Friday, August 30, 2013

Horrific conundrum

Now is not a good time to be president of the United States.

In fact, I can't think of a good time, except perhaps when a staff member does all the cooking, cleaning and housekeeping. Those are the only perks I envy.

Last night, I watched the incredibly awful footage of the carnage in Syria. It was on the BBC news channel, not on one of our mainstream, corporate-ruled networks, so the video was unedited, raw and deeply disturbing.

I couldn't help but visualize the faces of my children and grandchildren superimposed on those suffering people, burned over 80% of their bodies by some toxic agent, something resembling napalm, the narrator said.

It left me near tears. How, I asked myself, could we stand by and watch this without stepping in to at least render the chemical weapons useless? How can the world see the carnage and ignore it? How can Assad be allowed to flaunt his ability to defy international law without grave repercussions from every other nation on the planet?

That was my gut reaction, the first solution I descended upon in my urge to punish Assad for these atrocities.

Looking at the whole picture, though, US involvement in this crisis might prove more costly than otherwise.

Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons on the Kurds after the Iran/Iraq war. We didn't take him out for that. We didn't even intervene or send missiles to cripple his ability to continue doing so. Instead we invaded Iraq after 9/11 on the flimsiest of excuses, on a lie, to be exact, and the war dragged on for ten years.

Bashir al Assad is a mass murderer of his own people. We've seen the outcome of the chemical attacks and we know the UN inspectors are close to releasing a report that, in all probability, will indict Assad as the authority behind the chemical attacks.

Our president is weighing the appropriate US response to Assad's criminal activity. So far, France has joined our resolve to render the chemical weapons undeliverable, although destroying them outright isn't possible without troops on the ground to find and obliterate them.

But the British Parliament, after listening in rapt attention to Prime Minister David Cameron's case for outside involvement, voted against allowing its country to take part. The vote is non-binding, of course, but it's highly unlikely Cameron will ignore the will of his government and join any US-led attack on Syria.

I've listened carefully, too. I've considered the point of view of those who are adamantly against US involvement in Syria's civil war. I've considered the point of view of those who would bomb Syria off the planet for what it's done to its people.

And I'm glad I don't have to make that decision. I am leaning heavily toward the argument against US involvement, at least not unless the UN and our allies are onboard and participating in whatever action is taken.

I, like so many Americans, am tired of war. Tired of not having enough money to take care of our needs here at home. Tired of watching the gravely wounded struggle to find peace and wellness after fighting in someone else's war. Tired of being the world's policeman. It's time to turn our resources and our attention homeward.

The other side of me, though, can't get the images of those suffering Syrians out of my mind. Shouldn't the world be aghast? Can the world allow this conduct to go unpunished? If nothing is done, Assad is free to use those horrible weapons again and again with impunity. We shouldn't even be considering allowing that.

So what do we do? We wait for our president to make the critical decision and we hope other countries will back his decision wholeheartedly. Not a satisfactory outcome, but the only one open to us.

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