For earlier articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.
President Obama’s response to the terror and crimes against humanity underway in Syria, and that of his national security team and military leadership, bespeak a lack of moral courage at the highest levels.
It appears that Obama, as the Observer has noted for some time, can only be moved by the arguments of electoral politics, by factors that might affect his bid for reelection to the presidency in November, 2012.
This itself is an enormously sad statement. But it is the duty of the best journalists, and others including academics who write about public affairs–particularly those who live in free societies–to speak truth to power.
U.S. policy towards Syria has been described by Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Daily Star in Beirut, where citizens have direct experience living under Syrian occupation and a birds-eye view of current developments in neighboring Syria, as “pathetic”.
It is difficult to conclude otherwise.
What words other than “lack of moral courage” (or even “moral cowardice”) can be used to accurately describe decisions regarding Syria by the highest leaders of the U.S. government to not develop robust military options that are available to the president for immediate execution? At least up until now, when Senator McCain’s call for air attacks on Syrian forces raises the spectre of Syria becoming an issue in the fall elections.
How might one characterize decisions by the U.S. to not lead a drive within NATO to develop contingency plans for military intervention in Syria, to not move military assets to the Eastern Mediterranean, or to have U.S. military leaders publicly declare that military intervention is not an option?
Or to have our military leaders tell Congress that military intervention in Syria would be difficult, too hard, to tell Congress the U.S. could not intervene militarily until it knows more about the people who are being slaughtered in Syria, understands exactly what the costs would be, and knows what the outcome would be?
It appears that we now have a military leadership that will not act in any situation unless they know what it will cost and what the outcome will be. That is the military that fights the Taliban with drones, with executions of targets placed on “kill lists”, which seeks to ensure the security of the United States by deploying these same methods through the Middle East and Southwest Asia and the northern parts of Africa.
With these methods the casualties are known, for the drone operators working the night shift somewhere in the United States–or maybe even closer to the field of combat–do not have to risk their lives to fight their war. They can kill the enemy with no personal risk, by remote control.
To be sure, others do risk their lives, and they deserve the highest praise for their valor and courage in fighting for the objectives the U.S. political leadership has set for them. Even the drone operators in the employ of the U.S. military deserve our deep respect, for their work is certainly not risk-free in a psychological sense, as many may subsequently suffer deep psychological problems as a result of their work.
But now the country that would attack Iran, if it doesn’t halt its pursuit of nuclear weapons, offers to Congress as an excuse for inaction in Syria the fact that the country’s air defenses may be five times more difficult to take down than Libya’s were.
No comparison is made with Serbia, where the U.S. military performed admirably in defeating the air defenses of the Milosovic regime as it was committing crimes against humanity in Kosovo.
Have we forgotten also that the United States posseses an awesome arsenal of cruise missiles, which could undoubtedly give al-Assad a wake-up call if there were a firm commitment in the White House to stop the killing in Syria?
The latest arguments, just leaked to the press in the last few days, revolve around Syria’s possession of chemical and perhaps biological weapons. We don’t really know if there is any more substance to this argument than there was in 2003 when WMD was the rationale for taking down Sadam Hussein’s air defenses and invading Iraq. (Incidentally, the U.S. performed rather impressively in taking down Iraq’s air defenses.)
Moreover, this argument ignores the impact in Syria that active military intervention by the U.S. and coalition partners would be likely to have within the Syrian government and military leadership circles.
WMD may represent a risk, but does that mean than military action is forestalled? How is such an argument likely to affect Iran in deciding whether or not to acquire a nuclear weapons capability or nuclear weapons?
So, now that Senator McCain has called for military intervention with air strikes, the president begins to develop military options for dealing with Syria.
Unfortunately, we are now faced with a disastrous situation due to the U.S. administration’s presumed support of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s decision to name Kofi Annan as a mediator on behalf on the U.N. and the Arab League, to mediate the cessation of the crimes against humanity and war crimes that are underway. Annan, who as former Secretary General cannot be viewed as lacking in self-esteem, has laid claim to being the mediator of the only mediation process with al-Assad and his murderous regime.
Now, today, Annan spoke out loudly against any military intervention.
One can hardly imagine developments more favorable to al-Assad. Kofi Annan and his mediation effort–for as long as it continues–function as a shield against military attack, dividing the leaders of the civilized world. It gives al-Assad control over the pace of the mediation efforts, and even if he reached an agreement–as he did with the Arab League in the fall–there would be further delay to ascertain whether or to what extent he had complied with it, and diplomatic consultations to determine how to react to violations, and what to do next.
During all of this time, the Syrian Dictator would be able to continue the commission of mass atrocities and the use of all the tools of a modern police state to hunt down each and every one of his opponents, and to summarily dispense with them.
Annan’s mission should be halted if it doesn’t produce a cessation of the killing by al-Assad’s forces within the next seven days. Such a cessation of hostilities should be its first and only aim, until the killing stops.
The U.S. response to events in Syria has been cynical and craven, and is indeed in Michael Young’s words “pathetic”.
Now, because Obama seems only able to respond to arguments with potential electoral impact, what is needed is some moral courage on the part of Democratic leaders in the Senate and the House.
It is time for them to speak out, loudly, to the President, to the American people, and to the world.
There may be leaders in the Democratic Party who abhor the lack of moral courage that has been evidenced to date on Syria, who will speak out, and who may even launch a challenge–within the Democratic Party or in a third party–to Obama’s reelection as president.
That would involve electoral logic. It could potentially move President Obama to act. It appears that nothing else will.
The Trenchant Observer
–For earlier articles by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.
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