Strategic Challenge in Bloody Syria

From Damascus to Tehran, a test for world leadership is underway. Daily, the Syrian military—well-armed, highly trained thugs whose current mission is to keep dictator Bashar Assad in power—kills up to 200 or more of its own citizens. Protests from Washington, the withdrawal of the U.S. ambassador, and an effort to condemn Syria in the U.N. Security Council (torpedoed by the Russians and Chinese) amount to little more than impotent handwringing from the “leader of the free world.”

It’s now been over 65 years since the U.S. militarily defeated an enemy in a great crusade.

More than military strength accompanied the moniker, “Leader of the Free World.” American values of freedom and liberty were held up as standards to which all humanity should aspire. U.S. economic leadership surged to the fore between 1946 and the advent of the Vietnam War in the 1960s. The world looked to the United States for moral leadership.

From 1953 to the present, for a variety of reasons, U.S. military forces never “closed the deal” in major conflicts, whether the effort in Korea, where a tense truce is still in effect two generations later; or the bug-out from Indochina culminating in the fall of Saigon in April 1975; or the ongoing retreats from Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which constitute nothing so much as “declaring victory and going home.”

Today, a test for world leadership is playing out. The Assad regime, connected politically and culturally to Tehran, relies on support from Moscow and Beijing. More than the fate of Israel is at stake. Leaders throughout the Arab world anxiously await the outcome. The strategic stakes involve global economic and political implications. Who leads? Short answer: no one. That means chaos until a leader emerges.

War remains an act of force to compel the enemy to do your will where the political outcome is paramount. The latter is strategically vital, encompassing as it does the reason for using military force. With the United States’ precipitous withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, standing aside while Mediterranean “powers” like Italy and France led in deposing Qaddafi, and now the political dithering by the White House over whether Israel should thwart Iran’s pledge to wipe it off the face of the earth—coupled with standing aside as Syrian forces slaughter their own—make it obvious that America views itself as one of many actors on a world stage rather than the director, producer, and leading player.

Strategic abdication is dangerous. American political culture, founded as it was on concepts of human liberty and freedom, is unique. It has also produced an economic powerhouse and a level of living unmatched in human history. The reality is that only the United States has the power and moral authority to maintain its position as a world leader. If this administration blows it, there are powers ready to step forward: China, Russia, Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Venezuela among them. Imagine a world in which these leaders articulate their visions for the world of the 21st century. In such a world, “American exceptionalism” will be as strategically irrelevant as Swiss or Finnish exceptionalism and, as Shakespeare put it, “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”

The world is at the precipice of strategic catastrophe. Israel may soon strike Iran. Leaders in Jerusalem know that if Assad reasserts control of Syria, his army will present a major threat on Israel’s northern border, especially since it is linked militarily with Hezbollah in Lebanon. To the south, where Egypt roils in social and political upheaval, a radical Islamist regime hostile to Israel is likely to emerge. If nothing is done, these regimes, linked to a nuclear-armed Tehran vowed to destroy Israel, will be the deciding strategic factor in the Middle East. This is the price of strategic abdication.

Now is the time for the United States to lead. If America fails, the world may descend into a dark and ominous future made more sinister by the moral imperatives of a radical religious ideology.

Used by permission of The Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College. 

Dr. Earl Tilford


Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism.

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  • Greg Groebner

    Wow!  Dr. Tilford managed to get in six talking points, all without any evidence or basis — in logic.  Let’s go through a few of these.
    * “Syrian military—well-armed, highly trained thugs” – oh, is that so.  What about those on the ground who say that the instigators are foreign mercenaries there at the behest of the CIA and Mossad?
    * “65 years since the U.S. militarily defeated an enemy in a great crusade” – pretty confused mind, doctor, if you think of WWII as a “crusdade”.  Civil war, maybe.  Ideological conflict, perhaps.  But “crusade”?  Then who were the good guys?
    * And here is both the flaw and cause of much of the blood-shed openly promoted in this article:  the exportation of revolutionary democracy “American values of freedom and liberty were held up as standards to which all humanity should aspire. ”
    * “From 1953 to the present, for a variety of reasons, U.S. military forces never “closed the deal” in major conflicts,” – it’s not so easy to “close the deal” when there is no formal declaration of war.  
    * “whether Israel should thwart Iran’s pledge to wipe it off the face of the earth” – OK, doctor, please produce Iran’s “pledge” here — and do so in the context in which it was presented.
    * “American political culture, founded as it was on concepts of human liberty and freedom, is unique.” – Total BS.  American concepts of human liberty and freedom are unique only insofar as they are wrong and post-Christian.  The USA was the first Western country in its founding documents to pretend as if God had never revealed Himself in history.  Exporting of of revolutionary democracy throughout the world is a great evil.
    * This is getting boring, so just a few more:  Why is Iran treated as if it is not a sovereign nation?  Why should Israel’s interests be more important to us, than say, those of Syria?  What makes you think that the influence of a Christian Russia is worse than “American exceptionalism” (i.e., revolutionary democracy)?  Is this article meant to be taken seriously?  I mean, who is expected to believe it?

