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Watching the Watchdog: Why Obama Broke America's Addiction to War

08/06/2013 12:14 EDT | Updated 10/06/2013 05:12 EDT
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U.S. President Barack Obama listens during a meeting with Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the Amir of Qatar, unseen, in the Oval Office of the White House on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. Obama met with the emir of Qatar as the two nations consider different approaches toward toppling Syria?s leader and share concerns about Iran?s nuclear ambition. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tim Knight writes the regular column, Watching the Watchdog, for HuffPost Canada.

So why isn't American president Barack Obama supplying arms to Syrian rebels and imposing a no-fly zone there, like he did in Libya?

After all, the new leader of the Syrian National Coalition has described the situation in his country as "desperate" and called on the United States for help while there's still time. He warns if he doesn't get U.S. help, Bashar Assad's forces, will win the civil war there.

If any of Obama's immediate predecessors had got such an invitation, they'd have been in there with flags flying, drums beating, a whole bunch of shiny new weapons to hand out to the rebels, and squadrons of warplanes to enforce a no-fly zone.

That's because American presidents are addicted to war. Since World War ll (known to many as "the last good war") the U.S. has fought, one way or another, in Korea, Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, Panama, Grenada, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Iraq (again) and Afghanistan.

And for variety, there's always the War on Terror and the War on Drugs to fight.

This addiction to war among American presidents isn't difficult to understand. What would you do if you're the President and all those arrogantly bemedalled generals, superbly trained to fight the last war, keep assuring you that lots and lots of soldiers and guns will solve all the problems.

How could you possibly resist trying out the world's mightiest war machine, with all those shiny, incredibly expensive weapons, when you have the chance?

All you'd have to do is give the word and the generals will spring to attention, salute smartly and march off to fight yet another war in the name of democracy and in support of the military-industrial-congressional complex.

Which brings me back to Barack Obama's reluctance to get involved in another American war.

Quite simply, he can't afford it.

Even if he wants to.

His country has already squandered too much blood and too much treasure on the last two wars.

Eight thousand American and Allied military died in the American-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Only God knows how many civilians were killed in what is so delicately called "peripheral damage", but it was certainly way up in the hundreds of thousands.

Then there's the astronomical financial cost. Together Iraq and Afghanistan cost America something like $6-trillion. That's $6,000,000,000,000. A six followed by twelve zeros.

It's an incredible amount of money to spend on exporting the sometimes questionable delights of Western participatory democracy to the Muslim world.

To win Islamic hearts and minds for Western concepts of freedom.

To save those poor benighted heathen, make them more like us.

So were America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan worth the cost in lives and money?

When the Americans finally pulled out of Iraq in 2011, they left Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions battling over power, boundaries and oil. They're still battling. The death toll last month alone hovered around 700 people.

Every day takes Iraqis closer to their own full-scale civil war and breakup of the nation.

Afghanistan has much the same past and faces much the same future. The American invasion 12 years ago ends next year with the traditional whimper. They invaded a corrupt, failed, female-fearing, tribal narco-state to save it. And they will leave behind a corrupt, failed, female-fearing, tribal narco-state which never wanted to be saved.

If nothing else, the Taliban and al-Qaeda proved that you can neither introduce nor enforce democracy with the gun.

But wait, when it comes to cost, there's more.

Largely as a result of American invasions of Islamic lands, more and more of the one-and-a-half billion Muslims around the world are either volunteering to fight the Western infidels or organizing jihadist cells in their own countries.

Every day more Muslims are persuaded that Iraq and Afghanistan were simply a 21st-century version of the Crusades.

That the War on Terror is actually a War on Islam.

That holy warriors, righteous believers, are fighting godless infidels in an apocalyptic holy war which can only end with a world caliphate.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and the US missiles and drones slamming into Pakistan) have turned out to be the perfect recruiting agent for militant Islam. And the holy warriors are making converts -- winning hearts and minds to global jihad -- faster than the mighty armies of the West can kill them.

It's entirely possible that America and its allies have already lost the battle against radical Islam.

That the Holy Warriors of the Jihad have won.

One reason for all this radicalism is the Internet, the planet's most powerful and effective communications system.

It's flooded with jihadist networks. Thousands of them. Specializing in radicalizing Muslims around the world. Turning them, in the name of Allah, against the corrupt and feeble West.

The sites are virtual guerrilla training camps teaching how to organize revolutionary cells and kill infidels.

Allahu Akbar (God is Great) they repeat piously and endlessly.

So, will America intervene in Syria on the side of the Coalition?

Even the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin E. Dempsey, warns against it, mostly because of the cost. And when the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff is against a war, it's a very good idea to listen carefully.

Here's the general's estimate of the cost of the various options President Obama must consider if he plans to intervene in the Syrian civil war:

"Training, advising and assisting opposition troops could require anywhere from several hundred to several thousand troops, and cost about $500 million a year.

"An offensive of limited long-range strikes against Syrian military targets would require hundreds of aircraft and warships and could cost billions of dollars over time.

"Imposing a no-fly zone would require shooting down government warplanes and destroying airfields and hangars. It would also require hundreds of aircraft. The cost could reach $1 billion a month."

And he warned (no doubt thinking of Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan): "Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid."

If the past is any guide, America's top soldier should be all gung ho for battle and playing with all those shiny weapons. Instead he's saying the country simply can't afford another war.

He doesn't have a lot of choice. The U.S. military's slice of the financial pie is being savaged. The Pentagon has been told to cut $500-billion worth of ships and planes and get rid of around 100,000 troops.

So just for once, an American president sits there in the Oval Office of the White House knowing he can't afford another war.

Maybe he will send a few guns to the Syrian rebels. Maybe even some Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

But he can't afford much more than that.

Which, given America's record of interventions in other countries over the past few years, is probably an excellent thing.

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