Should Good Men Do Nothing?

“The Only thing Necessary for Evil to Triumph is for Good Men to do Nothing.”

—-John F. Kennedy? Edmund Burke?

Here we are once again, on the eve of a possible “limited” war against another far-away country in one of the worst “neighborhoods” in the world.

How did we get here?

The answer to that question is an unfortunate one and points to a lack of leadership on the part of the Obama administration and other Western nations. For two years, the leader of Syria—Bashar al-Assad—has slaughtered well over 100,000 men, women and children as the world has watched on (and that number is probably low and under-reported).

The world and America has done nothing while Russia and Iran have continued their frequent arm shipments to the Syrian regime as it engages in a civil war against a most diverse and dubious opposition that now includes some elements of al-qaeda.

It wasn’t always dubious, but got so when no Western countries arrived to help level the playing field. And the playing field needing leveling. Almost from the start, as-Assad—a leader [or mis-leader, as Peter Drucker described such men] made in the mold of Saddam Hussein, Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler—used his air force to attack innocents—his own people. Even Hitler, who started his genocide by killing tens of thousands of his own people, did not use his air force to achieve his heinous goal.

And seldom since September 1, 1939, when Hitler took his tanks and planes to Poland, has there been this kind of mismatch between two fighting forces. It was on that fateful day in 1939 in which Hitler created the “blitzkrieg,” a form of warfare that combines the use of tanks, or mechanized ground formations, with planes in the air to defeat armies by encircling and crushing them. On that day the Polish army attempted to defeat such an sophisticated enemy by mounting horses armed with small arms. That is why the Poland campaign was one of the fastest and easiest for Hitler’s army.

Fast forward more than seven decades and we have Syria fighting and destroying small cities using chemical agents and other horrendous weapons against innocents, particularly children (Syria has the greatest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world). But Syria does not care how it slaughters or kills. For example, it has recently been reported that the Syrian regime dropped a “napalm-like” bomb [like the ones the U.S. used in Vietnam] on a playground in the Syrian city of Aleppo, killing most of a dozen children. That is why so many Syrian cities resemble the rubble-ridden cities left in the aftermath of  World War II.

It has been just over a year since President Barack Obama has drawn his now infamous line in the sand against chemical weapons. He said that the game-changer would come when “a bunch of chemical weapons” was thrown around in Syria. We now know that chemical weapons has been “thrown” around between a dozen and 30 times in Syria. In retrospect, and as others have suggested, the line in the sand should have been drawn far earlier, like when Assad used his air force against an innocent, unprotected population.

But we cannot go back. And Obama could not go back on his word, not now, as leaders in such countries as Iran and Russia look on. America—the world’s lone super-power, needs to fulfill its role and back up Obama’s words with action. America’s very credibility is at risk like no other time in history (although one could argue that the U.S. should have joined its European allies far earlier than it did in World War II since word of the Holocaust had been known well before December, 1941).

But America, sadly, is not with the President. Instead, many in a war-weary nation point to Iraq and say “not again.” But Syria is no Iraq. We are “fighting” the wrong war. We are not searching for alleged weapons that do not exist. In Syria, we not only know they exist, we have indisputable proof that they were used and that their use was ordered by high ranking officials in the Syrian regime. The U.S. has the intercepts of those orders and will soon show the world what it already knows.

But the pictures coming out of that nation should be enough for anyone.

However, they were not enough for England, as Prime Minister David Cameron was unable to convince the British Parliament to join the U.S. in this critical mission. Like Americans, they, too, were too focused on the lessons of Iraq. This was indeed a significant defeat, not just for Cameron and England, but the world. Winston Churchill turned over in his grave when his Parliament narrowly defeated this important measure. [Churchill was the best of a leader, a man who always knew exactly which battle and which war to fight. He would see Assad and the destruction and repeat his refrain about “never,” never” “never give in”].   

So Obama must go it alone. So be it. However, as others have correctly pointed out, the American president must make a stronger case to America—and the world—by declassifying at least part of the intelligence and explain that he will not sit idly by as babies and children and women and other innocents get murdered so brutally. He also needs to have a goal, for a war without a goal is one that is doomed to failure. He should not have come out so publicly and stated that his goal is not regime change. In fact, he has telegraphed far too much and has taken away the element of surprise, a key asset for any attacking army [something we have known since Sun Tsu’s Art of War was published so many centuries ago].

But the key is action, and since in 2012 the U.S. spent more on their military than did the countries with the next 10 highest defense budgets combined, we have capabilities that countries like Syria could only dream about. But due to our inaction, the world does not fear, nor respect, America. By attacking one of the world’s worst regimes, we may be able to begin to rebuild our image and command the respect we deserve. But that is a sideshow. They key is to cripple Assad’s army so that he can no longer commit the atrocities that have so horrified the world. 

