Who’s the Bad Guy, Obama or Assad?

I have no idea what President Obama and Congress
should do about Syria. I am no hawk, but I am not an absolute dove either. On
the global level America has found it useful to have a powerful military
presence and I don’t think any of us are quite sure that we would still be a
sovereign nation without our troops and war machines and weapons. And I suspect
it is not enough to own all this war paraphernalia; America must be willing to
use it on occasion.

In this case, the case of Syria, we want to make a
humanitarian stand, to admonish an evil act, without being sucked into a war.
We’re not sure we can do this. In the past five decades America has eschewed
isolationism to go out and meet the enemies of freedom wherever we felt the
people were trying to break free. We have put our soldiers where our values (and our corporate interests) are
any number of times with far less than happy results. But the isolationist
positions we held in the two so-called world wars did not stand us in good
stead either and had to be abandoned.

Americans are war weary. Many of us do want to stay
home, recover from our wounds and stay out of events that some say are no concern
of ours; and yet others find these to be events that we can only stay out of by
hardening our hearts out of all humanity.

The dilemma is that the growing pains so painful to
watch in the Middle East are occurring now, not at some obscure time in the
future. Can we afford to adopt that isolationist stance we love so well for the
next five or ten years? Can we expect events to unfold around us while we live
our own not so peaceful lives behind a screen, a screen that is really a vast
permeable membrane, a membrane which cannot really block events from seeping in
and out?

The Middle East is having its growth spurt now and I
don’t think it can be stopped or slowed. We can nurture the good growth and try
to nip the dysfunctional or bad growth in the bud, or we can stay in our own
sphere (maybe) and let growth proceed. It may take decades to work through the
ancient arguments in these lands, this cradle of religion. These hostilities
have been kept under lids enforced by traditional authoritarian or religious
leaders, but they have never been discussed, hashed out, examined and
neutralized by intellectual compromise and tolerance. I don’t think we will be
able to stay out of what promises to change this formerly sleeping, now
awakening “middle Earth” forever. (Perhaps the forces that are trying to tuck
the Middle East back into traditional pathways will succeed, but I doubt it.)

Although so many seem able to agree that Obama is
weak, not a good Commander-in-Chief (and paradoxically agree that Bush was
strong and yet still not a good Commander-in-Chief) everyone cannot seem to
agree that Bashar al-Assad is a horrifying leader, a leader without boundaries
in acting against his own people. I have heard so much more criticism of Obama
this past week than of Assad. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

We can try to stay out of military engagements for
the foreseeable future, we can wait and see if the use of inhumane weapons will
abate, but we cannot make the explosion of change in the Middle East happen
five or even ten years from now. It is happening now and that appears to be why
we must make our stand now. We are all afraid. The world feels slightly
unhinged right now, as if we are one step away from total global war and as if
every step must be carefully thought out to avoid such a disaster. That’s why
one person cannot make this decision alone. It is your job in Congress to help
America wend its way through a chaotic world and I am happy to see you taking
this situation seriously. I am, however, appalled to see you unable to present
a more united front to the world and the nation. When you should be discussing the realities of Assad’s behaviors, you insist on discussing Obama’s supposed shortcomings instead.
This blog post is also available at www.brissioni.com