Those were the haunting words of Secretary of State John Kerry when discussing intervention in Syria after combing through credible conformation Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people; he also called it humanities red line, anyone with a conscience’s red line, international law’s red line going back nearly 100 years, not as some in the congressional hearing wanted to characterize it, President Obama’s red line. Sadly it doesn’t even appear to be the first time the Syrian dictator has used chemical assault to crush what started out as peaceful protests for increased civilian rights, reforms to existing government, along with yes that all important word democracy; last year videos surfaced pointing to Assad having done so, though on a much smaller scale. This time however he appeared to massacre families, children in their beds as they slept producing chilling video of distraught parents’ morning their dead sons and daughters amidst the chaos. Here is what it took for America, most of the Western world, to wake up, even consider taking any sort of military action to rein in an obviously brutal monster ruling a country with an iron fist. Still international support waffles on the type of military action, similar to mired debates on what kind of aid should be given to the Syrian rebels, humanitarian aid of food, medicine, or honor their requests for weapons to have a prayer of fighting the regime, never mind dismantling it. Complicating things all along is identifying the Syrian rebels, accusations Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations had slipped among them during heights of the mayhem. Here at home Americas are begging the president, congress to mind our own business, not to attack Syria, not to draw their government’s ire and certainly not to contemplate putting U.S. soldiers on the ground. But what about the Syrian people; what about the United States’ credibility in the face of such pleading?
Truth be told we should have stepped in a long time ago; two and a half years have seen at least 100,000 deaths, thousands of them children; the 2 millionth refugee crossed over a neighboring boarder sometime in late August. We should have made our stance and presence known in aiding desperate people before the introduction of chemical weapons not only because here is a ruler, supposed leader, who is no stranger to opening up on his own population with vastly over matched resources, military forces and training, but heavy artillery, tanks, rockets, air strikes aimed at people who, yes now want Assad gone after the atrocities he’s committed, yet began by wanting a better government, to make choices about their government; we should have taken a stand for Syrian civilians before now because it might have prevented the infiltration of terrorist organizations into the rebel fighters, allowed us to understand who they were and what they wanted so we could now distinguish between them and terrorist factions taking advantage of a bad situation. However the number one reason we should have already implemented a plan to stem the tide of violence, prevent the bloodshed has less to do with our international credibility, less to do with the fact that we previously helped liberate the citizens of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, threw our verbal international support behind the uprising in Egypt, and has so much more to do with the nature of the conflict itself, why we get involved in said conflicts in the first place. Because this looks more like Somalia, Bosnia and the tragically ignored Rwanda, than say the crushed revolution in Iran or the ongoing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians; remove the geographical knowledge telling us the massacre is happening in the Arab world and it might as well be the ethnic cleansing we have seen tried so many times before with devastating consequences, horrendous loss of life. Because there is a reason going into Iraq and Afghanistan was worth the cost, worth the loss, worth the effort in nation building whether we choose to admit it or not, whether we choose to see it or not; giving people opportunities for freedom that mean men do not have to grow beards or be arrested, women can work, drive a car, go outside their home without being covered head to toe in a full veil and not be subject to beatings, potential honor killings is exactly why we were there, putting a stop to rape rooms, mass graves and mass genocide was the larger objective not seen until we were on the ground, whether WMD were ever found or whether Osama Bin Laden had moved on.
