Why Romney Will Not Save Syria

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Republican foreign policy, past, present and future, constitutes one of the greatest obstacles to a humanitarian resolution of the conflict in Syria. On Monday the 8th of October in his address to the Virginia Military Institute, Mitt Romney vowed to, if elected, “change course in the Middle East” and arm Syrian rebels in an attempt to quicken the upheaval of Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime.

At first glance, Romney’s logic seems unproblematic and even uncharacteristically compassionate. Of course, where no alternative is available, armed Syrian rebels are better than unarmed Syrian rebels. Yet as Romney has rightly noted, militarising inexperienced political powers is risky business. This seems to be the case in Syria for two reasons. Firstly, there is no unified rebel manifesto; arming them may allow them to usurp Assad’s regime only to make way for another fierce military power. Secondly, if the rebels pose a greater military threat it may be enough to push Assad towards a darker strategy:

“[in Syria] Chemical weapons are being moved around the country and are at risk of getting loose or being used. Extremist actors are moving into the fight. Both Iran and Russia are moving arms and other assistance into the country to assist the Assad regime in maintaining its murderous hold on power.” [1]

With the threat of chemical attack in mind, arming the rebels is not enough to ensure their success – Assad has already said that he will deploy chemical weapons as a last resort. [2] What better excuse would Assad need to deploy ‘last resorts’ tactics if not a radically more dangerous rebel group knocking at his door? Romney’s policy should not be taken as a serious attempt to end the conflict.

Interestingly, these chemical weapons are a by-product of Republicans militarising the Middle East in the 80s. Under Reagan’s administration, Donald Rumsfeld assisted Saddam Hussein’s hoarding of chemical and biological WMDs by selling biological agents such as anthrax through a Chilean proxy of the CIA. [3] On October 28th of 2004, it was reported that the CIA were wary of convoy movements of chemical and biological WMD from Baghdad to Al Bukamal, across the Syrian border. [4] [5]

Romney’s present foreign policy seeks to arm Syrian rebels against a chemical weapons-backed regime that past Republican foreign policy helped to create. The tragic irony of this debacle seems to be lost on Romney, who will no doubt go on condemning the very existence of chemical weapons in the Middle East.

To safeguard against the use of chemical weapons, what Syria needs now is military intervention, but not the kind that Romney will no doubt resort to when arming the Syrian rebels proves insufficient. Though for now Romney has said he’d keep US troops and bombs out of Syria, it would be surprising if the deployment of chemical weapons on Syria’s people didn’t motivate US military intervention. [6] As an ally of Israel, destabilising Assad’s regime (and therefore the relationship Assad and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) and replacing it with a power more sympathetic to US and Israeli ideology can only be good for the US. A humanitarian crisis like that in Syria requires a humanitarian response, but US intervention will not be humanitarian, it will be motivated by self-interest, it will be imperialist and it will serve only as an extension of US dominion in the Middle East.

Perhaps a Syria under US influence is preferable to Assad’s regime, but if Romney is allowed to implement a strategy that brings chemical warfare upon Syria’s people, the ‘ends justify means’ argument seems a little less plausible. Assad has threatened with chemical weapons and Romney is prepared to call his bluff.

At the October the 8th address Romney quoted the Nobel Peace Prize winning military strategist and VMI alumni George Marshall:

“General Marshall once said, “The only way human beings can win a war is to prevent it.” Those words were true in his time—and they still echo in ours.”

To say that those words echo in Romney’s time is optimistic but facile – Romney is not thinking about Syria in terms of preventative measures and his policy is not one born of compassion. Under charitable interpretation, Romney’s policy shows an inability to think of the bigger picture, though a cynic might suggest he knows exactly what he’s doing and he’s doing it rather well.

Article by Xavier Bruggen

References and Further Reading:

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/08/mitt-romney-foreign-policy-speech-text

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9552147/Syrian-regime-will-deploy-chemical-weapons-as-last-resort.html

[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/dec/31/iraq.politics

[4] http://www.nysun.com/foreign/iraqs-wmd-secreted-in-syria-sada-says/26514/

[5] http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Peace/2012/07/14/And-where-did-syrias-chemical-weapons

[6] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/wp/2012/10/10/mitt-romney-syria-involvement-doesnt-mean-bombs-troops/