The weekend news has been all about President Obama's surprise decision to honor the spirit of the War Powers Act and seek congressional support before taking military action against Syria.
Let's face it -- it's a very complicated situation. I regret that we have become so cynical a nation that when our president decides to utilize military assets to respond to war crimes and also ask for Congressional authorization to do so, that this important decision is met with such shock. We've been conditioned to expect (if not believe) that the U.S. president can (and should) lob cruise missiles at despots at will without the need for congressional action. That our president has decided to take military action against the Assad regime, but as part of that decision is also asking Congress to grant authorization, is courageous. This is puzzling many who thought they had him all figured out.
I will be calling my congressman this week to ask him to support President Obama's decision to use military force against the Syrian regime that committed the heinous war crimes we've seen in the past week and a half (including the killing of over 400 children.) Why? I'll quote my 9-year-old, "Doing nothing is not an option. The bad man will think killing his own children and adults is acceptable behavior. He must be punished."
I have a unique perspective on these atrocities, gained from a quarter century of working globally, in and out of military uniform. I'm also the mother of three little Americans. Allow me to share the four reasons why I see things as I do.
First, when I was interviewed earlier this week by another media group, I prefaced my comment by telling the reporter that I remember well the chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish people in northern Iraq in the early 1990s. The ghastly and tragic image of a mother's anguished facial expression, as she embraced her infant and they died by mustard gas, has never left me. That it's happened again twenty years later shakes me to the core.
Second, in 1992, shortly after the post-war No Fly Zone was established, I was among the first aircrews deployed to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to patrol southern Iraq. During my military career I spent many months over the course of eight years in both Saudi Arabia and Turkey. I've been in the private homes of Saudi and Turkish citizens. They're real people, with real families, real family businesses, real internal political disagreements and a real desire to live their lives without fear. Many of their neighbors are not as fortunate; they live in great fear (i.e., the people of Syria) but my point is this: the people of the greater Middle Eastern region are not a stereotype of turbans and head scarves as many simplistic American minds want to believe so they can write them off.
Third, just last autumn, I spent two weeks in Israel on a business trip. Within five minutes of exiting the airport in Tel Aviv, I was listening to first-hand expressions of fear of attack from Syria and Iran from the taxi driver. During one of my workdays in the office, we evacuated into the shelter in the building when the city-wide alarm was sounded -- a regular drill for Israelis, always prepared for chemical weapons (or worse) to be lobbed their way by one of the neighbors. Within a month of my return home, war broke out and missiles were exchanged between Gaza and Israeli forces. Yet, the mommies and daddies I had met there continued to take their kids to school, drive to work and listen for reports of where the missiles landed that day. They went about each day hoping this would not be the day they most feared. Americans have absolutely no idea what it's like to live with that threat level daily. We are blessed to be so safe here, because so many military members have sacrificed so much on our behalf. Yet most Americans remain oblivious to the terror experienced by humans like us, who live there instead of here, simply due to the accident of birth.
Lastly, three months ago I was in Germany with my family, hosted for a few days by a couple from Syria and Turkey. Over a delicious dinner of tasty Syrian food, we heard their very real, constant fear that their family members will be killed by the evil butcher Assad. It was a heart wrenching conversation I recall daily as I watch the news and horrific images of terrified kids foaming at the mouth after the recent chemical attacks.
See, I don't have the luxury of perceiving the Middle East as some far away place "over there." I've been there. I know people living there now and people with family members in the region. I've heard the political commentary from the various different ideologies that exist and that have been historically in disagreement. It's an extremely complicated place that few Americans even attempt to understand. Yet lack of understanding doesn't prevent many of my fellow citizens from voicing uninformed opinions based on stereotypes. I continue to hope this will change.
It's a very confusing time for our nation right now. There are risks to taking military action; there are risks to inaction. Our elected officials are weighing those risks and these things take time to think through, to draw up contingency plans, to go through the various "what if?" scenarios. To those with simplistic, sound bite opinions communicated anonymously in comments sections, opinions formed purely out of a need to dislike or even hate our president, I say this: this is indeed what presidential leadership looks like -- waiting for evidence and data from those gathering intelligence and samples from the scene of the atrocities, engaging in international consultations, participating in internal consultations within our own government and then at last, making the presidential decision once information has been considered, questioned and weighed. As a military veteran, a mother and taxpayer, this introspective, thoughtful, careful strategic approach that takes into consideration geopolitical consequences of any action we take as a nation is indeed a breath of fresh air.
It's also extremely complicated for the international community. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel probably summed it up best in a recent New York Times article that basically expressed the sentiment of many: "...While Germany declined to take part in a military action, she believed that the chemical weapons attack should not go unpunished." In other words, we need to do something but WE don't want to be the ones to do it. Yeah, like I said, it's complicated.
The ball is now on the congressional side, which means that YOUR opinion must be heard by your senator and congressman/woman. They're going to be voting soon so here's what you need to do. Find your congressman/woman here. Make your opinion known. Do you support military action by the U.S. to punish the Assad regime? Do you oppose it because you suffer from MEF ("Middle East Fatigue," a term used by a local radio personality)? Make the call or write that email.
Will your opinion be represented by the person who will vote to support or oppose military action? Or will you just be complaining on Facebook and blog comment sections? It's on you. It's on me. Please, don't sit this one out.