Let’s Do Better by Brenda Robinson
A wise man, a personal friend, made a truthful analogy. He said, “when a person makes the statement, ‘If I were you, I would have done so and so,’ that message has no validity.” This wise man responds to such a statement with, “No, if you were me, you would have done what ‘me’ did.”
As President Barack Obama struggles with a decision on a potential attack on Syria, due to their government’s alleged use of chemical weapons, we would be wise to reflect upon my friend’s analogy. Furthermore, for the sake of fairness and just plain common sense, in retrospect, we must reexamine President George H. Bush’s decision to attack Iraq in 2003, for its alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. Bush later acknowledged the intelligence was incorrect and that there was no proof of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, although “legitimate” sources had previously revealed these chemical weapons existed. Thus, if critics of Bush are fair, they also must declare, for Bush “if you were me, you would have done what ‘me’ did.”
Both commander in chiefs’ decisions have their critics. Bush’s decision led to him being ostracized and humiliated. We don’t yet know how President Obama will finally deal with Syria. We do, however, know his position, as of last week, and his critics outweighed his supporters. While we cannot fairly take the “If I were you, I would do” posture, we can ask questions and point out some inconsistencies.
There is absolutely no doubt, chemical weapons were used on Syrians. U.S. sources reported 1,500 people were killed and at least 426 of the deceased were children. The physical bodily reactions revealed by the dying and the ill left no doubt sarin gas was used. Those officials, both U.S. and foreign, calling for more evidence are questioning who released the gas. The French said President Bashar al-Assad ordered the chemical attacks. Members of the U.S. Congress arrived at the same conclusion. The British government alleged this chemical attack is not the first by al-Assad, claiming there have been 14 other attacks since 2012. On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin called upon President Obama to await further investigation. Putin contended this could have been the “rebels” who released the gas. Al-Assad blamed the “rebels.” Britain sided with Russia.
We can be assured Obama has the facts. We can conclude Secretary of State John Kerry has the correct information and committed to refraining from another “mistaken call” as with Iraq—at best an error, at worst a lie—for political reasons. Kerry is smart enough to know some enterprising reporter is capable of finding the real truth. Thus, our concerns are what will be the positive side of military force and what types of military attacks will cause the least amount of harm to the Syrian people.
Members of Congress, who debated Kerry, had legitimate fears. Chemical weapons can be delivered by rockets, helicopters, trains and buses. These gases can be carried in pack backs and stored in basements. So, what targets are legitimate? How can the citizens of Syria be guaranteed a reasonable amount of safety? Five countries, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq jointly have accepted two million Syrians as refugees. All of these countries reported they have run out of space and resources. Will U.S. attacks make for more exodus from Syria?
Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said there is no guarantee al-Assad will stop the chemical attacks, even if U.S. reacts with force.
Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator John McCain’s sentiments must be considered. They concluded America’s super power status demands a harsh response to the chemical attack and called for support of the President’s proposed bombing of Syrian sites which contain the gases. And, unexpectedly, Republican House Speaker John Boehner boldly declared America will “stand-up to the al-Assad regime.” All three of these congress people contended refusal to respond with force will send a message to other countries, they can declare chemical warfare on their own citizens. Critics of these politicians contended al-Assad must also be eliminated and the president has not called for regime change.
The majority of Americans—60 percent—oppose America’s invasion of Syria. A substantial number of Americans, however, believe al-Assad must be punished for using chemical warfare. We have established we can’t and shouldn’t deliver messages like, “if I were Obama, I would…” But, we can deliver a lay person message, recognizing we lack skills in foreign policy matters. We commission the president to look at the political side, the humane side and the economic side. But, the “right side” must be his priority.
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 11 print edition.