Last week, I wrote a column about the need to do something concerning the Syrian chemical weapons attack and genocide. I received some comments from readers about not getting involved in Syria. I agree on many levels, but there is that nasty, gnawing sense that we need to do something and can’t let governments commit atrocities without having some moral and world outrage.
The problem is that the Syrian government has done a whole lot more than gassing more than 1,400 people in August. The United Nations estimates that 100,000 people have died. Not all these deaths have been at the hands of the government of Syria; some have been by the hands of the opposition. However, if Syria’s government had allowed free elections and more democracy, perhaps there would not have been a gassing of Syrian citizens and a “loyal” opposition would have been created.
Bashar al-Assad, the “president,” aka dictator, of Syria was trained as a medical doctor in Syria and then trained in London for four years. He clearly speaks English, and a call from President Obama would be understood without translation. Syria, important to Russia and even the European Union, used to be very important to the United States. James Baker, secretary of state under President Herbert Walker Bush, visited Syria 12 times, Warren Christopher, secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, visited Syria a whopping 29 times and even Secretary Colin Powell, secretary of state under George W. Bush, visited three times.
Now, President Obama is saying that there should be strikes after he gets congressional approval. This makes no sense on many, many levels. First, Assad could easily remove and bury the means to deliver chemical weapons. Even an air strike removing helicopters and planes would not eliminate all the methods of delivery of chemical weapons. Second, there is nothing to prevent Assad from using human shields to protect sites with at least two weeks’ warning that any direct strike would kill innocents or political opposition forces that Bashar and his army had been able to capture. Not getting congressional approval also provides an out for President Obama as well. He could wiggle out of strikes by saying the American people will not agree and, therefore, he will not engage our military.
The civil war and opposition has been taking place for more than two years. Sanctions have not been successful, so imposing more is also not going to be effective. Air/missile strikes with two weeks of warning and of very short duration, as the White House has planned, will most likely not work, either. It will be too little, too late.
President Obama should have kept the door open with Syria. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should have been visiting Syria. Many secretaries of state have talked about force, as John Kerry did during his speech last Friday. There have been numerous references to the “velvet glove, iron fist” that has often been a hallmark of U.S. policy.
The president has made it clear that he will not meet with President Putin alone when he is at the G-20 in Russia this week. Like closing the door with Assad and Syria, it is a dumb, “hear no evil, see no evil” approach. All doors should be open.
That doesn’t mean we don’t cajole, threaten or give the carrot-and-stick approach to Assad and Syria. We have the power to send in missiles, drones and more.
We can’t simply do nothing with such widespread killing and the use of chemical weapons. We have a moral duty to do stop killing of citizens by governments, but we must exhaust the use of a telephone and visits by our secretary of state first. Velvet glove and iron fist has worked at other times and is worth a try now.