Monday, September 2, 2013

Syria: Crises of Complex Proportions

Syria is a crises that tears at our hearts when we hear of innocent civilians massacred, most recently gassed to death.  Over 100,000 have died, a number equivalent to the population of my home town of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As Americans, we always ask "What should we do?"  We are a people that like to take action.  I think we feel better about ourselves when we take definitive action.  We like our action movies when the hero takes immediate action and gets back at the enemy.

We are more divided when it comes to nations that are neither our close friends or our enemies.  It took a lot of demonizing of Iraq before the Bush administration pushed for the ill-conceived invasion of Iraq.   We were divided about taking action in Kosovo, when we intervened for humanitarian reasons to stop the "ethnic cleansing." 

In the first case, the left generally opposed intervention while in the second, the right was generally non-interventionist.  While there are some who are non-interventionists in all situations, the 2 major political parties seem to see-saw back and forth on the question of when to intervene.

With this landscape, we come to September 2013 and the question of Syria.  President Obama looked like he'd announce a plan of definitive action, likely a missile strike against some Syrian military facility in retribution for stepping over the line with the use of deadly gas.  But, then he pulled back and tossed the hot potato to Congress.  Was this an act of an indecisive leader or a shrewd politician who knew he'd get a 80% negative rating on any decision he could make?  Was he wise to seek political consensus?

Immediately, we saw that Congress is all over the map on what to do in Syria.  Sen. McCain criticized the President for backing down from action, saying it would embolden our enemies.  But other Republicans opposed action, while some were for it depending on certain conditions.  Democrats were also all over the map, from supporting action to saying no military action should be taken under any conditions.  Weariness of the decades-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq also feed into the political debate.  Also, many have a "we won't get fooled again" perspective, recalling how many were duped about Iraq's weapon arsenal in order to justify that war.

What to do?

Any action should be informed by a good understanding of the nation, its issues and its peoples.  This link is one a number of Syria 101 articles that are worth a read.  The article has many links to other articles and videos.

Does it help?

I found that about 50% through it I came to understand why in the US you'll hear about a dozen different perspectives from politicians.  Each tidbit of information on its own might lead to concluding on one approach for intervention or non-intervention.

Taken together, you might come to the same conclusion as Pres. Obama:  let's throw this out there for a debate on the issue.

I keep teetering between non-intervention and the urge to take action against the state-sponsored atrocities from murder of civilians (including children) to the use of deadly gas on civilians.  These are humanitarian crimes that cry out to heaven.  If not us, who will act?

But, I know that while definitive action may feel good, any action, any support for any side may have unanticipated negative consequences.  And increasing the level of warfare may not lead to a workable solution.

My recommendation would be to gather a coalition of our allies, the UN, and the Arab League to negotiate a cease fire and peace talks.  We need to end the bloodshed that is devastating Syria.  But peace, not more warfare, is the way.