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Tales of war. Sadly, war is never limited to fiction.
And, once again, in the real world, our nation stands poised at the brink of war. Or, does it? Abandoned by his principal ally, England, our President seems to hesitate before committing us to military action in the bloody battlefields of Syria. He passes the decision to Congress. Or, does he? A daring gamble? An idealistic bow to the constitutional province of Congress in having the solitary power to declare war? Or, is Obama just passing the buck? He dares the members of Congress to make the decision and accept responsibility for the consequences of action or inaction. So, the politicians test the waters of public opinion in our divided nation, searching, as politicians will, for safe waters to sail. Life and death for countless thousands of innocents may depend on decisions based on self-serving convenience, not law or morality. The politicians dicker and play their games. Protesters march through our streets waving their anti-war placards before returning to their safe homes where no bombs fall on their heads, no poison gas fills their lungs. And, the killing continues.
The same tired, familiar arguments fill the news reports and Sunday morning talk shows: We're tired of war. It's none of our business. It's not in our national interest to get involved. We're not the world's policeman. Blah-blah-blah. We all feel that way, until we're the one getting robbed, raped or murdered in the dead of night and a passerby turns and walks away, not wanting to get involved, since he's not a policeman, it's none of his business, and there's nothing in it for him. But, mass murder by a dictatorial regime of its own populace by nerve gas attacks is supposed to be the whole world's business; it's a crime against humanity, no less so, (in principle if not scale) than the Holocaust. Each gas bomb the Assad regime drops on civilian populations is a mobile Auschwitz, Treblinka or Dachau. It is the moral duty of the civilized world to intervene, to at least try to put a stop to the mass slaughter by whatever means necessary. If not for the victims now targeted, then for the millions yet to come all over the world. Do we want to live in a world in which despots know they can slaughter tens of thousands, including children, with poison gas, or any other weapons of mass destruction they may build or acquire, with complete impunity? Any mass slaughter of innocents, whether by poison gas, as in Syria or Iraq, by machetes, as in Rwanda, or by simple gardening implements, as in Cambodia, should warrant the world's swift response, or the killing will go on forever. History has taught us (or, should have) that inaction only leads to more killing. (see Samantha Power's book "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.")
Other arguments against intervention:
It's a civil war that's none of the outside world's business. Intervention could escalate the conflict into an international proxy war and spill over into neighboring countries, attracting radicalized elements and destabilizing the entire region. We can't trust the rebels; they are radical, America-hating Islamists. Intervention would invite retaliation against the U.S. in the form of cyber-warfare attacks.
Hello? All that's happening already and escalating fast, as a result of our inaction. While the U.S. and Nato have stood by and watched, Russia and Iran have thrown their hands into the pot. When it looked like Assad might be on his last legs, Russia propped him up by supplying him with arms, enabling him to drag the war out and kill thousands more of his own people. As the fighting has dragged on, Syrian rebel factions have grown increasingly militant and anti-American, (Gee, maybe if we'd helped the Free Syrian Army...?) and refugees and militant elements have streamed from Syria into Turkey, the fighting spilling over the border. Assad, meanwhile, has allied himself openly and brazenly with the most America-hating Islamists in the world. In short, passivity and non-involvement seem to be working as well for us as they did for Chamberlain. As for cyber-warfare, that's been going on for sometime, too. The Red Chinese, the Syrians and countless radical elements have been hacking us for years. Yeah, cyber-warfare may be the next great battlefield, and we can't hide from it or stop it from happening by cringing in fear of it before the eyes of a world filled with bloody-handed murderers, who will always try to hack our systems and steal our secrets regardless. We have to beef up our firewalls and fight back, not retreat.
Others say this situation should be handled by the UN or international coalitions.
I agree, it should be. Unfortunately, with Russia exercising its veto on the Security Council with one hand and fueling the conflict with the other, the UN isn't much help. I guess that leaves the U.S., Turkey and France.
And then, still others argue we can't decisively win a war in Syria.
Who says we have to? We can launch punitive strikes. Maybe we can't cripple Assad, but we can damn well have a go at annoying him. If the best we can be is a maddening mosquito buzzing about his ears and costing him many a sleepless night, that's better than nothing.
Unless we throw our muscle into this already internationalized conflict, unless we show Assad in no uncertain terms that there is a substantial penalty for illegal use of chemical weapons against civilian populations, then he has absolutely no incentive to seek a negotiated settlement. Bold and confident, with Russia behind him, he will fight on and the killing will continue, spilling over and getting increasingly worse. Russia and Iran don't want an escalation with U.S. involvement any more than we do. If we hit Assad hard, again and again, if need be, it is likely his allies will nudge him toward the bargaining table rather than watch the situation dissolve into something they can't control. Look at recent history: Despite the denials of naysayers, President Clinton's bombing of Serbia led ultimately to the overthrow of the Miloszevicz regime and the end of a genocidal war.
There are never any guarantees about anything. But, the best way to set out in this world is simply to try to do what's right. And, to remember it's been wisely written: All that evil needs to succeed is for good people to do nothing.