By Jay Kirell
For the people who read this outside of the United States, I’m sure it must be puzzling to you why so many within our country are suddenly having (at least outside of Congress) a vigorous debate over military action in Syria.
It wasn’t long ago our nation presented to the world an arrogant face, topped with, literally, a cowboy hat. George W. Bush, whatever you think of him now – was a confident guy with a REALLY confident administration when it came to foreign policy.
You probably remember how he tried to drag your country into his little shin-dig in Iraq like a frat boy inviting a freshman to a weekend party with the promise of free beer.
Maybe your country said yes, maybe it said no. Either way, he put your country on the spot and made it choose. You were with him or against him. Arrogant or not, misguided or not, Bush knew what he wanted to do and his administration made every effort – however immoral, unethical or illegal – to make sure it got its way.
Unfortunately, all ___ things must come to an end, and the arrogant empire that was America under the Bush administration collapsed under its own hubris and in its ashes spawned the conciliatory partner of nations that many thought the Obama administration would be.
And for the most part, it has been a rather jarring transition. What with the Obama apology tour that may or may not have happened, (depending on which Facebook chain letter you read). Or the complete pulling of the plug on Iraq, which, contrary to what many believe was not inevitable. Or the drawing down of troops from Afghanistan from it’s 2010-11 max-“surge” high for which I personally participated in. Then came Libya and the willingness to let others gain the credit for what was a cooperative effort among our allies to oust its long-time dictator.
Which brings the both of us – myself in America and you, presumably in some other nation across the sea – at Syria.
You might have expected us to be there by now. Some of us here in America think its a sign of weakness that we haven’t already been able to turn on CNN and see night-vision views of explosions over the Syrian skyline. If Obama was a decisive leader, they believe, then he would have acted months ago when the first signs of chemical weapons use became known.
Still some others (appearing to suffer from non-literal Iraq PTSD) have been screaming about any intervention in Syria being a virtual continuation of Bush’s neocon agenda.
Many others are filing in somewhere in the middle – caught in a honest moral dilemma of:
A) Wanting to help the Syrian people.
B) Recognizing the use of chemical weapons (assuming the evidence proves it) ups the stakes higher than anything in the run-up to Iraq.
C) Not totally being confident in the notion that we can help the Syrian people if the goal isn’t regime change.
D) Wanting to punish the clearly-evil Assad without punishing any civilians in the process.
E) Recognizing doing nothing is also a very bad option.
It would seem to me most people, if they were being honest, would admit to not being reflexively pro-intervention or anti-intervention. There is an honest and fair case to be made for both sides of the argument – something absent from the debate in the run-up Operation Iraqi Freedom. It would also seem to make sense that, when faced with a no-win situation, you would want the leader of your nation’s military to ponder the use of its forces for as long as he or she needs to make an informed decision.
From the president’s own statement, it’s clear that he wants to send a message, not only to Assad, but many other world leaders, that the use of chemical weapons cannot be tolerated. However, it is also clear from the timeline of events leading up to what’s about to happen in Syria, that Obama, as usual, isn’t rushing into anything.
Some say he’s cautious to a fault, that his reluctance to make an immediate decision after Syria apparently crossed his red line, weakens American influence and the word of the president.
Some say he’s being dragged into a war against his better judgment, that he’s getting bad advice and cover from hawkish Republicans who have never been right about issues of war. The whispering in his ear is influencing him and dragging out what should be an easy decision to stay out of other people’s business.
What this shows is that right or left, hawk or dove, nobody appreciates a cautious Goliath. Patience and caution don’t play well in the 24/7 cable news/twitter universe. Americans have come to expect their president to make a quick decision and stick to it. After all, global superpowers don’t ponder. Global superpowers do.
One of the troubling aspects of the Syria story – and lord knows there are many – is the concept of Obama being called weak – either from indecision or influence. The notion insults the very idea of prudence and conservatism as guiding principle of American foreign policy. Thankfully, Obama sits above the noise of squawking pundits.
And lastly, speaking as someone who has fought a war under this president, and would if (hopefully never) called upon, fight another one – a cautious leader is the type I want to serve under. Someone who values my life and the lives of everyone under him. Someone who recognizes the awesome power at his command and what that power can do to a civilian population, even unintentionally.
A cautious goliath.