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Syria: The American People's Right to Ask Why

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In the past 12 years the United States has been involved in three military conflicts in the Middle East region. Only one had lasted mere months. First there is still the war in Afghanistan, beginning a month after September 11, 2001. Two years later in March 2003 began the war in Iraq, finally to end in December 2011. And third let's not forget Libya, the only conflict that was brief that lasted from March 2011 to October 2011.

Let's not also forget the cost in money spent, blood spilt, and shattered lives. According to NationalPriorities.org at their website, since 2001 the current cost of the Afghanistan War has reached over $650 billion and still climbing. The cost of the Iraq War although having ended almost two years ago, is still climbing and has reached over $800 billion. The total monetary cost of the two major wars has now climbed close to $1.5 trillion so far. And for every hour that passes, since 2001 the American people are currently paying just over $11 million per hour from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And that's not counting Libya, yet at $1 billion that cost was considered by some to be cheap. Furthermore the U.S. also had the help of NATO in Libya, and miraculously not one American life was lost.

Then of course there have been the invaluable cost of American lives from involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, the fatalities, the shattered bodies, and the mental health sacrifices (PTSD) all paid by American troops. Furthermore, there's the toll of prolonged and multiple deployments from a seemingly endless military involvement not only on the troops themselves, but also on their families. Or put another way, let's use World War II as an example, that global war which some of our granddads or great-granddads may say was THE BIG ONE. Although it officially began in 1939 to end in 1945, American involvement in WW II did not happen until after the Pearl Harbor attack in December 7, 1941. Meaning, total U.S. involvement in the conflict had lasted less than four years, one approximate estimate at three years and nine months. Yet the length of that U.S. involvement has far been exceeded, by both the Iraq War that lasted eight years and almost nine months, originally expected to last less than two months, and the current war in Afghanistan which has lasted so far at twelve years.

Now after having laid all that out, then comes Syria. Before going further, it is undeniable that chemical weapons were used upon over 1,400 Syrian men, women, and children. The constant images on TV, all horrifying, and the evidence found in the soil, blood, hair, and clothing from the use of sarin gas, also lends credence to the latest atrocity. And this is why I'm also glad that CNN's Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, and current U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power are both amidst the vanguard in all of this. For both have past experience in covering the atrocities of mass murder.

I've always liked and admire Christiane Amanpour. I also even like saying her name. She's covered genocide in the Bosnian War, March 1992 - December 1995, and in Rwanda in 1994. And she's also been known to parachute into conflict areas to get close to a story, as if she's some General "Jumpin Jim" Gavin who in his mid-thirties was the youngest general in WW II.

Then there's Samantha Power, a former journalist and a Pulitzer Prize winner, and like Ms. Amanpour, Samantha Power had also covered the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda graphically depicted in her 2002 book A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. A scholar on human rights and now a United Nations Ambassador, it was she who stated that all diplomatic efforts involving Syria, Russia, and the UN had failed. But that was all last week at around September 6th. And since then, there has been an initial breakthrough such as covered in the current cover story on September 11, 2013 in the Wall Street Journal titled, Syria Offers To Disclose Arms Cache by Carol E. Lee and Janet Hook. For the following excerpt from the cover story reveals, "In a day of fast-moving developments, Syria for the first time directly admitted that it possesses chemical weapons and said it would cease their production and disclose the locations of the stockpiles to the international community, including the United Nations and Russia, which is at the center of the negotiations."

We have to call it what it is, a significant initial breakthrough at least. For recently while interviewed by Charlie Rose of PBS, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had stated, "Again, you always imply that we have chemical weapons."

Chemical weapons, what is it about them that suddenly gets our attention? On the MSNBC program The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on September 4, 2013, a professor from Swarthmore College named Dominic Terney was a guest. For he states, "The entire case for war in Syria hinges on this idea that chemical weapons are uniquely evil. But the distinction between chemical weapons and conventional weapons is fairly arbitrary. It is not clear that conventional weapons like bombs or high explosives, or guns are any less brutal."

And the professor is right, well, mostly intellectually that is. But nevertheless it also has to be said that there is in fact something undeniably taboo about chemical, and biological weapons. Yes, bombs and bullets are malicious, deadly, but they are usually quick. Whereas the nature of chemical weapons are uniquely abhorrent, especially from seeing the images on TV which such use usually bring on a slow and excruciating death. It is as if someone had suddenly decided to open a Pandora's box, and President Barack Obama had alluded to all this in the nature of such weapons in an excerpt from his September 10th Tuesday night speech as he said, "What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas and we choose to look the other way?"

Also both Christiane Amanpour, and Andrew Sullivan founding editor of The Dish blog, and among the guests of CNN's Anderson Cooper AC 360 Later just after the president's speech on Tuesday night, appear to agree that the threat of force did bring about the latest breakthrough in the current negotiations between Syria, Russia and the UN. Furthermore on the Tuesday night program, Ms. Amanpour argued passionately with Fareed Zakaria as he expressed, "The first principle of international law, as I understand it, is that you do not take military action except on self-defense unless authorized by the U.N. Security Council."

Ms. Amanpour countered by using the example of Operation Desert Fox in 1998 in Iraq, the four day cruise missile and bombing campaign ordered by President Bill Clinton to strike Iraq's WMD facilities. Also on the AC 360 Later program, former weapons inspector David Kay admitted that he was initially skeptical of the strikes, but upon later interviewing senior Iraqi officials, they revealed that the strikes did shake Saddam Hussein's confidence. And from that admission, Ms. Amanpour responded by saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case. Mr. Kay thank you very much indeed."

American voices are influencing discussion about Syria. That is good, because it would not have happened if the president had decided to strike first, instead of bringing the matter to Congress for a vote. American citizens such as Ms. Sheena Gayomba graduate student of Hyde Park, NY among those interviewed on NBC News Taking Sides as she said, "I think not. I feel that reasoning for striking Syria is valid, since we actually have evidence that there is a civil war in Syria. But I don't understand why we should go to Syria and not Darfur for example."