“The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat.” ~ Candidate Barrack Obama, 2007
The Drums of War have begun to beat in earnest as political leaders around the world call for immediate strikes on Syria, point fingers, place blame and threaten each other with annihilation. The UN weapons inspectors haven’t even left the country yet, let alone reached a verdict in the horrible gas attacks that claimed the lives of more than a thousand innocent Syrians. But the US seems convinced Assad attacked his own people. France has rockets ready to launch. Britain isn’t quite as sure, but they seem willing to go along with America. Assad blames the insurgents and al-Qaeda. China is making vague threats to the West. Russia is blustering and backing Assad. Iran is threatening Israel. And Israel is threatening to destroy anybody who attacks her.
If you will, please allow me to speak directly to the heads of state for just a moment:
Mr. Obama, Mr. Putin, Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Assad, Mr. Rouhani, Mr. Cameron, Mr. Hollande, and Mr. Jinping. I have an idea. I understand you are all fired up right now, and justifiably so; but might I offer a suggestion? Perhaps you guys could all get together, smoke a shitload of weed and discuss things amongst yourselves for a minute. I think that once this happens you might just chill the fuck out and decide to exercise a little restraint instead of your military might. And not to get too personal, but I have a vacation coming up in a couple of days, so if you could go ahead and NOT start WWIII right now, that would be great. Cool? Thanks.
Okay. I’m back. Problem solved.
In all seriousness, I have mixed feelings about what kind of response we should make in Syria. While I’m not diametrically opposed to intervention, I also think we need to look at what happened in Iraq following that invasion before we get bogged down in another quagmire in the Middle East—maybe even more so in Syria than in Iraq or Afghanistan. I’m certainly not a foreign policy expert, but with the major players and their respective arsenals involved, I think it’s probably best to exercise caution as opposed to charging in swinging and hoping for the best. At the very least, we should determine who is actually responsible for these latest attacks before launching a few hundred Tomahawk cruise missiles in the general direction of Damascus.
And speaking of cruise missiles, WMD’s, ground invasions and a dictatorial regime that uses poison gas on their own people, this whole thing with Syria is starting to sound oddly familiar…
As an infantry squad leader, I was part of the occupation of Iraq. My unit was deployed to Kirkuk for 14 months in 2004 and ’05. Things hadn’t reached a boiling point at that time but the water was definitely heating up, and even as a 24 year old kid I could see that Iraq was on the verge of being ripped apart by sectarian violence and all out civil war. Of course, looking back now, that’s exactly what happened. US troops are, at long last, gone from Iraq, along with the old chemical-weapons-deploying regime of Sadam Hussein. And the country has collapsed into turmoil. The cost? More than 4,800 Coalition Troops killed along with some 1,500 contractors and a few hundred-thousand Iraqis. Mission accomplished? Not quite. Perhaps we should learn from history—recent history at that—and consider our options before rushing into a conflict with Syria.
I can hear a few of you screaming now, “How can we turn our backs when innocent people are being murdered?” You know what? I happen to feel the same way about the ongoing genocide in Darfur, but I don’t see us rushing to save those people. Let me know when you figure out why that is. And you’re right. If it turns out that Assad is responsible for the CW attacks on his people, we have some important decisions to make. Some complicated, morality based decisions. Do we turn a blind eye and say that we can’t get involved because America is not in imminent danger? Part of me – the part that still thinks that the Constitution means something – says “yes,” that’s exactly what we do. But another part of me, the part that wants to stick up for those who are weaker, says we have to have a measured yet appropriately forceful response to ensure it doesn’t happen again. I think the keyword, in whatever we do, is measured. No matter how justified it may seem, we can’t rush into another war that will likely cost hundreds of thousands of lives (if not millions), and see us trapped in a country that doesn’t want us there ten years from now.
Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C. One of my favorite things Mr. King ever wrote is this: “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” I’ve always tried to live my life based on those words. Reading them now, I can almost see how they could, ironically perhaps, justify intervention in overseas affairs. At the same time, Dr. King was obviously a well-known practitioner and preacher of nonviolence.
As I watched President Obama stand in the footsteps of Dr. King and deliver his own speech yesterday, I couldn’t help but think of the War in Iraq that ran on far too long after he took office; the ongoing War in Afghanistan; the bombing of Libya; the drone strikes that have claimed the lives of countless innocent men, women and children, and at the same time think of another quote from MLK: “I want to say one other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution. President Kennedy said on one occasion, ‘Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.’ The world must hear this. I pray to God that America will hear this before it is too late, because today we’re fighting a war.”
Perhaps, Mr. President, you should reflect on those words. I, like millions of others who supported and voted for you in 2008, had hoped that there was more than rhetoric in your words. We hoped against hope that you were different, that you wouldn’t bow to the pressures of the military-industrial complex or the lobbyists that descend on Washington like an army of rats serving nothing but the almighty dollar. As I sit hear now, looking at your war record, your body counts and your long list of broken campaign promises, I can’t help but think that while many people may still compare you to the great civil rights leaders of the 60’s, it seems to many more of your former supporters, myself included, that you now resemble George W. Bush and Dick Cheney far more than you do John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King.
I won’t pretend to have all the answers. I’m just a banged-up former grunt trying to feed his family in a failing economy. I’m glad that I’m not the president and don’t have to make this call. You can’t win, either way. But I do believe that we must think long and hard before engaging in yet another bloody, brutal conflict that will claim the lives of an untold number of innocent civilians who will be—once again—caught in the crossfire.
Author: Nick Allison is just a banged-up combat infantry veteran of the War in Iraq. He lives in Austin, TX with his wife, their children and two big, dumb, ugly mongrel dogs.
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