Who Should the President Listen To?


I find it hard to believe that we can find anyone
who wants to be President of the United States even if you do get a jet and a
cool code name like POTUS. The dialogue around the issue of what the President
should do about Syria will give you whiplash if you really listen. First we
have Assad crossing Obama’s red line by using chemical weapons against his own
people (observers believe). Is he deliberately goading America? We have used
chemical weapons against our foes in war, but, so far, not against our own
people. Using chemical weapons, we have come to believe, is abhorrent and we
find that they should be banned on moral grounds. However if other countries
have such weapons we feel we must keep some also.

So as soon as Assad crossed that red line reporters
began interviewing persons who harangued Obama to do something to punctuate our
disapproval of Assad’s behavior. They are the hawks. They believe America must
fight on the side of the downtrodden especially if they are striving to be free
and that we must do this every time authoritarian monsters refuse their people
justice. Some of the hawks doing the verbal prodding are the usual hawks like
John McCain, but this time we also have Richard Engel, who we respect, urging
America to get involved in Syria.

So President Obama announced that he will bomb
certain key military targets in Syria and he will do it soon. He is looking for
some support from other nations. It looks like there will be a few takers but
not the UN, because Syria has big allies there. Perhaps Obama is remembering
World War I where big nations allied to a small nation started a huge war over
a small incident. Perhaps bombing a smallish country which has giant allies,
who are not our friends, makes Obama a bit nervous, as it should.

No matter, as soon as the President announced what
he planned to do the criticisms came in from the other side. They complained
that it is not enough. They said it will either have no effect, or it will drag
us into a new Middle Eastern war. They said that it is a declaration of war and
requires the approval of Congress. Is it a trap to furnish the GOP with grounds
for the much heralded impeachment of Obama if he acts without consulting
Congress? Whatever, it sounds like the fallout will be far more negative than
positive and yet if Obama doesn’t back up that red line statement the fallout may
also be negative, because then Obama will appear weak, they say (feckless is the new
preferred insult and applies equally, it seems, to both Obama and to members of

Our actions in war no longer have the unified
support we experienced prior to Vietnam and which we have never really experienced
since the end of World War II. A President must walk his own line and ignore
the siren calls from both sides of the aisle, but it must feel like arrows to
the soul, especially when the right thing to do is not absolutely certain or
clearly apparent. At least if we decided to back the path our President chooses,
those actions would have the weight of America behind them, but this way we
just look like a bunch of cats in a canvas bag clawing each other. I don’t want
America to lose the weight it carries in the world of nations. I hope Obama has
a good idea of what decision to make, because I don’t have a clue.

This blog post is also available at www.brissioni.com

US Involvement in Syria

Drat! Those American ideals are pulling us back into
conflict in the Middle East, this time in Syria. Obviously, when nearly 100,000
people are killed anywhere on the planet we are grieved and angered. We want
the carnage to stop and we all think about whether America should help stop it.
In this case we have people who are also fighting against an authoritarian leader
who they want to be free of. It is written in our DNA that we will feel
sympathy for the rebels. We are always the Rebel Alliance fighting against the
Empire in our hearts. But – we have just slowed down the devastating parade of
maimed soldiers arriving back in the US everyday from our recent endeavors in
the Middle East. These soldiers have not even been processed by their
government to receive their benefits. We have not yet finished mourning our
dead soldiers who still arrive under their flag-draped caskets. We have hardly
given a breather to our soldiers who have been at war seemingly forever. Our
heads and our guts say that we should help this rebel army; our hearts can’t
bear to do it.

There is a question of whether or not we will make America
irrelevant in the Middle East unless we stay involved with freedom fighters and
offer military support. Humanitarian support does not count apparently. We only
get points if we put blood and guts in the game. But we haven’t earned any
points by bleeding on the sands of the Middle East so far. The opinions of both
Iraq and Afghanistan seem distinctly tinged with anti-Americanism. Perhaps this
“revolution” in the Middle East is not as far along as we would like to think
it. Deposing an authoritarian leader does not mean that Syria is ready to be a
democracy or that the country ever will want to be democratic. There is also
the point that we could make our democracy look a bit more appealing if we want
to persuade people that our form of government works best. That might be a good
place to start. Although our politicians often give us idealistic reasons for
entering a war, their real reasons are often quite a bit more pragmatic. I’m
not sure what those pragmatic concerns are but they are the ones that make us
less than proud sometimes.

There are several complexities to consider when it comes to
jumping into the conflict with Syria on the side of the rebels and we have
heard those before. The rebels are not one unified group and, in our
experience, which has recently become very personal, we have learned that once
the rebels win the war a new civil war will often have to be fought among the
various rebel groups to decide which group will get to formulate the new
government, or perhaps a coalition will arise (not likely). And in Syria we
also have elements of terrorists groups which we have no desire to support; not
to mention that we would be pitting ourselves against Putin and Russia.

Call me crazy, but it seems as if there is a preponderance
of reasons not to involve ourselves in the revolution in Syria but that word
revolution has such a pull on the American psyche that we are almost powerless
to resist the siren call of people who are oppressed and longing to be free. I
am glad that I am not the President. I don’t want us to get more involved in
Syria, but I understand why we probably will.