Fighting Words

Syria: October 1962 Revisited

 
on August 28 2013 6:45 PM
Assad
Syria's President Bashar Assad attends Eid al-Fitr prayers at Anas bin Malek mosque in Damascus on Aug. 8, 2013. Reuters

These words may be written too late. By the time you read them, the killing may have already started. One historical truism that stands above all others is the fact that it is far too easy for old men to send other parents’ young sons to die for “noble” ideals. The world may be as close to World War III as it was in October of 1962.

Today, unfortunately (as opposed to then), we are dealing with a trio of small men who have tremendous egos. Listening to advice from others is not a strong characteristic in any of them. US President Barack Obama, Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad all appear to believe the universe revolves around their shoulders. Unless some sane confidant can convince at least one of them to stand down, the world may see unprecedented bloodshed.

The last thing we need are braggadocio statements. This is the time for slow, prayerful, seriously contemplated actions. We don’t need any “Make My Day” comments that will only incite fools to overreact. Obama has a crumbling economy and crumbling poll numbers. It is highly unlikely that he will back off. Americans may not like their sons (and now their daughters) being blown to pieces by artillery, but they always seem to rally around an embattled “wartime” president. Good Grief!

Putin needs to portray strength to his citizenry, China, and Muslim heads throughout the Middle East. The Syrian port of Tartus is Russia’s only permanent warm-water port outside of the former Soviet Union, and Russia has spent billions there. Putin will not allow that jewel to slip away during his watch -- and, oh yes, winter is approaching.

Assad has too many chips in the pot to back away from this hand. Even though he has just been dealt a blow by the Arab League, which has condemned his actions, he’s “all-in.” Knowing the fate of nearly all previous international war criminals (hanging), Assad will do whatever needs to be done to retain power.

China gets most of her oil from Iran and has no love for Jews. Several years ago, at Shanghai’s Fudan University, I participated in an international student/faculty discussion on current events. The issue that raised the greatest ire was Israel’s actions regarding Palestinians. The Chinese were livid that nothing was being done to correct the situation. Many of those former students are now high-ranking government officials. How will China respond to an attack on a close ally of both Russia and Iran?

Iran backs Assad because the Alawites agree with the radical, minority Shiites (who run Iran) that Sunnis are severely misguided Muslims. When Mohammad died, both the Alawites and Shiites agree, the leadership should have passed along bloodlines -- which didn’t happen. I know westerners have minute historical memories. Within days of both Germany’s and Japan’s unconditional surrenders ending World War II, copious amounts of aid (in the form of food and medical supplies) poured into both countries. Allied nations temporarily put aside the memories of wicked, bitter, hate-filled battles, as dire humanitarian needs were met. Memories of what happened in the early part of the seventh century are not so quickly swept under the carpet by Muslim fundamentalists.

Israel, always aware of her rough neighborhood, are seeing her neighbors in great disarray. Once again, as always, her very survival is in question. As these words are being written, hundreds of thousands of Israelis are scrambling to find gas masks that will allegedly be needed in the event of a possible chemical/biological attack.

John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev went slow and, in October 1962, backed the world away from a potential disaster. Dean Rusk, JFK’s Secretary of State, said, “We’re eyeball to eyeball and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

Let’s pray somebody blinks. The alternative is too grim to imagine.

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