Here are a few excerpts from President Obama’s ten minute speech about Syria on Saturday:
“Our intelligence shows the Assad regime and its forces preparing to use chemical weapons, launching rockets in the highly populated suburbs of Damascus, and acknowledging that a chemical weapons attack took place. And all of this corroborates what the world can plainly see — hospitals overflowing with victims; terrible images of the dead. All told, well over 1,000 people were murdered. Several hundred of them were children — young girls and boys gassed to death by their own government.
“This attack … presents a serious danger to our national security. It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. It endangers our friends and our partners along Syria’s borders, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons, or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm.
“In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted….. I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets.
“But having made my decision as Commander-in-Chief based on what I am convinced is our national security interests, I’m also mindful that I’m the President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. I’ve long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. … I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress…..
“Here’s my question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community: What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price? ….
“Make no mistake — this has implications beyond chemical warfare. If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms? To terrorist who would spread biological weapons? To armies who carry out genocide?
President Obama will not use direct military action in Syria “in the face of an explicit congressional rejection of his request for authorization to use force,” Philip Bobbitt writes in an essay posted Monday on ForeignPolicy.com
Bobbitt concludes his analysis by suggesting Obama is acknowledging the argument at the heart of Bobbitt’s indispensable 2008 book, Terror and Consent.
“[W]e must recognize that the 21st-century wars against terror are still fundamentally wars, so far as the rule of law. These wars will be waged in three domains: the campaigns against global, networked terrorists like al Qaeda and their associated allies; the attempt to prevent, and where that is not possible, to mitigate the effects of civilian catastrophes, including genocide, ethnic cleansing, and the mass killing of citizens by their own states; and the struggle to preclude the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction for the purpose of compellance rather than deterrence.”
These three aims of the “Wars Against Terror” — preventing terrorism, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and protecting civilians from natural and manmade catastrophes – have to be pursued in relation to each other. “[P]rogress in in any one [domain] often means a worsening situation in the other two. Managing this relationship will be the chief security problem for … the U.S. … in [the] struggle against terror.” (Both quotes from Terror and Consent, 3-4).
So here we are again.
“I know well that we are weary of war,” a President trapped by 21st century domestic and international conflicts, tells the American people, but
“We cannot raise our children in a world where we will not follow through on the things we say, the accords we sign, the values that define us….” ”[W]e are the United States of America, and we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus. … “I’ve told you what I believe, that our security and our values demand that we cannot turn away from the massacre of countless civilians with chemical weapons. And our democracy is stronger when the President and the people’s representatives stand together.”
What will the president and the people’s representatives do about this?
Is there a small glimmer of hope here? Hope, that maybe the factionalized belligerents of America politics can talk – authentically – about what action is in the national interest? And then decide something? And abide by that decision?
If that possibility can be nurtured and nourished – whatever the outcome – in the case of the chemical attack in Syria, can the same spirit and effort be directed toward other factionalized issues with perhaps more immediate relevance to the long term security of the nation – like the budget, and debt, and health care, and education, and the border, and immigration?
I was driving south on Interstate 5 Monday. Leaves along the Oregon road are turning yellow already, and dropping to the ground. It’s September again.
I remembered a line from Herman Hesse:
That is the way leaves fall around a tree in autumn, a tree unaware of the rain running down its sides, of the sun or the frost, and of life gradually retreating inward. The tree does not die. It waits.
Maybe we’ve waited long enough.
“Dare to be naïve,” Buckminster Fuller challenged.
“Let’s decide this thing together,” an American president challenged.
Maybe our American Spring will be in autumn.