In response to a thought-provoking post, Syria-sly, Mr. President?, by my good friend, Michael Charney.
Thank you for sharing your post, Michael. I ‘Like’ that you shared it with me. It, along with tonight’s Middle Ground blogtalk show, really got me thinking more about Syria and what to do.
My views differ from yours.
First, I disagree that leaders cannot take back their words. What I have learned about effective leaders, in fact, is that the very best can and do take back their words and their decisions when they discover them to be wrong. In this case, the president was and still is wrong about taking military action against Syria.
Let me also say this about leaders. No one is perfect. It’s childish for us to keep holding our elected leaders to such an unattainable standard as perfect decision-making.
As such and as a leader, President Obama should now admit his mistake while he details better alternatives to yet another US-led military action against a foreign government in the Middle East. Syria, just like Iraq, has not attacked us. Syria cannot attack us. Syria doesn’t really represent a vital national interest to us (our commitments to protect Israel are not at issue yet). Syria represents essentially no threat to us with their military.
These facts provide Obama with all the justification he needs to admit that attacking Syria now will only serve to escalate tension throughout the region and very likely throughout the rest of the world. (We need to account for Putin and his backing of Assad. Also see David Brooks’ NYT Op-Ed, “One Great Big War”)
Second, I don’t understand why an attack is the only proportionate response. Has anyone proposed a strong and sustained call for a cease-fire followed by US-brokered peace talks on neutral ground? Was that idea proposed, debated, offered, and rejected? If not, why not and why must the proportionate response be limited to a military response? Can we really expect that airstrikes now will change anything in Syria? What do we expect Assad to do afterward?
It seems worth noting here that we civilians love to believe the fantasy that military technology and the people who operate it do so with video-game-like precision and perfection. The truth is, people will die; innocent people.
It’s also true that chemical weapons are not left lying about to be blown up by cruise missiles. Good thing, too. If they were, blasting them with bombs and missiles would be a really bad idea for obvious reasons. They and their delivery systems are spread out and protected in hardened facilities when they’re not mobile and/or in use. When not in use, they are going to be hidden in facilities impenetrable to all but the biggest bunker-buster weapons. The chemicals themselves can only be destroyed in extremely high temperature furnaces under very tight scientific controls. So, missiles and bombs are really not going to make any difference in Assad’s inventory of chemical weapons.
This brings us to the question of what the goal of a limited strike would be.
I don’t see cruise missiles and targeted bombing doing anything except provoking Assad and his allies to commit even greater atrocities. That’s in addition to the people we’ll kill with our strikes, many of whom will be poor and innocent civilians who were trapped in Syria without the means or financial resources to escape. As for Assad, he and his faction will get the message loud and clear. “You’re next.”
Assad and his leaders will have less and less to lose by accelerating a scorched-Earth strategy. Our unilateral (or nearly so, with apologies to our French allies) actions could very likely be seen as yet more American imperialism and further intrusion into the region. Can we expect Assad’s followers and his allies, the Hezbollah and Iran, to see it and use it any differently in their propaganda? Oh, and let’s not forget Mr. Putin. He has political skin in this game, too, and he doesn’t seem the type to stay quiet.
Yes, we could try to take out command-and-control centers, crater airfields, create no-fly zones, and the like. At best, that’s been proven to be a temporary solution. It will, as before, undoubtedly kill lots of civilians. With all due respect to the brave and honorable service men and women, Iraq and Afghanistan are, for all intents and purposes, complete and total failures. It’s not their fault. Democracy and freedom cannot be delivered at the end of a gun barrel.
The fault was, is, and forever will be with leaders.
Which brings me back to allowing our leaders to “take it back.”
A failed leader is one who fails to admit mistakes. A failed leader is one who repeats failed strategies believing that they will somehow work better this time around. A failed leader is one who makes decisions based not on what’s best for their followers but what’s best for them.
So why can’t we and the president admit that it was wrong to wait until Assad used chemical weapons, as if somehow the 100,000 already killed didn’t merit a response?
What’s supposed to happen after the airstrikes? Are both sides supposed to promise to not use any more chemical weapons so we can go back to watching Assad and the rebels kill each other with conventional weapons?
Words and decisions can be reversed, but actions can’t be taken back. Whether “mushy” Obama (the guy, may I remind you, who has taken drone strikes to very disturbing new heights) decides to go it alone or with France, we will only be escalating the conflict in Syria, not curtailing or containing it. It’s time, IMHO, for Mr. Obama to prove the prescience of the Nobel committee and to choose a strategy other than a militaristic one.
The former administration proved how terribly wrong it is to not take back their words when they’re wrong (and when they’re lies). They proved how awful things can go when bad decisions are compounded with worse ones. They proved how corrupt a president and an administration can become when they feel like our military is just another tactical device to be wielded as part of a foreign policy.
Our aggression and our empire building need to stop somewhere. As horrible as things are going in Syria, we are only going to make it worse if we take a militaristic approach. I would have preferred to see Obama take a page from Jimmy Carter’s book instead for George W. Bush’s. It’s not too late.