The Universal Notebook: Middle East muddle

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Please tell me we have not yet bombed Syria.

As I write this Aug. 30, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, two liberal Democrats who should know better, are drumming up support for air strikes on Syria among the loyal opposition of mad bombers like U.S. Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham, and U.S. Rep. Peter King.

No matter that 91 percent of American people, myself included, don’t want the U.S. to take military action against Syria in the wake of horrific nerve gas attacks on Syrian civilians, Obama and Kerry are probably going to do it anyway. Why? Because, as a sensible woman friend said the other day, “Men always think they can solve problems by killing people.”

No one denies that the use of nerve gas in the inscrutable Syrian civil war was an act of evil. And I’ll even concede that it is likely that the evil Bashar al-Assad regime was responsible, though Assad points the finger at U.S.-backed rebels. But bombing Syria is not going to solve any problems in Syria or anywhere else. It’s just about international macho, Obama showing Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is “man enough” to do it.

Yes, the world would probably be better off without Assad, but bombing Syria is not necessarily going to result in regime change. And it will definitely result in innocent people getting killed. The first time a civilian dies as a result of American bombing, we lose whatever moral high ground we think we may have.

Then, too, when Saddam Hussein, the Butcher of Baghdad, used sarin nerve gas on the Kurds in 1988, the U.S. did nothing. Of course, we now know that the Reagan government was complicit in that attack, having known for years that Iraq had chemical weapons and having provided the intelligence on Iranian troop movements that triggered their use.

If the U.S. were going to intervene every time a brutal rogue government attacks its own citizens, we would have invaded Rwanda and Darfur. If the U.S. were going to intervene whenever a government denied basic human rights to its people, we would have invaded Saudi Arabia by now.

Bottom line, however, is the U.S. is not the world’s cop, and unilateral military action without United Nations approval is illegal. If the UN wants to take action against Assad for the gas attacks, the U.S. should play a role. But ginning up a “coalition of the willing” and flying off to bomb a country in response to a criminal act by its president is just plain nuts. I can understand McCain, who is just plain nuts, thinking it’s a good idea. Heck, he thought Sarah Palin would make a great president. But Obama and Kerry should know better and they should listen to the American people.

Ultimately, I believe that Americans are opposed to bombing Syria not because of anything we know about Syria, but because we find the whole volatile Middle East a lost cause. Our allies one day are our enemies the next. Tribes and sects count more than nationality. There has been violence there since time immemorial. The “Shock and Awe” bombing of Baghdad that ousted Saddam has only led to a decade of further violence in Iraq. Our own George Mitchell got exactly nowhere trying to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. You have to admire the Israelis for their resilience, yet revile them for their treatment of the Palestinians. And now Egypt, once one of the more stable nations in that unstable cradle of destruction, is in flames.

If we could put it to a vote, I bet Americans would overwhelmingly support getting out of the Middle East entirely, letting the whole infernal region go up in flames. Let the victors send us a postcard when they have re-established civilization. But a badly weakened Barack Obama needs to look tough, so I’m afraid U.S. war planes will have bombed Damascus before this column is published.

I hope I’m wrong.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.