Thursday, September 18, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

When is bombing foreigners good for America?

Philly marketing mogul Richard Vague gives reasons against a Syria attack, while Sen. Casey calls for bombs

When is bombing foreigners good for America?

If Americans cared much about the 21 million Syrians, rather than their government's role as a friend of Russia and Iran, or an enemy of Israel, it's hard to believe we'd be preparing to add them to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and the other countries where we're currently currently bombing. And if we cared about our own long-term economic, fiscal and national well-being, we wouldn't go there, adds Richard Vague, former head of First USA Bank and Energy Plus.

Anyone following the conflict knows this is a fight between bad guys. The Assad government is willing to bomb, gas and traumatize civilians, hitting more than we do in our drone strikes, to kill its enemies and its critics.

The most effective of the rebels fighting Assad, reporters tell us, are allied to Al-Qaeda and other Sunni Islamic supremacists. They kill Kurds, Shiites, Christians, leaders of Assad's Alawi sect, and members of other minority groups, and hate the United States.

If reports about who's winning battles in that sad country are accurate, these enemies of humanity are who the President and the leaders of both parties will most obviously help, within Syria, by bombing Assad's government. Just as we helped Iran, and al-Qaeda, when we bombed and invaded Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The U.S. could end up acting as "Al Qaeda's air force," says ex-U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, a lefty. Libertarian U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., agrees.

But Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., cites "our national security interests and our humanitarian values" in pushing Obama to "act decisively" with "any military response" that supports "the moderate opposition," who, when last heard from, were getting shot to pieces by the Al-Qaeda allies, as well as by Assad.

"Every day that Assad remains in power helps Iran and Hezbollah," the Lebanese party that fought Israel to a draw in their war a few years back, the senator adds. "I commend the Administration for confronting this difficult but critical challenge."

Casey has taken this stand in a Foreign Policy magazine interview, in opinion articles, and on his trip to visit Syrian refugees earlier this year. Now, he says "something must be done -- not just for humanitarian reasons but for our own strategic interests," his aide reaffirmed to me. Casey sees the choices including "targeted missile strikes," a Bosnia- and Libya-style air bombing campaign to create a "safe zone" where Assad planes couldn't fly, and more support for the still-ghostly "moderate opposition" -- the "right people" led by Assad defector Gen. Salim Idriss, chief advocate for rebel Syrians to Western officials.

Where do our other leaders stand? I went to Vague, the Philadelphia mass-marketing millionaire, knowing he's raised funds for Pennsylvania's other U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who has been less outspoken than Casey. Vague sees our bombings and invasions in Asian and Muslim countries as mostly a massive waste of life, money and capitalist credibility. I asked him where Toomey stands on bombing Syria.

"He has sponsored tougher sanctions for Syria. Let's hope it doesn't go beyond that," he told me. "I think at heart the most important issue to Toomey is fiscal responsibility so I would hope that might trump hawkishness in at least some of these foreign policy matters." 

Vague has his own arguments against bombing Syria, following his studies of other conflicts: When it comes to wielding long-term American power and influence, "less is more, especially for small countries... I wish Obama had not committed himself to a chemical warfare redline in Syria... The Syrian conflict is in large measure an extension of the contest for regional hegemony between Iran and Saudi Arabia -- Shiite and Sunni -- so it seems natural that the Saudis and their allies would be pushing for overthrow. But as we've seen in Egypt and Libya (not to mention Iraq and Afghanistan), replacement regimes are no panaceas."

He also gives some credit to the rising view that "the Middle East may no longer be as important a foreign policy region as it once was for America for two reasons -- 1) it no longer factors into our now-lapsed global struggle with the Soviet Union, and 2) with the surprising prospects of American energy self-sufficiency, Middle East oil and natural gas are no longer quite as important." 

Joseph N. DiStefano
About this blog

PhillyDeals posts raw drafts and updates of Joseph N. DiStefano's columns and stories about Philly-area finance, investment, commercial real estate, tech, hiring and public spending, which he's been writing since 1989, mostly for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

DiStefano studied economics, history and a little engineering at Penn, taught writing at St. Joe's, and has written the book Comcasted, more than a thousand columns, and thousands of articles, and raised six children with his wife, who is a saint.

Reach Joseph N. at JoeD@phillynews.com or 215 854 5194.

Joseph N. DiStefano
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