Congress returns to debate military action in Syria this week. I don’t envy them this task. Like many Americans, I have also been thinking about where I stand on this issue. At first, I was hesitant to share my thoughts. I’m no foreign policy expert. I have no advanced degree in Middle East studies. I have never even travelled to that part of the world.
And yet - maybe just maybe - there is room for my voice in the cacophony of sound coming from politicians and experts and talking heads. Maybe it is important for all of us to take a moment from our ordinary lives and think about extraordinary situations that seem so far removed from us.
Not so that we can find the “right” answer but so that we give the question the time it deserves.
I don’t think anyone claims to have the “right” answer to the question of military action in Syria. I heard it described for even the most passionate politician as a matter of personal conscience.
My conscience tells me that the innocent slaughter of 1,500 people cannot be ignored. However, the reality is the United Nations estimates over 100,000 have already lost their lives in this civil war and, while we have far from ignored the situation, we have never threatened military strikes despite the ongoing loss of life.
My conscience tells me that military action is far from a simple solution and that history has taught us removing a violent dictator does not automatically restore peace. However, history has also taught us that ignoring violent dictators is far from a perfect solution as well.
It would seem that Syria is really a question about how you feel about violence as a solution. If you feel that violence is sometimes required in extreme situations, then it is difficult to argue this is not a situation that reaches those requirements. If you feel that violence is never a solution and only makes matters worse, then your position is clear.
I don’t know how I feel.
The optimistic side of my nature wants to believe the Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King’s of the world. I want to believe that non-violence is the only real answer.
In 2003, I wrote an op-ed for my college newspaper where I passionately argued against military action in Iraq.
We must take a collective breath and say that no matter what we will find another way and we must do it for ourselves and for our children. Alexis de Tocqueville said, “All those who seek to destroy the liberty of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and shortest means of accomplishing it.” We must remember that and decide as a generation what legacy we will leave the world.
Ten years later, the future generations are no longer an abstract idea. They now sleep in my house and eat at my table and sit in my lap. It is because of them that I am now unwilling to remove any weapon from our arsenal.
It is not out of some fear for my own children that I now see things differently. I have no doubt that my children live in a dangerous and complicated world and any decision Congress makes regarding Syria will not change that.
It is more for the children already lost. If the roles were reversed and the leader of my country was using chemical weapons to slaughter his people, I would want other countries to come to our defense. I would want them to use violence. I would want them to act.
I don’t know if this is the right answer.
I don’t know if there is a right answer.
I just know the question affects us all.