Last week’s third meeting of the Friends of Syria hosted by France saw our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton take the conference podium and turn it into a Methodist pulpit, excoriating the lukewarm fence sitters among the more than a hundred country reps for not doing more to oppose Assad’s regime in Syria, with choice diatribes against Russia, and rather pointed accusations against China. The State Department is clearly on the offensive.
We will not delve much on analysis here on the meeting since one can Google all kinds of write-ups about Syria’s current predicament, particularly with Western powers.
For those of us who studied a bit of ancient civilization (we taught the course at SVES 6th Grade Social Studies), Assyria up to the Ottoman Empire is a 4,000-year journey of human turbulence and prosperity, violence and tranquility, all rolled into one. The cuneiform writing that led to the Greco-Roman alphabet we now use came from this region, the Levant of old, but the region has always been a pen of Arabic intrigue and bloodletting.
Damascus to Christians is a significant location where Saulus of Tarsus had his radical conversion from being a persecutor of a sect to being its No. 1 cheerleader. Then oil was discovered underneath its arid plateaus, and the region joined the worldwide history of conflict that bedevils oil fields today. All told, Syria derives 17 percent of its income from agriculture. All the rest comes from oil and its ancillary industries.
It is equally significant that the meeting was held in France since it was from its mandate that split the Middle East north and south following its agreement with Britain prior to the conclusion of World War II to divvy up the Ottoman Empire that sided with Allemagne and was thereby dismantled in defeat.
Independence and economic growth had seen only instability in the land, with Hafez al-Assad taking on power in 1970 and held the country together for 30 years as a socialist state. When he died in 2000, the democratic Damascus Spring blossomed but would later be snuffed when the Bashar al-Assad the expected reformist, accommodated by the legislature when it lowered the constitutional age qualification to be president from 40 to 34, turned out to be short on delivery.
A Syrian uprising began in 2011 and the beleaguered son of Hafez found himself and his England-educated wife suddenly the object of elimination from power in a bloody civil war. Ex-UN secretary general Kofi Annan is in a shuttle diplomacy trying to convince the younger Assad to go into exile without success. Now the whole world is ganging up on the Syrian government to rid itself of Bashar, and even Russia, a traditional ally, suspended its armaments’ sale this week. China remains as the major source of Syria’s imports.
Hillary and the U.S. evidently saw a diplomatic opportunity to air its concerns while berating its Cold War nemesis for delaying what it sees as another oil country in an inevitable need of drastic change.
This is jolly sporting of Uncle Sam to be gracious at dinner and firm on the reins at the hunt. But there is frustration mixed with anger.
In Decade of War: Enduring Lessons from the Past Decade of Operations is the title of an internal report from the Defense Department where the authors admit to failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. It lays out a series of lessons for the future. Effective efforts to win hearts and minds is top of the list, a task our uniformed personnel, with all its material and financial support, had not been able to accomplish in any theatre save Hollywood’s chocolate-dispensing GI Joe after WWII. If the alternative press is to be believed, all our military managed to do in Iraq was to create a humongous ghetto of privilege and a false sense of security in a nation reeling in poverty and rife with internal dissent.
The integration of regular troops and special operations forces is mentioned, perhaps taking a crack at the Executive Branch’s penchant to favor the elite over the regular troops. True to organizational development lingo, the report also recommends closer coordination of involved government agencies, conduct clearly planned and well orchestrated coalition operations, make host-nation forces be real partners, and use proxy forces in both the methods of war and the task of pacification.
The White House aims to reshape military power for the next decade, to step away from large-scale land wars into a new hybrid method of fighting as the favored strategy for the future. A tall order but hardly adequate.
The CNMI exists out of the mistaken notion that our real estate is best spent in profiting from the drumbeats of war. Empty rhetoric continues to extinguish the breath of a disproportionate number of young islanders who join the uniformed march. Being exclusively macho and manly in our response to 9/11 has only exacerbated an already discordant humanity, and damaged most definitely the equilibrium of the American soul. It is time to introduce the feminine virtues of inclusiveness and healing.
Meanwhile, Syria is heading the way of Libya and Egypt. In a tableau of continuing military operations, there will be more innocent-civilian and military-casualties in the days to come.
Perhaps, it is time to convene Amis du Peuple de la Terre!
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Jaime R. Vergara (firstname.lastname@example.org) previously taught at San Vicente Elementary School on Saipan and is currently a guest lecturer at Shenyang Aerospace University in China.