How This Syrian Situation Reminds Me of High School

Sep. 30, 2013
Christine writes and lives in San Francisco. She writes at Thewriteofthehour.tumblr.com and tweets and @cdeakers.

In my younger and more vulnerable years, caught in the drama of high school Model United Nations club, bespectacled, and sweating in hounds tooth “western business attire,” forming a fervent opinion on a political crisis was easy as pie. It was much easier, then, to see things idealistically: that problems can be cleanly solved. That diplomacy was the shining knight to any burgeoning conflict always cast a naive halo onto what I supposed as a feasible solution.

Then, I believed the correct way to manage crisis could be without irreversible consequence. Now, dreary eyed in front of a decade of post-9/11 headlines, I’ve learned that there’s consequence to even doing “the right thing.”

In light of the chemical weapons used against Syrian civilians, President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress twiddling its thumbs, vacillating between whether to take action upon President Bashar al-Assad’s regime or not, I’ve finally succumbed to a realistic opinion — the U.S. is screwed no matter what we do.

No action, and the U.S. will be known as the scapegoat for letting these atrocities potentially continue. A military strike, and the U.S. further entangle itself in a civil war that isn’t our business.

At the G20 Summit, President Obama reminded us that when Britain was getting bombed in WII, it was widely unpopular to enter the war. He then asked us to think of Kosovo during the Clinton Administration, and even harked, “What if Rwanda was happening right now?” Was this for rhetorical effect, or do we need to continue our legacy of nipping other country’s atrocities in the bud?

Future U.S. national threats will be guised as terrorist attacks, failed states and the proliferation of weapons. Like every nation, it’s the United States’ responsibility to uphold international law and protect the innocent. But is it also our job to always take action against bullies when there are other countries that could help hold the brunt?

A former history teacher of mine always rhetorically asked, “Is that a threat?”

He’d then reply, “No. It’s a promise.”

Strategists say the U.S. has no political and economic interests in warranting a strike, however if we identify proliferation as a threat, then maybe the administration has more foresight than we think. A year ago, President Obama set the expectation. President al-Assad crossed a “Red Line” with the use of chemical weapons. Now, our president wants to follow through with a promise.

Congress, its constituents, and much of the country are perched to deny giving Obama support in striking. If we want to opt for a multilateral action, then why aren’t France, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia at the helm with the United States, and get them more involved in our internal decision?

Reported in TIME, the president said, “I would greatly prefer working through multilateral channels and through the United Nations to get this done.”

But there was a caveat to working multilaterally. He said, “the security of the world and my particular task looking out for the national security of the United States requires that when there’s a breach this brazen of a norm this important and the international community is paralyzed and frozen and doesn’t act, then that norm begins to unravel. And if that norm unravels, then other norms and prohibitions start unraveling. And that makes for a more dangerous world. And that, then, requires even more difficult choices and more difficult responses in the future.”

From this, CNN’s Brianna Keilar could guess what might happen on Tuesday, since she asked the president: “If the full Congress doesn’t pass this, will you go ahead with the strike?”

My hope is faltering, and I’m a hardened and overgrown Model United Nations member.

Diametrically opposed countries, like the Queen Bees across the lunchroom, will never hold hands across the international community. Nations are far too obligated to quelling future threats and protecting interests, prodded by tit-for-tat necessity and Machiavellian force, to think of such a pipe dream. It’s time the international community stop pushing Rodney King’s greatest request: “Can’t we all just get along?”

The millennial generation grew up as the idealistic children watching Nick News with Linda Ellerbee, to being jolted into the skittish adolescents in the post-9/11 world. Now, we’re the all too self-absorbed twenty-somethings committed to the Top Things To Do because our political pasts have scared us into not wanting to think about the cluster that’s heading our way. Crisis always comes with consequence, and it’s difficult to finally swallow the reality that maybe we’re too scared to make a decision because either one will result in more bloodshed.

The president and Congress will have to have the foresight to know which actions will cause more good than harm, now and for the long-term. Will sending a strong message to the Syrian president keep his regime and other nations in line? Or are we going to continue to be the “Red Line” country, tempting terrorists, failed states, and countries that proliferate weapons to cross that line?

Veiled threats hold no power unless they’re backed with action. I come from the school that war is the failure of diplomacy, but realistically, talk can only get nations so far.

All I know for sure is that I’m shaking in my houndstooth “western business attire,” no matter what happens.

TC mark

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