In the 1960s and 1970s, it was Vietnam. Many of us were there, or if not, we worried over our drafted brothers, uncles, even fathers.
In the 1990s, it was the Persian Gulf War threatening to snatch up young men and women in their prime who had decided to serve their country in reserve or national guard units. Then a decade later, it was the invasion of Afghanistan, and in 2003, the invasion of Iraq. Each time, we parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents cried again.
Now comes Syria?
We can put men on the moon, build cities like New York and Dubai, cure polio and knock back cancer; but we can't avoid war?
The favored option seems to be "surgical" missile strikes? Really? What will it be after two or three tit-for-tat reprisals?
An open letter from the Syrian Parliament to the British Parliament Thursday invokes the 1914 assassination that set off World War I and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, then the letter states: "Local tragedies become regional wars that explode into global conflict because of breakdowns in communication."
This is not to say we should close our eyes to the cruelty of mass murder with chemical weapons, and it certainly isn't to say we are or should be cowardly or isolationist. But it is to say that the parents in all of us are weary of seeing our children thrown at fights around the globe when we have so much still to fix in our own culture. Too, it is to say we're weary of sending them to fight wars to protect our commercial interests -- oil, energy, trade, profit. With all of our experience, we should be smarter now about how to keep Evil Dictator A from toppling Friendly Prince B while courting Russia or China or Oil or Profit.
Sure, sure: There are plenty of arm-chair generals, and in writing this we just make a handful more. But amid the noise surely there are more than a few brilliant minds, and perhaps one or two or 10 may even have more in their plans than tomorrow's political favor, vote and reward.
President Obama has said there must be "accountability" for those who used chemical weapons, according to Secretary of State John Kerry. While Obama has not decided how that will be accomplished, Pentagon options range from establishing a no-fly zone to training and advising opposition to the preferred surgical cruise missile strike at "strictly" military Syrian targets. The trouble with any attack plan is guaranteeing the American people that strikes won't hit innocent civilians or worse still, enemy-planted chemical weapons that might wreak further tragedy and moral problems.
While American boots on the ground might provide better eyes, they cost more -- and they are far too precious to those of us back home to risk.
The Christian Science Monitor, with a long-standing tradition of reporting in the Middle East, this week carried the commentary of correspondent Ayaan Hirsi Ali who offered five reasons that the Arab Spring of pro-democracy uprisings has not failed. Instead, each of its fits and starts has "irrevocably" changed the Arab world.
The reasoning? Urbanization and emigration has left the institution of tribalism less strong and cohesive. At the same time, radical Islam's waning appeal means it is "no longer evident that sharia is the answer" to all the problems of the modern age. Thirdly, the effects of globalization have change attitudes toward the West, so Arabs in particular and Muslims in general are now physically and virtually connected to Europe and the U.S. as never before. At the same time, women and other oppressed groups are asserting their rights, and that trend cannot be reversed. Lastly, there simply is less U.S. and European support.
"In the past, any despot in the region worth his salt understood how to present himself as strategically vital to Western interests. For better or for worse, that game is now almost over." Ali writes. "Rulers who cannot credibly claim to have popular legitimacy can no longer count on being propped up by Washington, London or Paris."
That leaves careful and determined diplomacy, and watchful eyes toward Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, China and Russia.
The more things change, the more they remain the same. Chess on a world scale is not as simple as taking an isolationist stand. But let us all hope and pray it's not as drastic as war.
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