The question of what to do about the deaths of hundreds of Syrians from a chemical weapons attack, allegedly carried out by the Assad regime in Damascus, has placed me and most of the world on the horns of a terrible dilemma.
On the one hand, none of us wants to see a repeat of the chemical attack that killed who knows how many Syrians, including many women and children. And I hated the fact that the world did nothing to intervene in Rwanda in 1994 when the Hutus committed genocide against the Tutsis and millions died. We also did little in many other Third World countries where horrible atrocities, like mass killings and mass rape, are a daily occurrence for years on end — like in Guatemala, Sudan, Congo, Cambodia and Burma.
On the other hand, I certainly don't want our government to engage us in another Middle East war on the basis of uncertain information and with even more uncertain goals and knowledge of what the unintended consequences might be.
It is all too easy to drum up support for the use of military hardware and to claim there will be "no boots on the ground." When Americans see video of dozens of dead bodies of Syrians who died from chemical weapons, they are horrified and many of us want to do something — anything — to stop these atrocities and stop them now!
But while the U.S. or the U.N. could have intervened in Rwanda without much opposition — given the much more primitive status of the Rwandan weaponry and the lack of threat of engagement opposing intervention by other powers — this is not the case with Obama's proposed intervention in Syria. And although Assad is no Hitler — he is not likely to be invading Turkey, much less France or the U.S. — he still has powerful allies in Russia, Iran, North Korea and elsewhere, and our attack on Syria could very easily provoke the outbreak of a much wider war in the region and beyond.
So, what do I want the U.S. to do? Nothing?
In my perfect world, the U.S. would lop billions of dollars off the Pentagon's budget and the CIA and NSA budgets and would invest way more heavily in diplomacy. In fact, I'd change the name of the State Department to the Department of Peace & Diplomacy. I'd hire and train thousands of diplomats in the fine art of diplomacy and wouldn't have my department infested with any spies whatsoever. That way, folks in other nations would grow to trust the word of our diplomats and not suspect that they are really spies.
Instead of canceling trips to Russia, I'd advise Obama and Kerry to be meeting constantly with leaders of the nations we fear the most, such as Russia, Iran, North Korea and Syria.
I would work hard to increase the budget and the prestige of the United Nations in our country and around the world. There does need to be a credible police force to enforce international law when rogue nations, like Syria at present, do terrible things to their own people or neighboring nations. But such a police force can't work properly unless all the major powers trust each other and buy into the system. Our job is to help foster that trust and it needs to start by talking more and threatening less the nations that we fear the most.
Fear is the emotion that fuels warfare, the use of chemical weapons, drones, bombs, repression, financial crises and depressions.
We need fearless leaders who are willing to do whatever it takes to overcome fear and bring our adversaries with us until we can settle all disputes among nations over a conference table rather than on the battlefield.
Allen Hallmark lives in Talent.