Monday, September 9, 2013

Syria and September 11th: The Past, the Present and the Weariness of War

“Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.” – Woody Guthrie

At this time, when we commemorate another anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, it’s hard to separate those heartbreaking and heinous events of 12 years ago from the difficult and frightening international calamity in which we currently find ourselves embroiled.

The Mideast in 2013

Amidst the American political posturing about Syria, where because of whom the present White House occupant happens to be, we are seeing the uncommon circumstance of the traditional war hawks on the Right, who automatically disdain any proposition by Obama, suddenly becoming awkward peaceniks; while many of the more conventionally dovish Democrats, in support of their party leader, are trumpeting a call to action. 

But what’s being lost in the now, typical and expected, bitter and divisive, biased bickering and battling, is the humanitarian viewpoint - the fact that the devastation in Syria is not really about whether the Republicans are, once again, attempting to weaken, if not destroy, the presidency of the man that they so irrationally detest, but rather about the people of Syria, our fellow citizens of the world.

Somehow, as we now collectively recognize the sacrifice and sorrow of the thousands of American lives lost we, simultaneously, lack pity, empathy and sympathy regarding the more than one hundred thousand deaths in Syria and the countless others currently in harm’s way.  Judgments have been made here that there is no direct American interest in this conflict, completely ignoring humanitarian compassion and concerns, inferring  then, that human lives are unequal and inequitable; that a Syrian life, an Arab life, a Muslim life is not as worthy as a Christian American’s; and no thought could be more anti-American than that. Still, we are, understandably, a nation awash in weariness of war.

The Syrian situation couldn’t possibly be more complex or complicated and it honestly appears that there is no right decision, no correct course of action, or even inaction. Is there any plausible scenario in which the United States or our President emerges from this state of affairs not diminished in some way – intervention or isolationism, neither seems a positive approach with a prospective, constructive conclusion. The questions and concerns continue to mount - simply put, who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, or are there even good guys in this murkiest of struggles? If the U.S. comes to the aide of the rebels, are we providing support to some of the very same people who 12 years ago so brutally and heinously attacked us? As alarming a possibility as that seems it would not be a first as, regrettably, it was the Reagan administration that trained and armed the fighters and leaders who went on to form Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, when they fought the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

What of our relationship with Putin, as vile a supposed friend as we could ever be cursed with; and Russia, who arm and are strongly allied with the Syrian government? If we attack, are we then beginning a defacto cold, or even hot, war with our former long-time antagonists? And if Congress doesn’t authorize American military intervention, and we don’t back up our words and principles, does our country appear weak to the rest of the world, especially Iran, who’s closely watching our every move as they prepare for nuclear armament? Alternatively, if Congress votes nay, but Obama strikes anyway, does he lose the support of the American people for the remainder of his presidency; and if we do intervene, to what long-term purpose, and with what inevitably unknown consequence? Do we choose to ignore a humanitarian disaster or do we chance involvement in yet another war in this highly volatile, explosive and unpredictable area of the world? Is this, when examining every possible end result and outcome, but a lose/lose situation?

And yet, despite such pessimistic forecasting, is there still some hope for a bloodless denouement? A new wrinkle has arisen in this treacherous, challenging and chaotic global chess match, in which the innocent civilians of Syria are the imperiled pawns, with the Russian proposed peaceful handover of the country's chemical weapon stockpile to the international community. That, however, involves placing great trust in two very untrustworthy players, the aforementioned Vladimir Putin and murderous, Syrian despot, Bashar Asaad. 

  9/11- One Nation. One People.

Now and for all time, we honor those whose sacrifice and whose bravery and courage and conviction rise above petty, political partisanship to truly define the word - American.  An American is not white or black or brown or yellow.  An American is not a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim or a Sikh or a Hindu or an Atheist.  An American is not a Republican, a Democrat, a Conservative, a Liberal, a Libertarian or an Independent – an American is all of those things and more. An American is not even necessarily born within the borders of our 50 states. We can let the worst of us – the biased, the bigoted, the blowhards – the radio talk show hosts, the TV pundits, those in power who are willing to sink to the lowest of levels just for one additional vote – divide us; or we can look to the best of us, to those who displayed authentic patriotism, to those who lost loved ones and to those very loved ones who have left us – and allow them to unite us.  Let’s reject those prophets of doom who make profit from doom.

I also commend my fellow New Yorkers who behaved so boldly, calmly and resolutely. We came together, we pulled together and we supported each other - as we always do - we of the most diverse population in the nation - we of every language, religion, culture, and ethnic background - we who join as one, time and again because our differences aren’t a weakness but our greatest strength. We may in some ways be dissimilar but ultimately we are the same - with our regard, our respect, our embracing of our differences and the eventual melding of them that makes us the richest and strongest culture in the word. It is the might and power of our diversity that bonds us and makes us above all - New Yorkers.

“Even right near Ground Zero and all over New York today, New York is alive more than ever, that is the Mecca for everybody on the East Coast, for every kid from all over the United States and still from around the world. The sense of creativity and possibility in NY remains undiminished.” -  Howard Fineman, Huffington Post

“The first time I arrived in America…I landed in New York and I went down to Ground Zero and I met New Yorkers and it just struck me how Al Qaeda had basically picked the wrong place, they picked on the wrong people. They just didn’t understand the mentality of New Yorkers… they are themselves, they are unique to this country… New Yorkers were like, ‘is that it. Is that all you’ve got? We are going to move on, we are who we are, and we are going to continue.’” - Jamie Tarabay, National Journal,

In tribute to the heroes and victims of that dreadful day, and to my fellow Americans, and Americans yet to be, those who dream a dream as all our forebears did, those "tired, poor, huddled masses, yearning to breathe free." no matter their affiliations or ideologies, we must never forget that this country belongs to us all, to “we the people,” as is so well expressed by  Woody Guthrie’s lyrics in his “This Land is Your Land.”


  1. beautifully put.
    Let's hope this proposed solution by Putin to destroy the chemical weapons works out.
    It would be great if now and in the future we can skip war and go right to the negotiating table where countries can hash out settlements based on international pressure rather than acknowledging surrenders.
    NY is the best!

    1. Thanks, very much! And, indeed, let's hope this new Putin proposal provides a peaceful resolution. It would be nice to be able to trust him, for a change.