Syria, Action Or Inaction?

As I read and listen to the conversation regarding the congressional resolution on Syria I am as ambivalent as ever.  While this is an important debate regarding the appropriateness of US action against the Assad regime, there can be no doubt that the elephant in the room that is coloring our attitudes is a lack of trust in the government and the intelligence community that was created by the Bush administration.

A Seabee maintains security by manning an M60 ...
A Seabee maintains security by manning an M60 machine gun while his convoy drives through Al Hillah in Iraq. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The dishonesty of the Bush administration with regard to the buildup to the Iraq war has been well documented in such books as “Hubris” and “500 Days”.  The lies and exaggerations regarding Iraq’s WMD’s are only disputed by the most ardent “true believers”.  Even such highly regarded intelligence officers as Paul Piller, the author of the unclassified case for war with Iraq right before the Congressional resolution vote, acknowledges the dishonesty of his document. ( as quoted in the book, “Hubris”)  Why then, should we not be cynical about the intelligence information on Syria, which like Iraq, comes to us with a “high degree of confidence”?

That is the backdrop of cynicism on which other questions are asked.  For example: What if we bomb Assad and he uses chemical weapons again?  What do we do if Hezbollah attacks Israel in retaliation?  If Assad is so bad, why not take him out?  Is there a threat to the US? What if congress votes no, will Obama still bomb Syria?  These are only the obvious questions.  Where are our allies, why are we virtually alone?  Who’s going to pay for this?  Is our destiny to always be the policeman of the world?  In fact, it is the last question that is truly being debated today.

It seems to me that the real question here is how we perceive America’s
role in the world.  We hear all kinds of platitudes thrown around.  But
what do they really mean?  America is “the leader of the free world”.
America is “a shining beacon of freedom”  What does all of that mean in
practical terms?  What obligations do we have to other nations, other
people’s?  Is our national mission to mediate the world’s problems and be
the ultimate judge of what is and what is not moral behavior?  Where
are the other nations?  Finally, do we act out of pure national
self-interest, or is there a moral imperative at stake?

After two wars and thousands dead and wounded, what is our role in the world?  Do we always have to lead?  The singular act of shooting Tomahawk missiles at Assad is symbolic of a perceived obligation more than a military action.  Is America willing to accept that obligation?  Are we the conscience of the world?  Are we the guardians of accepted norms of international behavior?  If not, what are we?

I have raised many questions and I have many misgivings about military action against Assad.  However, I have stronger misgivings of the consequences of inaction.  The President has stated clearly that this will be a limited action and that we will not under any circumstances put “boots on the ground” in Syria.  Mr. Obama has proven himself to be a reluctant warrior.  He voted against our attack on Iraq.  I have to trust him today as he takes our country onto the moral high ground.  We must hope and believe that this action will prevent the need for more significant action down the road.



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