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Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Cost of Doing Nothing

I have been, for several days now, increasingly nervous that the United States would begin launching military strikes into Syria.  When I saw the announcement that President Obama would be speaking today at 1:15 about the Syrian conflict I felt my stomach drop.  I waited and waited and waited as that 1:15 time came and went and President still hadn’t come out to the Rose Garden to make his announcement.   When finally he did, I was partially relieved. 

And, disappointed at the same time.

I voted for President Obama – in large part because of his opposition to and his pledge to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I have, in the years since, hoped for more rapid progress in these promises.  I have also been angered by our increasing use of attack drones to target and kill our ‘enemies’ – as well as numerous other ‘unintended targets.’

This afternoon when President Barack Obama laid out his plans for Syria I was angered to hear him declare that he has “decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets.”  Even if, as he said, “[t]his would not be an open-ended intervention.  We would not put boots on the ground.  Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope,” it felt like a betrayal of my vote. 

This is not what a Nobel Peace Prize recipient does.

And yet, I was partially relieved to hear the President continue, “But having made my decision as Commander-in-Chief based on what I am convinced is our national security interests, I'm also mindful that I'm the President of the world's oldest constitutional democracy.  I've long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  And that’s why I've made a second decision:  I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress.”

We can still stop any American escalation of this tragedy.  Please write, call, stalk your congressional representatives and let them know that you oppose any U.S. military action in Syria.

But the part of President Obama’s speech that disgusted and disappointed me the most was the following:

A country faces few decisions as grave as using military force, even when that force is limited.  I respect the views of those who call for caution, particularly as our country emerges from a time of war that I was elected in part to end.  But if we really do want to turn away from taking appropriate action in the face of such an unspeakable outrage, then we just acknowledge the costs of doing nothing.

Why is it that not “using military force” is automatically equated with “doing nothing”?  Are we so limited in our thinking?  To the one with a hammer, everything looks like a nail and to the nation with a massive military everything looks like a reason for war. 

But there must be alternatives. 

There can be no doubt that what is transpiring in Syria is “an assault on human dignity” but sending missile strikes will only further compound that situation.   (And, I am not at all convinced that missile strikes would be the end of it.  We may say “limited in duration and scope” now, but those who have lead nations into every war ever fought have promised that it would be over quickly…) 

As a Christian, as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, I believe that we are called to be Peacemakers – and this is no easy thing.  War is easy.  Fighting is easy because it comes naturally to us.  It’s one of our two automatic responses – the other being to run away.  But being a Peacemaker requires us to find a different response.

I agree that we can’t “do nothing.”  We should do something – but this emotional plea to do something about the many thousands that have been murdered in Syria, should not be used to compel us to actions that will only lead to more death and suffering.  We must find another way – we should find many more other ways. 

Doing nothing is not an option.  Neither is military intervention.  But these are not our only alternatives.  This is not a binary, black or white, all or nothing situation. 

Let us be Peacemakers for a change.

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