Tonawanda News

September 1, 2013

DUVALL: No good options remain in Syrian civil war

By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — In the intervening day between when this is written and when you read it, events could well render this moot. Without hyperbole, I can say by then we could be hurtling toward World War III.

The situation in Syria is exactly that serious.

After a preponderance of evidence suggests Syrian President Bashar Assad gassed his own people killing as many as 1,400 civilians — many among them defenseless women, the elderly and young children — the world expressed shock and outrage.

And that’s about all we’ve done, is talk.

Some of the best advice I was ever given came from a high school history teacher: The most difficult choices in life are rarely between something good and something bad. They’re almost always between something bad and something just as bad.

That’s precisely where the Obama administration finds itself, in part due to its own dithering and lack of a coherent policy toward the Middle East and also because of unforeseen events that no president could address without serious consequences resulting from all available options. 

President Obama rightly stated last year if Assad used chemical weapons on his own people it would change America’s calculus on their bloody civil war. 

He’s right, there’s a moral imperative for America, as the world’s greatest defender of freedom, to act when atrocities like this happen. Standing by and doing nothing is in itself doing something — it’s signaling to the world’s thugs that it’s permissible to used abhorrent weapons on innocent civilians without fear of reprisal. 

Of course, the alternative is military action that almost certainly will ratchet up what is already turning into a regional war and threatens to drag us back into a prolonged conflict in the Muslim world. 

And that’s actually not the worst-case scenario.

Our interjection into the conflict could prompt a retaliatory strike on Israel by Syria or its allies in Lebanon, Hezbollah. If that retaliation is large enough it will require an Israeli response, at which point the fight between two guys in the bar turns into an all-out melee. Then the reticent Brits and other NATO allies will be compelled to get off the sidelines, as would Iran. Russia, already arming the Assad regime, could be drawn in, too.

And then it’s quite literally World War III.

To admit Assad gassed his people and fail to act relegates the Unites States to the league of ordinary nations. To respond could set in motion a series of events the entire world will come to regret.

I don’t envy the president for having to make this decision given the potential consequences but I agree, the moral imperative is too important not to act.


I’ve got a double-dose of sad news to report from our newsroom. Veteran photographer Doug Benz and our stalwart city editor, Neale Gulley, will be leaving the News at the end of the week. Both are pursuing new careers but leave behind an impressive legacy of high quality journalism and commitment to this community.

Their departures aren’t related, though the timing is certainly something of a gut punch for the staff here. 

On a personal level, Neale and Doug are not just valued employees — they’re good friends, each. I’ll miss the daily interactions, thought-provoking conversations and goofball antics that helped fill up the hours we’ve spent together all these years doing the news.

It’s an astonishing list of things we’ve covered together in what just earlier this month was my six-year anniversary of being hired to run this paper: two presidential elections, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the crash of Flight 3407, NT’s run to a state football title and special projects that delved into waterfront redevelopment, domestic violence and prescription drug abuse — to recall but a few.

They are each exemplary journalists and their departure will be felt hard here as we move forward without them.

The good news is they leave behind a staff that’s better for having worked with them — a group I know will redouble their efforts to keep up with all the news that’s fit to print in the Tonawandas until their replacements are found and brought up to speed.

I wish both Neale and Doug well and offer my gratitude personally and on behalf of readers for their years of good and hard work. 

During their time here they made the Tonawandas and its newspaper better.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.