Monday, June 10, 2013

A Story for Our Time

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is resonant with allegorical applications to events unfolding in Washington D.C. Its plot and characters make a fascinating template for interpreting what we read in our daily news.

Consider, for example, the simple Hobbits. They're innocent, ordinary folk who just want to be left alone, much like contemporary Tea Party and Christian conservatives, but they're hounded and pursued, threatened and persecuted, by the fearsome Nazgul, just like the IRS hounds, audits and makes life miserable for any group which identifies itself as conservative and which opposes the current administration.

Meanwhile, the all-seeing eye of Sauron surveys the land of Middle Earth. Almost nothing escapes its notice, just like our NSA, sweeping the cyber-landscape, searching relentlessly for those who would deny Sauron the Ring of Power.
Sauron, whom good manners prevents me from identifying, but you can figure it out, seeks the Ring that will make him unstoppable and invincible, the same effect, if you think about it, that a Democratic sweep of Congress in 2014 would have.

Meanwhile, the Huru-Kai (i.e. Rush Limbaugh's "low information voters") are unleashed on the land as the means by which Sauron seeks to crush all opposition and carry out his quest for power.

I'm sure there are other parallels between our current perilous state of affairs and the frightening goings on in Middle Earth. Readers who think of some are welcome to submit their ideas through the Contact Us button.

Syria's Not Our Fight

A friend sent along a link to an article by Michael Gerson advocating American military intervention on behalf of the rebels in Syria. My friend asked me what I thought about Gerson's piece. Here's the gist of my reply:

Once again I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to disagree with Gerson, a man I deeply admire.

I sympathize with the notion that we have an obligation to prevent the slaughter of innocents when we can. Clinton balked in Rwanda, which I thought was wrong, and he intervened in Bosnia, which I thought was (partly) right. One of the great merits of Bush's presidency, I've argued in the past, is that he freed from tyranny 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Syria is different. Unlike Rwanda we would not be intervening against people armed only with machetes. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan there's no immediate national interest at stake in Syria. There's no threat to the world's oil supply, as there was in Kuwait and Iraq, and neither, so far as I know, is Syria harboring terrorists who are planning to attack us, as Afghanistan was. Nor do they have nuclear weapons that they're threatening to use against us, as Iran and North Korea do.

The only reason for intervening in Syria would be to stop the slaughter of Syrians by Syrians, and we should have learned from recent experience with Egypt and Libya that picking a side in such affairs often turns out badly. We favored the freedom-lovers in Egypt over our ally Mubarak, and what we and the Egyptians got for our efforts is the Muslim Brotherhood. We favored the rebels over Quaddafi in Libya and what we got was Benghazi.

The Syrian rebels are not just a bunch of Jeffersonian Democrats. If they were I'd feel differently, but they're largely composed of elements of al Qaeda and affiliated groups hostile to both us and Israel. If they succeed in toppling Assad it will only catapult al Qaeda into power because, surely, if the rebels prevail, they'll quickly come to be dominated by the most extreme factions in their coalition. This is what happened in Egypt and as is threatening to happen in Libya, and as indeed happened in just about every communist revolution of the 20th century. Do we want to send American troops and pilots to die and be captured and tortured so that al Qaeda will rule Syria?

Moreover, should the rebels succeed, they'd doubtless launch their own mass killing of the supporters of Assad. Would we then feel morally compelled to intervene again on the side of the Alawites who are supported by Iran and Hezbollah?

The war in Syria is largely a Sunni/Shia conflict. If we're going to intervene in internecine bloodshed, why not go back into Iraq where we have much more at stake. We've already made a huge investment in Iraq and since we've pulled out, that nation threatens to unravel. Would those who counsel intervention in Syria agree with going back into Iraq if the situation there deteriorates further?

Indeed, Iran is a much greater threat to the peace and stability of the region, and to us, than is Syria. How can we justify bombing Syrians while allowing Iran to continue to develop nuclear weapons which they've promised to use against Israel?

Syria shares a 600 mile border with Turkey, a largely Sunni nation, and another border with Israel. These are the two most powerful militaries in the Middle East. If the civil war is a threat to the region then the regional nations should handle it, just as the regional nations should have handled Bosnia. Why we should go further into debt and risk more American lives when Turkey and Israel are capable themselves of dealing with Damascus Gerson doesn't explain.

We should, at least for now, continue humanitarian aid to those who are suffering, but if we're going to kill Muslims on one side in order to save Muslims on the other, and risk having our own sons killed or captured in the process, I think we're going to be playing a very dangerous game with our own future. In order to justify intervention we need to have much more to lose by staying out than by going in. Failing that, let the nations in the region handle it.