DAVID ROSMAN: Actions against Syria needed to stop al-Assad

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:31 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 2, 2013

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.

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Ellis Smith September 11, 2013 | 9:24 a.m.

"Blessed are the peacemakers..." Sad that there are so few of them.

Sarin and Zyclon B (the principal holocaust chemical agent) are both deadly. But is the world's "unelected policeman" expected to respond to EVERY use of such agents, no matter where, for what purposes, against whom, or on what scale (and whether or not petroleum interests are involved*)?

I agree that a response is called for, but when do we stop handling these things AD HOC and develop real rules of engagement?

And what will our "rules of engagement" be for use of biological agents? That's coming: you can bet on it!

We can either continue living through the 21st Century with some degree of order and preparation or we can continue to be perpetually "surprised" and confused. We seem to have become VERY good at suffering through the latter. Tontos.

*- I have no problem whatsoever with involving petroleum interests as elements in decision-making, so long as we're HONEST about it. On the other hand, like more than a few of our campus' alumni I am invested in minerals and petroleum (both the products and means of discovering and producing them).

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking September 11, 2013 | 10:54 a.m.

One big difference is World War II was not fought to stop the Holocaust. Nazi Germany had showed they were a hegemonistic threat to their neighbors, and likely all of Europe and the world. This is quite a different situation.

Chemical weapons or no, we can't intervene in every civil war. This about Syria, and no one else. We don't really have any dogs in this race. Let the Syrians determine Syrian destiny.

And yes, Ellis, it would be good if we had some hard and fast policy to guide us.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 11, 2013 | 1:10 p.m.

&Mark Foecking:

Your first paragraph makes a very good point, on which I'd like to enlarge. What happened during the Holocaust was the result of Nazi idiology and aims that PRE-DATED September 1939. The occupation of most of Europe, including western portions of the Soviet Union, provided the MEANS to implement those evil schemes.

In the present case we have a relatively small time dictator who is trying desparately to hang onto what he has. He has the capability to cause grief in Syria but not beyond. I'd hardly classify Assad's present motives as "idiological*."

I think the current situation with Assad and Syria will happen, periodically, elsewhere, wheres the historic one of Hitler and the Nazis won't. If we are going to be confronted with such "civil wars degenerating into chemical and/or biological attacks" we need some rules, and "we" should include more entities than just Uncle Sam.

Regardless of how the current episode pans out, we have shown ourslves indecisive, and that's what folks around the world are going to remember.

PS: Hitler, along with ramblings about other things, reveals his idiology in "Mein Kampf"(1920s). Few people then or since have managed to wade through this book, as true for the German version as for the English translation. "Kampf" can be tranlated as more than one English word. It can mean both "struggle" and "fight." In my opinion "fight" is more appropriate; to me,"struggle" carries some nobility.

*-I suppose attempting to save one's sorry ass might be deemed "idiological," but it's a stretch. :)

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams September 11, 2013 | 1:18 p.m.

"When does the illegal use of weapons at the hands of a dictator outweigh the human sacrifice that another military engagement will bring?"

What's confusing about this article is that Saddam Hussein ALSO used chemical weapons AND killed several thousand Iraqi citizens using other means, too. He was certainly a brutal dictator favoring some and killing/hurting others.

What was your posture then, David? I can change all your "Syria" to "Iraq", change the date and a couple of names's the lead-up to Iraq-2 all over again.

I'm pretty sure David believes the "faulty" intelligence behind the second Iraqi war was entirely GWB's doing, conveniently forgetting (or deliberately leaving out) that the intelligence communities of the entire western world believed Hussein had WMD's. PS: It's gonna be funny as hell if Syrian chemical weapons have Iraqi identifications on them........

I see all sorts of parallels between the lead-up to Iraq and the lead-up to Syria. In fact, from David's missive and what I know about the Iraqi wars, the ONLY difference I can see in David's logic is the political party of POTUS at the time these things were happening.

I'm against doing ANYTHING in Syria. After watching 50+ years of Arab problems, I no longer care. Keep Israel and Turkey armed (and assisted) and to hell with the rest of the area. Let's get energy independent (drill baby drill) and literally let them pound sand. Place a moratorium on immigration/visits from those areas for....oh...a decade or so. Maybe they'll work it out by then, but when you are stuck in the 1400s....I doubt it.

Besides, the American people have only a 3 year attention span, so we won't carry a problem to a successful conclusion.

And war leadership with *this* POTUS in the White House? Obama is no FDR or Reagan....not by a long shot.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams September 11, 2013 | 1:21 p.m.

Ellis..."Regardless of how the current episode pans out, we have shown ourslves indecisive, and that's what folks around the world are going to remember."

Spot on.

This President's foreign policy is d.e.a.d. All blather blather blather.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders September 11, 2013 | 4:55 p.m.

Funny, I always thought the word "humanist" meant something. Anyone who is a anti-human warmonger need not apply. I now feel ashamed for even giving one of your murderous columns a hit. This has to be the most disgusting Missourian article I've ever had the misfortune of seeing.

Perhaps you should put down the keyboard for a while, and pick up a book?

Better yet, go to Syria and liberate all of the people from living yourself!

Funny how supposedly peace-loving lefties are no different when it's "their guy" in charge.

Cult of personality much?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 11, 2013 | 4:59 p.m.

I've noted biological agents, as well as chemical agents, in an above post. Debate over future actions against users of chemical weapons must cover biological agents as well.

If you think it can be difficult to determine which side used a chemical weapon, consider attempting to pin down who introduced a biological one! Once biological weapons are unleashed do we REALLY expect the horrific results to end at some political boundary?

Any totalitarian regime, threatened with extinction, is apt to resort to using chemical and/or biological weapons, whether on its neighbors or its own citizens. That's the real world. We needn't like it or approve of it, but we'd better learn how to deal with it.

My posts don't refer to past or present American political administrations. There's no shortage of "tontos*" - absolutely none.

*- Spanish, and its use here does not violate the Missourian's rules.

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates September 11, 2013 | 5:00 p.m.

Just a comment for those liberals that continue to argue their "Bush/Cheny" lie about Iraq chemical weapons. First, everyone agreed that Saddam had them, indeed even the libs next presidential contender, Clinton. That he used them is clearly shown in an attack on the Kurds. After 4ID was refused at the last minute from attacking Iraq via Turkey, vast conveys from centeral Iraq were seen going into Syria. The DIA at that time suspected that Saddam's chemical weapons were being shipped north into Syria. After the war, General Georges Sadah, affirmed that happened. The thought to attack those conveys from the air was nullified as there were civilian vehicles involved also, and no one wanted to have a view of the road of death that happened on the Iraq departure from Kuwait. So, where did Syria get gas weapons from? Probably from Iraq. That being said, use of those weapons around various small sites around Damascus makes no military sense as it lacks Tier l, 2, or 3 military actions. Indeed, in the wildest of ideas, there isn't a miniscule concept of A2/AD that makes any sense either. It does; however, make some sense that the rebels, whom are known to have them, would employ them in the manner in which it happened. Just sayn'

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates September 11, 2013 | 5:02 p.m.

Pardon me: A2/AD = Access Denial/Area Denial

(Report Comment)

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