September 5, 2013

WILLIAMS: Changing the game in Syria


---- — Just about the time you think you have life down pat and you’ve refined your own moral code so that you know the answers to all the questions, along comes a situation like Syria.

In the beginning, I was totally opposed to the U.S. becoming involved in any but the most peripheral way. Partly that was based on not knowing the good guys from the bad guys when it seems that almost everyone involved is a bad guy and none of them is a particular friend to America.

“Let them figure it out for themselves,” I said, “America has poked its nose too much in Middle East affairs.”

And I meant it too ... until I saw the videos of all those dead kids wrapped in their shrouds, victims of chemical weapons on the part of their own government. (And, yes, we do know that the administration of Assad was responsible despite the conspiracy theories that abound on Facebook.)

And my earlier statements about it not being our problem made me think of Nazi Germany and dead Jews and Gypsies and gays, tortured and gassed and starved and killed, because the people then said, “it’s not our problem” – an attitude that resulted in millions of bodies stacked like cordwood or buried in mass graves.

There has always been war and probably always will be war as long as mankind survives but then there are events so horrific that they go even beyond the awfulness of war itself. Chemical weapons, biological weapons, nuclear weapons, genocide....

The industrialized nations banded together as early as 1925 in the Geneva Protocol to ban these terrible agents and it has been reaffirmed over the decades. As of 2013, 138 nations have agreed not to use them (including Syria). The collective countries resolved amongst themselves that biological and chemical weapons simply cannot be tolerated in a civilized world.

Now Syria has flouted that resolution in a major way. What should be done? Is the agreement a toothless document that simply says, “we wish you wouldn’t but we won’t do anything about it if you do?” If that’s the case, what’s to prevent any of the other countries that possess such weapons (and there are several) from using theirs as well? Do we mean what we say or is it all just meaningless rhetoric?

“America is not the world’s policeman.” That’s another phrase I’ve been known to say and it is one I generally believe. It’s not up to us to intervene in every civil war around the globe. On the other hand, I imagine most of us still see America as the leader of the free world. We are the counter-balance against China and Russia and Iran. We haven’t exactly lived up to our own principles in the last many years considering torture and extraordinary rendition and Guantanamo but does that mean we’ve reneged on our own moral authority?

We still won’t know by the time you read this what the ultimate outcome is. After expressing indignation that they haven’t been consulted, now that the president has taken them at their word that they want to be involved, the House’s response is “cut our vacation short to debate and vote? Surely, you jest!” — this after being off all of August and only planning to be in Washington for 9 days in September. I hoped Obama would ask for congressional approval only to cover his own backside.

For the truth is, of course, they want to whine and wail but without actually having to take a stand. Gee, what if it turns out bad? Don’t blame us!

So will the world do anything or will the world do nothing? Will America do anything or will America do nothing? If 460 gassed children aren’t enough to provoke a reaction, how many more will it take?

Vicki Williams is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached through the newspaper at