Torn

by: Michael Shields

With a heavy heart for all those lost in Syria’s deviating civil war, we weigh in on the United States decision on whether to intervene……

“Maybe Syria is just about moving inventory – if we don’t use up the old bombs, who’s gonna buy the new ones.” – Bill Maher

I was torn. The images of children shaking – not screaming or crying – but just shaking as the effects of a toxic gas began to overwhelm their frail young frames was too much for me to take. I was angered, appropriately so, and at that moment – thinking as a father and a human being – I would have launched the missiles myself. I would have reigned terror upon any and all that I knew to be responsible. But, that would have been in haste, and actions in haste, and in the heat of the moment, are more often than not wrong.

I’ve been following the devastating civil war in Syria for some time now1. My interest, and outrage, most likely weighs in at more than your average American, but far less than Middle East pundits and those who reside and/or hail from the region. I am no expert, yet the knowledge I have attained had me inclined to argue for some sort of action, some semblance of intervention against this gruesome conflict. Thus, it was confusing to me when news of an alleged chemical strike that killed over 1,400 civilians outside of Damascus became the rallying cry for action against Assad, when over 100,00 people have been already killed2. It is a shame that the word “Syria” hasn’t been on the tip of our nation’s proverbial tongue before this atrocity3.

But, now we are paying attention, and currently the Obama Administration is proclaiming with zest that the world cannot turn away while a tyrant gasses children. They are poised to strike, stressing that these plans don’t involve expelling Assad from power. The Obama Administration asserts that potential strikes could hurt the regime’s fighting capacity in its civil war, possibly tipping the balance of power, but their true intent is to only degrade its ability to use chemical weapons. And, Obama has put the onus on Congress to make a decision whether to strike4.

To add to the complexity of the situation, as US warships amass in the Mediterranean Sea, Russia has proposed a plan to handle this with diplomacy. A proposal that would force Assad to turn over his chemical weapons stockpile to international overseers, which would avoid military action by the United States. Obama called this a “significant breakthrough.” Indeed.

So, we stand at a stalemate – and anyone who isn’t a bloodthirsty monster is hoping that the possibility of ending this with diplomacy is authentic. But if not – Do we strike? Is it the right thing to do, to coerce Assad’s hand with force?

It is undeniable. Incontrovertible proof has been presented by Secretary of State John Kerry that there has been horrific use of chemical weapons in Syria. This is fact. Yet who exactly was behind this attack is still in question. It is possible that it wasn’t the Syrian Army who was responsible, but rather opposition forces, with a goal of provoking intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. We are not quite sure – and not being certain is alarming.

But Assad does have chemical weapons, and the fighting is brutal. And when President Obama states “when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act” it sounds, logically, like the right thing to do. Plus, the truth is if there is no response at all from the rest of the world to chemical attacks, this is essentially giving a green light for them to continue. These two statements alone, in a box, should be enough5 to support military action. But we don’t live in a box – we live in a powder keg where one false move can lead to more pain and suffering than has already tragically occurred.

Although I am sickened, and horrified, and infuriated by the reports and the videos surfacing of the suffering and crimes against humanity occurring in Syria, I am however beginning to quell my emotions, and to air on the side of restraint. In fact, I believe it is a must. There has to be another way.

The plan that Putin is offering to Obama, and to the world, is actually a godsend to our president6. It offers Obama a possible way out of a very sticky no-win situation. This leaves him an alternative; one where he doesn’t have to rescind his threat of force7. America can still flex its muscle, but it doesn’t have to forge ahead into war, alone – acting once again as the world’s police in defiance of an agency set up to do just that, The United Nations.

In terms of America’s brazen defiance of International Laws (And in no way am I stating that there are not situations where we should step in to help those suffering – in fact, this MAY be one of those situations. It’s just unclear.) I can’t help think of a simple analogy. Say, for example, that each time you decide to go out for a night on the town, wherever that may be, each time you do you get into a fight – whether it be a bar-clearing brawl or a heated verbal altercation – something happens. You never return home free of incident. Well, there comes the point where you must look in the mirror and accept the fact that maybe, just maybe – it’s not them but you. YOU are the problem.