Who opposes dealing with Syria and why is perhaps the most telling indicator pointing to what we should be doing, that we should no longer remain idle in the affairs of one more destabilizing Arab nation; juxtaposed beside war weary, westernized nations like ourselves, Great Britain, France seeming to be deciding what role they can play, you have continuous nations like Russia, China and portions of Latin America, not only possessing an abysmal human rights track record in their own countries, a history of torture and brutality to foreigners in their country accused of crimes, hapless tourists, persons with extended family there caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, but who could almost be classified as dictators themselves. Their governments’ tight control of information, ban against social media and state control of television mimic part of what was done in Iran when they tried to have their own Arab spring and is identical to what Assad did post the chemical attack denying he had anything to do with sick persons obviously suffering the effects of some kind of nerve agent, telling his people the United States had no evidence he had done so, even going as far as to blame rebels for whatever transpired. These are the people voting down potential handling strategies in Syria via the UN, these are the people stalling actions that could save lives, could build the stepping stones to a functioning Arab democracy. Entities, governments, not so coincidentally, nearly identical to the ones who stubbornly refused to hand over Edward Snowden once he reached fugitive status, were willing to offer him everything from safe passage through their boarders to actual political asylum less because they believed in his cause, thought what he had done was the right thing to do, admired his conviction and more so they could openly thumb their nose at the big, bad United States, openly demonstrate their displeasure with us without tangible consequences. Forget basic practicalities; aside from Russia and Syria’s mutually beneficial relationship to each other, the weapons belonging to Russia that were given to Syria now a part of the arsenal raining down on average citizens, the latter remains a source of oil for the former and for China as well, though the bulk of theirs comes from Libya. And the more international eyes are turned elsewhere, the more chance said governments have a maneuver, to succeed, advance in the global market. As if getting ahead, pulling the wool over someone else’s eyes should trump helping dying people.
Equally as important is why we already haven’t put our foot down, haven’t lifted as little as a finger to end the needless death of children, of ordinary people who would simply like to continue their lives absent the constant fear of death, the sounds and carnage of war around them. We aren’t sitting on the sidelines letting this play out on the news owing to the fact we, our leaders, our congress, our government are genuinely flummoxed regarding what action to take; it is not that they don’t see the moral, humanitarian imperative glaring the international community, of which the US remains the undisputed leader, in the face. It’s that we don’t want to get involved; political operatives from the lowest politician to the president all know what an earful they would receive from their constituents for backing an unmanned, small strike meant to send the message we the United States, we the western, developed world will not sit idly by while you deliberately poison your own people and call it hunting terrorists, forget anything involving putting so much as one man on the ground in the region beyond diplomatic channels, negotiations . It’s that we can’t stomach the idea of placing ourselves on a battle line front or otherwise, not in the sense of refusing to be flippant about the costs of war, the price of intervention both monetarily and in lives ultimately lost, but in the callous sense of let them solve their own conflict, it’s not our business, it’s not our problem, a let someone else handle it kind of mindset, a we’re too tired of this mentality, we’ve spread ourselves too thin, a we don’t want to sort of way. Oddly enough sentiments not necessarily coming from those who served in uniform, their husbands, wives, extended family having experienced firsthand the injuries, sacrifices and indignities of fighting on this large a scale; the loudest voices against are of citizen civilians who somehow believe our concentration should be elsewhere, on domestic issues, who somehow can’t bring themselves to see the economy, jobs, gas prices pale in comparison to people writhing and dying in agony from chemicals spewed into the air they have to breath, fed into their homes for the sole purpose of ending their lives. Denial that says oh that only happens over there; never mind if our efforts foster, lead to greater stability in the region the price of oil, the price of gas decreases. Probably the same single minded, shallow thinkers known to generate arguments they, people in the Arab world, will hate us less, stop hating us all together if we just leave them alone bandied about as justification to stay out, regardless of how naively it’s done, or rather how precariously our hope is placed. People prone to believing the source of their hatred is Miley Cyrus, MTV and the fact the only TV they see from America is MTV and Fox news, completely opposite of average, daily life, completely feeding two extremes, not age old conflicts, jealousy and vendettas traced back to biblical times.
