Syria: To Strike or Not or Do Something Completely Different?

(NOTE:  i wrote the post below yesterday in preparation for the President’s address to the nation tonight.  Then news broke suggesting an alternative to strike-or-not-strike was a possibility.  Amazing on the surface, it went something like this.  In a news conference in Britain, Secretary of State John Kerry was asked if there might be a way out of this dilemma.  He said in an off hand manner if the Assad regime allowed his chemical weapons to be secured by the international community, that could prevent a strike. 

Soon the Russians were saying they backed that notion and Assad said he was willing to comply.   Suddenly, the whole ball game looked different, as if we were playing football one moment and soccer the next.   These events just happen to fit with a proposal a few days ago by Democratic Senators Joe Mancin and Heidi Heitcamp to give Syria 45 days to sign a chemical weapons ban “or face the wrath of American military might.”

Rather than rewrite my post, I thought it useful to show how the situation looked earlier in the day and then suddenly changed, a sudden change that figures to have an impact on the President’s address tonight.)

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Middle East Map עברית: מפה מדינית של המזרח התי...

Middle East Map  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Congress is split on the issue of making retaliatory strikes on the Assad regime for its apparent use of chemical weapons and, unlike its run-of-the-mill gridlock, the disagreements are not predominantly along party lines.    More so in the House than the Senate, but the overwhelming vote in both parties at the moment lies in the undecided or leaning-against camps.

Even though I am in favor of strikes as indicated in my previous post, I like the sense that there is actually democracy at work here.   If strikes are rejected in Congress it will feel like an expression of the will of the American people, something  that often seems unrelated to congressional action these days.

Even though Obama went to Congress on second thought after the Parliament nixed British backing of strikes, this is a matter that could harbor huge ramifications impacting us all.  We all have skin in this game.  We just don’t know how much.

The Middle East has become more a powder keg than ever as the age of despots is passing while  experiments with democratic principles are far from replacing the stability the dictators provided in the region.  Mostly just the reverse…  Syria is the present poster child of the new disorder.

Tonight President Obama will address the nation to make his case and it better be a good one for us to come together behind him.  In attempting to thread the needle, so as to find a consensus, administration statements have become satirized as “the Goldilocks strike”  implying not too hot and not to cold, just right.

As Congress debates and arms are twisted this week in search of votes in favor or against, the key question will be:  Will a strike make a bad situation worse or better? (*1)  Tied to that is the law of unintended consequences multiplied by burgeoning chaos, which makes the arguments of better or worse particularly dicey.

And better-or-worse is not just matter of Syrian well being but that of the stability of the entire region.   There is the debatable question of what striking or not striking will do to American credibility.   And there are likely important issues that have  not surfaced yet, as well as one issue which seems to surface more each day:  What is the  overall U. S. strategy for dealing with the ongoing eruptions in the Middle East?

Syria is often characterized as a “proxy war” between Shia and Sunni dominated Muslim states in the Middle East, suggesting the entire region is a tinderbox and Syria a match.

The President has a lot of clarifying and convincing to do tonight and over the next couple of weeks.  Otherwise, we will face a situation that is unprecedented (as far as I know), where an American president makes a categorical statement to the world regarding U. S. action and then has to recant it:

“Sorry guys, I guess I was guilty of overstatement.”

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(*1)  Of course, it may actually be the second key question, the first being:  How will this affect my chances for reelection?

(*2)  President Wilson might be the closest as he was instrumental in developing a League of Nations after WW I, but while the league came into being, the U. S. Senate blocked America’s joining.

President Washington came close to being undermined by Congress when, through his Secretary of State, a treaty was shaped with England to avoid a second war with conditions deemed humiliating by the likes of fellow Virginians Jefferson and Madison.  The treaty was passed narrowly in the House because Washington was “….the one man who outweighs them all in influence over all the people.”…. in the words of Jefferson.

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