I hope that as I write these words, a true diplomatic solution is in progress for Syria. In the meantime, I think about how conflict in the Middle East has been a given for generations, and I wonder if my two-year-old daughter will ever see an end. As I think about her, and about how much more efficient and complex and deadly the weapons of the future will be, I hope that we will seize this moment in time to start focusing on the only weapon that I believe can bring true, lasting peace to the Middle East: knowledge.
For the past few weeks, I have watched countless Facebook friends posting photos: “I’m against war in Syria.” Undoubtedly, most of them mean “I’m against American military intervention in Syria.” (And, undoubtedly, a few mean, “What did President Obama say? I’m against that.”). But, here’s the thing: it sounds like we, as Americans, don’t know that there is already a war in Syria. That there has been a war in Syria since 2011, and that there were many heinous atrocities and conflicts before 2011. That the use of chemical weapons might be new, but the slaughtering of innocent people is not. That this is another chapter in a long, tortured history.
So, what do I think should happen in Syria? I have no idea because I don’t know enough. My knowledge of Damascus hearkens back largely to my Sunday School days, and I’m thinking that Sunday School probably presented a somewhat incomplete accounting of socioeconomic circumstances. This is the problem for all of us: we approach the Middle East the same way over and over and over again because our collective knowledge of the region is wholly inadequate. It seems highly likely that much of the sustained conflict in that region results from individuals with wholly inadequate understandings of the racial, religious, social, and economic backgrounds of its people drawing artificial lines to divide it up.
The one thing that I’m clear on is this: if violence could be transformative in the Middle East, the Middle East would already be transformed. We have tried the same thing over and over, a hundred different ways. It’s hard for me to imagine how military action in this particular circumstance could do anything but pile on to the death toll. I understand international norms and red lines. But it seems to me that norms and lines must give way to reality and impact.
The President is working hard to explain to us why Syria matters to U.S. national interests. If Syria matters enough to bomb, it matters enough to study. If we, as a country, came together to better understand the people and geography of the Middle East, I believe that knowledge would be more powerful and effective than any unmanned drone.
Beth is a mom, wife, sister, friend, and HR executive. She's also on a journey to become a yoga teacher. She likes watermelon, reality television, and politics.