I'm having trouble finding anyone in South Dakota to tell me that throwing our military might at Syria is a good idea.
Former Senator Jim Abourezk spoke forcefully on SDPB yesterday noon against U.S. military intervention in Syria. Abourezk's wife was born and raised in Syria. The Abourezks have family in Syria. They have Christian cousins who had to leave Damascus for Beirut to get away from the violence of Syria's civil war.
Abourezk says the U.S. has no business bombing Syria. He says Syria poses no threat to the U.S. He says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is likely to undertake reforms if he can outlast the rebels, but a U.S. attack that weakens Assad will put al-Qaeda in charge of Syria, and al-Qaeda has a less impressive record on political reform. Abourezk says that instead of escalating the conflict and boosting sales for the military-industrial complex, we could end the Syrian conflict sooner by cutting off the flow of arms to both sides.
Aspiring Senator Stace Nelson agrees. Rapping out a truncated Facebook version of the Powell Doctrine, Nelson sees no clear U.S. national interest, no clear objectives, no strong public support, and no evidence that we've exhausted all means short of deadly military force. Since yesterday noon, 126 people have hit "Like" on Nelson's Facebook post.
Rep. Kristi Noem joins Nelson this morning, saying she's "not supporting the President's plan." That's a slyly partisan statement, not a categorical rejection of military action, but Noem adds that "Less than 1 percent of the people who contacted us have been in favor of taking action."
I hope Kristi is mis-summarizing the 99%'s inclinations. Total inaction may be as bad as muddled-headed military action. More on that at the bottom.
P&R Miscellany calls President Barack Obama a moral coward for asking Congress to exercise its Constitutional authority to declare war (well, kinda sorta, because the President isn't asking for a declaration of war, is he?). More compellingly, P&R puts the lie to the chemical weapons red line, contending that our stance against chemical weapons is based on military practicality, not enlightened morality. We get all indignant about chemical weapons largely because we haven't made them a key part of our military strategy (well, at least not since Vietnam, where, Jim Abourezk reminded us yesterday, we poured on the Agent Orange and napalm). But we still keep a planet-busting stockpile of nuclear weapons, and we take crap from no one about that.
David Newquist responds with some skepticism to various Republicans' newfound dovishness. At the same time, he points to Democratic dove Dennis Kucinich's principled and consistent skepticism of the Obama Administration's claims that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. Newquist says we should be concerned about the slaughter of innocents by any means, but he says we should use the tools of diplomacy, the United Nations, and the International Criminal Court to stop that slaughter and bring Syria's war criminals to justice.
My friends at the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center are calling for a forceful yet peaceful response in Syria. So is progressive Christian activist Jim Wallis. So is the Pope, who is crying out, "War never again! Never again war!" (Yeah, go ahead: call Pope Francis a weak, flower-waving hippie.) In his Angelus audience in St. Peter's Square last Sunday, Pope Francis said, "Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence." What's his counterplan?
With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict. With similar vigour I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.
May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries. May humanitarian workers, charged with the task of alleviating the sufferings of these people, be granted access so as to provide the necessary aid [Pope Francis, Angelus, St. Peter's Square, 2013.09.01].
Pope Francis also invites everyone, even us atheists of good will, to join him for a peace vigil in St. Peter's Square Saturday evening (7 p.m. to midnight... but the Vatican is seven hours ahead of Sioux Falls, so you don't even have to miss the premiere of White Wall Sessions).
We can lob a few missiles at selected targets to ease our consciences and soothe concerns about our national credibility. Or we can get serious about doing real good in the face of evil.
One Tomahawk missile costs $1.4 million. For that same price, we could provide sleeping mats, kitchen tools, stoves, and tents to over 2,200 refugee families in the camps of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Kurdistan, and Turkey. And sleeping mats, pots and pans, stoves, and tents are reusable, with far fewer civilian casualties, not to mention better Middle East PR from the big "From Your Friends in America" stamped on their sides.
Pretty much every moral system requires a response to the violence against civilians in Syria. But South Dakotans don't appear to favor responding with guns and bombs. Let's see if they'll support responding with butter and bread.