Syria – Oops, Not Again?


I write championing an Independent political option. So, how do political Independents feel about the US getting further involved in the Syrian conflict? If, as projected, Independents represent the full spectrum of moderate American political feelings, then we are mostly against further involvement. But, at what price?

Gallup has (mostly) been told, “. . . the events in Syria are none of the United States’ business, that the U.S. does not need to be involved in another war, or that the action is not well thought out, won’t work, or would lead to negative consequences for the U.S.” That sounds a lot like involvement fatigue, compounded by expressions of less than total confidence in our own government’s policies and capabilities. Others responded to this September 04-05 Gallup poll, “We are in debt – don’t need to add more to it, and we need to take care of issues at home first/ we have enough problems of our own.” This then seems to be the corporate voice of America on Main Street; the popular thinking of those who have to fight our wars, and pay our taxes.

It’s hard to argue against such positions, or at least it should be. And it is worth recalling that the American public accepted its government’s assessment that weapons of mass destruction were involved in Iraq. This was eventually proved wrong. Are we looking at a similar scenario with the use of chemical weapons in Syria? Skepticism here should not be viewed an indication of isolationism or un-Americanism. It seems justified realism.

If our Congress, which has now had this complex bowl of worms tossed into its lap, listens to and then respects the voices of it constituent—broadly considered—it seems highly unlikely it is going to give Mr. Obama what he wants: a free political pass to do what he may do in any case here. No, I’d say political Independents are as skeptical about further military involvement—of any kind—in Syria as the rest of political America, and for the same reasons. Further, it’s hard to be sympathetic towards internal conflicts in a country, culture or society that generally is unfriendly towards you, even hostile in many cases. On a country by country basis, what eventually transpires in the Middle East is questionably our concern, humanitarian considerations aside.

In most cases of disorder or tyranny within these Middle Eastern countries, a significant if not singular issue is religion—Shiite vs. Sunni understandings of Islam. Following this source of social and political friction is tribalism. It is present in all of them, and nothing we can do can alleviate this. We can take a side, but that only makes the opposition dislike and mistrust us further. The opposition might in some cases reflect a majority within that state. And take the case of Iran some forty years ago. We backed the wrong side, and look at the consequences to this day. As one prominent Conservative is said to have expressed the question of our involvement, “Let Allah sort it out” (or something to that effect). Hard to disagree with that.

A problem that complicates  action (or inaction) based upon the American public’s popular sentiment regarding Syria is that on a bigger picture basis, it’s difficult to look at all these countries just individually; we have to considering them geopolitically.  In addition—and perhaps more compelling—we have to consider America’s credibility, not only within this region, but world-wide. What we might do in or about Syria after having taken certain public positions will be closely watched by any number of countries that may have reason to challenge our resolve in maintaining a certain level of behavior. Iran is a prime example today. China and Russia are constantly testing our resolve as are non-state organizations such as Al Qaeda. If America, rightly or wrongly, publically puts the equivalent of a chip on its shoulder and then challenges other to knock it off—and they do—we have little recourse but to make them pay the consequences of their feckless action. It’s not a matter of pride or of bullying; it’s a matter of respect and meaning what you say. While it’s often easy to make a threat (“cross that line and you will be sorry”), if you make it, you had damn well better be ready and able to back it up. If you don’t, or can’t, others will give little credibility to your abilities, or resolve, in dealing with you in the future.

All this eventually returns to America’s foreign policy. Do we have a policy that puts America’s genuine interests first?  Not America’s commercial interest, not America’s political interests, not America’s military interests, not someone else’s special interests. It must reflect America’s over-all national interest. Most would agree we made a big mistake in Iraq. We then made a big and costly blunder in Afghanistan. Is it any wonder the American mood over Syria is pessimistic? Perhaps we should not have stuck our neck out as far as we apparently have regarding Syria. But, we did, and now have to live with it, or else. “Or else” may be a possibility, but not one most Americans, including Independents, would enjoy swallowing.

Of late it appears a concession by the Assad government over its WMS is possible to avoid an American military strike. If genuine, it would be a victory, of sorts, for the United States. But if this apparent concession by the Syrian government proves more a stalling or negotiating tactic—think North Korea—than a genuine concession to international pressure, the US has little latitude but to carry out its threat, and in a most forceful manner. For our own good, and in our own national interest, we need to clearly demonstrate that the historical slogan, “Don’t tread on me” is still something to be considered in challenging the USA.

My conclusion here may not sit easily with Independents, or others weary of the weight of playing the role of international policeman. I certainly am. But having taken a stand, rightly or wrongly, America has a duty, primarily to itself. Few will respect us if we don’t respect our self.

We need a change.


Thomas Richard Harry

September 2013


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