Robert Gates: Intervention in Syria Would Be ‘A Mistake’

John Glaser, May 13, 2013

When considering the likelihood of increased U.S. intervention in Syria, it’s useful to try to gauge the opinions of people in positions of policymaking and power. I’ve noted several times the Obama administration’s demonstrated reluctance to get further involved in the form of directly arming rebels, no-fly zones to topple the Assad regime, or even boots on the ground. I’ve also noted several establishment voices – people like Aaron David Miller and Zbigniew Brzezinski (among many others) – who don’t exactly have a history of dovishness but who firmly oppose further intervention in Syria.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.Another such establishment voice from a long-time DC insider spoke out against increased interventionism in Syria this weekend. Robert Gates, Obama’s former Secretary of Defense who worked under at least six U.S. presidents, appeared on Face the Nation to say military action in Syria would be “a mistake.”

Gates: For us to think we can influence or determine the outcome of that, I think is a mistake. I thought it was a mistake in Libya. And I think it is a mistake in Syria. We overestimate our ability to determine outcomes, even if we had intervened more significantly in Syria a year ago or six months ago. I– think that caution, particularly in terms of arming these groups and in terms of U.S. military involvement, is in order.

Schieffer: Well what should we do?

Gates: Well, my question back to you is: Why should it be us? There are other powers in the region, Turkey and others, that have military capabilities. You have Europeans that are much closer and whose interests are much– are equally affected. I understand our broad interests in the Middle East. And I understand the risks to us of chaos in Syria and of an ethnic cleansing there– once the civil war comes to an end, no matter who wins it. But the question that you asked me is the question I think there– we don’t have a satisfactory answer to. What should we do? What can we do? I believe that if we’re to do anything, it is to pick and choose the opposition groups that we think have some– moderation and would, you know, espouse what we think is in the best interest of the region– provide them with intelligence, with basic military equipment, work through Turkey and other countries perhaps in providing some basic military equipment. But I think our direct involvement and particularly our direct military involvement would be a mistake. You know, I oversaw two wars that began with quick regime change. And we all know what happened after that. And as I said to the Congress when we went into Libya, when they were talking about a no-fly zone, “It begins with an act of war.” And haven’t we learned that when you go to war, the outcomes are unpredictable? And anybody who says, “It’s gonna be clean. It’s gonna be neat. You can establish the safe zones. And it’ll be– it’ll just be swell.” Well, most wars aren’t that way.

See the interview below (the Syria part begins at about 4:10):

Gates is no longer in government and his stated opposition certainly doesn’t mean there will be no escalation of U.S. intervention in Syria, but the fact that the bulk of such establishment voices have so publicly opposed it is an indication of just how extremely irresponsible and illegitimate it would be. I mean, for goodness sake, Gates goes on to give lukewarm praise for the Iraq war. If even someone like that opposes war in Syria…




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