We act as if Arab and Muslim states are the entire problem in the Middle East. We like to box them up as cultural "failures" because they don't operate at the warp speed of more "exceptional" Western cultures like the US and Israel. The Muslim religion can be exasperating -- but so can fundamentalist Christianity and super orthodox Judaism.
We hear all the time how Arab and Muslim nations have failed in the modernism game. But what about the failures of modernism itself? Failures like environmental catastrophe, corporate power and greed, George W. Bush's Iraq War and the 2008 financial collapse. That's the short list. Don't all these major, largely top-down problems at some point accumulate into something pretty serious?
Is it possible for cultures to get too far ahead of themselves for their own good? Maybe it's a good thing to slow down to do some serious self-examination for the good of the larger system. The current debate over bombing Syria is a perfect place to begin such a national discussion. It's already begun. If not bombing Syria means a loss of face for the President of the United States, maybe that's not such a terrible thing. Maybe it's a sign of progress -- a balancing of runaway militarism.
Jonathon Granoff, quoted above in an epigram, points out that it doesn't make much sense for the United States to hold Syria's Assad "accountable" for acts of violence when the likelihood is very good a US military attack will only exacerbate and increase the problem of violence. This seems very hard for American militarists to grasp. If moral accountability is the real reason the bombing of Syria is being proposed (and it may not be the real reason), the arguments for such a moral response are simply preposterous and as disingenuous as suggesting most Americans don't really understand what's going on here -- that from the beginning the US has avoided the idea of a negotiated solution like the plague and has clearly focused on knocking off Assad like they did Muammar Gaddafi.
The problem for the Obama administration is that it has consistently sent out signals that regime change was its goal and that it was a certainty. Now that Assad seems able to hold onto power (in fact, he's telling everyone he's fighting the US's favorite terrorist network, al Qaeda) the US has to either eat crow or escalate. It seems Israel and the US have concluded the only way to move the regime change idea along is some kind of US intervention that alters the stalemate nature of the war -- like someone shooting off a gun in a room full of squabbling people.
Polls and anecdotal interviews across the nation suggest the American people are thoroughly fed up and opposed to an attack on Syria -- a feeling expressed strongly across party lines.
Granoff, president of the Global Security Institute, says Assad should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
"If [the ICC] decided that crimes against humanity had been committed, the entire political landscape would change," he says. "[Chemical weapons] use is illegal as a war crime if intentionally directed against a civilian population in a non-international armed conflict. Such a crime can be prosecuted by the ICC."
For militarists, accountability via the ICC is not as satisfying as killing people and destroying things. International prosecution would take time, and more people would likely be killed in the meantime. But more death and wider war is also a certainty if the US sends bombs into Syria. And we're at the point it's not outlandish to envision US intervention leading to a region-wide conflagration -- as Rachel Maddow recently put it, "Syria as the Archduke Ferdinand leading to World War Three."
So there are a number of options short of more killing and destruction. For instance, serious, pragmatic talks involving all the interested parties from the US and Russia to Israel and Iran is a real possibility. All it would require is willingness and humility and dropping the old and tired "Munich" analogy.
It's actually quite a historically novel idea for parties to bypass war and sit down for negotiations. Usually, the traditional, escalating bloodbath cycle has to run its horrific course, and talks happen only when all parties involved are sick of the killing and the destruction.
I submit it's time for President Obama to actually earn his Nobel Peace Prize by giving up on bombing Syria and throwing the power of his office into pursuing the negotiation route.
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