Waiting for Superman: Why intervention in Syria is the right call
I never thought I’d be sitting here, 10 years after protesting the invasion of Iraq, telling you that I support a military action in another country.
But here we are.
President Obama wants to attack Syria in response to that country’s president using chemical weapons against civilians. I am reasonably sure this is the right call. But first, a few caveats:
My knowledge of foreign policy is strictly academic. For a fair and straightforward rundown of what’s going on, I encourage you to read this great Washington Post article. It will tell you all you need to know and probably more than you want to know.
I’m giving you a pedestrian perspective. That includes time I spent as an anti-war protester and as a reporter.
I’ve never been fan of our country meddling in the affairs of other nations. The moral presumptuousness of our decisions and moral ambiguity of our actions are hard to reconcile.
We support some dictators and overthrow others. We openly trade with countries we openly criticize. We generally find a way to piss off everyone in the free world on an ongoing basis, and defend our actions by reminding people how awesome we are.
America’s foreign policy decisions after World War II sound as arbitrary as the choices of a drunken frat boy.
Nothing has served to undercut our credibility more than our decision to invade Iraq in 2003. That war was sold to us based on evidence that later turned out to be bogus and it probably created more terrorists than it supposedly eradicated. It also killed countless civilians and thousands of our troops.
I openly opposed invading Iraq, because the explanations were flimsy excuses wrapped in an American flag. I felt the Bush Administration was taking advantage of the fear Americans felt after 9/11 and using it to justify a war against a country that had no involvement in that event.
To this day, we still do not have a reasonable explanation of why we invaded Iraq.
I don’t feel that way about Syria.
There’s compelling evidence the current President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons. That’s important because nations of the free world decided that using these weapons was outside the bounds of human decency, an act more effective at terrorizing civilians than winning wars.
Another perspective: In the four years I worked for the Anniston Star in Anniston, Ala., I reported on the incineration of the chemical weapons stockpile there. It was contentious business but was necessary because of deadlines imposed by an international treaty.
I distinctly remember visiting the chemical weapons incinerator for an assignment. I had to wear a full suit and a mask that suctioned onto my face. I was told I had to shave my beard to prevent any nerve agent from penetrating my suit. I was told that even a single molecule was potentially lethal.
In short, I learned you don’t screw around with the stuff and you certainly don’t condone its use.
Yes, Saddam Hussein also used those weapons in Iraq and I opposed military action there. Shouldn’t I be opposed to taking action in Syria?
What I opposed in Iraq was a full-scale invasion and a near-endless commitment of our resources to rebuilding another country’s government. That’s not what President Obama is proposing in Syria.
Conflating the two is a meaningless distraction.
What’s important, in my view, is the message we’re trying to send to the international community. We are on record as supporting efforts to eradicate these weapons. We have the capability to take action, though the actual outcome would be debatable.
If we mean what we say about wanting to be a beacon for other nations, then we have to mean what we say about what a free and just society should look like.
We’ve determined that a free and just society doesn’t use chemical weapons. We aren’t the only nation on earth that feels this way.
Syria has made it clear it doesn’t share our opinion on the subject. We have made it clear that we have drones.
I don’t see that we have much of a choice. It’s a gut-wrenching choice, to be sure, but it’s the burden that we must bear if we are indeed the leaders we say we are.
I am intrigued that President Obama has asked Congress to give its approval for military intervention. Congress isn’t known for its ability to make decisions these days. As I watched his announcement on TV, I thought, “This is either the most brilliant political decision this president has ever made or he’s lost his mind.”
There are several intriguing theories about why he chose this route, including a test of Congress’ appetite for a military action in Iran. I’m not sure how much his motivation really matters.
What matters is the consequences of our failure to act.
We ignore these crazy regimes at our own peril.