Thursday, August 29, 2013

Syria, Obama, and More Violence as the Only Option

When President George W. Bush was gearing up to launch the invasion of Iraq under the guise of the "war on terror", a common critique was that he was using only one tool.  The cliche` "When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" was used to suggest he couldn't see beyond the military for ways of fighting Islamic extremists.  President Obama, a strong critic of the Iraq invasion is making the same mistake.

I can't imagine the amount of suffering of the Syrian people are suffering during their civil war.  Their President for life, Bashar Al-Assad, appears to be ready to hang on to power, or destroy the whole country trying.  On top of targeting civilianshiring thugs and mercenaries, he is now using chemical weapons to try and kill all the rebels.
Obama and his administration also appears to be moved by the suffering of the Syrian civilians.  So he reached into his Presidential tool bag and pulled out... the U.S. military.

The United States military has provided Barack Obama with a range of options for launching an attack on Syria and is "ready to go" with an offensive, the US defence secretary has said.
There is now a growing belief in Washington that a US strike against Syria, possibly involving cruise missiles or long-range bombers, could take place in the next few days.

I understand people wanting to do something to stop the killing, but is sending in the U.S. military to fire million-dollar-each missiles the only way?  Military action isn't clear cut.  There's no guarentee that it'll do more good than harm.  You can't kill people without expecting blowback.

Iranian lawmakers and commanders issued stark warnings to the United States and its allies on Tuesday, saying any military strike on Syria would lead to a retaliatory attack on Israel fanned by “the flames of outrage.”

This doesn't mean that U.S. policy shouldn't act based on threats of other dictators, but it's best not to pretend that launching missiles and dropping bombs is consequence free.  Also under consideration should be "collateral damage".  "Collateral damage" is, of course, a nice clinical term for accidentally killing civilians - including children.  It is also something that the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs recognizes.

Conducting limited “stand-off” missile and air strikes against “hundreds” of Syrian military facilities, advanced weapons depots and defense facilities. The operations would involve “hundreds” of aircraft, ships, submarines and other forces. Cost estimates would be “in the billions.” Syrian retaliatory attacks and collateral damage would be a likely byproduct;
(emphasis mine)

Even though they aren't targeted, and attempts will be made to avoid it, the cost of military action must be weighed against the fact that innocent people will die at the hands of American weapons.  So what else could the government do other than military action?

There's diplomatic pressure, helping Syrian refugees, supplying doctors without borders with medicine and supplies.  Those are all things that can save lives without resorting to violence.  There are Syrian refugees crammed into camps that could use additional supplies.  Think of the cost of 1 1.4 million dollar missile.  Now think about how many people could be fed and get medical care for that amount?  One might argue that it won't stop the killing, but in all likelihood, no military action would either, short of all-out invasion or treacherous, long-term airstrikes.

There could be other options that would be less destructive, like working to help seal the Syrian borders to keep the Al-Assad regime from bringing in his own troops and supplies.  In this case Obama might still be using the U.S. military, but at least it's in a way that might be less likely to get civilians killed.

Finally, I'd like to end with asking a few annoying rhetorical questions.  Why is reigning down death from American planes and ships the first and, really, only option being considered?  I read an article called Obama's 3 options in Syria and they were all varying degrees of military action.  Why is that?  Is this a product of our Culture?  A product of American Empire?  A result of 12 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Why?
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