A Memo to President Obama…

A devestated Syria

A country already devastated by internecine conflict

 …No Unilateral Strike on Syria!!

Once again the saber rattlers in Washington are seriously considering a military action in an Islamic country in order to “liberate” the people from an oppressive government.  As the Obama Administration reviews evidence that the Syrian government has used poison  gas  against opponents of the embattled Assad regime, talk of an air strike  in Syria is growing louder even as the polls show that a majority of Americans want no part of it, this writer included.

This growing opposition to American intervention is fueled by a combination of war weariness and the belief that American treasure can be put to better use rebuilding our country and rescuing millions of Americans from economic desperation. There is also widespread skepticism about the so-called “evidence,” for it evokes bitter memories of the Bush Administrations “evidence” regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  Even in a nation famous for historical amnesia, this four trillion dollar debacle has not been forgotten – especially when the American Society of Civil Engineers have calculated that we could have completely rebuilt the entire infrastructure of the US, laying the basis for a new economic takeoff, for half that price.

While I cannot be counted as a fellow isolationist in lockstep with the Libertarians who believe  the US should never intervene in the affairs of a sovereign country no matter what, and even oppose the granting of foreign aid – i.e. Ron and Rand Paul – I am nonetheless cautious about American intervention in other countries.  Needless to say, as a humanitarian and one who cares deeply about the future of our country, I believe we cannot ignore genuine cases of genocide in the world, and the idea of cutting off all foreign aid from the richest country in on earth is irresponsible and dangerous nonsense!

Like the Chinese, I think our foreign policy should be largely oriented toward aid, trade and technical assistance and less toward military actions.  But I also believe that Chinese indifference to questions of human rights in their foreign policy is amoral, such as in the Sudan,  and here they can learn something from us. 

If morality is to play any role in foreign policy, and I believe the world will be a more dangerous place without it, there are situations where the deployment of military force in a foreign country can be a heroic and benevolent act.  The invasion of Nazi Germany to liberate the Jews, and a proposed invasion of Rwanda to prevent genocide are obvious situations where US intervention would be justified.

However more often than not, American military intervention has been a disaster, both for the US and the people in the countries under attack.  Iran, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, et al are excellent cases in point.  Not to mention the countless US interventions in Latin American counties, often subverting the democratic will of the people if it didn’t compliment American interests in the region – such as the overthrow of Dr. Salvador Allende in Chile.  

In every instance these interventions were justified with high minded rhetoric about promoting freedom and democracy…despite abundant evidence to the contrary.  At one point cynics about the real aims of American foreign policy began to refer to the CIA the “Community Interventionist Agency,” and the American claim as “freedom fighters” was met with the retort: “Yes, they fight freedom everywhere!”

Obviously, international relations being the complicated mess that it is there is no easy or simple answer to the question of military intervention in foreign countries.  While the strict Chinese policy of non-intervention into the internal affairs of other nations serves the interest of China well, since rapid domestic development and modernization is their paramount objective at this juncture in their history, if the rest of the world adopted a similar position every variety of evil tyrant and murderous mad man could use national sovereignty as a shield behind which to commit all manner of evil against their people, including genocide.

The way in which the US has treated Afro-Americans and Native Americans for most of its history is a strong case in point.  And although American military power made intervention unthinkable by other countries – even if they had the inclination to do so – the arrival of the Cold War in the mid-twentieth century and the coincidental rise of anti-colonial national liberation movements that resulted in the emergence of a host of newly independent non-white nations exerted tremendous pressure on the US to scrap its racist policies.

For the ruling elites in the US this dramatic about face was not a question of morality, as it is so often represented, but was dictated by the need to win the hearts and minds of the millions who lived in the “Bandung World” in order to prevent them from aligning with the Communist block led by the increasingly powerful, nuclear armed, Soviet Union.

This political reality was far more powerful than moral preachment in convincing many in the US government to dismantle racial apartheid.  Hence as a member of a powerless minority that has suffered great oppression from our government and witnessed genocide against Native Americans, I could never be persuaded to adopt a position of non-intervention no matter what that is the mantra of the Libertarian fringe of the Republican Party.

Having said this however, I feel that the US cannot continue to pursue go it alone policies, as if America has been appointed the moral arbiter of the world by some divine power – as some of my fellow citizens appear to believe.  For we have neither the wisdom nor the wealth to carry out such a task.  Hence the Obama Administration must heed the warning of the United Nations not to launch a unilateral strike, or an attack by an American made “coalition of the willing” such as we witnessed in Iraq.  Instead the US government must follow the norms of international law, and submit their findings before the UN and allow the international community of nations to act on it.

It is no secret that I believe that in messy matters of foreign policy President Obama has acted with Solomonic wisdom.  Yet because his actions must be governed by the imperatives of defending American interests in the world, while protecting the homeland against terrorist assault from the Islamic Jihadists, he will never satisfy the committed pacifist or the self-righteous ideologues on the left.  

 The President is about to make what I believe will prove to be a foreign policy blunder of historic proportions if he plunges headlong into the Syrian conflict without a genuine debate in the UN, and awaiting the unbiased conclusion of the international team of UN weapons inspectors who are assessing the situation on the ground in Syria.

Are more bombs the answer here?
A devastated Syria
A country in desperate need of peace

If we have learned anything from the colossal blunder in Iraq it is the folly of launching a military assault based on inadequate or inaccurate information.  The fact that there may have been toxic gas used in Syria, as the intelligence seems to suggest, does not tell us who used it.   And of this we must be sure before we commit American blood and treasure in that conflict. 

Furthermore, even if the Obama Administration is convinced that their intelligence proves it was the Syrian government – who controls one of the largest stock piles of chemical weapons on earth – that gave the order, they must still submit that evidence and allow the UN to adjudicate the matter.

We should also have learned by now that it is far easier to start a war than to end one, as the present attempts to disengage from a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan makes all too clear.  And that sometimes the “cure” turns out to be worse than the disease…especially in the Islamic world, a region of unfathomable complexities and contradictions.  The Syrian situation has the warning “beware of quagmires!” emblazoned all over it like a flashing neon sign.  For all these reasons, and possibly more, the US must not launch a unilateral attack on Syria!

 

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Playthell  G. Benjamin

San Francisco, California

August 28, 2013

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