Drat! Those American ideals are pulling us back into conflict in the Middle East, this time in Syria. Obviously, when nearly 100,000 people are killed anywhere on the planet we are grieved and angered. We want the carnage to stop and we all think about whether America should help stop it. In this case we have people who are also fighting against an authoritarian leader who they want to be free of. It is written in our DNA that we will feel sympathy for the rebels. We are always the Rebel Alliance fighting against the Empire in our hearts. But – we have just slowed down the devastating parade of maimed soldiers arriving back in the US everyday from our recent endeavors in the Middle East. These soldiers have not even been processed by their government to receive their benefits. We have not yet finished mourning our dead soldiers who still arrive under their flag-draped caskets. We have hardly given a breather to our soldiers who have been at war seemingly forever. Our heads and our guts say that we should help this rebel army; our hearts can’t bear to do it.
There is a question of whether or not we will make America irrelevant in the Middle East unless we stay involved with freedom fighters and offer military support. Humanitarian support does not count apparently. We only get points if we put blood and guts in the game. But we haven’t earned any points by bleeding on the sands of the Middle East so far. The opinions of both Iraq and Afghanistan seem distinctly tinged with anti-Americanism. Perhaps this “revolution” in the Middle East is not as far along as we would like to think it. Deposing an authoritarian leader does not mean that Syria is ready to be a democracy or that the country ever will want to be democratic. There is also the point that we could make our democracy look a bit more appealing if we want to persuade people that our form of government works best. That might be a good place to start. Although our politicians often give us idealistic reasons for entering a war, their real reasons are often quite a bit more pragmatic. I’m not sure what those pragmatic concerns are but they are the ones that make us less than proud sometimes.
There are several complexities to consider when it comes to jumping into the conflict with Syria on the side of the rebels and we have heard those before. The rebels are not one unified group and, in our experience, which has recently become very personal, we have learned that once the rebels win the war a new civil war will often have to be fought among the various rebel groups to decide which group will get to formulate the new government, or perhaps a coalition will arise (not likely). And in Syria we also have elements of terrorists groups which we have no desire to support; not to mention that we would be pitting ourselves against Putin and Russia.
Call me crazy, but it seems as if there is a preponderance of reasons not to involve ourselves in the revolution in Syria but that word revolution has such a pull on the American psyche that we are almost powerless to resist the siren call of people who are oppressed and longing to be free. I am glad that I am not the President. I don’t want us to get more involved in Syria, but I understand why we probably will.
Everyone is up in arms. Obama made the use of chemical weapons in Syria a red line. Late last week the news came across the seas that some chemical weapons “may have been used in Syria”, and “that there is some physiological evidence that some people exhibited symptoms of a chemical agent having been deployed in their vicinity.” It is all very tentative and not at all what we would imagine a full-scaled chemical weapons attack to be like. I think Obama’s red line depended on a getting a little more solid evidence than this about a chemical attack. However that may be, there have been rabid people all over the media taunting Obama to deliver on his promise and to declare that the red line has been crossed and to get more aggressively involved in helping the Syrian freedom fighters gain their independence from Assad. Of course, John McCain is the loudest and most strident of those who are apparently (they think) calling Obama’s bluff.
But I have to wonder what it is that they want Obama to do and I kept asking that of my TV on Sunday, which is Politics Day. I kept saying, “Do we want a war? What exactly is it that you want Obama to do? Surprisingly enough, after some initial difficulty getting through to my flat screen I did get some answers. Everyone agreed that they did not want “boots on the ground”. One suggestion is that we establish a no-fly-zone. Another is that we get more involved in the care of the refugees in Jordan and Turkey and elsewhere around the edges of Syria. There were also some caveats since this group of freedom fighters is not one unified group but is rather a collection of sectarian groups and even perhaps terrorist groups who may be at each other’s throats once hostilities end.
There is also the “no good deed goes unpunished” rule. We are likely to end up being hated and vilified regardless of what path we decide to take. This is not a real win-win situation for us. We do like to treat victims of abuse with compassion and the Syrian people looked pretty well abused right now. And we do like to back freedom whenever possible. Will we feel good enough about ourselves if we accomplish these goals, whatever the cost, and whoever we offend? These are all questions Americans and our American President must answer. Meanwhile all you hawks, stop acting like bullies. Stop yelling at the President. You imply that the President and the US will look weak if we don’t act, but the President may also appear weak if he lets people goad him into precipitous action. Show some understanding of how difficult it is to deal with the complex issues America faces in the 21stcentury. Let’s let there be a little time to collect better evidence of chemical weapon use and time to make a careful decision before we throw ourselves into the fray.
Here’s a link to an article that gives some clear and up-to-date information on this red line issue:
This article appeared in the Daily Beast today, April 29, 2013:
I cannot understand what al Assad hopes to achieve in Syria. I know he hopes to hang on to power, but what kind of power will it be? He will have to enter a state of constant vigilance and on-going retaliation. He will be the leader of a truculent population which takes no joy in either his leadership or in being Syrian. How will he keep his foot on the neck of every Syrian, and what satisfaction will it bring if he carries it off? Perhaps he imagines that there are only a few rebels and that once they are cowed, captured, or jailed the rest of the population will go back to being loyal subjects. Maybe the group of rebels in Syria is actually quite small, I don’t know. However, I bet the number of rebels continues to grow as the troops loyal to Assad continue to kill innocent civilians.
This is obviously not about a leader who loves his people and his country, unless the leader sees himself as a stern father who needs to punish his misbehaving children. It must just be about power and the drive to hold on to it at all costs. It must be about not knowing when the political dialogue in the world had moved beyond your antiquated form of governance.
There were moments when Assad could have held on to his power and been the prime mover of change in Syria. I can only believe, after the terrible things that have been done to the Syrian people, that those moments have passed. North Korea has become a nation that maintains a high level of secrecy and isolation. I’m not sure that al Assad would be able to replicate that model or even that the rest of the world would allow it. Closing off Syria and locking out the rest of the world would probably be the only approach that would allow him to stay in power, but that would be an empty victory. A great warrior (and a great leader) knows when to bend.