While the tension of anticipation of a US led attack on Syria torques the world we have to ask how the cruel deaths of 350 by nerve-gas will be rectified by this. How many bodies will sprawl beneath the Cruise missile attacks? Will it matter if the bodies are of Syrian army privates instead of civilian children? Will their deaths be more ‘gentle’ or acceptable than those caused by nerve agents? On the other hand, should the use of chemical weapons be ignored? Isn’t that ‘sending a signal’ also?
The goal of any intervention in any hostility, whether a hostage taking or a civil war, is to move people away from the surging emotions of kill or be killed to calmer considerations of the risks of continuing and the benefits of laying down the weapons. Will a series of targeted ‘surgical’ strikes calm anything down? Here are two sets of ideas, one from a friend in Boulder, CO.
The news from Syria of more deaths and the allegations of the use of chemical weapons is horrifying. But military intervention is not the answer to this crisis. The United States should vigorously pursue diplomacy with all the countries and coalitions of the region, including Russia, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
President Obama should join with other heads of state to convene a summit to focus on restricting the flow of weapons, creating incentives for armed actors to comply with international humanitarian law and build support for non-military intervention options.
The United States should quickly increase humanitarian aid to the region and request the United Nations Security Council to ask the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes in Syria.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, has publicly cautioned that military action will not provide a long-term solution. But there are others in the administration and Congress arguing for military action, including air strikes. Let’s not let our outrage and concern narrow our vision. Encouraging armed conflict in the region has not and will not succeed in bringing peace to the Syrians.
I support strong, immediate, coordinated international action to de-escalate the violence and hold perpetrators on all sides accountable.
Several letters to the editor in the NY Times have serious reservations about the wisdom or morality of bombing. This one by Aviva Cantor is particularly good, proposing alternative courses of action:
Before the United States dives into another intractable intervention, we should take a small but significant step into the shark-infested Syrian waters with a major humanitarian action:
We should develop regular and reliable contact with the field hospitals and provide large amounts of high-quality medical supplies to them and to the victims, both of the chemical attacks and the bombings, through airdrops into carefully pinpointed areas.
We should also fly in helicopters to airlift the most life-threatened victims to either a hospital ship or to the closest hospitals in countries bordering Syria. Ambulances should also be stationed at the Israeli, Lebanese and Turkish borders to transport the seriously wounded to the closest hospitals in these countries. Priority in these evacuations should be given to children.
These actions would not only save lives and demonstrate America’s humanitarian concerns and its recognition of the urgent need to address them, but also serve to “test the waters” to determine if military intervention is necessary, possible and conducive to success.
It’s reasonable, and strategic, to think that a massive humanitarian effort to take care of the unwilling wounded would reap enormous rewards, and that sending in bombs will likely earn retribution. [Two airline explosions, including PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and one deadly hi-jacking, were revenge ordered my Muammar Gaddafi for President Ronald Reagan’s bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986.]
If some military response seems necessary, why not begin with the same tools which the Syrian Electronic Army used to disrupt the NY Times and Twitter yesterday? If the chemical attacks in Ghouta were the work of the actual Syrian Army and if more are likely to come, electronic evidence and interdiction of the delivery systems, the command and control, as it is called, should be a first line of attack. Disrupting delivery of new weapons and ammunition should be high on the list, whether by hard-ball negotiations with suppliers outside of Syria, legal restraining orders or massive checks along the borders. A big task of course, but if we’re throwing money into moving the 6th Fleet around the Mediterranean and burning it up in missile attacks why not divert it to something more likely to ramp down the hostilities than ramp them up?
And if the perpetrators of nerve-agent attacks should be held accountable, as most of us think they should be, it can wait until after the fighting starts. A growing record of holding those responsible of war-crimes to account tells us this can be done. And while we’re after nerve-gas war criminals , what about the Iraqis who used in against their own countrymen in 1988? Not just 350 but 3,500 or more, dead.
And what about the Americans who knew about Hussein’s use of such gas? Hundreds to thousands of Iranian soldiers were killed by Iraq gas attacks on the Fao peninsula, April of 1988.
If those who knew and did nothing are now gone themselves, at least like baseball record holders who have used steroids, their names should be remembered with a asterisk next to them: turned a blind eye to nerve gas use.