In Support of Our President in Syria: Understanding Those Beyond Terrible, Even in Warfare

For over thirty years, I have witnessed the inner sanctums of true family lives, as opposed to the lives families project to the outside world. I am convinced that what I have learned has everything to do with the complex, slippery slopes of our world community. What I have learned convinces me that the President is correct in his position urging a "limited, proportionate" attack in Syria.

Many who read this will doubt my analogy, believing that what one learns from family interaction has no parallel on the world stage. But these people are wrong. Please read on......

What psychotherapists see can be as horrible as it can be wonderful, and this blog is about the former - the horrible: The inner workings of some individuals, determined to gain power over others regardless of the cost, can be beyond terrifying. These are people who have no capacity to feel empathy or compassion, although they can skillfully mimic it. And they have no desire to change. Regardless of what they say, or how they describe themselves and the situations surrounding them, they are motivated by one thing only -- ruthless determination to become all powerful. And as hard as it is to even imagine, they receive gratification and pleasure from the suffering they both see and impose.

In family life, there are three effective ways to deal with such individuals, alternatives that provide food for thought in examining options in global conflicts:

1. Get as far away as possible from them.
2. If forced to deal with them, immobilize them through isolation.
3. Clearly demonstrate that their inhumanity will not be tolerated.

What does this have to do with the horrors inflicted by Syria's Bashar al-Assad? A great deal....

In Syria today, through media outlets that seemed impossible only a few years ago, with our very own eyes, we are seeing human beings, children among them, experience agonizing deaths through the calculated use of sarin nerve gas, well described by our President as a "breach of international norm," even in warfare. To date over 1400 people have been gassed. Over 400 of them were children.

Paul H. Axelsen, the University of Pennsylvania researcher who helped discover how sarin does its horrific work, knows its death route well: muscles are paralyzed within seconds causing an inability to breathe and likely seizures; the heart stops beating. "The reason...(sarin) is used as a warfare agent is such small amounts go a long way," explains Axelsen. "By the time you realize what's happening to you, you don't even have the presence of mind to get an antidote." (The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 5, 2013)

For very good reason, the United States and our closest Allies are war weary, and facing complex, draining problems at home. However, we must differentiate: The President is not talking about ground forces. The Syrian challenge is not the one faced in Afghanistan. And Syria is not Iraq, where we were perilously misled.

Former President Clinton has said many times in the years following his Presidency that not intervening in Rwanda remains his deepest regret. In March of this year, during an interview on CNBC, he stated his belief that had we gone into Rwanda early in the genocide, even marginally, at least a third of the hundreds of thousands of those murdered could have been saved. More recently during a speech at the McCain Institute, although Clinton did not explicitly mention Rwanda, he did speak of his leadership in the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo, which confronted the madness of then-President Slobaden Milosevic. Referring to the present situation in Syria, he warned against the "calamity" of refusing to act.

It is important to remember that President Obama was against our attack of Iraq, and that he was the candidate who said he was open to dialogue with our enemies. As we evaluate his present reasoning, it is clear that violence for President Obama is a last resort. Further, the President is not one who can be pushed into what he is urging in Syria by any ideological force. He has given all the information he has grave thought.

America's finest moments are those when we take the helm as a moral force. We cannot afford to either be weak or indecisive as we view ghastly suffering firsthand. Or be seen as if we are. Too much depends on it. To quote President Obama at the G-20 Summit: "Failing to respond...would send a signal to rogue nations, authoritarian regimes and terrorist organizations that they can use W.M.D. (with no) consequence. And that's not a world we want to live in."

Foreshadowing the President's comments at the Democratic leaning think tank in D.C., the Center for American Progress, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was characteristically direct: "The alternative (to our intervention) is to give a green light to outrages that will threaten our security and haunt our conscience -- outrages that will eventually compel us to use force anyway down the line at far greater rise and cost to our own citizens."

Pope Francis wrote an eloquent letter to Vladimir Putin, as host of the G-20, condemning the Syrian "senseless massacre." The Pope cautioned against a "military solution," but instead called for governments of the world to "do everything possible to assure humanitarian assistance" to Syrians caught in this madness.

To think that the Pope's humanitarian counsel will be followed is naïve. Those committed to evil acts to gain power and control over others, and who enjoy such acts for their own sadistic pleasure, cannot be reasoned with. Positive UN involvement to isolate them is blocked by complex, aggressive political forces and alliances which the President and we understand all too well, ones clearly demonstrated at the G-20.

In Syria annihilation of the innocent remains in full force, and this madness is politically contagious. Those being ruthlessly murdered cannot escape, and the UN is immobilized. This debasement of international norms can only be stopped through cautious, thoughtful, "proportionate" action, one that clearly, courageously demonstrates that even in warfare there are lines that cannot be crossed.