Syria and the serenity prayer...

It is now clear that soon the United States will engage in some type of symbolic military action against the Assad regime of Syria.  As Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times wrote yesterday:  "It looks as if we'll be firing Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria in the coming days - and critics are raising legitimate concerns."  Both he and liberal columnist, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, are tentatively supportive of such military engagement given both the context of Syria's devolution and what an attack means for US interests in the region. 
David Brooks, writing in this morning's Times, offers a popular interpretation of what is at stake beyond symbolism.  "The Syrian civil conflict is both a proxy war and a combustion point for spreading waves of violence."  He goes on to observe:

This didn't start out as a religious war. But both Sunni and Shiite power players are seizing on religious symbols and sowing sectarian passions that are rippling across the region. The Saudi and Iranian powers hover in the background fueling each side.... the strife appears to be spreading.  Sunni- Shiite violence in Iraq is spiking upwards... Turkey, Pakistan, Bahrain and Kuwait could be infected (too)... (for) it has become clear over the last year that the upheavals in the Islamic and Arab world have become a clash within a civilization rather than a clash between civilizations.

He then offers three options for the Obama administration that are currently on the strategy table noting that "it is pretty clear that the recent American strategy of light-footprints withdrawal and nation-building at home has not helped matters.  The United States could have left more troops in Iraq and tamped down violence there. We could have intervened in Syria back when there was still something to be done and some reasonable opposition to mold."  The options before us are:

+ Containment:  trying to keep each nation's civil strife within the borders of each country.

+ Reconciliation: using all forms of economic and diplomatic maneuvering to create a measure of rapprochement between the Saudis and Iraqis.

+ Neutrality: refusing to covertly or overtly encourage our Sunni allies in their war against their Shiite and Alawite opponents.

I don't pretend to know what is best here - or almost anywhere else - I am a person of faith and art.  I pray for peace and hold world leaders up to the Lord as they search for wisdom and compassion.  Like most Americans, I am weary of my nation's recent wars.  I am all too aware that in almost every case of American intervention since Vietnam, it has been a disaster for my country as well as the nations we have invaded.  At the same time, I am not an ideological pacifist and know that sometimes the best we can do is offer a measure of action when all the options are horrible.  Like Brooks concludes: Poison gas in Syria is horrendous, but the real inferno is regional. When you look at all the policy options for dealing with the Syria situation, they are all terrible or too late. The job now is to try to wall of the situation to prevent something just as bad but much more sprawling. Will a few dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles accomplish this?  I am doubtful.

Eliot Abrahms has offered a cogent middle course proposal at the Council on Foreign Relations (
that offers important insights.  Donald Anton at The Drum offers an alternative that emphasizes aggressive humanitarian assistance and ramped-up international condemnation and isolation - including challenging Russia and China.  (See

At this moment in time, my heart and head resonate with the peace-making alternatives.  They will not, of course, bring the horrible civil war to an end. They will, however, set in motion a peace-making agenda that can make the existing horror as good as it can be.  Like Niebuhr wrote in anticipation of the violence demanded for the common good before WW II:  


Peter said…
"Fear is never a noble weapon--ever." Shams, in "Cairo", by G. Willow Wilson
RJ said…
I have now been totally turned on to her works by you, my man. And so, as best we can with as much love and humility as possible, we commit ourselves to love.

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