Monday, September 9, 2013

Syria - What to do?

Believe it or not, I don't comment on everything here. Well, OK, maybe I do. But I don't think I have the answer to everything. How's that?

Sometimes, I don't know what to do. Sometimes, I don't see any good options. Sometimes, I lean one way,... but not very confidently.

Syria - to attack or not to attack - is probably one of those issues. But I was reading this column by fellow Lincoln resident Clay Farris Naff, I made a comment (of course!), and I thought I'd post it here, somewhat expanded.

Right now, we're tired of war,... and rightly so. George W. Bush not only leaped to war in Afghanistan (when he could have considered the 9/11 attacks to be a criminal matter, a police matter, as we have every other terrorist attack in America), he also had us invade a completely innocent country, Iraq - a nation which had never attacked us and was no threat to us whatsoever.

Now, Barack Obama wants to strike Syria from the air - no invasion, no ground troops - to punish Bashar al-Assad for using poison gas on rebel populations.

Right-wingers - who'd normally be overjoyed at the thought of any war they didn't have to fight, themselves - are reluctant because Obama wants it and they've vowed never to support our first black president in anything. Liberals tend to be more consistent in their opposition to war, though our recent experiences with the Bush administration are certainly having an effect there, too.

But there's one big difference here which hasn't been getting enough notice. We invaded Iraq because of the rosy expectations of right-wingers in the Bush administration. We'd be "greeted as liberators." The war would "pay for itself." Iraq would become a prosperous (oil-rich) modern democracy and, yes, this would open up a perfect opportunity for Christian missionaries, too!

War with Iraq was such a good opportunity, how could we afford to pass it up? (Even if they had to invent a reason for it, which they did.)

But there's none of that with Syria today. There aren't any rosy expectations. The Obama administration doesn't see any good options, whatever they do (or don't do). They're simply between a rock and a hard place.

Since World War I, we've pretty well drawn a line in the sand when it comes to using poison gas in war. But we let it go when Iraq used poison gas against Iran, so what did that tell Assad in Syria? If we let it go again, when he's gassing his own citizens, what will that tell other dictators? How many more will see poison gas as an option?

After we witnessed the horrors of poison gas attacks in World War I, the world came together in revulsion against it. We vowed that it wouldn't happen again, and we've done fairly well in keeping that promise, despite the fact that poison gas is very easy to manufacture and easy - these days - for almost any regime to use.

Poison gas is the poor man's choice in weapons of mass destruction. If dictators could get nuclear weapons, they would. But they can get poison gas - if they dare to use it. The question is whether the world will let them use it with impunity.

There are no good choices here; there's only the lesser of two evils. Doing nothing is also a choice. Doing nothing will demonstrate to other dictators that we don't care. Now, maybe there are better options than a military strike on Syria,... but I don't know what they'd be.

Frankly, I don't have any good ideas here. There aren't any good ideas, not as far as I can tell. And I think the Obama administration feels the same way. (I must say, I like that a lot better than the magical thinking of the Bush administration, whether I agree with their decisions or not.)

In this case, striking Syria might not seem... glorious, but I think it might be necessary. We are not expecting miracles, we really aren't. I don't think that anyone is expecting miracles, not in this case. But not acting might be the worst thing we could do.

That's my thinking right now, but I'd be glad to hear what you think.


AJ said...

Why not turn this over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for prosecution of the guilty parties? Syria is a member, having signed and confirmed the Roman Statute. Or is that the wrong venue? I just don't see how bombing civilians will prove a deterrent.

WCG said...

That might be a good idea, Ann, but I don't know much about the ICC.

According to Wikipedia, it has mostly targeted small African countries without powerful international backers. And I don't know what the penalties are, or how they're enforced.

Apparently, neither China nor India accept the court, and Russia (Syria's main international backer) hasn't ratified the treaty. In fact, if I read Wikipedia correctly, the United States isn't even a member, anymore.

I'm definitely in favor of using international organizations when it's practical, but there are reasons why it might not be (notably, that so many world governments aren't democracies with full freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press). But I don't honestly know, in this case.

As I said, I don't have the answer here. But I very much doubt that the U.S. plans to bomb civilians indiscriminately. Obviously, it wouldn't be a deterrent unless the Assad regime is seriously weakened by it (and they clearly don't care much about their own citizens).

Hmm,... it might be that the whole point was to get a diplomatic solution after all. I see that both Russia and France have suggested UN actions to solve the problem, now that Congress has been debating an attack.

But I just don't know. As I said, I see no good choices here, not for the U.S., not unless the international community does get off the ball and start taking it seriously.

Gregg Garthright said...

I'm not in favor of a unilateral attack by the US. I'm not sure what the solution is, but I don't want us to just start lobbing bombs over there.

I hope Russia getting involved can bring a peaceful solution.

WCG said...

I hope so, too, Gregg. As I said to Ann, it's apparently taken the threat of bombing to get anyone else to take this seriously, so maybe that was the whole point.

If so, tossing the question into Congress was a wise move, huh? :)

But if nothing gets accomplished, I don't see any good choices, including doing nothing. I don't think there's any magical thinking here, that 'lobbing bombs' will create a miracle, just tough decisions, none of them particularly good.

Anonymous said...

I'm not in favour either. But I don't think Assad authorised the use of these gas attacks. When it happened my first thought was that it was the rebels doing it themselves to galvanise attacks against him. Now I'm more swinging towards some lesser commander doing it without a concept of the larger picture.

Assad had nothing tangible to gain by doing it and he had so much to possibly lose. With every day he stayed in 'power' and the rebels became more associated with Islamists which caused the west to become steadily more uneasy about supporting them, was a day that strengthened his position. To do something so stupid which would almost guarantee intervention by the US I couldn't reason it out.

I don't think he's that stupid. I don't think he wanted this to happen. Which is why I'm far less surprised by his apparent ready agreement to give up the weapons. After all if my theory is right, they are more a weapon that can be used against him - each time gas is used anywhere in Syria the finger would be pointed towards him in first instance. If he gets rid of them they can no longer be a threat to him that way.


WCG said...

That might be, M1nks. That's one of the problems with having stores of poison gas in the first place, isn't it?

If some low-level commander can use poison gas against villagers, there's a real problem there, so Assad is still responsible. (If the rebels did it, why wouldn't Assad have welcomed the world to investigate. That would have been a propaganda coup for him.)

Certainly, the main goal is to make sure this doesn't happen again. So if we can guarantee that, I'd be all for a diplomatic solution. On the other hand, talk is easy. I'll be waiting to see some action, too.

All in all, I'm glad this is getting so much attention. Threats aren't effective if no one believes you'll ever carry them out. However, you're always better off if you don't need to follow through on them.

Leaving aside the sorry state of the world when threats are necessary at all, this might be a case where the divisions in Congress are beneficial. At the very least, this should give enough time for serious attempts to solve the problem through diplomacy.

I just hope they are serious.