Human suffering must be
minimized, blowback avoided
President Bashar Hafez al-Assad of Syria. Click image to enlarge.
AS THE U.S. DRIFTS ever closer to a military strike against Syria, the complexity of the issue demands our close attention.
None of the options facing President Obama is good; alas, all he can do is choose the “least bad.”
The punditocracy is all over the map. The New York Times wants more information; respected columnist E. J. Dionne of The Washington Post says Obama must act now.
This reflects the disparity of opinion amongst world leaders, with French President François Hollande seeming the most belligerent, followed closely by Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom.
The Syrian regime’s brutal slaughter of its own citizens with weapons of mass destruction – if proven – cannot go unanswered. But the response must be measured, precisely executed, with a specific goal (stated publicly) and of short duration.
THE HEADLINE in the top story at The Guardian this morning reveals the imminence of military intervention.
In UN weapons inspectors to leave Syria a day early Julian Borger writes:
The Guardian’s top story this morning indicates a military strike on Syria is imminent. Click image to enlarge.
“Ban Ki-moon has said the UN weapons inspectors investigating last week’s suspected chemical weapons attack will leave Syria on Saturday, one day ahead of schedule.
“The announcement deepened anticipation over imminent air strikes. Under an agreement with the Syrian government, the UN team had until the end of Sunday to complete their investigation.”
Is it possible the inspectors already have all the evidence they need? If that is the case, they can get out of harm’s way and make their report.
Borger has a different take. “If they leave a day early, they will not be able to carry out the three other site inspections from earlier suspected chemical attacks they had initially intended to complete.”
Then, in an echo from a decade ago, on the eve of the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq, Borger notes:
“The move is reminiscent of similar hasty departures of UN weapons inspectors from Iraq over a decade ago, after receiving a tip-off from western intelligence agencies that US air strikes against Saddam Hussein’s regime were imminent.”
THE NEW YORK TIMES is not satisfied that the case has yet been made for military action.
Perhaps it is remembering former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s infamous address to the United Nations justifying the Cheney Administration’s push towards war in Iraq, which suckered the entire media establishment – including The New York Times Editorial Board and the rest of us – with bogus “evidence” of weapons of mass destruction.
President Obama is facing a tough foreign policy dilemma. Click image to enlarge.
The editorial in The New York Times today is headlined More Answers Needed on Syria.
“While there should be some kind of international response to the chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of civilians last week, Mr. Obama has yet to spell out how that response would effectively deter further use of chemical weapons,” it says.
“For starters, where is the proof that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria carried out the attack?
“If the Obama administration has such evidence, it should make it public immediately.”
Well, the inspectors are still gathering it on the ground.
But we can be sure they are filing daily (or hourly) reports to Washington, so the president is up to date.
Perhaps Obama, too, is remembering Powell, and out of an abundance of caution wants more certainty before making a statement to the global community based on less-than-conclusive evidence.
That would be better than George W. Bush ever did.
“Given America’s gross failure in Iraq – when the Bush administration went to war over nonexistent nuclear weapons – the standard of proof is now unquestionably higher,” the Times itself notes.
“President Obama now seems prepared to move toward military strikes,” it continues. “Without broad international backing, a military strike by the United States; France and Britain, two former colonial powers; and Turkey could well give Mr. Assad a propaganda advantage.”
Remember how Bush ignored the U.N. and went into Iraq with just the aid of “poodle” Prime Minister Tony Blair of the U.K.?
Not a very happy memory, indeed.
“Any action, military or otherwise, must be tailored to advance a political settlement between the Assad regime and the opposition, the only rational solution to the conflict,” The New York Times says. “If military action has a broader strategic purpose and is part of a coherent diplomatic plan, Mr. Obama needs to explain it.”
MEANWHILE, IN THE CAPITAL, speaking directly (almost) to the decision makers, Columnist E.J. Dionne, obviously sympathetic to the Obama Administration, says the time has come.
E.J. Dionne’s column in The Washington Post today. Click image to enlarge.
Writing in Syria upends Obama’s plans abroad today, he says: “…for a president who has reflected the national mood by insisting repeatedly that it is time for “nation-building at home,” the prospect of a new Middle East engagement flies in the face of how he had envisioned his stewardship of foreign affairs.”
It’s a prickly dilemma indeed.
“He was elected, after all, on the basis of a firm pledge to withdraw our troops from Iraq, which he has done. He is winding down the role of our armed forces in Afghanistan. In the battle against terrorism, he has concentrated on targeted attacks against dangerous individuals and their cells.”
Praiseworthy accomplishments all of them. Sober, reflective and decisive Obama certainly has been.
“Now, the president’s own, unambiguous “red line” against the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons and his statements declaring that dictator Bashar al-Assad should be ousted leave him little choice but to take military action,” Dionne concludes. “This is the conclusion Obama has drawn, however uneasy he has been about intervening in the Syrian civil war. He no longer has the option of standing aside.”
But the last word goes to The Guardian columnist Seaumas Milne who makes a salient point this morning in An attack on Syria will only spread the war and killing
“Even if the attacks are limited, they will certainly increase the death toll and escalate the war,” Milne writes. “The risk is that they will invite retaliation by Syria or its allies – including against Israel – draw the US in deeper and spread the conflict. The west can use this crisis to help bring Syria’s suffering to an end – or pour yet more petrol on the flames.”
May Allah be with us – and everyone – on this complex and imminent decision.
The best we can hope for is limited human suffering and at least a temporary end to the slaughter in Syria.
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