It's Friday evening and the discussion has turned to Syria and the U.S. entering into another protracted war in the Middle East. This is a hard discussion for me because I am a humanist and believe, as we were reminded by former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, that peace is better than war because life is better than death.
The question is not simple. When does the illegal use of weapons at the hands of a dictator outweigh the human sacrifice that another military engagement will bring?
My position was published as a commentary on my blog site concerning this very issue three days earlier. I wrote that the criminal action of the Bashar Assad regime now justified a “police action.” Today that sounds a lot like what we said going into Korea, a war that is still declared by Kim Jong Un's government as well as the U.S. and its allies.
My position is contrary to a vast number of Americans who overwhelmingly have no appetite for entering a conflict in which the United States has no direct interest and is not threatened. As of Sunday those numbers ranged from 58 to 91 percent against military action, regardless of how limited.
Yet the leadership of Congress has voiced support for the President’s call for a limited engagement, to punish the Assad regime for using weapons long outlawed by international convention.
My position remained the same on Sunday morning after the "talking head shows.' I do not believe this proposed action is one of imperialism, as some suggested. I do believe that the world has decided that the United States is the world police. I believe that we are being told the truth about the use of chemical weapons and cluster bombs being used on Syrian civilians by the regime.
During this weeklong High Holy Days of the Jewish tradition, the faithful pray that the world not forget the Holocaust. Yet we, America, have allowed such ethnic, religious and sectarian cleansing in the 70 years since World War II. Are we not better than that?
Cuomo’s words remain clear to me, but is one life worth more than another? Yes, there are conflicts in which we should never place our hand. But do we have to be directly (via attack) or indirectly (via oil) threatened before we take action against evil?
I cannot ask the public to forget about the problems, the misinformation causing our involvement in our second war in Iraq. The first was caused by the invasion of Kuwait and was seen as a direct threat to the U.S. oil supply. The second was started under very murky circumstances and caused us to lose sight of our real enemies, the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Yes, governments lie to get their way. Those of my generation know only too well of the Nixon lies and today of the misguided, if not truly fraudulent, reasons for George W. Bush’s war in Iraq.
But I believe this is different. I believe chemical weapons have been used and that the Assad regime used those weapons as well as cluster bombs and other “illegal” munitions on his non-combatant citizens. I believe if not stopped, Assad will continue to use such weapons as Saddam Hussein did against the Kurds until President Clinton stepped in.
Tuesday and Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has changed the game and put forth a plausible plan to halt immediate military action by the U.S. His solution is simple; allow the allied nations to oversee Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. Evidently Obama likes the idea, though Putin has made one small error in his calculations. We will find out more after I submit this column — and I will update it later in the week.
Because Assad has not bent to earlier attempts to curb the fighting, to end his attacks on civilians, how can he be trusted today? Putin wants the U.S. and other nations to stop threatening the Syrian government. But without a credible threat of punishment he most likely will not comply with any international edict. Maybe Russia’s plan will work, but I am not giving even odds on that bet.
I do not think I will change my mind. My opinion is simple; Assad must be stopped from using illegal weapons against unarmed Syrian civilians. One-hundred-thousand-plus dead is too many not to take action.
It is not an issue of sacrificing a few for the greater good, but an issue of stopping evil and finally acting on the words from Rosh Hashanah: Never Again.
David Rosman is an editor, writer, speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. He writes a weekly column for the Missourian.