Thursday, August 29, 2013

Suddenly...Syria

Well, not so "suddenly" actually. The situation in Syria has been deteriorating for a long time. 

And every time one thinks that the fighting can't get any worse...

That the slaughter of innocents can't get any worse...

That the utter disdain that Assad has for his own people can't get any worse...

It gets worse.

There has been for some time pressure on the Obama Administration to "do something". But what would that something be? And would we have the right to do it?

President Obama, I think, can be too deliberate, too measured in his responses, in his actions. Some of that is part of his character, a lot of it is born of necessity of a army of political rivals whose every action is to undermine this President. In the case of Syria, as horrible as the bloodshed was, it was very much a civil war and the United States did not have a dog in this fight.

Now we do.

The images of the dying and the dead have been horrific as it is very clear that chemical weapons have been used against the Syrian people. This is an affront to international law and simple human decency. To not act against the use of chemical weapons is to embolden the next tin plated dictator with delusions of grander to act with impunity in the use of weapons of mass murder and destruction.

Chemical weapons.

Biological weapons.

Nuclear weapons.

But a lot of the same political forces who were chiding Obama to "do something" are now saying, "Whoa there! Let's not be too hasty!" Even in the face of the depths of human depravity and the horrible suffering it has caused, Obama's rival's continue to hold fast to their strategy: whatever Barack Obama wants, do NOT give it to him.

Obama was cautious about military intervention in Syria. John McCain and other GOP leaders chided the President for not taking action. Now President Obama is faced with the very real prospect that military action is needed to show that the use of chemical weapons will not stand; now the GOP is pulling back on the reins.

I'm not saying a due deliberation of the facts before a decision is made is not advisable. But this is NOT a quest for deliberation, this is the usual knee jerk reaction to the other side of whatever road Obama is on.

Meanwhile, the British Parliament has voted against military intervention on Syria. The United States' strongest and most loyal ally is opting to sit this one out. There is a sense of wariness of being led into another boondoggle like the one Tony Blair led them into 10 years ago.

Comparisons of Iraq and Syria have been cropping up a lot lately.  And there is one apt link between those two situations. In both, the President has to contemplate taking action against a nation that has not actually done anything to us or to any of our allies. In both Iraq and Syria, military intervention was a matter of choice, not necessity.

However there is also a very big difference between the two situations. Action against Iraq was considered because those in power thought Iraq had chemical weapons. Action against Syria is being discussed because we know Syria has chemical weapons and we've seen them employed against the Syrian people.

There is also the matter of an administration's intent. What we know of Obama and his advisors, I can safely assume there is at least no majority support for initiating military action against anybody. In other words, I suspect no one in the Obama White House has been beating the war drums for Syria. 

On the other hand, the neocons who populated the Bush White House had Iraq in their crosshairs from day one. The fact that the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th had rather inconveniently trained in camps in Afghanistan instead of Iraq was a mere hiccup in the narrative: Saddam Hussein was a threat to America and to the world and had to go.

Saddam was no saint and he deserves every hour he spends in hell for the sadistic and horrific things he did and were done in his name. But Saddam was also no fool. He wanted to be seen as a significant power in the Middle East and on the world stage. An alliance with Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda was counterproductive to Saddams' designs for power and respect. Indeed, Bin Laden saw Saddam Hussein as an infidel to Islam and Iraq was more likely on Osama's list as a target than as a partner.

But I digress. This is today and the topic is Syria. Still, the shadow of Iraq looms over these proceedings. But while it is wise to be guided by the lessons of our intervention in Iraq, we cannot be paralyzed by them, especially in the face of human suffering caused by the use of weapons that the civilized world finds abhorrent.

Even as the British Parliament was voting "no" to approving military action in Syria, over in the House of LordsLord Paddy Ashdown had this to say: "This is not Iraq, we are not putting boots on the ground and we are not invading and above all this is not George W. Bush, it's Obama."

President Obama is far from being a perfect person; then, so are we all. Only history can judge if whatever decision the President makes is a good one or a bad one. But ultimately, a decision will be made and must be made on the facts and the merits of the current situation, not on the fears and ghosts that linger from adventures past. We can learn from the past but we must live in today and strive to protect the blessings of liberty, both real and potential, for all our tomorrows.

God speed to the people of Syria and to the leaders who face this terrible choice.

God be with us all.

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