by Sol Schindler
Aside from being a vacuous oxymoron leading from behind is a path to suicide. No leader has ever boasted of his prowess by being in the rear. If a leader wishes success he must show himself whereever action is thickest so that all elements know that a supervising intelligence leads. In the events developing from the Arab Spring in the mid-East we clearly see how essential it is that one does not speak (from the rear) to express one’s emotion but rather airs the plans of action under consideration from a leading position. It is meaningless for an administration spokesman to say that he is outraged by the bloodshed in Syria and then move on to another subject. He is obliged, if he wishes any credence, to elaborate on how his outrage will affect the course of future events. If he cannot tell his listeners that, they will eventually stop listening to him. Certainly that point has now been reached in Syria.
President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and other administration spokesmen have expressed their outrage at the massacres taking place in Syria and have urged Bashir al Assad to step down so that meaningful peace negotiations can take place. Mr. Assad, as many predicted, has not even acknowledged these remarks and is now receiving arms and soldiers trained in their use from Iran and other known sources. The eighteen-month-old civil war grows deadlier each month and no end appears in sight. What is to be done?
There is much we can do if we find the resolve. First we should follow the advice of Jeanne Kirkpatrick and remove the kick me signs from the backs of our representatives abroad. This will engender a healthy atmosphere in which frank and open discussions can take place. Unfortunately, as events have shown, the kick me sign is still in place. When our Ambassador to the United Nations insists that the murder of our Ambassador to Libya, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, was the result of spontaneous outage at an American film made by an Egyptian Copt which hardly anyone has seen one realizes that public statements made by prominent government officials are tailored to conform to doctrine rather than reality. True, after a few days the Administration admitted it was a kind of a terrorist act. Nevertheless, we don’t dare say our enemies hate us. To do so would shatter our dreamy construct of a peaceful, loving world.
The Syrian government has long been our enemy. During the Clinton administration the senior Assad kept Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who had traveled over four thousand miles to see him, waiting two hours before inviting him into his office. Any Arab would have considered that insulting, but our diplomats seem to lack that perception. During the Iraq war Syria was a well known and much discussed channel of aid to the insurgents. The American army even made a minor but successful raid against one Syrian outpost engaged in the transport of men and material. But the raid was never repeated. We did not wish to provoke.
The courses of action that lie before us are few in number. We can continue to do what we are doing now: provide medical aid to assist in the care of the thousands of people being shot and provide other non-lethal aid such as blankets and tents to the tens of thousands who have been forced to flee their homes. This is all very good but is far from solving the problem. We can of course, do what the rebel army has asked: insure a limited conflict free zone where people can move about freely with no fear of being strafed from the air or from adjacent artillery. Such a move could put us in conflict with Syrian government forces but the Syrian Air Force has such a dismal record in its disastrous encounters with Israel it is hard to believe they would challenge American action.
The argument reaffirming our do nothing position is that we really know very little about the rebels except that they are mostly Sunnis and the government they would install would naturally be Sunni and quite possibly under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. The large minorities of Christians, Druze, and Kurds could very well be discriminated against. This is true, but what is also true is that by dithering in the rear we lose any influence we might have on the inevitable replacement government. If we want to see a Syrian government moderate in both its foreign and domestic affairs, and reasonably favorable to the United States, we should begin aid to those elements that can best construct such a government and we should do so with vigor instead of apology.
There are some who say we should work on becoming self-sufficient in energy, which is more than possible with the new discoveries of shale oil and natural gas that have been made, and then turn our backs on the quarrelsome Mid-East; but in 9/11 Al Qaeda attacked us not because we lacked self-sufficiency in oil but because they hated us. They will continue to hate us whether we need Mid-East oil or not. It is time we rise and say we like being Americans, we want to have peaceful relations with everyone, regardless of race or religion, but we are fully capable of defending ourselves and will do so if necessary. That does not mean we take military action against any country that disagrees with us. It does mean we speak with authority and maturity and that in any conflict the world would know immediately which side the United States is on.
The views expressed by the author are his own.
Sol Schindler was born in Sioux City, Iowa in 1924, served in the army (ETO) 1943-46, MA Univ. of Iowa 1951, majored in English, minored in philosophy. USIA 1952-1980 served mostly in Asia, Indonesia, Burma, India, Viet Nam, Pakistan, Korea, with the exception of 3 ½ years in Yugoslavia. Final assignment, Deputy Chief of Programs, ICS, USIA. Upon retirement worked part time for the State Department, Freedom of Information, 1980-2003. After retirement published more than 100 op eds and book reviews in the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The Mediterranean Quarterly, the Middle East Quarterly, and a number of smaller publications. This is his second appearance in American Diplomacy.