Our Opinions: 'A big event of grave concern'

Saturday August 24, 2013

Pres. Barack Obama characterized the alleged use by Syrian forces of chemical weapon against its own citizens earlier this week as "A big event of grave concern."

Syrian opposition groups have claimed at least 1,300 men, women and children were killed by the gas, which was delivered by four rockets launched by government forces. Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Assad has denied involvement, and the Russian government has accused rebel factions of staging the attack.

Given the belligerence of the Assad regime and its refusal to allow impartial observers to conduct investigations or mediate the dispute, it's unlikely the facts of the incident will be determined in a timely manner, if at all.

Though it is difficult if not impossible to get clinicians in to get tissue samples out to test the cause of death, images coming from the site of the alleged attack are quite damning. They include rows upon rows of bodies wrapped in white cloth, bodies with little of no visible wounds. Videos include images of people convulsing and foaming at the mouth, both signs of a chemical weapons attack.

While senior officials in the U.S.government hastily convened a meeting to discuss the developments and possible responses, the meeting broke up without any decision, though cruise missile strikes and a sustained air campaign were discussed.

Overseas, reaction to the allegations has been varied, from France's call for direct intervention to expressions of outrage from Israel and Turkey. But in reality, there is little stomach in the Western nations for getting involved in a fractious civil war with no clear lines of authority on the rebel side.

Despite the heinous nature of the Assad regimes reaction to the peaceful protests that broke out during the Arab Spring more than two years ago, no one wants to send troops into harm's way with no clear-cut mission or idea how foreign intervention might resolve the conflict.

As one European diplomat told the New York Times, "They are all bad choices."

One year ago, Obama called the use of chemical weapons "a red line." In June, the United States confirmed its belief that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons on its own citizens. And while the U.S. has indicated it will start supplying weapons to the rebels, none have made their way to opposition forces.

On CNN on Thursday, Obama reacted to criticism that he hasn't acted quickly or forcefully enough.

He warned against getting "mired in very difficult situations ... (and) being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region."

And, as Max Fisher wrote for the Washington Post, intervening in Syria is a "high risk, low reward" venture for the White House. You might recall, noted Fisher, that many of the same voices that hammered at Obama to intervene in Libya were also the same voices that attempted to turn the Benghazi tragedy into an election talking point.

Fisher also contends that Obama wants a negotiated settlement with the Assad regime, an agreement that would prevent a chaotic transition of power or turn Syria into another ethnically segregated nation such as Iraq. But a negotiated settlement gets harder and harder the more brutal the Assad regime treats its own people.

The warhawks are calling for attacks that could include boots on the ground and accusing the Obama administration of having no foreign policy. They also say Obama's failure to act makes the United States look weak in the eyes of regimes such as in Iran, North Korea and other rogue nations.

But most Americans, especially those who have sacrificed the most during this interminable war on terror, don't want to see their men and women sent off to fight and possibly die in a region wracked by conflict since the days of the Bible.

We are tired of war and we are tired of interventions that start out defined as moral divides that require the might of America, but turn into quagmires of doubt, lies, misinformation and death.

The world doesn't need the United States to be its policeman or its moral arbiter, nor should the U.S. continue to expend its treasure and sacrifice its warriors for ill-defined goals that end up serving the interests of no one except those who build and sell weapons and materiel.

Enough is enough.


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