On Syria

Peace Dove pinYesterday at lunch, my friend asked me what I thought of Obama’s decision to order airstrikes in Syria. I had to think about it for a while, because my thinking on it is far from settled.

I wish I had the freedom to decide on the merits whether I think ISIL/ISIS represents a threat to us necessitating air strikes. But the truth is I’m having trouble evaluating current threat clearly because past threat has been sold to us by liars at the highest level. Condoleezza Rice and her mushroom cloud. Shock and awe. Colin Powell and the lie of WMDs. Fox News and the misinformation campaign to convince Americans (including some in my family) that Saddam Hussein ordered 9/11.

Add to that, bonanza profits for war privatizers.  Cost of war in the trillions. Cost of life in the hundreds of thousands. And most of all the failure to spend our treasure on education, American infrastructure, preventative public health, improving the safety net for people struggling here.

The news tells us Americans are war-weary. Is that true of you? Where that shows up for me is concern about missing a real threat because my government has cried wolf for so many years. Is ISIL real threat, or more of the same?  

My friend is a former Republican activist, now a Democrat and the strongest supporter of Hillary Clinton that I know. Hillary is a war hawk, which is just one reason I look elsewhere for my presidential candidates. My friend is a war hawk, too. I am not. I’m not a pacifist, or I would feel inconsistent honoring my father’s contributions to combat intelligence in the Army Air Corps, Pacific Theater, World War II. I had no trouble speaking out against the Iraq War or Vietnam. Diplomacy interests me more, war as occasional fall-back strategy, not as permanent condition. Most Americans fall in that category.

“The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force, so the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.”

“There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil.”

    – Pullouts from Obama’s speech to U.N. General Assembly

“Killers like this” … “network of death” …. “this brand of evil”. President Obama could be channeling George W. Bush. This should worry anybody.

There are beheadings now, and capturing of oil facilities, a revenue for ISIL when combined with ransom for those they’ve kidnapped that potentially could generate enough cash to make them nuclear players. Worrisome, but we’re nowhere near that now. My friend trusts the president to be sensible, and create a coalition more grounded in reality than the BS “coalition of the willing” that Bush trumpeted.

I am not as sure of this, and also strongly believe what we’re doing in Syria now is not a defensive move but an offensive one, and one that should require the president to seek congressional authorization. Senator Tim Kaine, who Obama chose in his first term to run the Democratic Party for him, believes that. Rep. Rush Holt, a former arms control expert for the U.S. State Department, signed a letter to the President urging him not to attack Syria without congressional approval. Eighteen Democrats signed that. But so did 98 Republicans, including Frank LoBiondo and Scott Garrett. And I don’t think it was a knee-jerk FU to the Democratic president.

First time I remember being aware of Obama was a vividly anti-Iraq War speech he delivered standing next to Jesse Jackson in Chicago in 2002. He called Karl Rove a “hack,” and talked about the War as a ploy engineered to divert Americans’ attention from the real stuff that impacts lives; people who couldn’t get health care, spiking poverty, falling median income, corporate scandals. All, he said, issues that particularly affect minority people. In 2002, he sounded like he was channeling Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

I struggle with my faith in this president. And I’m more interested in the part of him that believe aches to address American needs, and American problems; I believe to a degree in his vision of himself as a shift in direction from Bush’s open-ended war.

But this is the president who just weeks ago called for repeal of the congressional authorization for Bush’s Iraq War, then turned around just days ago citing it as the basis for airstrikes against Syria. Clearly the priorities Obama envisioned for his own presidency are not settled, and subject to a very sudden shift in direction.

And so are mine. If this post seems indefinite, or inconclusive, it probably is. My mind on Syria is far from settled.  

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