Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Drums of War on Syria

It's Labor Day weekend and the roads are abuzz with frenetic vacationers towing trailers and boats, all the paraphernalia of our true national religion, the pursuit of leisure. And the hills around here are about to take on their fall sheen of color while the fields are full of the last wildflowers of the summer, lilies, golden rod, foxgloves, Queen Anne's Lace. That's how we roll; we take to the roads to escape, finding a place by a lakeside or a seashore to pause on the precipice before plunging into the mad rush of fall - school, sports, the gathering of harvests of all kinds in the face of the coming darkness of winter.
It's appropriate that in these days we are faced with a collective danger in the form of the Syrian crisis that has caused us to pause before the precipice and take stock. Are we the world's policeman? Is it in the nation's interest to be enforcing international conventions on the use of chemical weapons? If so, is a missile strike an effective form of action against the madness of Assad?
Obama has showed his strategic sense again by placing the onus on our do-nothing Congress to make the call. By doing so, he has wisely given us a chance to reflect before taking any irreversible steps that could lead to unintended consequences, as wars seem wont to do.
It's true that the collective American will seems burnt out, a fatigue has set in at the sound of the drums of war after two Middle Eastern adventures over the last decade or so have led to no greater sense of stability or security and have drained our treasury and taken a toll on countless lives here and abroad.
For those who haven't seen it, I recommend watching the PBS segment of News Hour with David Brooks and Mark Shields debating the Syrian situation. For me, these two guys are a hope for a revival of civility in our political discourse - Shields the old-time voice of Kennedy liberalism and Brooks the face of Republican moderation and common sense. They seem to be bucking the sentiments of their political brethren, with Shields calling for restraint and questioning the use of unilateral American power and Brooks playing the internationalist card of world order and stability dependent on outing Assad for his atrocious misuse of chemicals against his own people.
My own thoughts are that at this point our action or inaction will make little difference to the situation on the ground in the suburbs and hospitals of Damascus or elsewhere for people victimized by the horrors of this civil war. Going forward, there is a consensus that America has no true dog in this fight and that our best bet is to let the conflagration burn itself out without allowing it to spread.

(Illustration: English civil war drummer bronze statue by John McKenna, from Wikimedia Commons)

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