Small World: The People Speak, Who’s Listening?

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

More than 1,100 Mainers have told their congressional representatives that they oppose U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war, the Portland Press Herald reported last Thursday. That figure compares with 21 who were combat supporters.

For months now, the national press has reported with increasing stridency on the heavy “pressure” brought to bear on President Obama to end his hesitancy and lethally arm the rebels (good guys only, of course) in order to bring down the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Who’s generating that pressure and why are they war mongering? Let’s call forth some probable candidates who act as pressure cookers

First, there is the category of dreamers/“realists” with no recognizable credentials or meaningful experience on the Middle East. To date in this two-year conflict, an estimated 100,000 Syrians have lost their lives and around seven million others have been displaced from their homes either internally or externally. That figure would equal about one-third of the Syrian population. Our dreamers/realists seem to think that giving the rebels more and heavier arms will put an end to this suffering. Bring down Assad and the killing will end. To their minds, the Syrian army alone responsible for the violence. Defeat the army: stop the killing. That ignores the fact that a large segment of Syria’s population is loyal to the regime and will continue to fight to resist the cruel Islamic radicals who are their sworn enemies. If the U.S. attacks Syria, fighting could well spread beyond its borders.

Second are the supporters of Israel led by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), who see defeating Syria as a goal that will weaken Iran by removing its only Arab ally and isolating Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese group that has inflicted severe wounds on Israel. These extremists and their neo-conservative friends helped bring us the disaster of the Iraq invasion. They are keen to see America take on Iran. An example of the I’ll-hold-your-coat-while-you-hit-him school of diplomacy. President Obama has asked AIPAC to pressure members of congress to support an attack on Syria.

A third, relatively silent, supporter of the U.S. bashing Assad would be Saudi Arabia. The Saudis consider themselves the guardians of the Sunni side of Islam; they despise and fear Iran, which is the largest Shia nation. By striking at Syria they, too, hope to eliminate a loathed, wrong-headed believer and geo-political rival.

Fourth, we must not forget the defense industry, which depends on continuing conflict for its survival. Politicians feel their pressure because they are big in the American economy and big among campaign donors.

Finally, there are those loyal Democrats, who see that Obama has maladroitly got himself into a diplomatic mess that can only be repaired by going into battle. Obama let slip words (“bring down Assad,” “Red line”) that tied his hands and put the United States in a lose-lose position. Better to support him, these Democrats say, than see him (and the United States) grievously embarrassed.

On the other hand, who are the anti-war people? Some Americans may doubt the case Obama has made for attacking Syria. Many more — the polled majority of Americans — simply to not want to engage in another Middle Eastern adventure, however well-intentioned, that, they fear, will suck us in, taking lives, treasure and threatening the world economy while neglecting the home front. Alas, that argument doesn’t generate pressure on short-term politicians.

In a properly functioning democracy, 1,100 against 21 people would constitute a “pressure” that our lawmakers would have to respond to in voting against Obama’s war (which started out as a wrist slap for Assad’s using gas and has become a tougher program of lethal aid to his opposition).

Hawks decry the loss of American “credibility,” in the eyes of foreigners if Obama does not display ruthless determination and become involved in the fight.

Does anyone ever think that Obama owes credibility to the people who elected him as an anti-war president — not to mention those who awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize?

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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