31 August 2013

Dear Congressman (a response to Obama's stance on Syria)

I just listened to President Obama's speech from the Rose Garden, where he very forcefully advocated for the use of force against the Syrian government.  The one good thing he did was allow room for the voice of the American people.  Below is a letter I sent to my congressmen, urging them to oppose the use of force at every turn, and instead advocate for a more productive response which might actually help the people of Syria.  I know that it is unlikely to affect any actual conversation in Congress, but at least we can say that our opinions were heard.  Feel free to use the following letter for yourself, as well.

Dear Congressman:

I have heard President Obama's recent speech regarding the use of force against the Syrian regime (8/31/2013).  I understand that the President feels as though something needs to be done in response to the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people.  Unfortunately, the President feels as though the most appropriate response is the use of force against the Syrian government.  The only positive thing that came out of the speech is the President's willingness to listen to the American people, through their representatives.  I ask you to please consider my opinion, which is shared by many of your constituents, and to represent our view in Congress.


First, "no form of force should be used against the Syrian regime," refers to drone strikes, bombing, combat operations, and any other action which utilizes force, destruction, and death.  Consider the unintended consequences of this type of action.  It puts the people of Syria, innocents, in a more perilous position than they are already in.  This does nothing to help the people, which should be our goal.  The counterargument is that they will be better off in the long run for the intervention of the United States, but I urge you to remember that there are never just two options.  There are an infinite number of options available to those who are concerned about the well-being of the people of Syria.  Creativity and difficult and/or costly options should be considered for their benefits; options which would benefit the people of Syria without causing avoidable grief.  A true desire to help the people of Syria should involve a more sacrificial stance on our part.  What is right is not always easy, and what is easy is not always right.

"Based on the use of chemical weapons against its people," is a little simpler.  I know, it may sound a little harsh to some, but think past emotion and enter the world of rationality.  These weapons are being used against the Syrian people, and that is detestable.  Any loss of life is tragic, and steps should be taken against this loss.  However, just because the loss of life may be perpetrated by the U.S. military during a military action does not make it any more justified.  Take a step back from your nationalist and ethnocentric bias (one which we all share) and consider how we will be viewed by those negatively affected by our actions.  If we want to be an example, as President Obama wants us to be, let us be an example of restraint and rationality, leading by example, that example being a rejection of killing and senseless violence.

"At this point in time," is a crucial part of this.  Many people around the world view Americans as rude, self-righteous bullies, especially in the light of the recent wars in the middle east.  To use military force of any kind against ANOTHER government in the middle east justifies the hatred of the U.S., and gives those who oppose us more ammunition against us.  We don't want people to come bomb us when we violate international regulations (which has been a regular occurrence recently), so we should do something else instead.  Also, this leaves room for a change in the position of the U.S. in the future (which I will still oppose, but that is not part of our current argument).  The use of military force will paint this president as a wolf in sheep's clothing, one who ran under of the banner of change, but when it comes to foreign affairs, is nothing more than a continuation of President Bush, playing the same old tune, looking for excuses to stir the pot and start wars in other nations.  The difference is that this time, the congress could be complicit with these atrocities, and would be guilty of ignoring the voices of constituents and balking at the difficult positions required as a part of serving the people.  Don't allow the President to drag you down with him.

So, what should the U.S. do?  The answer is much more difficult than a few simple drone strikes, and even more difficult than a ten-year war.  The answer is HELP THE SYRIAN PEOPLE.  Don't help them by wreaking havoc on their land.  Help them by actually helping them.  Provide assistance to those affected negatively by this conflict.  Provide food, shelter, and use our highly trained forces to help move the people to a safe location, rather than to kill Syrian leaders.  Is that more difficult?  Yes, or course it is!  I am not na├»ve in this.  Will it be costly, absolutely.  Is it as impressive as a military attack?  Not really.  However, sometimes doing the right thing does not result in glory and prestige.  Sometimes it takes humility.  Allow those who want it to seek asylum in the United States, and actively work to provide very easy ways to move them around.  Move the people to other countries where they will be safe, if they wish.  Offer this with no strings attached.  This creates some issues for immigration and "border security," I know, but doing what is right is not always easy.  If you don't want to move people around and help them reach safety, leaving fewer people in Syria to be affected by the government, then send them food, water, medical attention, and other substantial aide which helps these people.

Now how do we cover the cost of this?  Well that will take some sacrifices.  Helping people without causing harm is not easy, and there are always unintended consequences to our actions, but we can certainly make more of an effort than we have in the past.  So, where do we have tons of funds going right now?  If I recall correctly, during the most recent presidential race, President Obama claimed that the United States spent "more on the military than the next ten countries combined" and promised to increase this spending in the future.  Why not use that money?  He is already contemplating using those funds to attack Syria, so why not just divert those funds and use them in a positive way, instead of a destructive way.

If these step seem too hard, too costly, or too overwhelming, then please just admit that this country is not capable of providing real help to the Syrian people, and step back.  Let nature take its course.  To use education as a metaphor, just as true learning starts with student involvement and interest rather than lectures, so, too, does true change start with the involvement and interest of the people, rather than the dictates of a far-off nation.  We cannot force others to do things our way, because the power of force is limited.

In conclusion, remember these words from President Obama in his speech, "some things are more important than partisan differences or politics at the moment."  He is right in this, but he is on the wrong side of this particular issue.  It is more important for you to oppose senseless violence and support real help and change, standing up for what is right, than to worry about how others in your party might react.  Be part of the solution, not the problem.



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