Once in a while I set aside Jewish and/or Mormon themes in order to address pressing issues of the day (e.g., whether Lionel Messi plays soccer as well as Diego Maradona did). Such an opportunity now presents itself with the upcoming congressional votes on Syria. Every serious writer in this country needs to take a position on the proposed U.S. response to the latest atrocities allegedly committed by the Assad regime against its own people, and I am happy to do so here.
Unfortunately, there is no good option for the U.S. following the Sarin nerve gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians near Damascus. If Assad ordered the attack, it clearly crossed the “red line” established by President Obama a year ago as a game-changer for an administration that has been understandably reluctant to insert itself into the fratricidal civil war in Syria. As the President attempts to persuade an increasingly skeptical Congress to authorize an attack on Assad’s regime, we commoners need to consider what the best course of action would be for this country. Although this is primarily a blog about religion, theology does not inform my analysis.
There can be no doubt at this point that the U.S. is on a collision course with some awful, despicable men. Bashar Assad is definitely his father’s son when it comes to brutality, and the mullahs in Iran who are propping him up have been sponsoring terrorist groups for decades. However, lots of countries are headed by despicable men who exhibit a depraved indifference to human life, and they don’t face the threat of U.S. missiles raining down on them. In strictly humanitarian terms, is Assad’s use of chemical weapons more objectionable than North Korea’s prison labor camps, which have claimed the lives of tens of thousands of hopeless prisoners over decades? As much as we may object to the use of nerve gas by Assad to kill his enemies (and innocent civilians to boot) within his country’s borders, I don’t consider that a justifiable reason for the U.S. to go it alone in an attack on Syria.
I’m glad to hear that countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey think that we should use retaliate militarily against Syria. However, if they think that it’s such a great idea, why don’t they do it themselves? I’m sick and tired of wealthy Middle Eastern countries using the U.S. military as mercenaries (anyone remember Kuwaitis partying in Cairo and Europe while U.S. soldiers were dying in Kuwait and Iraq?). We supply the Saudis with plenty of planes and other military aid, yet every time they want a leader in the neighborhood taken out, they ask us to do it while they write checks. The only competence that Saudis have shown in organizing attacks is when 15 of them hijacked planes on 9/11. If they want our soldiers to do their dirty work again, they should be told in Quranic Arabic to put up or shut up.
I initially supported the war in Afghanistan because the Taliban were sheltering Al-Qaeda, which had just killed thousands of people in this country in horrific terrorist attacks. I did not support the war because the Taliban treated women abominably, mutilated their enemies, or blew up priceless Buddha statues. Once the Taliban fled to Pakistan, I thought that we should have left Afghanistan, with a firm warning to future rulers of the country not to harbor terrorists who would harm our country. I have no doubt that following our withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan next year, the Taliban will soon retake power in much of the country. I also have no doubt that they will treat their subjects horribly. However, as long as they don’t harm this country or offer material support to those who do, we should not seek a military solution to their barbarity.
Ditto for Iraq. I initially supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein because I believed that he was harboring WMD and planned to use them to harm our country and its interests. However, after he was captured, I thought that we should have withdrawn as soon as possible and let Iraqis run their own affairs. The daily body counts from sectarian strife and bombings in Iraq are disheartening to those of us who hoped for the best from the U.S. occupation, but in the end we can’t have our soldiers remain in countries because their people can’t stop killing each other.
President Obama was foolish to establish a “red line” with Syria over chemical weapons, and it would be even more foolish for Senators and Congressmen to vote to support his proposed military actions just so he can save face with the rest of the world. Attacking Syria now would simply compound Obama’s initial mistake, with unpredictable consequences for the region. I have heard many commentators state that we need to make good on the President’s threat so that Iran and other rogue states will take us more seriously. Well, anyone who believes that Iran will give up its nuclear program after missiles rain down on Damascus is dreaming. Iran’s mullahs are not as impressionable as Moammar Gadhafi, the late Libyan leader who reportedly abandoned his nuclear program after the U.S. attack on Saddam Hussein.
I have never thought of myself as an isolationist, but in the 21st century, following two long wars conducted by this country in the Middle East, the only compelling reason for me to support our involvement in the civil war in Syria is to defend America and/or Americans from attack. I was going to include Israel, but Israel can defend itself perfectly well against anything Assad sends its way. Given that an undetermined percentage of anti-Assad fighters are anti-American jihadists and even Al-Qaeda supporters, it makes no sense at all for us to help them topple Assad.
In the end, if Assad’s actions really are so objectionable that the President of the United States feels that his country should be attacked, then the only military objective here should be regime change. Limited surgical strikes would be as effective as Bill Clinton’s attacks on Al-Qaeda targets in Sudan were at discouraging the 9/11 attackers from carrying out their nefarious plots. The only reason to lob missiles at Assad is to encourage others to take him out. Given the composition of the anti-Assad coalition, I’m not sure that this is a wise course of action.
I am optimistic that Congress will follow the lead of the American people and reject the Obama Administration’s well-intentioned but imprudent plan to lead us down the well-trodden path to war in the Middle East without a clear objective. I join with my thoughtful Jewish friends in praying that the year 5774 will bring lasting peace, not unnecessary conflict, to the Middle East. Shana tova.