  • Tafur_Kern

    It has been a while since I have seen so much hate directed at the US.  Life is so very short, too short to live in a country that you hate; have you considered moving to a place in which you will be proud to live.

    May I suggest Somalia, they do not have a government and that seems to be the main source of your anger and rage.  I hear it is nice there this time of year.

  • Greg Groebner

    @Tafur_Kern, maybe you could try addressing at least one of the points in the article.  Seriously, perhaps you might have some insight that could be productive, some real thought that can be supported by either data or logic?  Dr. Tilford’s background and profession would indicate that he is an expert on these topics, but I see nothing here other than blatant and shameless propaganda.  I would like to think otherwise, and took the time to follow the links; such as ” Iran’s pledge to wipe it off the face of the earth”, and I found nothing of substance there, either.

  • Muspelle2

    I will later, I ran out of time and I felt your line of hate was more important than the content that I need to address.   Blatant, yes and that is the only thing you have correct.  Propaganda, not hardly and your writing meets the criteria for shameless.

    I have no idea where those links will take me and I may look or may not look, but as I have heard A-jad envision a world without the US and Isreal or a world without the US and Israel is feasible; I see no reason to look that up.

    I fail to see why you would want me to address the content of the article since you found nothing the US has done right since I don’t know when,  at least since 1940 and probably much earlier than that.

  • Tafur_Kern

    For some reason my comment above posted under word press not disqus.

    I decided I am not done with  you yet.

    Doctor Tillford presupposes a certain amount of knowledge in the readers mind before reading his column.

    – foreign mercenaries at the behest of the CIA & Mossad?  Do you really believe that?  You talk proof and you come out with drivel like that.  You are the first one to make that accusation and I would imagine the only one to make that claim.

    – likewise, you are the first American to condemn the US so roundly for our actions in WWII.  But then what else can be expected when you choose to view it as a civil war?

    – the Declaration of Independence sets forth the idea that rights are given to us by God.
    The Constitution creates a govt to protect those God-given rights.  This is the relationship between the US and God.  I do not believe that any other nation has placed the same concepts in their founding documents.  This is a quick and abbreviated explanation.

    – Israel has threatened no nation.  Israel and Iran have not fought a war in modern times, yet Iran has behaved in a beligerent manner toward Israel since 1979.  Why?  Iran and Syria has sponsored Islamic terrorist attacks against the US, Israel and other nations.  There are 2 reasons why Israel matters more than either Iran or Syria.

    –  ‘revolutionary democracy’ is a rather new concept in US foreign affairs, a concept that has produced a great deal of opposition. 

    There are some points raised by you that I did not address, because I intend to cover them when I respond to the original column.

  • Greg Groebner

    “I will later, I ran out of time” – sure.

  • Greg Groebner

    I would agree that a certain amount of knowledge must be presumed by a columnist. But Dr. Tilford’s links do not strongly support his points in the six articles I investigated.

    On Syria, search “foreign CIA Mossad syria”. I don’t know the truth, but Dr. Tilford does not even touch upon the matter. There are many people saying this about the “insurrection”, people who have “feet on the ground”.  As I say, it is shameless and blatant propaganda.

    WWII was a mess, with the Anglos and especially the Communists victors. On what basis would you consider this a “crusade”?

    Founding documents:  Yes, you are correct, you “explanation” is indeed “quick and abbreviated”. You must certainly know that God-given rights were not first discovered by the Constitution. The whole idea of Medieval feudal society is built upon rights, duties, and responsibilities to God, society, and neighbor. The USA founding documents are a gigantic step backward, to non-Christianity. I don’t blame the Founders; it was perhaps the best they could do in their situation, but it is certainly not an ideal. There is absolutely no recognition in the US documents that God has walked in history, and changed things forever. This was a radical departure from Christianized Western civilizations. Even compare Ireland’s 1937 Constitution:
    “In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred,
    We, the people of Ireland, humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial,
    Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation,
    And seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations,
    Do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution.”

    Israel has attacked US warships, assassinates whomever it wishes in whatever countries it wishes, steals and sells US military secrets, is a locus for world-wide organized crime of the most vile kinds, etc. These things are not secrets, and I do not believe that you are actually ignorant about this. If you need links, they are not difficult to find. They are an enemy of Western civility; in the American context, much moreso than the Muslims (not necessarily the same situation in parts of Europe, however).

    Yes, “revolutionary democracy” has taken an especially insidious turn in recent decades, but it is really not so new.

  • Yblegen

    Whether you like or hate his comments.  I believe he is right.  The Mideast is a time bomb.   When Tehran says it has vowed to destroy Israel, does one think for one minute that they are joking?  I don’t think so.

    I agree with his conclusion based on the historical evidence that the Mideast is becoming more not less radical with Iran gaining more allies which hate Israel. 

  • Greg Groebner

    “When Tehran says it has vowed to destroy Israel” – please find the original quotation, and the context in which it was stated.

  • Greg Groebner

    Which is more believable, the war-mongering Zionist propaganda above, or the view of a Syrian bishop?