GUEST COMMENTARY: U.S. strikes in Syria would compound problems

Friday, September 6, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:23 a.m. CDT, Saturday, September 7, 2013

Congress is back in session, like students nationwide, after its summer break.  Hopefully, lawmakers will take to heart recent history lessons, heed the sentiments of a war-weary public and follow its floor debate set to begin this weekend with a vote against “authorizing” the U.S. bombing of Syria.

The civil war in Syria is indeed heart-rending. More than 100,000 people have been killed over the past two years, more than 2 million Syrians have fled their country, and according to the United Nations, millions more are internally displaced.  It is deeply troubling that sarin gas may have been used recently to kill several hundred people in a Damascus suburb. Much uncertainty remains, however, including whether President Bashar al-Assad authorized the attack (making no strategic sense for the regime as U.S. leaders are predictably using the incident to theoretically justify military intervention). The Bush-Cheney administration lied particularly about Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction (WMD); the White House seems to be hustling our country into more war with incomplete intelligence. Further investigation is certainly warranted and those found responsible should be held accountable in The Hague’s international court.   

Even if Assad is culpable, war — condemning killing with more killing — remains equally immoral. Launching U.S. air strikes however would compound, not ease the suffering of the Syrian people, killing perhaps more people than died in the poison gas attack, and bloody more extensively the hands of the U.S. public. We are presented with false choices: do nothing or bomb.  The United States should recommit to co-facilitating with Russia, peace negotiations for a cease-fire in Syria (without preconditions, welcoming all nations of interest in the region to participate) and an arms embargo among all countries contributing weapons both to the Syrian government and rebel forces.

The British Parliament provided guidance to U.S. lawmakers about the immense value of coequal branches in a democratic government on Aug. 29 when members of the House of Commons voted down Prime Minister David Cameron’s request for Great Britain to join U.S. military action against Syria. They accurately reflected the will of the people with some surveys showing 80 percent opposition to the proposed intervention.  

For the past 12 years, the United States has continued its pursuit of wars as a preferred but horribly failed means of solving strife in the so-called Middle East.  More than a million Iraqis, tens of thousands of Afghans plus a few thousand U.S. soldiers have been killed, millions more have been injured. The invaded countries remain in shambles, while our nation’s budget has been decimated with domestic needs consequently significantly sacrificed, including appropriate care for returning war veterans. Have our leaders learned nothing as many drum loudly to bomb again?

Congress has an opportunity to guide our nation toward a more enlightened foreign policy away from the precipice of a broader potential regional conflagration, one into which the United States could be more deeply drawn. Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science, commented during the Sept. 3 edition of “Democracy Now!” the civil war has mutated he said, “into a regional war by proxy.” The U.S., choosing military action over rigorous diplomacy, would land more firmly on the side of the rebels — ironically with significant factions aligned with Al-Qaida — and further antagonize relations with Russia, a long-time ally of Assad’s regime.  

The argument for war among U.S. political elites seems devoid of considering what’s best for the Syrian people and more about assuaging the ego of empire and the credibility of President Barack Obama. He regrettably painted himself into a corner by describing the use of chemical weapons as a line that Syria must not cross. Backing up his shortsighted bravado does not legitimize the launching of a few dozen or a hundred deadly cruise missiles and further unintended, resulting consequences.  

If the threatened bombings occurred, Syria would become the seventh Muslim-majority nation the United States has attacked this past decade. Continuing such a pattern would further trouble “the collective memory of Arabs and Muslims,” Gerges notes. “Many people would forget the alleged use of chemical weapons and focus on previous American attempts to dominate the region, rightly or wrongly.”

Additionally, he argues, “if the American military campaign basically is limited, as President Barack Obama had suggested” there could be the resulting side effect of “turning Assad into a hero, an Arab hero, a hero standing up to the might of the most powerful Western nation in the world.” 

U.S. attacks would provide yet more propaganda points to draw additional recruits to a growing list of terrorist groups angry at the United States.

The use of chemical weapons is indeed reprehensible, but, as Sheldon Richman, editor of The Future of Freedom Foundation recently wrote in Counterpunch. “It is grotesque to see officials of the U.S. government condemning anyone’s war tactics as something ‘morally obscene’ that should ‘shock the conscience of the world.’ Since 1945, the U.S. government has launched aggressive wars in violation of international law. It has tortured prisoners detained without charge. It has dropped atomic bombs on civilian centers, and used napalm, Agent Orange, depleted-uranium shells, and white phosphorus incendiary weapons. It has carpet bombed and firebombed cities. America’s unexploded landmines and cluster bombs still threaten the people of Vietnam and Cambodia.”

U.S. leaders speak of war and intervention in dispassionate terms, as well would such folks thousands of miles away from where the bombs would fall. Syria is more than the dictator Assad. It is a nation of millions of human beings whose lives have already been so devastated by civil war. A U.S. war will only amplify their misery. To realize our potential, the U.S. must earnestly embrace diplomacy to solve international differences, truly empathize with those victimized by war and cease altogether waging war, recognizing the immoral scourge that it is upon humanity. Wage peace for not war upon Syria.

Contact your Congress people, via the switchboard, 202-224-3121, and/or the White House, 202-456-1111, to let officials know your views at this critical juncture. Call 573-449-4585 to share your thoughts.

Jeff Stack is coordinator of the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation.

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