Escalate Syria fight? Yes, say Trump officials

Two White House officials want to escalate the American involvement in Syria, a way of fighting a proxy war against Iran. This comes as the US shot down a Syrian warplane for the first time in the six-year Syrian civil war. I discussed the implications with host P.J. Maloney on KQV News Radio in Pittsburgh a few minutes ago.

The report of the recommendation for escalating US involvement in Syria comes from a prestigious New York University think tank, which puts out a daily newsletter about security. The report also says that Defense Secretary James Mattis opposes the idea, and it’s not the first time he’s stood in the way of a White House effort to ratchet up the Syria conflict.

So “Mad Dog” Mattis is the voice of reason in this administration? That’s something to think about.

The shooting down of the Syrian warplane has led Russia to threaten to close down the hot line the US and Russia use to inform each other about air operations, so that they can stay out of each other’s way. The Russians have already declared that they consider American warplanes operating west of the Euphrates River in Syria as potential targets. That means about two-thirds of Syria, including Damascus and Aleppo.

It’s not certain that Russia will end its coordination with the US or start firing at US warplanes and drones. Russia has little interest in expanding the conflict in Syria–it just wants to keep the Assad regime in power there. But in a war situation, anything can happen, even by accident. This is no game of checkers–this is life and death.

I understand that the US sees Iran as the major troublemaker in the Middle East. So does Israel. The problem comes when only one countermeasure–military force–is considered. As then-President Obama put it in this context, when your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

The problem, if it needs defining again, is that there are no good guys in Syria–only bad guys and worse guys. As the fight against ISIS progresses, and ISIS loses territory, there’s a free-for-all to take control of that territory. The competing sides include the Assad regime, US-backed rebel forces, Iranian-backed forces, local rebels, and I probably left out a few.

The multi-sided fighting is closing in on US bases in several locations. That’s what led to the shooting down of the Syrian warplane. Here’s an article by top Pentagon correspondent Nancy Youssef about the dangers involved in this developing situation.


Syrian refugee camp in Turkey

So–is that the fight the White House officials want to get more deeply involved in? Or would it be better to step back, help the refugees, help the rebuilding effort when it begins, and try to win the respect of whoever survives this tragedy?

It’s time to find something to replace the hammer. Stepped-up humanitarian aid would be a more effective, long-term tool. Let’s understand that Iran, and more so ISIS, are ideas as much as they are military forces. Ideas can’t be smashed with hammers.

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