, the slow-motion genocide continued for 31 months under Clinton.

The low point came when Dutch peacekeepers in the laughably misnamed UN Protection Force allowed Serb militiamen to enter the so-called safe haven of Srebrenica and liquidate 7,000 Bosnian men and boys. It was a microcosm of the entire war: The Serbs were by and large the aggressors, the Muslims were outgunned and thus easy prey, the UN was worthless, the Europeans were helpless, and the Americans were absent.

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  • Alvaro

    What kind of fairy tale world does the author live in? That the Serbs were the only bad guys in the conflict? It was a horrible civil war. Both Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs had huge amounts of blood on their hands. Even Srebrenica was a reponse to numerous raids from the city by Muslim forces who killed countless of innocent civilians.

    And yes, bombing one part into oblivion tends to end any war because their ability to wage war gets broken. It does not show that the "analysis" of good Bosniak Muslims vs bad Christian Serbs hold any water. Don't expect Europeans (or even notoriously ingrate Muslims) to congratulate Clinton for the Muslim bandit state of Kosovo.

    "Protecting the people of Syria—a humanitarian motivation—"

    You don't protect the "people of Syria", you protect Sharia law, al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood thugs. Any regime that pops up in Syria will despise the USA. In addition, the Christian minority will get butchered for their support of Assad. Everyone knows that.

    • JohnR

      Totally agree. What we will get in Syria will be much worse than those in power now. We only have to look closely at what is now happening in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. Its strange that only the current Syrian leadership realise this as bloodthirstly as they are.

  • kenaan

    And so according to Alvaro who is telling a bitter fact ,the absent director of the play (at least absent from media declarations) is Israel .Would the change of the Assad's clan be better to the Israelis ,then the American airforce as well as the souls of US troops will act for the benefit of(( the tiny afraid David's sole democratic state among the savage Arabs)) Israel.The clever remark of B Netanyaho on the second month of the Syrian uprise to his staff to keep silent towards Syrian affairs was fruitful and could successfully deviate any universal concern on the continuous plans and applications of Israeli settlements in the West bank or Jerusalem.

    • Whatsinaname

      There is an idea among gentiles and even some Jews that the Jews are so powerful that they can cause anything and everything to happen. All catastrophes, wars, etc. are "directed" (in this case you state "absently") by Jews. Get off it! Israel is not responsible for the war in Syria, the catastrophe that is in process in Egypt, the overthrow and murder of Gaddafi, the upcoming downfall of Jordan's king or anything else the Moslems and Arabs do. It is racist beyond belief to think that the Arabs are so mindless and incompetent that they can't even pull off their own rebellions without being manipulated by the Israelis or as you are probably secretly thinking, you peabrain, "the international Jewish conspiracy". You sound like one of those moronic black hebrew israelites.

  • kenaan

    And so according to Alvaro who is telling a bitter fact ,the absent director of the play (at least absent from media declarations) is Israel .Would the change of the Assad's clan be better to the Israelis ,then the American airforce as well as the souls of US troops will act for the benefit of(( the tiny afraid David's sole democratic state among the savage Arabs)) Israel.The clever remark of B Netanyaho on the second month of the Syrian uprise to his staff to keep silent towards Syrian affairs was fruitful and could successfully deviate any universal concern on the continuous plans and applications of Israeli settlements in the West bank or Jerusalem.

  • tagalog

    The Syrians have killed 10,000 people in one year, since the Syrian uprising began? I'm surprised that the Lefties aren't claiming they've killed a million, as they did when the coalition effort in Iraq hit the 10,000 dead mark. But then, it's the Syrians not the Americans.

    But for the Left, there IS the added bonus that any American aid that may go to Syria will be used to support an Islamist society that hates us and Israel and wants to annihilate us.

    • wctaqiyya

      Lemme know when they hit the 100,000 mark. I will then toast the Arab spring with a cold beer. When they hit 1,000,000 dead muslims, can we send the OWS troops in? We can arm them with flowers, Ben and Jerrie's ice cream and buckets of feces. Can we, please?

