Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Better Way than Bombs and Militarism

How I would respond to Syria and change USA's use of military power 

For the record, Mr. President, I oppose bombing Syria. Resist the maddening, downward-spiraling logic of militarism and violence. You--and we--are better than this.

US leadership--President, Senators and Congresspersons and their respective advisors--all seem to be hopelessly addicted to and drunk on toxic concoctions the military establishment and the principality of militarism have been pumping them full of for years. As if they MUST respond militarily to all international provocations and atrocities to be valid American leaders. Violence as a valid expression of forward-looking leadership is over; yet they are blinded.

Sometimes, it's enough as a citizen to cry out "enough!" without having an outlined alternative. Our leaders have not done the creative work or led our nation in a robust conversation about alternatives to militarism as the only response or proposed answer to the world's problems. Sometimes it is enough to say "what you are about to do -- again -- is self-defeating and only perpetuates the problem. You think it sends a message to tyrants, but it only drives them and their followers deeper into hatred and violence and seeds another generation in the downward spiral." Only when we've stopped the madness can sanity begin to have a chance. Right now, the drunken addict to militarism cannot think rationally.

But sometimes calling out “enough!” is not enough. A friend pressed me to go beyond protesting to outline alternative actions. “Declare what you would do if you were the President,” he prodded.

After searching my heart, here is what I think I would do, what I think should be done. Some of these are larger than the immediate conflict, but they impact it and other conflicts around the world:

1. Provide vigorous relief and support to all who are victims of violence and displacement in this conflict. Lead with humanitarian assistance. Simultaneously, reward all efforts and movement toward cessation of violence and settlement.

2. Pivot from being in the position or put in the position of being the top moral law enforcement officer for the world. Continue to articulate and vigorously make the case for freedom and human rights (including within our own nation and policies), but wage and win this battle in hearts and minds.

3. Contemplate deeply the failed and costly military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are many lessons at many levels. Have we learned anything? Anything?

4. Stop saber rattling and making line-in-the-sand ultimatums. Stop threatening to use military power to coerce sovereign nations. The threat of the use of force is perceived to be the only tool the USA has and uses to get its way in the world. But, in the long run, might will never make right. Using violence to end violence has lost its effectiveness.

5. Demonstrably reduce the role of the Defense Department, the military and militarism across the board. Its domination overshadows and stifles nearly every aspect of American life and international relations.

6. Change the role of the military to a more purely defensive posture, from being the international intimidator, the preemptive pouncer, and the ever-present drone in the sky ready to rain hell down on suspect and innocent alike. The word “defense” describes what it should be.

7. Develop and consult with an independent panel on creative international nonviolence. Move this consultation to a Cabinet level and make its Secretary part of the national security advisory team.

8. Define "national security threat" to include only direct threats. Syria is in the midst of an internal civil conflict. Syria is not an ally and it is not a security threat to the US. Whatever course of action or intervention considered should not be cast as a security interest (as Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly done).

9. Continue to appeal to and work for common ground with all UN Security Council members. Do not act separate from them, even though the Security Council may be very frustrating. This shifts and spreads the burden of moral responsibility among all so-called “leading nations." It also exposes the commitments and the reasons behind the commitments of the leading nations for their reticence to intervene. This could be very instructive. It could also engage more of those nations’ citizens to influence their governments for human rights and international relations.

10. Reset and invigorate all diplomatic efforts and channels with all nations with ties to Syria and the so-called rebel groups to influence a negotiated settlement to their civil conflict.

11. With a delegation of diverse world leaders, personally meet directly with Assad and rebel leadership to appeal for a cessation of conflict and a brokered settlement.

12. Call upon all Middle Eastern nations to work directly with Syria to broker a cessation of conflict and settlement. Respect and encourage intra-regional capacity for settling regional issues.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA