So it seems that the massive killing of civilians by Bashar al-Assad in Syria via traditional weapons of murder and mayhem was okay with the Obama administration. But on Aug. 21st when Assad attacked Syrian rebels and civilians with chemical weapons in a Damascus suburb after being warned not to by America, things abruptly changed. I wondered if President Obama borrowed the red line image from Benjamin Netanyahu, who drew his red line across a cartoon bomb with a lit fuse to warn the Iranians not to complete the final stages of building their nuke. I never expected Obama to take on Bibi’s Little Caesar personality. In Obama’s case, he got stuck with his red line, like a 13-year old who made a threat to the school bully and can’t find a way to take it back. So, now that the Syrian government has crossed the line with glee, we are called upon to get into the game.
I’ve heard some talking heads and talking pols like our pals John McCain and Lindsay Graham say that in order to maintain America’s credibility we have to follow through. But that’s far from true. Obama did his best stiff upper lip and the congressional hawks growled for the cameras, but thank God/Allah, Secretary of State Kerry’s convenient off-the-cuff remark about, “What if they just gave us their weapons?” line gave us a second chance. Putin, not to be left in Kerry’s dust then made a smart move and offered to become the world’s primo peacemaker, or as the prime weekly news show on Russian state TV reported it: “The diplomatic duel” between Moscow and Washington over what to do with Syria’s chemical weapons had ended in “the great victory of Russia.”
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called Assad’s act a war crime. He also said no to Obama’s idea about dropping bombs. Let’s face it, why would anyone as smart as our president think we should punish Assad by dropping bombs on the very people who have already suffered mightily at his hand? The people who had looked to us to support the Free Syrian Army and other opposition? Does Obama think death by bombing is less deadly than death by chemicals? Does Obama think Assad’s chemicals give him permission to employ conventional murder?
Please don’t get the idea that I don’t think America and the rest of the world should act to stop the carnage in Syria. But there’s a lot we can do that will not make life worse for the Syrians and drags us further down in the opinion of the world, and trust me, we’re on a steep downward slope. I remember that when G. W. Bush took on the role of International pariah, I was working in India and parts of Africa where I’d often have to start events and workshops with “I didn’t vote for him!” I’d even use that line at the grocery or on public transportation when upon hearing my accent someone would spit out "Are you American?" But when we elected Barack Obama those same people were ecstatic, as was I. At last, America voted war out of office. Or at least we thought we had, and this time, unlike Bush, I did vote for him…twice!
I remember the first time I heard the words “no boots on the ground.” I started to laugh. It sounded more like wishful thinking than a plan or a possibility. It may placate some peace-loving Americans, but it has to frighten the Syrians to hear it, particularly when coupled with “dropping bombs.” And yet the man I voted for twice says this is in our best interest. Really? Is it in our best interest to deny the huge majority of us our NO!? Is it in our best interest to become more of a pariah, or to meddle in yet another war where we are not wanted, or to set up a situation where unintended consequences could explode or implode? And while the President may drag us kicking and screaming into the abyss, wouldn’t it be better to have more than symbolic support from Syria’s Middle Eastern neighbors and France, whose public is also opposed to military intervention? Plus Obama’s plan to do a small, tiny, wee amount of bombing does either nothing, or leads us into a bloody incursion that could make those allies vanish in a heart beat.
Wouldn’t it be better to rethink things? There is a lot that Obama and allies can do to stop Assad without resorting to such a doomed and violent idea. And I am sure those allies would line up if President Obama came up with a good alternative idea. Maybe they would support the opposition arranging an air drop of gas masks, food, more arms for ground forces so they can protect themselves, medical supplies, and other logistical aids. But to go in there and bomb, regardless of saying, "no boots on the ground," "limited strike," or whatever you call it, would kill people. The likely unintended consequences are that the world would think we believe it’s okay for us to kill people with our bombs, thus conventional ways of killing are okay—at least we’re not gassing anybody. That would be bad! Mixed signals are not a real deterrent.