12 September 2013

What ought we to do in Syria?

Following my recent post in which I took a critical look at President Obama's recent speech in which he attempted an emotional appeal in support of a military strike in Syria by the United States of America, one reader asked:
If I may ask, however, what would you propose to do in order to deter Assad (and other dictators) from further use of chemical weapons?

Yes, I do realize that you have questioned whether Assad's regime was even responsible for the attack, but there is much more information out there which suggests that IS the case -- including documented movement of chemical weapons, by Assad's military, in the days leading up to the attack. So if would grant for a moment that Assad is very likely responsible...what action would you propose be taken?
A very good question indeed.

First, acting on information that "suggests" Assad ordered a chemical attack as opposed to evidence that definitively proves he did is rash and unwise, particularly when there is evidence that also suggests Assad did not order such an attack.  The present Administration has been wrong about a great many aspects relating to foreign policy - simply look at what has unfolded in Egypt and Libya, particularly in Benghazi, as just two glaring examples.  This Administration cannot work well, adequately, or justly on suggestions.

Second, it is common and unquestioned knowledge that Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against his people; this fact is one of the reasons President George W. Bush pushed for the extension of the war on terror into Iraq.  Certainly President Assad is aware that Hussein had employed chemical weapons.

If the "shock and awe" of the U.S.A. - together with a host of allied nations - in Iraq, which leveled cities, deposed Hussein, set up a new government, and, in the end, resulted in the execution of Hussein for his crimes against his people was not enough to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, why would an "unbelievably, small limited" strike - in the words of Secretary of State John Kerry - act as a deterrent, especially when the goal is rather undefinable but that certainly does not result in a change of regime, according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney?  There is, to be quite honest and blunt, absolutely no reason to think the propose strike will be a deterrent to Assad, which renders the entire affair entirely pointless.

Third, back in May of July there were serious concerns raised by the United Nations that Syrian rebels had used chemical weapons, and even as early as March of 2013Iran (in July of 2012) submitted a report to the U.N. that the rebels had chemical weapons and Russia (in July of 2013) submitted a report to the U.N. that chemical weapons had been used by the rebels.

Even so, President Obama did not move for a military strike against the rebels; indeed, we continue to give them weapons.  Why?  If the use of chemical weapons is "a crime against humanity, and a violation of the laws of war" - as he said yesterday and with which I whole heartedly agree - it is a crime and a violation regardless of who uses them, whether government or rebels.

In point of fact, atrocities have been committed on both sides, both by the Syrian government and by the Syrian rebels.  There is no clear "good guy" in all of this.  So the choice is, seemingly, one of two evils; which is better?  It cannot really be known.  The situation is far more grave that the Administration has yet suggested.

In an editorial written to the New York Times and published yesterday, President Vladimir Putin cautioned against the proposed military intervention by the U.S.America. because:
The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.
Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.
Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all [more].
He is correct about all of this; if the U.S. moves against Syria there is every reason to believe it will trigger the beginning of World War III.

Now, here it would be good for me to say that I never thought I would agree with Vladimir Putin more than I do with Barack Obama, but so it is, at least in so far as words go.

The plight of the Christians living in Syria is one aspect of the present situation is on that the world seems quite content to ignore, as it does in other places such as Iraq and Nigeria, but President Putin has publicly voiced his concerns for the safety of the Syrian Christians - as far back as May of 2012 - saying:

For many months now the persecution of Christians in Syria has been commonplace (here is but one example), and at the hands of the Syrian rebels whom the United States of America is presently supporting.  There is a reason why the Christians there support the Syrian government and not the Syrian rebels.

On Saturday, three Christians were killed by Syrian rebels who are connected with al Qaeda and who took the ancient Christian city of  Maaloula, with the remaining Christian inhabitants forced to flee; they were threatened with death unless they converted to Islam.

Meanwhile, what has President Obama said about the persecution of Syrian Christians?  Nothing.

To the specific question of what, precisely, we should do about the situation in Syria I do not have a good answer; there may not be one.  However, I am quite certain that a military intervention will only further escalate the troubles of the region and the throughout the world.  In this, I am not alone; those who agree include:
There are many others, as well, links to whose statements I do not have handy at the present moment.  Suffice it to say that even the Editorial Board of the New York Times is not in favor of President Obama's strike.

The Holy See has suggested a six-step plan for peace in Syria, though I am not sure how seriously anyone is taking it:
1) Re-launch dialogue and reconciliation 

2) Avoid division of the country into different zones

3) Maintain territorial integrity 

4) Stress all minorities must be involved in preparing any new constitution and laws

5) Propose the establishment of a ministry dedicated to minorities, insists on the concept of citizenship with equal dignity, and emphasizes the importance of respecting human rights and religious freedom 

6) Ensure “all necessary cooperation and assistance for the immense task of reconstruction in the country.”
The way of peace can be the only way truly forward.  To quote from a letter of J.R.R. Tolkien written on August 9, 1945:
The news today about the 'Atomic bombs' is so horrifying one is stunned.  The utter folly of these lunatic physicists to consent to do such work for war-purposes: calmly plotting the destruction of the world!  Such explosives in men's hands, while their moral and intellectual status is declining, is about as useful as giving out firearms to all inmates of a gaol [jail] and then saying that you hope 'this will ensure peace'.  But one good may arise out of it, I suppose, if the write-ups are not overheated: Japan ought to cave in.  Well we're in God's hands.  But He does not look kindly on Babel-builders.

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