Friday, August 30, 2013

Cool thought needed on enraging events in Syria


Few Americans know much about Syria. Were it not bordering Israel, the country would rarely even make the news.
    There is, however, a rapidly escalating and increasingly shrill outcry for the United States to take direct military action because of recent reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own citizens.
    It is neigh unto impossible to find anything good to say about the Ba’athist Party or the Assad family. Even the Russians, Syria’s allies, deplore the inhumane ruthlessness of the Assad regime. In 2011, popular uprisings made Syria appear to be part of the nascent democratization called the Arab Spring. Demonstrations quickly turned to an increasingly confusing armed conflict among Syrian factions most observers struggle to identify and categorize.
    Before the United States goes to war with direct massive air strikes, it seems Americans at least ought to know where Syria is on the map and who there is an enemy and who is a friend.
    The ire caused by scenes of civilians, especially children, horribly wounded by poison gas is understandable. President Obama promised that were the Syrian government to use chemical weapons on its political enemies, the United States would act. The British also seemed prepared to take military action.
    Citizens of both countries are wisely taking a more cautious tone. The British are backing away from their saber rattling while a current Reuters/Ipsos poll reports that 60 percent of Americans oppose intervention in Syria.
    It is a reluctance founded in experience. In October 2002, 62 percent of the American electorate supported military action to bring down Saddam Hussein and his government in Iraq. Accomplishing that goal didn’t take long, but a decade later, we are hard pressed to define what, other than one dead dictator, we actually accomplished in Iraq.
    Reports of cyber attacks on institutions like The New York Times leave little doubt that Syria poses real danger. Assad forces do appear to have used chemical weapons, although what we suspect to be true and what can be proved to be true are very different, especially in the Middle East.
    It would feel good to launch a swift and deadly surgical air strike to take out the bad guys. However, as with everything in reality rather than in the movies, such action would not be the end of it.
    Until we know exactly what that end would be, and how to get there, it’s better to keep our guns holstered.




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