As of this writing, President Obama is frantically pleading with Members of Congress, the American people and heads of state of other nations to follow his lead in “punishing” the Assad regime in Syria for unleashing chemical weapons on his own people. Having drawn a “red line” in the sand regarding the use of chemical weapons, Obama apparently feels obligated to attack Syria as a matter of personal and national pride even if it means going it alone — a blunder which could damage his presidency. It is difficult to resist pointing to the irony of this President standing where Martin Luther King stood in 1963 to extol the virtues of this great apostle of peace while obviously contemplating a unilateral and ill-advised military strike against a nation that poses no direct threat to the United States. Similarly, it was ironic to hear the President at a press conference in Sweden, where he received the Nobel Peace Prize, feverishly attempting to drum-up support to bomb Syria.
Ironies aside, individuals, the United States and the world should take seriously the use of chemical weapons. They are so horrific in terms of the inescapable pain, suffering, and excoriating death they inflict that the vast majority of nations have banned them since World War I. But, there are several issues which should deter President Obama from launching a military strike against Syria. First, despite the “evidence” that has been presented that chemical weapons were used, it’s still not clear exactly who in fact used them. I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but something about this incident does not pass the “smell test.” Granted Assad is a ruthless dictator, but is he totally insane? Why would he order the use of chemical weapons against his people when U.N. inspectors were in the country? No one has been able to answer this question to my satisfaction.
However, even if Assad gave the order to use what are almost universally condemned as banned weapons, the United States cannot be the “good cop” on the world scene, self-appointing itself to punish bad actors. There are lots of bad actors in the world, and unfortunately other atrocities occurring in the world as well – the millions of Africans who have been killed in Congo is a case in point. The U.S. and its allies do not seem to feel much urgency about this human calamity. Moreover, while Syria’s use of chemical weapons is a violation of international law, there is no identifiable threat to the U.S. that justifies a unilateral strike; you can’t break international law to enforce international law!! And, China and Russia’s obstructionism in the U.N. Security Council notwithstanding, there appears to be no appetite among the Arab League, America’s Western allies or Third World nations to form a “coalition of the willing” to punish Assad. Hence, Obama is standing virtually alone in his singular determination to defend America’s “word” on the international stage. This stance clearly flies in the face of his pledge as candidate Obama to abandon unilateralism in favor of multilateralism as an axiom of U.S. foreign policy. In addition, many who supported Obama also saw him as the anecdote for the kind of muscular, testosterone approach represented by George Bush. It appears those perceptions were inaccurate.
Finally, and of paramount importance, the American people seem to have learned something from the costly and ill conceived wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war in Iraq was launched as an egoistic exercise by George W. Bush based on the outright lie that an already militarily defanged Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Afghanistan has proven to be an enormously costly nation-building commitment, despite the fact that Osama Bin Laden is dead and the claims that Al Qaeda has been decimated. The words and warnings of Dr. King should have reverberated through President Obama’s consciousness as he praised him on August 28th on the national mall. These wars have been like a “demonical destructive suction tube” draining trillions of tax payer dollars from addressing critical human and infrastructure needs in this country.
Given the State of Emergency in America’s “dark ghettos,” Black people in particular should have no use for a billion here and there dispensed to defend America’s ego. Indeed, the biggest threat to America’s stability and security today is massive inequality; the desperate plight of low wage workers; the kind of individual and structural racism that led to the tragic death of Trayvon Martin; Stand Your Ground Laws that encourage vigilantism with Blacks being the primary victims; Supreme Court decisions severely diluting affirmative action and decimating the Voting Rights Act of 1965; and, voter suppression laws calculated to undermine Black voting power. These are the “clear and present dangers” President Obama should be focused on, not a “lone ranger” style incursion into the quagmire in Syria!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com