  • TESSIETOM

    HE GOT OSAMA BIN LADEN. HE COVERED UP THE AMBUSH AND MURDER OF 22 NAVY SEALS FROM TEAM 6. HE GOT TWO GUN KADDAFY WHO WAS ALREADY NEUTRALIZED. YOU DON'T NEED A CRUISE MISSILE TO STOP A LIBYAN TAXI. JUST HOLLER TAXI. DAMASCUS IS DNC HQ. JUST GOOGLE PELOSI, NELSON AND KUCINICH GO TO SYRIA. THE SYRIAN PEOPLE WERE SOLD OUT BY THE USA FROM DAY ONE. WHEN THE BODY COUNT OF THE INNOCENTS HIT 10,000 OBAMA TROTS OUT HILLARY CLINTON WITH HER FAMOUS CLICHE. I AM SHOCKED AND APPALLED. SHE USED IT WHEN SHE GOT CAUGHT TAKING HAMAS MONEY AND VIGNALLI DRUG MONEY. SYRIA WILL GET NOTHING FROM OBAMA. NEITHER WILL ISRAEL. IRAN WILL GET FIRST NOTICE FROM A LEAKY OBAMA WHEN ISRAELI PLANES TAKE OFF FOR TAKE OUT. TAIWAN ARE YOU LISTENING? http://WWW.MEDIACRAPMATTERS.US

  • wctaqiyya

    So Alan, after arguing for and against intervention in Syria, what is your position? It seems your primary statement is that Obama has failed. Do you endorse military intervention or not and on what scale? Should we place 100,000 troops in Syria? Marching them through Lebanon first maybe? Let U.S. troops die for the next dictator's regime? Stay in Syria fighting a guerrilla war for a dozen years? What is it about Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Libya you still don't understand? No, I'm sure Turkey and Iraq and Jordan would just love us to invade another Muslim country, no sweat. That's the secret way to win the hearts of the Islamic world, just bomb love and respect into them. Or, maybe not?

    So, Obama failed has he? Quite a remark since Basher is still on his throne and the rebellion continues apace. By what parameters do you measure failure sir? Or success? Can we perhaps discuss who 'won' or 'lost' Syria after the dust settles? And please don't confuse me with an Obama supporter as I loath him.

    On the whole, your article is baffling. As you admit, comparisons to Bosnia and Libya are not congruent with the situation in Syria. So, why do you make such unhelpful comparisons?

    Then, you assert that without U.S. military intervention, Bashar will crush the rebels and continue to rule Syria. So what? Then, nothing has changed and you can blame entropy. How many dead Syrian Muslims would it take to eliminate their murderous inclinations? I'd like to know, it's my scientific curiosity.

    I further retort that Turkey and S. Arabia will not allow Bashar to remain in power. They said so. Thus, he will be defeated. Neither Russia or Iran can prevent the Sunni Muslims from asserting themselves in Syria. They will try to extend Bashar's rule with some supplies, diplomatic drivel and maybe a few advisors, but they cannot compete with Turkish power or S. Arabian money. Then what? Sure, many Muslims will die in the struggle, Russia will lose it's only port in the Med., Iran will lose an annoying, disruptive proxy and Hezbollah will be greatly diminished. Not perfect, but OK by me. In the meanwhile, the Muslims will kill each other. Did I mention that already?

  • palidin911

    Not only is Obama's Syria policy a failure, so is his Egypt policy. The Muslim Brotherhood is taking control of Egypt, yet the Obama administration is going ahead with the sale of advanced weaponry to the military there.

    His North Korea policy is a failure. They are on the verge of launching a missile capable of reaching the US despite promises of much needed food for that nation if they scrape the launch

    His Libya policy is a failure with one set of radicals supplanting another after Kaddafy's ouster.

    His Iran policy will fail because unlike Obama, the rest of us know the Iranians are hellbent on producing nuclear weapons. In fact, never in my life have I seen so many failures in just three years.
    While he did get Bin Laden, it was an easy call to make. After all, who wouldn't kill Bin Laden given the chance

  • JonR

    DONT GET INVOLVED IN SYRIA! We got involved in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt and what have we got? Muslim Brotherhood, Salafist fanatics and El Qaeda. Its strange that non of the repression that is going on in these countries is being reported albeit its at low key at the moment but its there ready to explode. When it does will it be reported in full? and what action will we take then? Let the two sides battle it out, after all the rebels are muslim brotherhood, Salafist fanatics and Al Qaeda. The government side is supported by the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Al Quds force of Iran, ie Sunni versus Shia. Let them get on with it!!

    • wctaqiyya

      Right on, JonR! I most certainly agree. Smiley face here.