In politics there is the phrase, “a slippery slope.” This means once you start something you oftentimes slide down to its pre-determined ending.
This slide is usually greased, therefore making it unavoidably slippery, with many factors. Sometimes it’s greased with overstated information or statistics to make the case, sometimes it’s greased with appeals to emotion and moral standing, and finally, no matter the intentions, sometimes the situation is just an “accident waiting to happen.”
President Barack Obama stands at the edge of this slippery slope with the Syria situation. After months and months of avoiding the precipice and an unavoidable slide into another war, he has endangered his political legacy with this effort to punish Bashar al-Assad for crossing the international “norm” or “redline” relative to the use of chemical weapons in the Damascus attack on Aug. 21.
The Obama Administration estimates over 1,400 deaths resulted from this attack. But in The Los Angeles Times’ Sept. 4 World section, it reports that Britain and France cite numbers far lower. They put the confirmed deaths at less than 400. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights — “generally regarded as one of the most reliable sources of information on casualty figures,” reports The L.A. Times — says it has confirmed 502 deaths. Secretary of State John Kerry has used the number 1,429 and President Obama uses the number 1,000, so the number keeps changing, but no doubt relative to the rationale for a U.S. “attack,” the numbers will always be on the high side.
Women and Children
But when the numbers don’t make the case, then the emotional appeal comes into play. How many women and children were killed is referred to repeatedly; airing the videos of the victims suffering adds to the case. But the “closing argument” to this phase is the moral one. It is “our moral imperative.”
Is the role of the United States, the last world superpower standing, that of the moral police for the whole world? Is killing people with chemical weapons less moral than killing people with bombs, bullets or hunger? As the President has said, we can “go it alone,” but if the rationale is that Assad has crossed the “red line,” why do none of these other countries who acknowledge this threshold come with us on this “moral” crusade?
An Accident (?) Waiting to Happen
But, you can already hear the brakes “screeching”” and we’re cringing as we wait to hear the sound of impact. The extent of the damage from this military foray remains to be seen but telltale signs are starting to emerge. In Sunday’s L.A. Times (9/8/13) there is an article entitled “U.S. widens Syria attack plan.” The article is about the military expanding the target lists because during this hiatus (while seeking congressional support) the Syrian military has moved their forces around. They are speculating at least a three-day strike so that the targets they don’t get on the first assault can be followed up on the second day, and that it may not just be cruise missiles but some bombs may be delivered by piloted aircraft
What about civilian collateral damage in this expanded attack? How many non-combatants — yes, women and children — will die from this effort to degrade Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons? What if an American pilot is killed delivering the missiles or bombs? What if one of the U.S. warships in the area gets attacked?
Well, with the first question, so much for moral standing; with the second two, if this happens then it’s on.
Finally, on Assad’s side you have Hezbollah and on the rebels’ side you have forces aligned with Al-Qaeda. Both are terrorist enemies of the United States. In the final analysis this is a “no-win” situation in Syria and neither side will bolster our national security in the region. Also, neither would use cruise missiles to deliver a counter-attack. It would be delivered in an abandoned backpack on some street corner at a public event somewhere in our world.
Mr. President, don’t do it. It’s a slippery slope with the end result being another quagmire, another Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. Listen to the American people. Make peace, not war.
Warren Furutani is a former member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, California State Assembly, and Los Angeles Board of Public Works. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.