Tonawanda News

September 11, 2013

DUVALL: The lesson of 9/11 is being relearned in Syria

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Today is the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It strikes me as rather fitting we’re made to decide what to do about Syria on the day when we reflect on our own nation’s promise to fight the forces of terror and extremism.

President Obama made a forceful and persuasive argument Tuesday night for the use of American military force to stop the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. 

One of the lessons we learned on 9/11 is that with great freedom comes great responsibility.

As Obama rightly noted in his speech to the nation, we don’t possess the capability — nor is it our job — to be the world’s policeman. Atrocities happen every day that America could stop if we chose. We do not because no amount of military might will rid the world of evil and there exists a sensible delineation between what we must stop and what we must watch go by the boards.

And as we make that decision on Syria, the president’s intervention is at risk of being talked to death. 

Where once the only options appeared to be military action or nothing, there exists now a diplomatic solution that seems even less likely to deter the Assad regime’s larger crimes against its people.

Everyone would love a diplomatic solution like the one being debated between the United States and Syrian ally Russia wherein the Syrians hand over their chemical weapons to international monitors. Perhaps no one more than the president himself could benefit from avoiding the use of force in Syria.

Such a decision to bomb Damascus remains unpopular in Congress and in the American public so a diplomatic solution seems worth pursuing. It is supported by the United Nations and allies who don’t themselves want to act.

But what does it really accomplish? Any agreement must come with an ironclad assurance that all of Syria’s weapons of mass destruction are turned over but just as we learned in Iraq in the converse, assurances about the destruction of WMD are no more ironclad than assurances they still exist.

It’s also worth asking an obvious question: Exactly how viable a solution is it when Vladimir Putin is the guy brokering the deal?

Furthermore, a diplomatic solution does nothing to punish the Assad regime for its brutal actions and the lack of military response by the world community shows brutal dictators in every corner of the world it’s possible to talk their way around committing crimes against humanity.

The last thing Americans want — this one very much included — is to involve our military in another quagmire in the Middle East. We’ve been caught in that sand trap for too long already.

But there’s one overarching reason why it is a necessity. It is — and always will be — the right thing to do to stop innocent people from being gassed to death and we’re the only ones who can do it.

The world bears the stains of the Holocaust when not enough was done to stop the systematic marching of Europe’s Jews to Hitler’s gas chambers. The horror that resulted set up generations of conflict in the Middle East and the Cold War.

The same can be said when Saddam Hussein’s gas attacks against his Kurds and against the Iranians in their eight-year war carried implicit American backing. Failure to stand on the right side of history has directly contributed to the Arab conflicts raging in the Middle East today.

There is a price for American military action and by now we know it well.

But there is a great price for inaction too, both strategically and in damage to America’s moral authority in the world.

If we stand idly by and allow a despot to take up the ghastly legacy of chemical warfare — if we do nothing in the face of such brazen evil — we lose the ability to say “never again.”

Wasn’t that the solemn promise we made 12 years ago today?

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.