It seems to me that when we need advice, information, or assistance about something we go to someone who has some expertise, special knowledge, experience, and such on that subject. That’s why we see a physician about an ailment, a lawyer about a legal matter, and a mechanic about that funny noise our car makes. Oh, sure, we can ask friends and neighbors for their opinion on such matters, but that’s usually not a good idea – except for getting the name of a reliable physician, lawyer, or mechanic. Okay, so what? Why bring this up?
Well, the Syrian air force recently launched a vicious chemical weapon attack on its own civilian population. Although similar raids have been alleged in the past, this particular barbaric assault was well documented with photos showing a number of children suffering and dying from the effects of the poisonous fumes. While most of the civilized nations of the world kinda wrung their hands and called for a debate on what, if anything, should be done, President Trump unilaterally took action with precision cruise missile strikes on the Syrian air base from which the chemical attack was launched. Of course, this generated lotsa comment and criticism by the news media and politicians who claim expertise on everything.
On my part, I don’t claim expertise on the Mideast, but I do know a guy who has spent a number years in that part of the world so I thought I’d ask for his take on this situation. First of all, “Paul” is in his middle 50’s so he’s no spring chicken – he’s “been around the block a few times.” Second, he is not a diplomat concerned with niceties of “political correctness” – his years living and working directly with folks in several Mideast countries has given him a special insight into how things work there. That’s why I recently spent over an hour with him via Skype. (Please note that I did not record our session but I have reconstructed it to the best of my ability. I think I have faithfully captured the essence of our conversation)
After some “how’s it goin’ ”preliminaries, I asked Paul what he thought about the chemical attack and Trump’s response with cruise missiles.
Paul: To begin with, you must understand that this part of the world has been governed by “strong man” type rulers for thousands of years so the weight of cultural history is immense on society there. King, president, pharaoh, or whatever they’re called, these rulers have held their regimes together by sheer force – whether it be military, religion, tradition, or some combination thereof.. Change of power is almost always the result of violence – such as the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the more recent “change of government” in Egypt. This is why those who would challenge a current regime are dealt with harshly – by crushing the opposition. Keeping the populace in line by whatever means is crucial to a ruler’s survival.
Bill: Okay, that makes sense, but what about the rather blatant chemical attack? Why carry out such a horrendous assault against defenseless civilians?
Paul: There are two primary reasons. First, it was a terror tactic to emphasize how vulnerable the opposition to the regime – and their families, including children – are to the might and power of the Syrian government forces. “Continue to rebel against the government and see your children die horrible deaths.” Second, it was a test of the newly elected U S president. The previous administration’s “red line in the sand” regarding use of chemical weapons proved to be empty talk so this attack was to see how the current administration would respond. Well, they found out in terms they could understand – overwhelming force delivered quickly and effectively. Moreover, President Trump’s action also sent a message to the Syrian civilians that the U S would no longer stand idly by while such atrocities go on unchallenged.
Bill: What do you think will likely happen as a result of the U S actions?
Paul: President Trump’s sudden and unanticipated response to the chemical attack is almost certainly causing Syria’s allies and supporters, Russia and Iran, to reconsider their situation in light of these developments. As for Syria – either cease and desist the chemical attacks or, escalate the situation with more chemical attacks against civilians and/or possibly targeting U S forces in Syria with conventional or chemical weapons – and risk the consequences. The ball’s in their court.
Well, folks, this is just a small sample of my session with Paul. There was a lot more but I think the essence of his opinion is clear – dealing with folks in the middle east is not the same as it is with western countries. Whether folks agree with him or not, he sure makes some interesting points. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.