On Gunfights and Speaking Softly

September 2, 2013

This September 2nd is the 112th anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt’s speech at the Minneapolis State Fair wherein he uttered the now-famous phrase, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

The fundamental premise of that policy is, as Roosevelt later described it, that one must apply “the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis.”

As conservative member of parliament David Davis noted in explaining his vote against the UK joining in any military action, the British – have been “sitting on the sidelines” for over two years while Assad’s forces have “shelled, bombed and shot their opponents with impunity.  The U.N. puts the death toll at more than 100,000. Civilians have been gunned down by snipers, burned to death by napalm, dismembered by bombs and crushed in falling buildings.”  While this observation also obviously applies to US, we have also long had knowledge that the current use of chemical weapons was not the first such instance.

Applying President Roosevelt’s rules for foreign policy action, it is, and always was, far too late for Obama to draw the “red line” of threatened military action when he first made that statement on August 20, 2012.  We are not, and were not then, “far in advance of any likely crisis”  The crisis is here, and has been for a long time.  Moreover, let us examine what “decisive action” the “exercise of intelligent forethought” could have chosen.  To put this issue another way, what were the underlying facts and what could have been America’s proper goals and objectives?

Syria is and for years now been embroiled in a bloody civil war.  Assad’s opposition groups, such as the Syrian National Council, are really Islamist front organizations, funded by the Saudis and Gulf states and infiltrated by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists.  These fundamentalist groups have persecuted Christians and other minorities in Syria and across the Middle East, and evidence had mounted that rebel forces have carried out ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control.  Do we therefore really want one tyrant supplanted with another?

Mr Obama has said “no” to support of any regime change.  This is consistent with his lack of serious military support for the rebels from the beginning.  So what is our goal and objective?  And what are the possible consequences that should reasonably serve to have dissuaded Assad from using chemical weapons?

I am in accord with John Donne’s view that because I am involved in humanity, every man’s death affects all of us.  But does that necessitate that the US become the international policeman as to all atrocities?  Do we have the right to self-appoint ourselves to such a position?  If we do, as Mr Obama has indicated, view ourselves rightfully to act in that capacity, what should we, as the self-appointed cop on this beat, do?  Do we seriously want to embroil ourselves in another Iraq or Afghanistan.  Mr Obama has astutely ruled out that option.  This then leaves us with the concept of “deterrence.”  In other words, we must have in mind some action, the consequences of which should be reasonably calculated to induce Assad to determine that is would be better not to use chemical weapons in the future.  And such action is………………………..what?

Should we send missiles to destroy the chemical weapons caches?  Do we really know where they are?  Surely, they are not stored in either remote areas or under Assad’s bed.  To the contrary, they are often strategically located near hospitals and schools.  Thus, destroying them would release the toxins into the air, thereby causing more suffering and death by innocent civilians.  Further, as Mr Davis also noted, “even the precision-guided missiles that British forces would have used against Syria are not always as accurate as advertised.  In previous wars, a significant number misfired or missed their target.  By attempting to punish Assad, we would almost inevitably have caused more civilian deaths.”

Should we bomb military airfields and weaponry?  Russian has already supplied the Assad regime with advanced anti-aircraft missiles.  Mr Putin has already taken clear pleasure in pulling Mr Obama’s nose hairs.  Certainly he would quickly replace any assets so destroyed twice over and, in the process, the Assad-Russian-Iranian alliance would be emboldened and made stronger without any meaningful consequence to Assad.

An “eye-for-an eye” might work.  By this I am taking about the US targeting Assad and his family personally.  However Mr Obama has also already ruled that out as well.

In view of the possible options and Mr Obama’s self-imposed limitations, there are no deterrents that would follow from any military action nor is there any overarching goal and objective that military action would serve. That being the case, what was the purpose of laying down “the red line?”

There is an old gunfighter’s rubric that “if you are going to step out into the street, you had better be prepared to die.”  Teddy Roosevelt, the old gun fighter that he was, understood that well.  Another way of putting this is that crises are solved through the application of principles of escalation dominance.  Look at the Cuban Missile Crisis as a perfect example.  We have no ability here to dominate through escalation.  All we can thus accomplish with any futile action is to lessen further our stature and prestige in the world.

And why?  Because Assad and Putin are – rightfully – laughing at Obama’s self-inflicted impotence?

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© Richard L Wise and RLWise.wordpress.com 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Richard L Wise and RLWise.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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