The Syrian Dilemma: Congress Debates the Best Worst Option

As indicated in my previous post, I expected American missiles to have smashed parts of Syria by now,  but the President wisely back peddled and drew Congress into the mix.   The idea light might have popped on when the British Parliament voted against British involvement.  Given their traditional staunchest ally role, if we can’t even get them to back us……?

English: Middle East

English: Middle East (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hmm…..?

Or perhaps it was the poll suggesting only  28% of us or so think his proposed action seems a good idea.

Or maybe Obama recalled his rhetoric before his first election which was spiced with talk of government transparency, which hasn’t been the case, and of opening debate in Congress to our use of force in the world, which has not been the case, either.

Our nation has carried on an essentially hidden war using drones against terrorists in lightly populated, primitive areas around the world,  so it gets little attention.   It seems to be working and most of us are happy to watch so-called reality TV than focus on unpleasant realities like drones killing mostly bad guys with some unfortunate not guilty ones collateralized,  just happy to hope the government is doing it in the right way, an usual trusting of our government.

Anyway, if you think about this, it is nice to see a President come to Congress and actually ask their permission to attack someone.   Congress are the ones supposedly in the position to declare war, but administrations since WW II have worked around them by claiming presidential power for military engagements deemed necessary to national defense.

The skeptics will all criticize Obama for not being clear enough about our objectives,   Allow me to help.  Our general objective is to somehow remove Assad without having forces even more dangerous to us and the region take control of the government.  So, we will use this “red line” as an excuse to degrade his forces, but not topple him too quickly.   We fear chaos more than him.  Instead, we will continue to try to slowly weaken him and bolster elements of the rebels that seem less dangerous than he is and the other rebels vying for control.

As to exactly how this will play out, nobody has a clue.

From what I have heard so far, Congressional leaders seem united in backing some form of retaliation, so the question is whether enough “followers” will fall into line.  My guess is they will.  American prestige is on the line.  Obama has put it there with statements about the “red line” and that Assad must go.  I am an Obama fan, but I agree with conservative columnist George Will when he writes:

If a fourth military intervention (in the Muslim world) is coming, it will not be to decisively alter events, which we cannot do, in a nation vital to U.S. interests, which Syria is not. Rather, its purpose will be to rescue Obama from his words.

But I would defend the president in this way.   Unlike Russia, America has a set of democratic values that come into play in our foreign policy.   I would say they have usually taken a back seat to our desire for regional stability, especially in the oil rich Middle East, but the tension exists and has become accentuated since the launching of what was called the Arab spring, but now seems more like a burgeoning Muslim chaos.

The point is the era of despots has been collapsing in the Middle East and democracy isn’t a cure all for poverty and lack of  justice, especially when democracy is more a vision than something that has been practiced before the revolution, practiced for years as was the case with us.   In short, there is no quick and easy transition from despotism to democracy, but don’t expect the needed patience from people throughout the Middle East who, having discarded despots, conceive of freedom as suddenly promoting a better life.

We are all still getting accustomed to an Arab spring that has given way to more chaos than democracy and there are no simple answers to this dilemma.

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Syria: “The Problem from Hell”

Syria

Syria (Photo credit: ewixx)

I do not want to write about Syria because I have no special insights into the situation, but then again, I don’t know who does.   It is the proverbial elephant in the room, but like that old story of several blind men touching different parts of an elephant, it seems different depending on what part you touch.

Our military  will soon send missiles to do a surgical strike in response to what our government asserts was a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government on its people.   John McCain asserts they already used chemical weapons, but that assertion is in some doubt.   This time is doubtless according to the Obama administration and crosses the “red line” that he warned the Syrian regime not to cross tens of thousands of deaths ago.

Whatever.  We’ll soon launch limited missile attacks which, well, will do what?  The argument is they will be punishment for crossing that “red line” of chemical weapons, argued since WWI to be the definitive line that separates reasonable war from monstrosities,   It seems the indiscriminate nature of chemical weapons is the key and the image of dying from slow asphyxiation cements the difference, though it seems a fine line between that and dying in a bomb produced falling building.   In any event, we Americans can luxuriate in discriminate killing because we have such sophisticated weapons that our missiles can hit not just a building but a specific window in that building.

Anyway, how is this to play out? is the BIG QUESTION.   The administration doesn’t want to topple Assad, at least not quite yet, because chaos may well harbor bigger threats that could prevail…. a large share of the freedom fighters have a Muslim extremist sense of “freedom”.    So, I guess we want to slap Assad’s hand hard enough so as not to cross that red line again, and otherwise watch the slaughter games continue while sending support to whatever elements we think of as the “good guys” or the better-than-worse guys.

And what I have said just scratches the surface.  Hell goes deep.  For those who want to explore the in-and-outs of this confusion, I suggest going to this link titled Why China and Russia are Standing by the Regime.   While describing their positions, the article links to various other articles about the situation, including the  historical use of chemical weapons, so it provides a good primer for those who want to learn more about the intricacies of this particular hell.

Somewhere there is a quote from a Russian describing our foreign policy regarding the volatile Muslim world:   “The Americans handle the Muslim world like a monkey handling a hand grenade.”  

Made me smile……   but the Russian tendency to support despotism under any circumstances is no answer either in this age of Middle East revolutions, reactions to decades and decades of repression and happening now compliments of hand held world interconnectivity and one more reason this problem is beyond the capacity of any nation to control or perhaps even guide.