Syrian Waves

Of the few topics I consistently refrain from writing about, I most actively avoid religion and politics. Not because I hesitate to post anything inflammatory or fear alienating potential readers, but more so because I do not know enough about either topic to write with any valid authority. That list used to include Apple rumors and speculation, but the last few weeks have seen me gradually enter that front as well. Today, I expand my topic list once again to include politics.

Just over a year ago, President Obama gave a speech in which he spoke of a “red-line” in reference to the then-year-long Syria conflict which, if crossed, would result in severe penalties to President Bashar al-Assad. That red line was the use of chemical weapons, and crossing it meant America entering the fray with decisive military force.

Despite President Obama’s explicit condemnation of chemical and biological weapons, made with the support of many other world leaders, Assad deigned to disregard the warning and massacre nearly 1,500 people just over a week ago, many of them children, using these forbidden weapons. The die had been cast, or so it seemed.

Shortly after the news broke, articles and pictures began surfacing. Rows upon rows of bodies lined dusty floors. Doctors and volunteers crowded around ashen faces with unfocusing, vacant eyes. The death toll continued to climb. As of today, that number resides close to one thousand five hundred dead, a significant potion of which were children, innocents caught in the crossfire.

On the other side of Europe, Prime Minister David Cameron set the wheels of government turning by recalling members of the House of Commons early and proposing a joint strike against Assad’s regime. In a vote that took the world by surprise, the House decided against supporting the zero-tolerance resolution against chemical weapons in Syria; Britain would not join America in holding Assad responsible for his crimes against humanity; Britain would not join America in striking Syria.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, Obama stepped up to a podium, a prepared speech at the ready. America, too, would not honor its pledge of affirmative action — at least, not yet: under the guise of offering the “war-weary” public a say in the matter, Obama schluffed the potentially unpopular decision off to Congress. Halfway across the world, Syrians almost universally lost faith in the West.

Unlike President Obama, we would be wrong to fault Britain’s Prime Minister for failing to deliver on his pledge. Cameron does not possess the same power Obama does, after all; his hands were tied. Obama, on the other hand, as Commander in Chief of the most powerful military force in existence, with the authority granted him by the Constitution of the United States of America, not only had the authority to order a strike on Syria, but the moral obligation as well. In what I can see as nothing other than a deplorable attempt at avoiding the unwarranted criticism George Bush received for declaring war on Iraq after 9/11, Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, clothed in immense power, balked when it came time to fulfill the promise he apparently errantly made on August twentieth of last year. Instead of fulfilling his duty, Obama passed it off to a group of legislators on vacation for the weekend. When those upper echelons of society finally do return from their barbecues and beach trips, I can only hope they possess the resolve, conviction, and compassion to make the decision our president should have made more than a week ago.

Meanwhile, protestors will march and chant against American intervention, preferring the wholesale demise of the weak and helpless to a few tons of bombs. Unfortunately, I cannot say I disagree with them in every regard: to those objecting to the strike as a prelude to the eventual occupation of Syria not unlike the United States now and will indefinitely occupy Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, I must agree: any military action on our part is extremely unlikely to end when the bombers drop their payloads. But to them I must also pose this question: at what loss of life must we preserve this high-brow moralism, this aversion to dictating the affairs of unstable dictatorships without respect for human life? That is the real question here, hyperbole aside.

Admittedly less important but nevertheless of great significance is the alteration in perception this affair will cause between America and the world. Regardless of whether you hold a picket sign outside the White House, dismiss the picketers as foolish, or adjust your armchair in preparation for a long-winded comment on CNN.com, you cannot argue Obama’s pledge-then-renege strategy will to some degree adversely effect the world’s opinion of the American Government’s commitment to its promises. If the American people take a pledge of support to a people facing rodent-like extermination so lightly, what else will they fall short on?

Perhaps of even greater import in the corridors of power, however, is the precedent this resolution sets. By seeking Congress’s approval, President Obama has taken an Executive decision and moved it to the Legislative branch in the name of giving “the people” a voice through their representatives. Now what will he do next month or next year when faced with a similar decision of whether or not to take military action: will he once again ask “the people” for approval, or disregard their wishes — for that is the sole alternative — and make the choice himself? Having framed this significant decision as one he will make with the public’s input, the implication being that had he made the choice, as was his right, he would have disregarded their opinions, I foresee a future in which many presidential decisions becomes less about the actual issue and more about whether he or she cares what the masses think. And that is a scary future indeed.

Throughout this piece I have tried, admittedly less-successfully in subsequent revisions, to keep my own biases and opinions out of the equation. I attempted to write based solely on the facts and using simple cause and effect analysis to prove my points, while channeling voice and passion in to the words themselves rather than rash outbursts and inappropriate characterizations. The issues really are simple, after all, black and white. If only the decisions could follow suit.