Bob Ray Sanders: What can U.S. accomplish by intervening in Syrian conflict?

The images were heartbreaking: rows of shrouded bodies, many of them children, youngsters convulsing in hospitals as physicians try to relieve their pain, family members weeping uncontrollably for their lost and injured.

These were the scenes after an apparent chemical attack on the Syrian people that killed several hundred and injured more than 3,500.

That was the “red-line” event that ramped up the drumbeat for American military intervention in a civil war that started out as part of the “Arab Spring” sweeping the Middle East two years ago.

When demonstrators called for the resignation of President Bashar Assad, the tyrant retaliated with brutal force. Rebel groups formed to fight back against incredible odds and massive military weaponry.

The ensuing conflict, Secretary of State John Kerry has said, has claimed more than 100,000 lives. Other reports say about half the dead are civilians, with thousands more injured and millions displaced, including 1 million children.

The rest of the world for the most part has stood by and watched. The rebels received some small-arms support and humanitarian aid from countries including the United States, but not enough to combat the military might of the Assad regime.

A war-weary United States rightly did not want to commit to another conflict anywhere, especially in the Middle East, where it so recently left Iraq and is still engaged in Afghanistan. Besides, what could this country really do?

Now since the Syrian government has crossed President Barack Obama’s red line by using chemical weapons on its own people, the United States is prepared to initiate military strikes against strategic targets in Syria. It will have the backing of some NATO allies and support from some members of the Arab League.

Though I want to see this conflict end and the killing and mass destruction stopped, I do not want to see American intervention.

First, there’s no way the president would commit troops on the ground in Syria, nor should he.

For two years he’s resisted calls by some in Congress to provide a no-fly zone or send heavy arms to the rebels.

And it’s apparent that he does not want any long-term engagement with air or off-shore missile strikes.

I’m no military strategist, but it seems the purpose of a strike — other than the ambiguous “to punish Assad” — is simply to say we did something even if it didn’t make a difference in the outcome of the war.

There’s a chance that limited strikes would make it worse on Syrian rebels and civilians while causing further deterioration of relations with Russia and China, as well as more irritation to Iran. And there’s the “collateral damage.”

Assad has promised to respond to any American incursion, and the only way he can retaliate is by heaping more sorrow on his own people.

Kerry, in ratcheting up the rhetoric for some type of American involvement, called Syria’s use of chemical weapons a “moral obscenity.” It sounded eerily like the language used in the lead-up to the Iraq war, although it is clear that the Assad regime does have weapons of mass destruction.

I don’t see how a chemical weapon is more immoral than dropping bombs on innocent people or killing them with high-powered rifles.

A few weeks into the war in Iraq, I spoke to a conservative men’s group in downtown Fort Worth and called the situation a quagmire. They laughed.

A couple of years later when I spoke to the group again, as American casualties were mounting in that country, I reminded them of that first reference. There was no laughter.

I have a sad feeling this country is about to enter another quagmire.

©2013 Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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