Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday Column

Here's my latest in our local newspaper:

I’m no foreign policy expert, but I can read; and whereas I often don’t remember why I walked into a particular room, I haven’t yet forgotten what’s happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Egypt, Libya, or, for that matter, Vietnam. My opinion isn’t worth as much as Sarah Palin’s or Bill Clinton’s, but I still feel like expressing it on the matter of Syria. Summary version: I don’t like it, I think we’ll regret it, and I’m not buying the stated reasons. I’ve been wrong about many things over the years; I hope to heck this is another one. 
I’m referring to President Obama’s decision to send arms (overtly) to the rebels there. “Overtly” is parenthesized because I’d bet my leftover nutbar that we’ve already been aiding them in many ways, including seeing to it that arms find a way into their arms. What’s changed? Bashar al-Assad using gas on his people? The more one reads, the less convincing is the evidence. And even if it’s true, in what way does modus mortis matter? The claim is that around two hundred people have died from it. Compared to nearly a hundred thousand by “conventional” means. Which is the masser destruction, the deader death? 
But the essential question is this: on what basis shall we expect finally to succeed in changing the historical flow of a civil war? There’s only one instance in which intervention turned out in our favor; and that was after we flagrantly failed to accomplish a damn thing: Vietnam. In which I served. In which more soldiers died, by far, than in any subsequent intervention. A war we “lost,” only to see the enemy become a kinda-capitalist trading partner and a burgeoning tourist destination. Irony abounds. 
Mr. Assad is a bad guy. I don’t claim to understand the internecine convulsions of Syria, nor the implications and stakes of the involvement of its neighbors and allies in the conflict. I’m certain the complexities are so great that strong arguments have been made to our president from all sides. He had only bad choices; but, in the end, what presidents must do is choose. 
I confess that, not unlike the teabag wing of the Republican Party, who’ll disagree with Obama simply because it’s Obama, I have a reflexive tendency to think that if John “Which way is the camera?” McCain and Lindsey “It pains me to say this” Graham are for something, I’m against it. But unlike the Tea Party’s reaction to our president, mine to the die-namic duo isn’t paranoid fantasy. Shoulder to shoulder (and head to another body part) with Cheney and Bush, they were cosmically, surpassingly wrong in every claim they made before, during, and after the Iraq debacle. Same with Fox “news” drum-beaters, like Karl “Who, us?” Rove. 
I found it hugely telling when McCain made his showboating visit to Syrian rebels, and got himself photographed palling around with terrorists, according to several reports. It’ll be easy, he’d claimed, to determine which rebels we should arm and which we shouldn’t. After which he proceeded to step in it with both feet. Easy, huh? We just ask which ones haven’t cut out a soldier’s heart and eaten it lately. (You know that happened, right?) Weaponize only those who’ve forsworn meals of myocardium. 
Begun by Jimmy Carter to stick it to the Soviets in Afghanistan, then greatly expanded by Ronald Reagan, we gave all manner of armament to the Mujahideen there. Who eventually became Al-Qaeda. Oops. In Syria, and everywhere in that region, there are implacable tribal and religious divisions, with enemies of enemies joining with and separating from each other as the winds blow hot and hotter. If Assad is a loathsome despot, he also enjoys significant support among many of his people. What, then, are the rules for picking sides? Can we predict the outcome? We couldn’t in Vietnam, or Iryptistanya. The hardest decision is to take the longest view: that oppression eventually collapses under its own weight; and lasting results occur when it happens “naturally.” Think Russia, sort of. Or China, kinda. 
I abhor the mounting deaths in Syria, and, perpetually, all over our planet. It’s becoming what humans do best. Of course civilized people want the killing to stop. From what I’ve read, it had been President Obama’s instinct, though, to recognize the folly of limited engagement, and the undesirability of full-out war. In the end, he made a choice among impossibilities. Eventually, we’ll find out if it was the right one.

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