Will we avoid conflict in Syria?

So yesterday I wrote about how I believe the United States should attack Syria. However during the day, events unfolded that may make an attack on Syria a moot point. Secretary of State John Kerry offhandedly said that Syria would have to give up all of its chemical weapons to avoid being attacked. In its role as a mediator Russia, decided to accept the offer and work with Syria on the possibility. Astoundingly, Syria has at least agreed to listen to the possibility.

Upon hearing this I think the whole drama of this situation is just a ploy for Syria to buy more time. But since the United States and the globe has more at stake than I do, since I’m just sitting at my computer typing my opinion, I’ll respect that President Obama has to take this proposition seriously.

So even though I am incredibly skeptical of this whole exercise, let’s speculate on why it might be the real deal.

Russia

Why would Russia be interested in stopping America from getting involved in Syria?

It is my opinion that Russia has many different interests in Syria. A stable Syria is a consumer of Russian oil and weapons, and an important foothold for Russia in the Middle East. In addition, I think that Western countries have severely misunderstood Russia’s own apprehension about terrorism given that they have a sizeable Muslim community as well. Assad has described his fight as being against Muslim extremism, and I think Russia views a dictatorship in Syria as the preferable option to what may come after. One need only to think of Egypt as an example. As a result of the Arab Spring, the dictatorship of Egypt was forced out only to be replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood, and now Egypt is on the verge of a civil war after the military seized control of the government from them. Ironically, the Egyptian military/dictatorship is now fighting the Muslim Brotherhood on the grounds that they are in a fight against terrorism.

Syria

Why would Syria simply give up its Chemical Weapons?

If Assad is actually seriously considering giving up his chemical weapons, I think the threat by the United States actually may have had its intended effect. That is, America has now seriously threatened military force. The idea that America might use military force is credible in part because the President has asked Congress to support an authorization for use of force in Syria while reserving the right to act even if Congress doesn’t support the action. It is also credible because the United States has not failed to use military might in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Whether you agree with America getting involved in conflicts in any of those places, one thing we can all agree on is those conflicts did not end well for the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, or Moammar Ghaddafi. I think Assad is looking around and noticing that standing up to the United States will likely mean the end of him and since he can’t determine the force that America might strike with, maybe he would much rather avoid that conflict altogether. We’ll see. I still think he’s just buying time, but obviously I could be wrong.

United States of America

What might we learn from this whole sordid fiasco?

I think we need to learn that America is the most powerful nation in the world, and that when we speak the world listens. I also think it’s important to note that maybe our leaders don’t need to keep telling the world how powerful we are. I don’t think it’s a secret. I think we need to go back to President Theodore Roosevelt’s axiom to “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” We need to be able to only have to say to the world one time what we might do to give other nations pause instead of the current method of repeating over and over what we might do until finally we are forced to take concrete action. Why can’t we just say what we mean the first time and leave it at that?

We also need to be aware that words may not always be enough and sometimes we might be asked to take some military action based on our position on the world stage. We are the world’s leader and because of our unique stance on human rights, in some ways we are also the world’s moral authority, and sometimes that’s going to mean acting like the world police and getting involved in a conflict somewhere in the world in which we don’t have any particular national interest aside from human rights. We need to own that and understand it and be prepared to support that kind of a mission if necessary. If we do that as a society, then maybe the world will take us more seriously when our president or the international community first draws a red line.

One last note…we need to be aware that playing these type of political games is a very complicated matter. In the run up to the War in Iraq, many members of Congress voted to support President Bush on the assumption that he was going to use the threat of force to get some concessions from Saddam Hussein. Instead President Bush rashly launched an ill conceived war.

We need to realize that when we elect a President he will not only preside over our domestic politics but he and his team will be called upon to impact world events in some dramatic ways. We need to take this into account when electing our leaders. Do we want a leader who is likely to act rashly or one who might tend to contemplate matters of great gravity more and guide us to equitable solutions…even if the process tests our patience? I hope the answer is the latter.

Ironically President Bush’s willingness to use force so boldly in the past may have helped President Obama to avoid using it in the present. The world may be just as tired of seeing American soldiers as we are sending them. In the coming days we will see.

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