I woke up this morning not sure how to be an American, a vegan and a pacifist. How does one walk the earth peacefully when her country appears poised for yet another military action? I follow the news cycle and watch as Secretary of State John Kerry refers to Syrian President Bashar Assad as a “thug and murderer”; and I know it means the rhetoric is ratcheting up for missile strikes. I have seen it so many times before.
One thousand four hundred twenty-nine people are now believed dead as a result of a nerve gas attack in Syria. We are told they were killed by their own government. It is a horrible way to die. As a working journalist, the images and videos of people, many small people with thin arms and hollow eyes, who have been starving in make-shift box and cloth villages for months now, are coming through my computer, in my editing stations and on the dozens of televisions that surround me all day long. They are writhing in agony until they grow still and die. There are also the faces of twenty small children killed in a bloody battle looking out in post mortem photos, hoping someone will find them and know who they are.
Many Americans believe we hold the position as the moral, economic, and political leader of the world, and they expect the United States to create a solution. But the answer does not appear to be dropping missiles on people already so defeated by civil war. And post-Iraq, more Americans are wary of war: The nation is divided, with slightly fewer favoring military action. Their cautiousness reflects a confusion about who the “bad guy” really is, in the intricate web of regional politics in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring. Syria remains intensely complex: Assad’s family has been in power for decades, and prior to Bashar, his father ran the country for thirty years. There are no less than a dozen Syrian groups demanding Assad step down. Among them is the Muslim Brotherhood, also involved in the civil unrest in Egypt and al-Qaeda. The Western media is eager to tell us who is right and wrong, but the faces of those children demand something more than name calling and violence under the guise of freedom.
If war created peace—if the people we are allegedly helping actually received real help in the form of food, medical care, electricity, water–then who could oppose it? But the long track record of human history does not show that peace comes from war, or that the people who need help most will get it by military force.
The plain truth is that there are no simple answers to the Syrian conflict. Since the beginning of the conflict, more than one hundred thousand have died and millions have been displaced. The nation is in a state of economic chaos and has become an opportunistic base camp for terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
…More than one hundred thousand have died and millions have been displaced. The nation has become an opportunistic base camp for terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
Add to that the struggle in the international community to find agreement, and we have a situation where the Syrian people remain trapped in a nation of starvation, violence, and turmoil, more than two years after the outbreak of civil war. The European Union has backed away from former economic and trade sanctions, to which Russia and China had never agreed. The U.S. stands alone in deep sanctions, including freezing of Syrian assets, which opponents claim only squeezes Assad into a tighter box—ultimately resulting in a proliferation of terrorist groups, and in diminished incentives to talk, as evidenced by Assad’s refusal to participate in peace negotiations.
President Obama and the UN Security Council have requested a peace convention bringing Assad and the rebels to the table, but the rebels won’t meet unless Assad steps down and he won’t step down until he is assured of a free election in his absence, something rebels have not promised.
Recently UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged members of the Security Council to push for diplomatic options to bring all Syrian parties to the negotiating table, saying there is no military solution to the crisis.
“We must pursue all avenues to get the parties to the negotiating table,” Mr. Ban said at a ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the PeacePalace in The Hague. Mr. Ban has not been specific about what those “diplomatic options” might include, but clearly the people of Syria need help. The U.S. has donated more than one billion dollars in humanitarian aid, yet it does not appear to have made a dent in making life more bearable for the Syrian people.
Getting Syria on its economic feet even with Assad at the helm might be a start. The U.S. sanctions have not been effective in changing the government’s stance but appear instead to have backed it into a corner. Cessation of violence and civic unrest are clearly in the U.S. interest, but we must pursue peace without encouraging the rise of al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. Restoring our trade relationships for oil in the region could be helpful to us and the people of Syria. Destabilization through blockade only adds to the chaos. A more pragmatic solution might be to add an economic incentive to get Assad and the rebels to the table. While such economic solutions are untested, it is clear that missile strikes will not aid the people of Syria, and may indeed assist terrorist organizations who proliferate in upheaval.
I was lost in these thoughts this morning, when I saw my granddaughter, a four-year-old blonde pixie, dancing in a pink velvet and chiffon fairy dress while holding one of her pet chickens. She moved like someone performing the Nutcracker if it had a rooster as the main character. “Look Gam, Star Moon is dancing with me!”
That, for me, is the moment of clarity. I believe that every little kid on earth has the right to be just as happy as she is right now.
Let’s not drop bombs in Syria. It’s doubtful that the Congress will agree, and even the normally hawkish lawmakers are reticent this time. It will not accomplish the objective of helping the Syrian people, of putting a smile on the face of a kid who just wants a meal and a safe place to sleep. Our goals for this nation will have to be humble and practical and they will have to line up with what the unaffiliated masses in Syria actually want as opposed to only serving Western interests and values. All we can do is assist in clearing the way for Syria to choose its own future.
Peace supporters can march in the streets and tweet their congressmen, hold rallies and alert the media. We can help, if we can summon the will and the energy after so many years of war and a political environment that threatens to shout down anyone in dissent. It’s hard but not impossible. Let’s radicalize peace and be relentless in our compassion. If you’re having a rally call me, I’ll show up.
More from Julie: Chicken Dreams – Rosie’s Choice
Illustration: Peaceful Dumpling