It is always disappointing that people you generally support and believe in push for a policy that is completely wrong headed. We Americans have often perused foreign policy initiatives naive of the realities of how the rest of the world acts and things. It is largely due to our propensity to think positively and imagine everyone thinks we are the good guys because we are democratic and believe in human rights etc etc. The idea that one would kill ones neighbor simply because he or she is a different religion or tribe is alien to us.
However, I might remind everyone that it was not long ago that in the South such attitudes were very prevalent when it came to race. In 1962 when I graduated from high school at the American Community School in Beirut, Lebanon I went to Birmingham Southern College in Birmingham Ala. and landed right smack in the civil rights dramas unfolding in the South. I can still remember my shock when one of my class mates announced that "the only good nigger is a dead nigger". It was the same shock I had when at 16 driving to my school in Beirut my chauffeur announced he liked the current President of Lebanon because he gave an amnesty to prisoners in jail and he was freed. "You were in jail? What did you do?" I asked. He replied "I killed a man." "Was it self defense, was your home invaded what?" He replied simply "He was a Muslim" as if that was enough of an explanation.
I am reminded of the story my father often told about when we were stationed in Egypt in the 50s and he was meeting with the Vice President Zakaria Mohadeen. Stating that in principle the political system of the United States was that we do not discriminate based on "race, creed, or color." Looking puzzled, the Vice President thought for a bit then asked "Well then, how DO you discriminate?" In other words the idea that one did not push for the interests of your own clan and put the other clans down seemed completely stupid and alien. Sort of like Mitch McConnell announcing that the Republican priority was make Obama a one term president.
Looking at whats going on in Syria today and our government's response to it, it would appear that we continue to be oblivious of reality of how people there think. The Syrian conflict started when the group that considered themselves the rightful rulers of the country as they were in the majority - ie the Sunni sect of Islam, decided that the time was right to follow the momentum of the "Arab Spring" and oust the minority that was ruling the country, ie the Alawites (a Shia sect). Assad's response, as any leader of a country would do, elected or not, was to try to stop the attempt. Not so different from Lincoln wanting to prevent the separation of the South from the North back in our civil war. Not so different from the Protestants in Northern Ireland wanting to maintain their dominance over the Catholics leading to what amounted to a near civil war in that region.
There is no question that the Assad regime badly miscalculated and what they must have imagined would be a short lived revolt, as had occurred when Hafaz Assad was the leader and it took "only" 10,000 deaths to end, has ended up a real human tragedy. They should have agreed to some simple demands early on and defused the situation before it got out of hand. The problem for Bashar Assad however is he has never been in full control as his father had been. His father's cronies maintained a great deal of power after Hafaz's death and Bashar has depended on them as he was never meant to be in line as President. It was to be his elder brother while he was to be an eye doctor -maybe even practicing in England. In other words, to blame all the actions of the Syrian government on the "brutal dictator" Bashar al Assad simply does not state the reality of the case and the dynamic of the group of people who influence the running of the country. It could very well be the case he did not even know that one of "his" army units was planning to use chemical weapons. Or he was talked into it the same way our politicians are being talked into attacking Syria as stupid as that may seem. Or maybe the Russians are correct and it was more likely to be a rebel unit hoping to engage the West in supporting the rebels.
From listening to the speech of Ambassador Rice (who by the way got it wrong saying Assad has support form Al Qaida, in fact they are part of the opposition) it would appear our major reason for attacking is to maintain credibility and "send a message" to all those who might be tempted to use such weapons in the future. Nowhere in the speech was anything said about actually stopping the civil war - indeed a great emphasis was placed on NOT leading to regime change, that it was to be very limited in scope and time and certainly no boots on the ground. In other words pretty much a waste of time.
At this stage of the game I don't think any leader in the world could imagine that the US is a toothless tiger or that our President is weak in defending our interests. Not attacking Syria will simply tell them we are not as stupid as some take us for. That we now think before we act, not like the Invasion of Iraq. Syria is not about genocide, it is not about one country invading another, it is not about a country attacking the United States or our allies. It is a simple - though highly painful civil war between one side wanting to rule and the other wanting to prevent it. One thing for sure, we know how minorities and women fared under the Assad regime. That includes Druz, Christians, Shia as well as the majority Sunni. It was reasonably calm and stable country and minorities felt safe and women had rights. We can only imagine what a new Sunni dominated regime would bring. We have already seen elements of the opposition burn churches and shoot people so we know there are lots of bad guys in their midst including Islamic extremists, and indeed Al Qaida. There could be good guys as well but as with all revolts it is usually the more extremist elements that win out in the end as they are usually tougher and more ruthless. I would bet that if the rebels win there will be a blood bath far worse than if Assad wins and if we helped it happen we will deservedly get much of the blame. Let us hope Congress gives President Obama the out he needs to stay out of this no win situation and preserve some semblance of being a country that thinks before it acts.