Unfortunately, we don’t want to isn’t an option while opposition rebels beg for weapons, not in the name of revenge, not in the name of continuing violence, instead in the name of overthrowing a horrific dictator, to be the artisans of their own government…dare we say constitution. An MSNBC guest had it correctly summarized when she said Syria’s current conflict feels like a bill we haven’t paid yet, forestalled for two and a half years, but we are going to have to pay it; i.e. we are going to have to get involved or it will hurt us in the long run. Right about now indignant pacifists, isolationist conservatives and people who just don’t understand are screaming how, how; well, outside rising prices for oil used in creating gasoline that will impact transport costs for food and merchandise across the globe, outside the environmental costs of attempting to accelerate domestic production of oil, natural gas and derivative fuels in an effort to need less oil from the region, there is the very stark reality should the area fracture any further, it will much more than become a vacuum for terrorist activity. Betrayed individuals there lacking economic options will choose the terrorist route, who wouldn’t otherwise, to avenge themselves of selfish, unfeeling Americans they perceive left them to suffer and die, see as contributing to the death of loved ones. Bad enough an Egyptian woman says directly to an American news camera, somewhat hysterically, the next terrorist will come from her country, why; because we backed the military ouster of Mohammad Morisi, who after being elected chose to serve only one faction of the multifaceted cultural make up that is Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood. Nor can we ignore truth and reality than we did intervene in Iraq, Afghanistan Libya, lent out international support to the Arab spring in Egypt leaving them looking to us for the lion’s share of help and wondering why we won’t. Additionally if we do nothing, it fuels the opinion, both at home and abroad, that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were about oil and avenging U.S. lives respectively, to the exclusion of all else, perpetuating the idea we are nothing more than a clueless, occupying force poking our nose in other countries affairs. Libya was about another potential oil ally and Syria isn’t worth the effort. Exactly the image we don’t want to portray.
Our actions, lack thereof, have consequences; our wealth and prosperity, though seen as dwindling, are unparalleled compared to the rest of the world, as are the freedoms our most disenfranchised citizens enjoy. And with great gifts comes great responsibility; we must intervene in situations like this because we are the only ones who can, the only ones who possess the resources, possess the tactical information on how to even begin to go about the task. America is the leader in everything from peace keeping and diplomacy efforts, to enforcing an international standard of human rights, using its influence to push for global stability and shore up international law on varying kinds of weapons of mass destruction, mass murder and related carnage hatched in the minds of megalomaniacs. We intervene in situations like this due to the unmistakable reality, dictators a stable region do not make. Realities that prove over and over oppressed peoples will rise up in a bid for freedom and without proper help will only die an agonizing death, for which prosperous nations who turned a blind eye will be blamed. History too plays a role our backing away from conflicts, pulling out of previously endeavored ventures to aid nations against slaughter, in moving toward the all coveted democracy, have left openings for greater problems. Discontinued efforts on Bosnia cause it to remain one of the poorest per capita nations on the planet despite billions in foreign aid; our failed objectives in Somalia have made it a breeding ground for terrorists. Somali pirates remain a threat to the international community, including American’s, currently requiring a multinational set of taskforces to even attempt to keep crucial waters, shipping ways safe and open, continue basic humanitarian aid to starving, destitute people; it has driven shipping costs in that area sky high, which will at some point vastly impact all global markets plunging these forgotten human beings further into the shadows, further towards a meaningless life and empty death. Now that to many tallying costs tangible and otherwise of war, peacekeeping, whatever label political operatives want to put on it would call that a clear directive to begin minding our own business, to hand up our badges as the world’s policeman. Wrong it is instead a call to learn from our mistakes, never forget those we once pledged to help, and concentrate on doing it better next time.
Returning specifically to Syria and Assad, there is a red line for a reason; and use of chemical weapons is the world’s red line for a reason, not because it is a tactic used by unstable, dictator type individuals charged with leading countries or because there is no real defense against it for unsuspecting, defenseless masses unfortunate enough to be born in a certain country, but precisely because of the impact it can have on global populations. Like nuclear capabilities, nuclear arsenals, chemical weapons can affect far larger areas than a single country, has no respect for boarders or who is or isn’t involved in a conflict; being drastically influenced by weather patterns, wind could potentially wipe out the entire planet’s population under the right circumstances. Harsh truths amplified by war, when someone intentionally or haplessly blows up a chemical facility with literally tons of lethal toxin, when it is held hostage by opposing forces, falls into the hands of a terror or extremist group to be used at their whim any time anywhere in the world. Welcome to modern warfare; welcome to warfare Vietnam and after. Welcome to warfare in the post 9-11 era when dictators feel the most threatened and the most retaliatory, but it is as if we haven’t been paying attention, but it is as if we forget we live on a planet, of which there is only one capable of supporting human life ,and what all of us do effects our ability to live on it, in more ways than one.