Obama’s Syria challenge recalls Bush and Iraq

By Pat Watson Wednesday September 04 2013 in Opinion
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The overwhelming sounds of military planes flying intermittently overheard over the long weekend, as with every Labour Day weekend, were a disturbance for many because of the intense noise levels. But at a time when Washington is readying to send military action to Syria, those planes on display for the entertainment of observers on the closing days of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) bring to mind a sense of what people in Syria would be going through.


This week, children here are back to school. Some of those children will have been to the air show at the CNE. How many children will be able to go to school in Syria today?


America’s relations with other countries are usually about its own national interest, and not purely altruistic. In the case of Syria, a government that up to now has been supported by the U.S., is attacking its own people who have been protesting in an attempt to oust the Bashar al-Assad administration. The charge is that the Syrian government led by FOA (friend of America) President Assad has in recent days used chemical attacks that have killed many hundreds of Syria’s own people as the government tries to quell an ongoing rebel uprising where some 100,000 have already been killed. This conflict is yet another within the so-called Arab Spring that has swept countries of the Middle East region over the past two years.


In Syria, the ones fighting against the government to protect the rebels under attack are the ones currently considered forces unfriendly to America. Not only that, there are complicated allegiances and alliances to consider. And then there’s oil.


America’s dependence on oil from the Middle East has decreased, but in the aftermath, there remain power struggles and historical tribal tensions.


In these geo-politics, there are many parts in play. There is the matter of Israel’s relationship with other Arab countries. There is the anti-Israel group Hamas and there is Iran, where militant rhetoric at least while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president signaled trouble. The Muslim Brotherhood matters in Egypt, but not only there. Libyans are now free of Muammar Gaddafi and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein is also gone, but regional antagonisms will continue to take lives. Within Syria, as this civil war continues, there are various factions of anti-government rebels.


When George W. Bush was president of the U.S., it was just as complicated, but the people running Washington at that time simplified the mess into the good guys and the bad guys of the moment and, of course, America’s best interest, which meant oil interest.


On this side of the planet, we watch and wait for U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategic move. In terms of Canada’s response, like Prime Minister Jean Chrétien did when the Bush administration came calling for support to attack Iraq, Stephen Harper has made no military commitment. Instead, Ottawa has given financial support to aid Syria’s destitute.


It’s an interesting configuration looking like a mirror reflection. In the case of Iraq of 2003, Bush, a conservative called on Chrétien a Liberal. Bush was backed strongly by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a socialist. Now, there’s Obama, (apparently) a liberal, Harper a Conservative and Britain’s David Cameron, also a Conservative. Cameron was ready to back Washington, but was denied by his parliament. Moreover, Obama is considering bombing Assad, a socialist. Politics makes strange bedfellows, it has been said.


If it weren’t for military conflicts and natural disasters, some of us might not know about regions on the planet other than where we live. This shouldn’t be the best way.


At times like these, we can measure our relatively peaceful region against the conditions in the Gulf States. Yes, we do have local troubles of our own, including the recent rash of unanswered killings of teen boys, once again in locales on or near city-run Toronto Community Housing property. These fatalities are symptomatic of our own particular kind of civil war on poverty.


There are no easy answers. To quote yet another Bob Marley song: “So much trouble in the world…”


A note on the final days…


Reports are that South Africa’s spiritual leader Nelson Mandela has been released from hospital, to spend his final days at home.

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