In the movie "The Ghost and the Darkness
", Michael Douglas
plays a big game hunter come to help Val Kilmer, a Scottish engineer, kill two man-eating lions who are devouring workers attempting to build a bridge in a remote part of East Africa. In one scene, after Kilmer almost dies when his weapon misfires during a hunt, Douglas admonishes him to pull himself together by sharing with him a saying used by prizefighters, "Everybody has a plan until they get hit." Douglas then tells Kilmer that he has just been hit and that the getting up is up to him.
Translation: Shake it off and pull yourself together. If you thought you were going to get through this untouched, you were wrong.
Our President, having watched the Assad regime slaughter literally tens of thousands of Syrians using machineguns, artillery, missiles, tanks and aircraft, has now decided that the recent use of chemical weapons against rebel forces is inhumane, intolerable and demands a response. American ships are steaming toward Syria. Plans are being formulated. Presumably as soon as this Administration believes it has the requisite number of international "partners" on board to provide the mandatory international flavor to this adventure, we will begin the bombardment of Syria from the sea and from the air.
We would do well, however, to pause for a moment and savor the meaning of Douglas' words. War is a game played by at least two. It does not end when we say so but when our opponent agrees it is over. There will be consequences for our actions. There will be a response.
The Middle East is a dangerous place. It is not for the faint of heart. Good intentions and wishful thinking count for very little. Plans, particularly war plans, must be grounded in a clear-eyed, hard-nosed appraisal of the situation not in hopes, dreams and aspirations.
This Administration's track record in this regard is not good. When the Middle East began its convulsions in the so-called "Arab Spring", this White House saw not angry, hungry, virtually penniless crowds demanding bread, work and a future but some Arab version of the American Civil Rights movement. In their view we were seeing the establishment of a new world order. The days of mobs and dictators and terror were ending. A new, kindler, gentler Middle East built on the rule of law and democratic principles was emerging.
Abu Shahab in Damascus Syria, who is a member of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), one of the key groups fighting the Assad regime. Shahab is pictured here speaking with Charles Faddis of The United States of Common Sense. | Photo: Aaron Stipkovich | Abu Shahab, Free Syrian Army, Bashar Al-assad, Rebel, Freedom,
The Administration followed that fantasy into Libya and all the way to the sacking of our consulate in Benghazi. Anyone with any time on the ground in the Middle East would have immediately labeled the security arrangements at that compound as ridiculously inadequate. The White House believed, however, that we could sleep well under the protection of our "friends", the armed militias roaming the streets, and that a heavier footprint might suggest we did not fully trust them.
The Administration has continued to follow this "puppies and rainbows" doctrine throughout the turmoil in Egypt. Realists with time on the ground understood from the time Mubarak was removed that the fate of Egypt was now to be decided in a titanic power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and their even more hard-line allies, the Salafis, and the Egyptian military. The Obama Administration chose to believe either that there was some third power bloc composed of secular, democratic organizations or, alternatively, that the Brotherhood, whose ideology is virtually identical to Al Qaida's, had mellowed and didn't really mean what it had been saying for decades.
We have paid the price. The streets of Cairo are stained with blood. The military has staged a coup and seized power. We are reduced to expressing disapproval and wishing the world was not quite so brutal.
We cannot afford these kinds of miscalculations in regard to Syria. We will launch our missiles and drop our bombs. Then we will announce the end of active operations. That will not signal the end of the war. It will signal its beginning.
Assad is a monster. He is heir to a regime, which has never hesitated to kill its own citizens by the thousands or tens of thousands to stay in power. He has chemical weapons. He also has dangerous allies. Both the Iranians and Hezbollah are actively involved in supporting the fight against the rebels, and Hezbollah has large numbers of fighters on the ground. The capabilities of all these actors are likely to be turned against us.
The Syrian navy will not sail out into the Mediterranean to confront us. Any air battles that take place will end quickly and decisively in our favor. Assad will likely respond to the attacks that are coming by simply hunkering down and waiting for the shelling to end.
And then Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah friends will begin to respond. They will do so on their timetable and only where they perceive the odds to be in their favor. Embassies will be struck. Hostages will be taken. American and Western tourists will be slaughtered. If the opportunity presents itself, we may even feel the impact here in the United States with attacks on prominent landmarks and public places.
The Syrians were supporting Palestinian groups involved in terrorist attacks decades ago. The Iranians have been our mortal enemies since the revolution in 1979. Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any other terrorist group other than Al Qaida. These are not amateurs. They are not new to this game. Both the Iranians and Hezbollah have a worldwide clandestine presence and support structure.
None of this means that we should not strike Syria if we have honestly made the judgment that it is in our national interest to do so. It does mean that we must understand clearly what the consequences of that action are going to be and that we should prepare for those consequences now. The time to sort out our reaction to a wave of terrorist attacks against our diplomats abroad by Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah operatives is not the day after the attacks begin. It is now.
Everybody has a plan until they get hit. We will be hit. And the getting up will be up to us.