Save The Children

July 25, 2014

It is heart-wrenching and deeply saddening to see video and photos of children, innocent children, perish in the most awful way as victims of war in Gaza and Syria or to hear story after story of children fearing for their lives from the violent gangs of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

This insane killing of civilians, especially children, has become so commonplace in today’s world that too many of us in this country just walk by the television and stare for a moment only to switch to a sports channel. The world has become immune to the killing, hoping it will end, but not seeing the death and destruction as events that touch people personally.

These killing fields around the world are certainly the result of harsh social and political conditions – Israel vs. Palestine, Syria vs. rebels, border children vs. gangs. Each side is blamed for the killing of innocents, but there is a distinction that must not be forgotten. Blame is everywhere, but it does reside in the tactics used by terrorists, dictators and gang members.

To fire deadly rockets into Israel from high density neighborhoods, schools or hospitals as Hamas is doing is deliberately placing civilians and children at risk. To drop barrel bombs with pieces of shrapnel in them without a real target as Syria’s Bashar al Assad has done is designed to send a horrific message. And to kill young boys and rape young girls just for refusing to join the M-13 street gang in Honduras is an act without conscience and a callous disregard for the sanctity of life.

Certainly there are official arguments for the use of deadly force in each of these terrible killing fields, but the politics and the power games mean little if terrorists, dictators and gang members think nothing about those who just want to live their lives in peace and not be used as pawns to win a war or make a statement or control turf.

What Can the US Do in Syria and Ukraine ?

March 16, 2014

U.S.national Interest and national security at issue in Syria and Ukraine

Morality as Foreign Policy

September 4, 2013

At the core of the dilemma facing President Obama, the Congress and indeed the American people in Syria is this key question – Should this country intervene in the affairs of another country for humanitarian reasons?

Those terrible pictures of men, women and children being gassed to death break your heart and for some beg for military action that punishes the Assad regime and degrades its capacity to kill innocent people. But for others our foreign policy must be guided by national interest and national security, and despite the horror, the murdering of 1400 people does not rise to the level of national interest and national security.

Interjecting moral principles into American foreign policy rose to prominence during the administration of Jimmy Carter, who cut off aid to authoritarian governments in Latin America because they were guilty of human rights violations.

Carter did not have an easy job of making his case as his opponents reminded him about national interest and national security and the simple logic that if a heinous act occurs in a far off country that has no bearing on this country, then we should stay out of the fray. It’s basically none of our business.

Secretary of State Kerry is working overtime trying to convince Congress and the American people that moral principles must guide the United States and that there are national interest and national security issues at stake if this use of chemical warfare by Syria is not challenged.

Kerry’s argument and certainly that of President Obama is based on a principled foreign policy where moral values should be included as within the concepts of national interest and national security. Simply stated, other countries will sense US reluctance or weakness and use chemical weapons in the future. According to Kerry, the red line has to be held now, not just to save lives in Syria, but to send a clear signal to other regimes that the civilized world will not tolerate such killing.

Defining our foreign policy to include moral principles will always face a tough road in our political system. Bill Clinton turned his eyes away from the slaughter in Rwanda and George W. Bush paid little attention to the genocide in Darfur. Now it is Syria and in the coming days the American people will see their elected leaders grapple with the issue of whether humanitarian causes should drive a foreign policy decision.

Getting Rid of the Bad Guys

June 6, 2011

The Arab Spring started out with great hope after regime change in Tunisia and Egypt. But since those heady days of protest and renewal, the region has settled into a discouraging chaos and hardening of power positions.

It looks like someone in his inner circle will have to kill Gaddafi in order to get him out of Libya, Yemen is in a state of civil war as armed tribes vie for control, and Syria’s al Assad appears ready to murder as many of his own countrymen and women as necessary in order to stay in control.  Other countries like the sheikdoms of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have clamped down on demonstrations and democratization, and Iraq seems to be sliding into a bloody terrorism.

What started out as a movement with great hope and promise is now just a mess of violence and oppression. So what happened? The simple answer is that removing dictators who have been in power for 20,30, or 40 years, especially those dictatorships that are really family-run empires, is no easy task; in fact such regime change is the most difficult process of governmental reform possible.

These dictators and their extended families have too much at stake to just give up when there is political turmoil and challenges to their authority. Also it is important to remember that over the years these guys have amassed huge stores of weapons and trained elite troops to keep the lid on a restive society.

A ragtag army of citizen soldiers or protestors is not going to dislodge a well-organized dictatorial army and security policy in a few days of vigorous protest. Just look at Libya where NATO planes have been bombing Gaddafi’s troops and military infrastructure for weeks without success. Bold talk by European leaders is not going to make Gaddafi leave his compound for exile.

The Arab Spring will likely turn out to be an Arab Summer, Fall and Winter and more Springs before the dictators are removed from power, if they are ever removed from power.

What can be expected over the next weeks and months is more bloodshed and more anger as protests fail to bring change and certaily fail to bring any semblance of democracy. It is just too difficult to get rid of the bad guys.

Why Not Syria?

May 11, 2011

There’s a very good question in and out of the Beltway these days and it relates to our policy ( or lack of a policy) toward Syria. It has now become obvious to many in this country that the United States decided to join NATO and bomb Libya to deter that government from killing its own people, but unlike our involvement in Libya the US has shown unremarkable restraint in Syria where there has been even greater repression against the popular uprising.

This unwillingness to use the same threat of force and eventual use of force to topple the Assad regime would likely bring a end to the terrorist pipeline from Iran to Hezzbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, Syria, which has become another family dictatorship in the center of the Middle East, would signal another victory for the Arab Spring democratic movement sweeping the region.

So why the reluctance to do to Assad what is happening to Gaddafi? Part of the answer is military overstretch – too many military engagements that are costly and create the potential for strategic quagmire. Part of the answer also is that the US and NATO are concerned about creating the perception in the Arab world that the West is driving this democracy movement and that the West is a meddler in the internal affairs of those who support the aims of the Arab Spring.

But there is another part to this reluctance that is not getting enough play in the press and from administration officials. What is left unsaid is that there comes a time in a period of political instability when outside interests like the US and its NATO partners have to ask the question, will the fall of the Assad regime create such a power vacuum in the region, such governing chaos that it might be better to press for reform and slow change, rather than take the military step of pushing the Syrian leadership out of office?

Maintaining some modicum of stability in the Middle East is now the unspoken policy option discussed at the highest levels of the White House and in the NATO countries. Opting for stability over full scale democratic upheaval makes policy makers uneasy and certainly hypocritical, but the issue now in the Middle East is the end game of the Arab Spring. It could be the flowering of democracy, or at least a more open society, but it also could be a complete implosion of the region as dictatorial stability is replaced by the unknown and the uncertain.