No more wars

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The American people are being tee-ed up by the U.S. military, the U.S. military-industrial complex and some lackey media figures for a new war or two to replace the completed Iraq war and the winding-down Afghanistan war.

It is essential for the country, given its drastic need to concentrate on its own problems at home -- including education, health care, infrastructure, budget deficits and the mounting national debt -- that President Barack Obama and his administration not allow themselves to get suckered into these wars. They are the Syrian affair, the conflict in northern Mali and China's spats with its neighbors over bits of rock in the East China and South China seas.

The reason the U.S. military is so interested in getting the United States involved is that it faces end-of-war- and general-budget-dictated funding cuts that it wishes fervently to head off by coming up with new, marketable "defense" expenditures. This would allow it to continue financing its lifestyle and fancy weapons.

If our hapless leaders in Washington cannot avoid going over the fiscal cliff, the Pentagon will lose $800 billion over the next 10 years. This sounds big, but is, in fact, a relative drop in the bucket given the Defense Department's levels of expenditure.

The most important war for the United States to continue avoiding is the now 20-month-old conflict in Syria. There is there a strong risk of mission creep. There is heat on us -- apart from internal U.S. pressure -- to engage.

It comes from Sunni Muslim states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, big arms buyers from the United States who already provide weapons to the Syrian rebels. It comes from Turkey, a NATO ally correctly upset over the spillover of the war into Turkey in the form of refugees, stray shells and internal pressure from Turkey's Kurdish minority now that Syria's Kurdish minority is rebelling. It comes from humanitarian circles, again correctly upset by the suffering inflicted on the Syrian population. It comes from Europeans, including other NATO allies, who would much rather see the United States drawn into the Syria conflict than themselves.

But the Syrian war remains a no-win situation for the United States. The regime of Bashar Assad, still hanging on, is unspeakable in many ways. But so is the rebel opposition, still disunited and thoroughly riddled with Islamist radicals. If the opposition were to somehow take power in Syria, there is every reason to believe it would make today's disorder in post-Gadhafi Libya -- no authority, no law and order -- look like the Bridgeville Borough Council by comparison.

Pay no attention to the alarmist reporting about Syria and chemical weapons. Bear in mind what we were told about Iraq's alleged but never found nuclear, chemical and biological weapons when the Bush administration was beating the drums for the Iraq invasion. If we are really concerned about Syria's weapons, we should talk to the Russians about them. They still have a firm grip on Damascus's arms supply and can caution reason effectively to the Syrians.

The second war that the U.S. military is promoting via its Africa Command is support for the halfhearted African effort, supported to a degree by the United Nations, to intervene in northern Mali. The aim would be to oust the alleged Islamist Malians who took power there and now rule with some brutality. The Economic Community of West African States is determined to invade northern Mali and has received some U.N. Security Council support to do so, but it lacks troops, transport, weapons and money. Enter the United States, they hope, with all of the above and maybe even some U.S. military "advisers."

With respect to Mali, the preeminent fact to bear in mind is that the United States has no interests there. It is a poor, landlocked, largely desert West African country with borders on Algeria, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal. It has no mineral or other resources. There is no reason for the United States to involve itself in Mali's affairs. The idea that somehow Islamist terrorists are going to install themselves in northern Mali and become a threat to the United States is just fear-mongering fantasy.

The third as-yet non-war that the United States should not let itself be drawn into is the panoply of disputes in East Asia over who owns which pieces of rock sticking up from the water. They involve Brunei, China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam in the East China and South China seas.

U.S. interest in these squabbles, which the countries themselves are 100-percent obliged to resolve among themselves through negotiations, is driven in no small part by the U.S. Navy seeking to get what it considers to be its share of the defense-spending pie for new ships, encouraged by Mr. Obama's foreign policy initiative to tilt his second-term foreign policy toward Asia. The Navy has been cross for years at the higher spending priority given the Army, Air Force and Marines as the United States has waged primarily ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It now wants its turn at the honey pot and believes Mr. Obama's "pivot" to Asia and Americans' concern about the rise of China puts meat on the bones of its claims for new and more weapons.

The only way Americans can fight off these efforts to drag us into more unnecessary wars is to continue to be skeptical when someone tells us that we need to save Syria, Mali or rocks in the South China Sea. America has other fish to fry, and the Pentagon and its supporters will just have to get used to it.

dansimpson

Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (dsimpson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1976).


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