Alex Yarde believes we have an opportunity to break the cycle of war and retribution.
“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.”-Victor Hugo
In Cairo, newly elected President Obama made a soaring speech about a new dawn in the Arab world. Prospect of a brighter day, in the wake of the populous uprisings that came to be known as the “Arab Spring”—the birth of new democracy ascendant and the promise of secular strife waning in that part of the world. Since then, many long-standing, oppressive regimes led by authoritarian strongmen that had ruled for decades have fallen like dominoes. Change has come quickly, and throughout it all, President Obama has remained remarkably steadfast.
But, as with any birth, pain is a part of the process. An example of this is Syria. For two years, a bloody civil war has engulfed Syria and even escalated into a despicable gas attack in a rebel-held part of Damascus, which killed hundreds of children, among others. This act prompted a robust response from our President for punitive strikes. U.S. Naval vessels now are on station ready to strike Assad for the use of banned chemical weapons. But, to the President’s credit, after returning war-making authority to Congress (which he lobbied for during his first election campaign), he never abandoned the goal of a diplomatic solution. While making his case for striking Syria, he simultaneously continued diplomatic efforts. At the recent G-20, a plan was hatched for Russia, Syria’s patron, to spearhead the dismantling and destroying of Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile.
To date the Obama Administration is still skeptical of Russia’s bid to dismantle and confiscate Assad’s chemical weapons in Syria, as was crystalized in Secretary of State Kerry’s testimony to the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee. He said such dismantling, “Has to be real, It has to be prompt and it must be verifiable.” It remains a tenuous situation and while the Joint US-Russian disarmament proposal is active, authorization for a strike is at a stand-still. The fact of the matter remains, Assad needs to face the International Criminal Court for his crimes and the condemnation and seizure of assets dictators deserve.
It seems at this point, to his critics’ chagrin, POTUS Obama has gotten the lion-share of what he wanted without military escalation. Syrian chemical weapons will be removed from play, Russian agreement on the Security Council to the eventual departure of Assad. A thorough 40 page Untied Nations report verifying that chemical weapons were indeed used (though it stops short of accusing Assad directly) and support for the legitimate, secular Free Syrian Regular Army with CIA training and arms. The missing piece, as is always the case in times of war, is the human cost.
I first wrote about the refugee crisis in late June. Now in the span of three months it’s worse by magnitudes. What little remains of Syria’s first responders, doctors, nurses and EMS personnel are hard-pressed to address the needs of the remaining citizens in the country. Epidemics of disease are starting to fester in the squalid camps on the boarders of neighboring countries, which are over burdened by waves of civilians fleeing the bloodshed.
The impact of this war on Syrian families and children is tragic. According to independent groups and UNICEF, kids are missing years of education, living in squalor, orphaned or separated from relatives, and often victimized or neglected. These factors are the perfect recipe for eventual radicalization. The opportunity for radical Islamists to fill their immediate needs for food, shelter, stability and thus create a new generation of follwers is incredibly great.
We stand at the crossroads. The policies we decide today will impact how our children and the children of the displaced interact in the future. It may be in our best long term interest to think outside the box, take a fraction of the resources we would spend on a war and try to fill those children’s needs ourselves instead. We could lobby the G 20 and members of the IMF to help these refugees more. This burden should not be just on our shoulders. It should be shared by all who have a stake in Syrians ending the violence, returning home and rebuilding their war-torn country.
I believe this will defuse the powder kegs that the border camps are currently becoming. I also think we’d spend far less precious blood and treasure and burnish our sullied reputation in the region while helping the true victims of the Syrian crisis. As our greatest president Abraham Lincoln famously asked,“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” We will never never make enemies of the Syrian people by protecting their most vulnerable citizens.
What’s all this going to cost? I have no idea, but I do know a Tomahawk missile costs $1.5 million a piece. The Pentagon was ordered to expand the number of targets in a Syrian strike of to over 100 targets. You do the math. Any cost / benefit analysis must factor in unintended consequences. A battalion of American observers plus force protection troops to train the rebel army in a mushrooming conflict? How much will that cost? Russia or Israel deciding to come out of the wings and share the spotlight and we get ourselves into another regional shooting war? What’s that going to cost us? Iranian panic over a US strike speeding up development of their nuclear program. What’s the price of that? Brave American servicemen and women killed or languishing with lifelong traumatic injuries in Veteran Administration hospitals. What is the cost there? In the future, your son or daughter or mine deployed to fight a war that started when they were in kindergarten. What price would you pay for that not to happen? I know what my answer would be.
As a nation, we have played a lot of lip service to this point about capturing the “hearts and minds” of skeptical friends and potential enemies in the Arab world. Well, the crisis in Syria is the perfect opportunity for a positive paradigm shift of epic proportions in our fractured relations in the Middle East. At a fraction of the cost of missile strikes, with no unintended consequences, we can reach out and help the people of Syria in their time of need. We can do this without killing anyone, creating more enemies, triggering reprisals, empowering extremists, or destroying the still hopeful wave of the Arab Spring. We can help them, and ourselves with the most radical approach of all for that region.
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia