It can’t be said that the U.S. is doing nothing about Syria. The administration created the “Atrocities Prevention Board,” which failed the test at Houla. It is supporting the feckless Kofi Annan, who is adding to a resume that includes the genocide in Rwanda and massacres in Bosnia. It is beseeching the Russians, who decimated Chechnya and still own it, to help.
But is the U.S. also getting ready to ride to the rescue with Eager Lion 2012? One would hope not.
Eager Lion 2012 is a multinational Special Operations exercise that began in Jordan last week. The planning started long ago; it wasn’t organized against Syria — or Iran, for that matter. It was widely touted by the Americans. Major General Ken Tovo, head of the U.S. Special Operations Forces, told reporters in Amman, “The message that I want to send through this exercise is that we have developed the right partners throughout the region and across the world … insuring that we have the ability to … meet challenges that are coming to our nations.”
U.S. military exercises with foreign troops are common and can be a means of showing American interest and capability in various regions. They prove that other countries want to be seen working with us. And there is a lot to be said for the U.S.-Jordanian security relationship. (Disclosure: I have been to Jordanian Special Forces training bases, met their commanders, and seen their exercises over time.)
But Eager Lion 2012 not a U.S.-Jordanian exercise. There were 12,000 troops from 19 countries. The first problem is how to coordinate activity among forces with disparate weaponry, command structures, and capabilities; that can be overcome. The second, and no less important, problem is how to coordinate among forces with different political requirements and values — specifically, what is the United States doing sharing military skills with Egypt, Pakistan, and Lebanon, those paragons of anti-democratic values and bastions of anti-Americanism?
- The Pakistani government, military, and security services have been a decidedly mixed bag in their support of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and our determination to have Pakistan gain control over its own tribal territories. Pakistani hostility has increased since November 2011, when NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers after NATO forces claim to have been fired upon from the Pakistani position. Military coordination — including the movement of coalition supplies to Afghanistan — ground to a halt. And last week, the government sentenced the doctor who provided DNA evidence about Osama bin Laden to U.S. forces to more than 30 years in prison. Why are we treating these guys like allies?
- Hezb’allah controls the Lebanese government. Has anyone considered which side of what war the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) might fight on, particularly in Syria, but not only there? The last time the LAF fired its weapons, it was across the Israeli/Lebanon border, where they killed an IDF officer. Someone should question why the U.S. would impart Special Operations capabilities to an army that answers to a Hezb’allah government.
- Or a Muslim Brotherhood government, for that matter. Islamist forces control Egypt’s new parliament, and the MB candidate appears set to win the presidential election runoff. The U.S. Senate tried to withhold Egypt’s military aid pending improvements in human rights and civil society.
Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar look pretty good by comparison, but Bahrain’s security forces were brutal in the suppression of the majority Shiite population during an uprising that continues to bubble just below the surface.
For all of that, is it possible that the U.S. was working on a combined military force that could be used in the region? It is Donald Rumsfeld who said, “You don’t go to war with the allies you want; you go to war with the allies you have.” Or something. Iranian and Syrian media seem to think so. A Syrian press report called Eager Lion 2012 a cover for an attack on Syria (al-Asad is Arabic for “lion”). Iran’s Press TV called it “provocative.” Western news outlets also suggested that the “alliance” could be used if Syrian chemical weapons need to be secured.
As ill-conceived as it is for U.S. Special Operations to cooperate with the Egyptian, Pakistani, or Lebanese army right now, and as difficult as it is to imagine the Lebanese army securing Syrian chemicals at the behest of the U.S. government, the threat could have been useful. Showing the Butcher of Houla that there are troops — including Muslim troops — who might run out of patience soon could have had a salutary effect.
The U.S., however, appears serious in its contention that the exercise had no purpose other than “skills building” and its desire to reassure the neighbors. MG Awni Al Adwano, Jordan’s chief of staff for operations and training, stood with MG Tovo in a press conference press conference to say that “Eager Lion 2012 has nothing to do with Syrian unrest.” Added a Special Operations spokesman, “Execution of Eager Lion 2012 is not connected to any real-world event. It has nothing to do with Syria. It is just a coincidence.”
He’s probably right — making Eager Lion 2012 both a very bad idea and a wasted opportunity to at least worry the bad guys.