It is axiomatic that nothing of value is obtained easily. That rule applies to democracy. As the oldest democracy in the World, we Americans should know the rule and all of its permutations. It seems, however, that we forget too often – blinded, perhaps, by our self importance and the fact that someone appointed us the world’s cop. Without determining who that “someone” is or verifying his authority to make such appointments, we are off again threatening to interfere with the painful process by which a people obtain democracy.
Through a more or less democratic election, Egyptians chose Mohamed Morsi’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood, to lead them. A year following that choice, it appears that a lot of Egyptians decided that Morsi was terrible and they demonstrated, then rioted and then sought and obtained the intervention of the army to oust Morsi and his government. There was no process to electorally recall Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. There was no call for another election. There was simply the forcible removal of the guy by the army, against which the people had revolted before. When the army deposed Morsi, it also forcibly quelled demonstrations and riots by Morsi supporters and then by army opponents and Egyptian society is collapsing into chaos. The United States is being vilified for not intervening and for being solicited to intervene and it is claimed vehemently by some that the United States is in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood to destroy Egypt.
Syria presents a different history and a different challenge, but I think the same dilemma. There, the Government has claimed it is democratic. Indeed, there is a constitution and elections have been held. Participation in those elections is restricted to those who don’t oppose the ruling party. Clearly, it is not a democratic country.
Historically, Syria is more of an area than a state or country. It is culturally diverse – a fact the Alawite ruling clique exploits. Although Syria has been in a state of civil war for the better part of fifty years, mass demonstrations last year brought the wrath of the army of Bashar al-Assad into the streets with its formidable weaponry. The consequences have been gory, huge and ongoing – leading to the latest outrage of the use of toxic chemicals – apparently by the Assad government troops. This last fact has raised the specter of American military response.
Long before evidence of the use of chemical weapons, President Obama was implored to use American force to support the rebel forces arraigned against the Assad government. He demurred, pointing out that it as not possible for the United States to identify a sufficiently organized rebel force to whom we could trust American made weapons. Indeed, it appeared then and appears now that this country’s most virulent enemy, al qaeda, holds substantial sway among the Syrian rebels.
Many, many Americans are banging at the White House doors insisting that the Country’s mighty weaponry be released to damage Assad and his nasty friends – to hold them accountable, the rubric goes. The horror of chemical weapons use is apparently more so than the months of using of conventional weaponry that has killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of Syrians in the cause of Assad holding on to this position.
It would be, in my opinion, a mistake for the President to relent on this issue. It might well be worse than just a mistake.
The fundamental lesson that a people – no matter the cultural or racial diversity – must learn on the road to democracy is that they must unite to fight autocracy. Rather than invite a devastating attack from the United States, the use of chemical weapons by Assad should have caused this uniting, coming together, common front. If that is not going to happen among the Syrian rebels, then it isn’t going to happen following an American attack on Assad and a number of other bad things will likely happen.
It is apparently technically as well as intuitively true that a missile hit on the chemical weapons supply would endanger everyone for many miles around – including those in other countries. Destroying lesser military targets would leave the chemical weapons available to Assad, even if an attack on other targets limited his military ability. With all due respect to the sophistication of cruise missiles, launching them in such a way as to destroy Assad’s defense of his regime seems very unlikely. That means, I think, that after a major missile attack, Assad will remain standing and a whole lot of collateral damage will probably occur.
A complete military solution to the inhumanity of Assad could be obtained by a massive ground assault by an “international force”. Such an invasion would face the immediate problem of sorting out who was and who was not an Alawite acolyte, an al qeada zealot or an ordinary, trustworthy rebel. The sorting, of course, would mean that we would be back in the impossible business of nation building again. That, of course, is the job of the people in the nation and not ours.
There simply has to be another way to register ours and the rest of the world’s disgust with Assad. However much the use of chemical weapons is agreed to be a crime against humanity, the Arab countries are not endorsing a military response. By implication, we are not authorized as matter of common sense to bring an American gun to this conflict. It seems starkly clear that Assad is a war criminal and that he ought to be brought to justice for that status. The people at The Hague ought to be putting the case together and seeking an indictment and then an arrest warrant issued. Then Assad is a fugitive and there is an undisputed right to arrest him wherever he is found. Such a well publicized procedure would certainly dissuade underlings from cooperation in the scheme to kill Syrian citizens.
Finally, at this writing it appears that anything we do militarily would be on our own. The British parliament has refused to authorize military action – at least until the United Nations Inspectors report and maybe not even then. The Arab League just doesn’t think military intervention would accomplish anything and the United Nations Security Council would be stopped from authorizing an assault by expected vetoes from Russia or China. It is unlikely that Congress would authorize an armed attack of any sort unless it would mean some sort of additional damage to the Obama administration. The President would be utterly and completely alone in such an effort. What needs doing in this country by this President would then not get done while the Republicans and the Media eat up time and energy in the ensuing feeding frenzy.