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by Marc Jampole ONE COMMENT ON NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO this morning should jolt anyone into an epiphany about the brutal absurdity of the United States foreign policy since at least World War II. When asked about the attitude of Syrians regarding the prospect of U.S. help to fight ISIS, a Syrian photographer answered that Syrians were either confused or angry. His main point was that it was difficult to understand why America held fire when the Assad regime killed 200,000, but are acting when ISIS has killed two or three thousand. The crimes of Assad against innocents seem much greater than those of ISIS, even if ISIS does a better job of instilling fear into Westerners. But is the horror of five or six beheadings of professionals who willingly put themselves in harm’s way more compelling than the brutal murder of 200,000 people? When we start asking that question, it sends us sliding down a very slippery slope: Why didn’t we invade China after Tiananmen Square, or Russia during its genocide by famine against the Ukrainians in the 1930s? Why haven’t we invaded North Korea (lately)? Why aren’t U.S. troops all over Africa? Clearly ending brutal repression has never really been a priority for U.S. foreign policy, except when we can use it to support other ends. In seeking an explanation of why we are fighting ISIS but not the Baathists (at least not yet), let’s start with a beautiful example of circular reasoning. Some assert that we are more concerned about ISIS than Assad because Assad’s Baathist government is at least recognized and legitimate. How do we then explain going after Saddam Hussein in 2003? Since the Bush Administration always knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction nor ties to Al Qaeda, the most logical answer (if not very logical) — and the one the Bush II Administration finally settled on years later — was that the Iraq war was an exercise in nation-building in a country dominated by an intolerable tyrant. Here the circle closes upon itself as we are left asking: What’s the difference between Saddam and Assad? OF COURSE, THERE ARE SOME COMPELLING CYNICAL ANSWERS to the question why we are going after ISIS when we held back from bombing Assad’s military positions, including:
- Russia, Saudi Arabia and/or Iran don’t want (or until recently didn’t want) Assad taken down, whereas virtually every country dislikes ISIS.
- We can’t get the approval of our allies to go after the Syrian regime, but they’re happy to go after the beheaders.
- We can’t afford another big war.
- The ISIS threat is of a perfect size to test some new weaponry and guarantee steady work for military contractors, whereas a war against Syria could quickly deteriorate into another Iraq or Afghanistan.