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Thursday, September 12, 2013
A Little Help on Syria

Embracing a fundamental American principle in his foreign policy could make President Obama's life a lot easier.

Dear Mr. President:

If the NSA has been reading my blog, the knowledge may have reached Washington by now that I didn't vote for you -- twice. You and I have certain fundamental political differences. Still, you're the chief executive of my country for a few more years, and the fate and reputation of my country and its people depend to some degree on what you do. So I think it appropriate to pray for you sometimes -- and not in dismissive, "May God bless and keep the tsar . . . far away from us!" fashion, either.

I also think it appropriate to send you a thought or two; hence this missive.

Right now, you seem to be struggling with this little Syria problem. This is understandable. It's a complex region, and the political terrain at home is difficult too. Your speech the other night reflected these challenges quite clearly, I thought -- and I'm sorry, I don't mean that as a compliment.

I have one suggestion for Syria. It is rather simple; I'm quite certain that Mr. Kerry, your Secretary of State, would find it insufficiently nuanced. It might make you uncomfortable too, because in a sense it would draw a couple of "red lines." But my red lines are different from the one which has caused you so much grief lately. Crossing your red line by using chemical weapons triggers active opposition, if you were serious about that red line in the first place. My red lines are different. They would keep us from helping one side or another or both, not compel us to participate actively.

For example, my version of your red line would be this: If you use chemical weapons on your own people, we will not help you in any way with anything.

Here's what I propose for your Syria policy. It's a red line, yes, but also principle which can simplify the picture:

If you burn churches -- anyone's churches -- we will not help you in any way. If you torture, rape, enslave, slaughter, or otherwise oppress believers -- any believers -- we will not help you. We are Americans.

For what it's worth, a Taliban Corollary might go like this: If you maim, torture, or kill women for going to school or for being seen in public, we will not help your cause. But I digress.

As you must have read on the teleprompter a few times, religious liberty is a fundamental American principle. We're not perfect at it, but, historically, we're committed to it. If you were openly committed to it as a pillar of your foreign policy, certain difficult decisions with respect to the Middle East would be much easier for you. For example, based on this principle, you would be free from any temptation to help the rebels in Syria, and you would find it easy to explain why. You would see clearly the need to shut off any aid to Egypt, where Christians are being slaughtered. You would learn a new respect for Israel, the only Middle Eastern nation where Muslims are free to practice their religion, if they don't subscribe to their particular government's preferred version of Islam.

You see, we don't have to care which church or religion or which believers a faction oppresses or destroys. If they do that to any church, any believers, we don't help them. It may not be prudent -- it usually isn't -- for us to send in an occupying army to stop both sides of a conflict from committing atrocities. But at least we don't have to help them.

Not coincidentally, refusing to help the Syrian rebels would also shield you from charges that you are helping al Qaeda, our enemy -- which is another reason your speech on the day before September 11 was so unfortunate. I don't think Americans in general have much patience with the notion that the enemy of my enemy is my friend -- not when the enemy of my enemy is al Qaeda.

You might think that this insight comes too late to help you with Syria. After all, last evening the New York Times and Washington Post, which have been uncommonly loyal to you these many years, reported that the CIA is now supplying arms to the Syrian rebels. But I think you and your people could still spin this one effectively. Try this:

"We now have incontrovertible proof that Syrian rebels are burning churches and abusing believers in the cities and towns they occupy. No matter what the Syrian government may have done to incite this rebellion, the American principle of religious freedom requires that we not aid or abet the rebels' crimes in any way. Accordingly, as of today, all channels of aid from the US government to the Syrian rebels and their known allies are shut down. We will not assist the Syrian government, either, so long as we believe it has used chemical weapons on its people. We urge the other nations of the region and the good people in them to employ all honorable means to stop these atrocities and move Syria toward just government. Meanwhile, may God have mercy on the people of Syria. Let us keep them in our prayers."

Mr. President, I know you admire Ronald Reagan's influence and charisma, though not his policies. He made certain things look easy. He was an American, and he believed in American principles, and that made some things clear and simple (though not necessarily easy).

It would work for you, too. And the American people would notice.

Best wishes,

David Rodeback
American Fork, Utah

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