The United States reputation and track record precedes it. It is a violent military state, which has waded onto shores throughout the globe looking for a fight. From South Vietnam, to Indochina, to Iraq, and beyond The US Military is always sticking its neck out somewhere. And more than that the United States moves quickly to action, with or without garnering support from allies throughout the world8. Many in the world certainly view our nation as a bully, and ofttimes they wouldn’t be that far off.

It is not clear if any proposed military action will help (In fact, recent history tells us that it could do just the opposite). Many of the regimes poised to take power if Assad falls would never be described as ‘good guys’. There is uncertainty abound. And if America does launch an attack, does anyone believe it will end there? Once the ball gets rolling those who lit this flame will begin to demand that we do not lose, and the only way to not lose – they will tell you – is to increase one’s commitment to the war effort. If those first proposed strikes do not do what the administration intended, they will feel obliged to “further their resolve” and “let freedom reign” in the form of more, and more, and more…..

The United States credibility, and its standing in the world, is once again at stake. And, more importantly, lives are at stake. This decision cannot be arrived at in haste, and without taking any and all efforts to find a diplomatic solution. No, America does not do “pinpricks,” as President Obama stated in his address to the nation on Tuesday night. They reign down furious fire. Violence in its purest, and most superior technological form. I cannot buy into any notion that bombing can be precisely administered, as wars are messy things. So, if missiles are sent flying – many innocent people will die.

And before more innocent people die can we not be sure? Before soldiers have to kiss their loved ones goodbye only to watch their children grow up over the internet can we not be given the tangible proof that what we are going to do will make the world a better place, a safer home for all of us? The horrors in Syria, I pray, must come to an end – but shouldn’t we be absolutely positive the ones we are attacking are the ones that used the chemical weapons? And if they did indeed use chemical weapons, something looked down upon by the entire world, why do we once again stand alone on this? Shouldn’t we be clear on how what is happening in the Middle East is a threat to us – or at least that if we act the death toll of civilians in Syria will cease to mount in staggering numbers? The volume of questions that remain unanswered are numerous, and the stakes are unbelievably high. We have to get this right.

  1. Breaks my heart to think that this whole thing started with a wave of peaceful protest against Assad’s regime. []
  2. 21,850 have been rebel fighters and 45,478 have come from the pro-regime side -27,654 from the regular army and 17,824 from semi-official, pro-regime militias – and 40,000 civilians. []
  3. Our current administration, in its defense, worked with allies to provide humanitarian support for the Syrian people and helped moderate opposition within Syria. But have resisted calls for military action “because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force.” Fair enough. []
  4. Before we move forward – it is important to note that any outrage towards President Obama for seeking congressional approval for action is something I have no time for. It seems a step in the right direction, setting an important precedent that will begin torestoretheconstitutionalbalance between the president and Congress in the area of war powers(It won’t restore Constitutional War Powers however – It is naive to think that the next time a president wants to send forces abroad without congressional approval, he or she will be deterred by the fact that Barack Obama once sought congressional permission to bomb Syria.). It should not negatively reflect upon the president, be no cross for him to bear, that he expressed his decision clearly to his constituents and to the world, and then sought congressional approval. Our democracy is stronger when the President acts with the support of Congress. He should not be chastised for this. In fact, it takes a great deal of political courage to risk public rejection like this. This aspect of the administration’s dealings with Syria should not be up for debate, the rest however….. []
  5. That is if you believe the heartfelt motives that the Obama Administration is selling. []
  6. When Putin is the voice of reason it’s truly a reality check. Although rife with hypocrisy and written from well atop a high horse, I recommend reading this piece he – reportedly – wrote: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/12/opinion/putin-plea-for-caution-from-russia-on-syria.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 []
  7. It could in fact be argued that America’s threat of force led to this potential diplomatic solution – thus it was effective. []
  8. It is actually a violation of International Law to even threaten force – something the United States does on the regular. []
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