At this time, in the final days of August, President Obama has said that he has not yet made a “go” decision, although with U.S. five destroyers armed with cruise missiles and other assets in the region, the U.S. is ready to attack. Timing is critical. The attack should not come next month or next week, but within the next 72 hours. Any further delay will only embolden Syria and Hezbollah [the terrorist group fighting with Assad’s armies]. And he must define the mission clearly so that he and the rest of the world knows what the finish line looks like. Put another way, he must know what success will look like after the mission is completed.

But the worse thing to do is do nothing. And capable countries that are unwilling to join in the fight should feel nothing but shame for not joining in a humanitarian mission that is long overdue. For whomever said it, evil will triumph if no action is taken. And with countries like Iran looking to go nuclear, the scale of that evil maybe beyond all of our current comprehension.

—-Jeffrey A. Krames, August 30, 2013




One Response to “Should Good Men Do Nothing?”

  1. jeffreykrames on September 5th, 2013 11:56 am

    Jeffrey, you’ve made a very good argument, but this time I’m afraid I totally disagree with you. In my opinion, this is not a simple “go in, excise the chemical weapons, get out” exercise. I have multiple reasons for my position on this issue.

    While I completely agree that Assad is a mad man who would chemically kill his own innocent people, we are not the world police. The Syrians hate us, just as the Egyptians and Libyans do. They only want us to come in, get rid of their nemesis, and go away. Then they can get back to the business of killing each other for religious reasons and hating the US.

    Even Britain our closest ally, is not convinced that this is the correct response. Their Parliament voted against Cameron yesterday, and personally I believe he was relieved.

    Our hubris has gotten us into several misguided and deadly interventions since Viet Nam,and we have got to stop inserting ourselves into foreign countries’ civil wars.

    This is yet another can of worms that will accomplish nothing, and the collateral effects for the US are many and unfavorable.

    Our rather shaky relations with Putin will be eroded, and he could use this as an excuse to help Snowden release more highly classified and damaging information in retaliation. Iran has threatened to get involved if we take action, a new batch of terrorists bent on destroying America will likely be created by this intervention, and the list of possible repercussions continues.

    Finally, I would ask you to consider the fact that millions of people in our own country are being persecuted on a daily basis by the actions of mad men in Congress. Many elderly are going hungry, the poor are not getting needed chemo and other medical treatments because of the sequester, and blacks, Latinos and women are being discriminated against at levels that do not support our claim of moral leadership. As Will McAvoy said, “America is no longer the greatest country in the world,” and attempting to impose our sorely lacking moral compass on others is hypocritical.

    —Kathy Feingold

    Jeffrey’s Response:

    My dear Kathy:
    You make a very strong and well-informed argument against my opinion piece. I welcome your very strong points, as well as your passion.

    I cannot say that I disagree with many of your arguments; however, I still think that we need to go in and level the playing field in that awful part of the world.

    Why? Because I do believe that we are the world’s policeman. We should not have to be, but we are. We are the lone remaining superpower, and we spend more than the next 10 nations combined on our military each year. The U.S. has that burden, whether we like it or not.

    I agree we have waged too many unnecessary wars. However, I ask you to consider this from my perspective. Most of my parents family were gassed by the Nazis. Murdered in similar fashion to the Syrian children and innocents. That is why this is such a personal issue for me. Since 1925, when the chemical ban was signed in the wake of mustard gas murders in World War I, only three leaders have done such a thing:

    Adolph Hitler
    Saddam Hussein
    Bashar al-Assad

    If we do not act we will be telling Syria, Iran and Russia that it is OK to use this heinous weapon to kill your own citizens. Weakness emboldens thugs like Putin. Russia has stuck a needle in our eye at every turn. They—and Iran—send daily shipments of arms to al-Assad daily. Putin still behaves like Russia is a super-power. They have nuclear arms but their conventional army is no match for ours. Of course I do not want a war with Russia. But, much to my utter disappointment, Obama has been viewed for what he is: a weak and tentative leader. He has diminished our stature on the world stage—in every country across the globe!! If he backs down now our stature will be dealt a punishing blow that might take years or decades to get back.

    We cannot operate from a position of weakness any longer. We are the strongest country in the world by a mile but behave as we are among the weakest. Inaction will invite miscalculation—something that occupied the mind of one of Obama’s predecessors, John F. Kennedy. JFK under-estimated Kruschev in their first meeting, something that upset him very much.
    But then the Soviet Union was far more powerful. Today, Obama must show the world our strength by standing up to a Hitler-like leader like al-Assad. Cripple some of their assets, particularly their air-force (which is not there anymore—so their airfields), and he and the world will know that we mean what we say. Do nothing, and Iran will continue their nuclear program and Putin will continue to defy and laugh at a leader he already disrespects. That could not—and should not—stand.

    —Jeffrey A. Krames, September 5, 1961

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