What’s Left: Saved by the Bell

I don’t have a lot of rules for writing opinion pieces, but one of the few applies: never advocate war if you aren’t going yourself.

What we will accomplish in a “tactical” strike is further raising the profile of violence in the Syrian imagination. An airstrike for the revolutionaries is the same siren song of overwhelming force bringing justice that I heard in fourth grade when I cheered the American invasion of Iraq from my neighbor’s couch. For Assad, it is an attack that can only be met with violent retribution. Why, in the CBS interview with Assad on Monday, does Charlie Rose even ask Assad if he will retaliate against American targets after a missile strike? We can no longer dole out indiscriminate justice in a twisted equation where crimes are punished with an arbitrary number of missiles, with civilian casualties a neglected remainder. We lost the moral high ground on chemical weapons in the 1980s when we blocked United Nations proposals to condemn Iraq for using them against Iran. Ultimately, our embrace of realpolitikin our military agreements ensures that any support we give will involve something slimy that undermines our

good intentions.

With that said, it’s worth looking at some comments John Kerry made during a news conference in London on Monday which, as I wrote this column, began to gain traction. As reported in the New York Times, Kerry, when pressed for an alternative to the looming missile strike, made the offhand suggestion that “[Assad] could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week – turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting,” then downplaying that idea, “But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done.”

The rest of the nations we have brusquely abandoned in our quest to bomb something – anything have jumped on this as a viable solution. Russia, in particular – the country with whom we become more and more estranged every day – warmed up to the idea and suggested it formally to the U.S., which as of 11 p.m. had been received with interest by President Obama and hopefully will allow the UN to retake charge.

It says something about international politics when an agreeable solution has to be suggested as an impossible alternative at the 11th hour before the general public can get behind it. Did nobody think to demand Syria’s chemical weapons at the UN Security Council? How quickly did we shut the international community off from our decision-making process? Did we jump immediately to “bomb them until they love us?” Were we brought to the brink of war simply to make this more palatable? Why wasn’t this part of the dialogue a week ago?

Missile strikes have increasingly become a “low-stakes” knee-jerk way of involving ourselves in a country without claiming military aggression. Though it seems we’ve avoided war for the moment, our Jekyll-Hyde approach to international diplomacy rages on.

Contact Nathan Lynch at [email protected].