I have no idea what President Obama and Congress should do about Syria. I am no hawk, but I am not an absolute dove either. On the global level America has found it useful to have a powerful military presence and I don’t think any of us are quite sure that we would still be a sovereign nation without our troops and war machines and weapons. And I suspect it is not enough to own all this war paraphernalia; America must be willing to use it on occasion.
In this case, the case of Syria, we want to make a humanitarian stand, to admonish an evil act, without being sucked into a war. We’re not sure we can do this. In the past five decades America has eschewed isolationism to go out and meet the enemies of freedom wherever we felt the people were trying to break free. We have put our soldiers where our values (and our corporate interests) are any number of times with far less than happy results. But the isolationist positions we held in the two so-called world wars did not stand us in good stead either and had to be abandoned.
Americans are war weary. Many of us do want to stay home, recover from our wounds and stay out of events that some say are no concern of ours; and yet others find these to be events that we can only stay out of by hardening our hearts out of all humanity.
The dilemma is that the growing pains so painful to watch in the Middle East are occurring now, not at some obscure time in the future. Can we afford to adopt that isolationist stance we love so well for the next five or ten years? Can we expect events to unfold around us while we live our own not so peaceful lives behind a screen, a screen that is really a vast permeable membrane, a membrane which cannot really block events from seeping in and out?
The Middle East is having its growth spurt now and I don’t think it can be stopped or slowed. We can nurture the good growth and try to nip the dysfunctional or bad growth in the bud, or we can stay in our own sphere (maybe) and let growth proceed. It may take decades to work through the ancient arguments in these lands, this cradle of religion. These hostilities have been kept under lids enforced by traditional authoritarian or religious leaders, but they have never been discussed, hashed out, examined and neutralized by intellectual compromise and tolerance. I don’t think we will be able to stay out of what promises to change this formerly sleeping, now awakening “middle Earth” forever. (Perhaps the forces that are trying to tuck the Middle East back into traditional pathways will succeed, but I doubt it.)
Although so many seem able to agree that Obama is weak, not a good Commander-in-Chief (and paradoxically agree that Bush was strong and yet still not a good Commander-in-Chief) everyone cannot seem to agree that Bashar al-Assad is a horrifying leader, a leader without boundaries in acting against his own people. I have heard so much more criticism of Obama this past week than of Assad. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
We can try to stay out of military engagements for the foreseeable future, we can wait and see if the use of inhumane weapons will abate, but we cannot make the explosion of change in the Middle East happen five or even ten years from now. It is happening now and that appears to be why we must make our stand now. We are all afraid. The world feels slightly unhinged right now, as if we are one step away from total global war and as if every step must be carefully thought out to avoid such a disaster. That’s why one person cannot make this decision alone. It is your job in Congress to help America wend its way through a chaotic world and I am happy to see you taking this situation seriously. I am, however, appalled to see you unable to present a more united front to the world and the nation. When you should be discussing the realities of Assad’s behaviors, you insist on discussing Obama’s supposed shortcomings instead.
This blog post is also available at www.brissioni.com