“My head hurts.”
It’s an expression a student I know uses when she is confronted by too much complicated, sometimes conflicting, information that she has to parse — to think about, make sense of.
My head hurts, too.
As we struggle over Syria, as we futilely struggle to make sense of the inhumanity of man toward man, and as we struggle to understand the seemingly cynical chess moves being played out across the Fertile Crescent, our heads hurt.
Heads hurt. Hearts break. People die unspeakably ugly deaths.
I relished a moment of satisfaction this week when, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Zbigniew Brzezinski appeared to agree with a column of mine over the need to look beyond Syria and think in terms of a comprehensive Middle East peace.
Recognizing that solving individual conflicts in Syria, Egypt, Iran, Palestine, etc., is probably not possible, and recognizing in any case that peace will not move forward without a “Grand Bargain,” perhaps the current crisis presents the world with a unique opportunity: to confront, 12 years after 9/11, 20 years after Oslo, 46 years after the Six-Day War, 65 years since Israel declared its independence and nearly 70 years since the end of World War II, fundamental issues of security, social justice, human dignity and fairness that still remain unresolved across the region.
In the 14th century, Ibn Khaldun, one of the greatest of historians, wrote, “If (the historian) trusts historical information in its plain transmitted form and has no clear knowledge of the principles resulting from custom, the fundamental facts of politics, the nature of civilization, or the conditions governing human social organization, and if, furthermore, he does not evaluate remote or ancient material through comparison with near or contemporary material, he often cannot avoid stumbling and slipping and deviating from the highroad of truth.”
Looking toward Damascus one quickly realizes the secular Syrian opposition, the Salifist/al-Qaeda-linked Syrian opposition, the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC, Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and an unrepentant cabal of twerking American neo-cons have all advocated for American military strikes against al-Assad’s regime — all without explaining how strikes would change anything in a substantive way. America would be charged for acts of war and the war-mongers would reap the benefits. Realizing how dangerous that alignment of war-advocating forces is toward American interests, can anyone really blame President Obama for preferring diplomacy?
In “The Hotel New Hampshire,” John Irving wrote, “We invent what we love, and what we fear.” Today, many Republicans, conservatives, tea partiers, accompanied by conspiracy theorists, birthers and unreconstructed segregationists, have invented a mythical Barack Obama whom they fear: a combination of threatening Mau-Mau warrior, Karl Marx, Muslim and the anti-Christ whom they hate so much they would sacrifice American strategic interests just to portray him in a negative light.
Republican opposition to President Obama has become so hysterical that I believe it borders on treason. Deranged by conspiracy theories (disproved) on Benghazi, the NSA and on the IRS, Obama’s opponents not only refuse to support U.S. foreign policy at an extremely critical time in our history but many are actively working against American interests by attempting to diminish his authority.
Too many Americans choose to be deliberately ignorant of history. Too many are xenophobic, too many others believe in a form of exceptionalism that fails to affirm the dignity and rights of other peoples. Historically, America has often been either unwilling or unable to look at problems though the eyes of others. Ignorance of what others know, believe, or think, even if we don’t agree with them, makes us vulnerable.
Do such Americans know or care, for example, that the nation with the largest arsenal of undeclared and uninspected WMDs (both nuclear and chemical) in the Middle East is Israel, and that the existence of those weapons has influenced Israel’s neighbors’ (particularly Iran and Syria) strategic calculations?
Do such Americans know or care, for example, that Iran reached out to America after 9/11 and offered to help with its war against al-Qaeda?
Their hatred of Obama, combined with intellectual laziness, has blinded them to the fact the United States has been handed a gift by Vladimir Putin.
Russia now owns Syria.
If Syria gives up its chemical weapons then Obama can rightly claim it was America’s credible threat of force that moved Putin to pressure Bashar al-Assad. If al-Assad fails to give up his chemical weapons it is Russia’s failure, not Obama’s, and America still has its military option.
President Obama has been agile and quick to pivot. He’s not afraid to take his time — or to change his mind if circumstances warrant. He’s a decider who doesn’t shoot from the hip.
On talk shows, in op-ed pieces, from the halls of power and privilege, more concerned with political advantage than with American security, they have spent the past week trying to diminish the authority and power of the presidency.
Obama has made the best of a bad hand — and his opponents can’t stand it. They are ready to sacrifice American interests on the altar of political opportunism rather than act in America’s best interests if it means giving Obama credit.
More concerned with how politics play out than whether peace will occur, these faux intellectuals, lobbyists, career politicians and craven opportunists are unwilling to do the hard work and examine how the West’s Middle East history, policies and practices have helped to further the terrorism and extremism that now threatens the world.
To victims and their families all weapons of destruction, whether sarin gas or cluster bombs, drones or white phosphorous, have the same lethality. The families of poison gas victims in the suburbs of Damascus know nothing of Chemical Weapons Conventions.
They know only the person they just prayed over, washed and wrapped in a white shroud is a loved one who will never speak again. They know their child dismembered by a bomb will never again laugh or fly a kite. They know only that their head hurts, their hearts are broken and their pain is inconsolable.
While there’s risk that nothing will come of the Russian initiative, I believe nothing would come from military strikes — nothing but more death, hatred toward America and further destabilization in a region that needs global, nuanced, creative, strategic initiatives.
Military strikes are just another deviation from the highroad of truth.
To President Obama, to those who would search for truth, we should offer prayers and the biblical admonition, “Conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.”
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.