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Katy Burns

Katy Burns: Again? Again?!

It was just a tiny vignette on NBC’s nightly news show last Monday.

Richard Engel, the network’s widely respected chief foreign correspondent, was visiting a Syrian refugee camp where he interviewed a man who’d fled to the camp with his wife and 11 children to “hide from the poison gas.”

But, said Engel, “the most powerful words came from 10-year-old Sidra.” A beautiful child with dark curly hair and big brown eyes looked earnestly at the camera and spoke while Engel translated what he said was her “message for Obama.” It was wrenching in its clarity, its innocence.

“Does he want his kids to be like us? Aren’t we just like them? When we get older, we are going to write ‘Obama didn’t help us.’ ”

Well. Whose heart wouldn’t be moved by such directness? Case closed! Let’s go in, guns blazing!

I am a great admirer of Engel’s bravery and skill in reporting from miserable places under exceedingly dangerous conditions, but this was raw emotional manipulation. It was pro-war propaganda, the shameless use of a child by her parents, a reporter and a network. Maybe Engel needs a break from the appalling, heart-rending front.

And maybe we – all of us – need a break from war. We have seen so much – too much – of it lately. But I’m not sure we’ll get one.

By the time you read this, we may be back in a war. We’re at least flirting with one. Our resolutely anti-war president seems on the verge of taking military action against a nation, Syria, that does not directly threaten us.

Syria’s leader is a thoroughly bad man who has waged merciless war against his own people. Trouble is, many of his opponents in a civil war which has now been going on for two years and has cost thousands of Syrians their lives are, often, equally wretched human beings who likely would also commit atrocities if atrocities furthered their ambitions.

And now someone in Syria has used lethal chemical weapons – something that has been morally unacceptable to the civilized world for decades – against many innocent civilians. Our president has said on more than one occasion that he drew a “red line” against such heinous weapons specifically in Syria.

Well, it seemed like a good idea. One little phrase. It was resolute. And where was the harm? After all, who in his right mind would use lethal chemical weapons in this day and age?

Except that all the evidence so far says that someone did. There are terrible, heart-wrenching pictures and videos to show the horror. Medical reports seem to back them up.

But we don’t know for sure who did it, despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s strong case Friday that it was indeed the regime. Yes, Syrian strongman Bashar al Assad is a ruthless man who probably wouldn’t hesitate to use chemical weapons if he were losing. But – importantly – lately he has not been losing. And many of his opponents are equally ruthless. Conventional wisdom is that only he has access to such lethal means and that his opponents do not. But do we, can we know that to a certainty? I suspect not, although we of course are not privy to the administration’s intelligence reports.

And regardless of the identity of the offender or the gravity of the offense, is it really in the best interests of the United States – which arguably should be our greatest consideration – to resort to military action yet again?

Yet, thanks in part to two words – “red line” – and perhaps in larger part to the forces pulling him as leader of the world’s sole remaining superpower to, well, fix it, whatever it is, President Obama is being drawn into involving himself and his country in the ugly Syrian civil war. And this is true even as some of those goading him to act – notably David Cameron, the British prime minister – abruptly change course in the face of overwhelming political opposition.

It is a tragic mess. We don’t know how this will play out. But I am one of many who fear it will not turn out well.

Obama didn’t run as and was not elected to be a war president. On the contrary, he wanted to be the anti-war president.

And he set about unwinding American involvement – in a responsible way – in two long, terrible wars. We are now out of Iraq and will, with luck, soon be quit of Afghanistan as well.

The price of our involvement has been enormous. Trillions of dollars when all the costs are totaled, and the sacrifices by our service men and woman are incalculable. The toll for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan is beyond reckoning.

Those countries are now, despite the vast expenditure of blood and treasure, basically basket cases, fraught with violence and riven by sectarian rivalries and hatreds.

This president until now has rather nimbly managed to sidestep all sorts of traps to keep his country out of new military entanglements. And he was at least trying to turn the focus back to the long-neglected needs of the American people.

Now Obama is faced with the prospect of yet another war – perhaps even without international cooperation or congressional sanction – in another Middle Eastern country where we will likely be viewed, again, as hostile invaders. But if he doesn’t act, some assert, the country’s honor – his honor, his word – is at risk.

George W. Bush never set out to be a war president either. He was to be the peacemaker, the conciliator, the modest president who eschewed foreign nation building to focus on things like education at home and developing stronger ties to countries in our own hemisphere.

Then came the fateful day of Sept. 11, 2001. And we know all too well what happened after that, including the serious intelligence miscalculations – to be charitable – that led us into the quagmire of Iraq. That, you might recall, was to be a short war from which we’d emerge victorious, then come home to concentrate on the problems of Americans.

As history is written well into the future, George W. Bush will be known as a war president.

And his successor, who kept our country from falling into a second Great Depression, saved the American auto industry, began to tackle climate change and extricated us from two interminable foreign wars?

Now Obama may well in the end also be remembered as just another war president.

(Monitor columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)

Legacy Comments17

"And his successor, who kept our country from falling into a second Great Depression, saved the American auto industry, began to tackle climate change and extricated us from two interminable foreign wars?" I would disagree with that statement, Katy. Obama has worsened the economy, the stimulus went to political cronies, it did nothing but put us further into debt. He nationalized the auto industry and I might remind you that Ford did just fine on its own and that is about 40% of that industry. Obama also gave the companies to union control and screwed the bond holders. He DID NOT extricate us from two wars, he pulled out of Iraq on the Bush timetable....no great feat. And climate change is just a political football and Obama has done nothing in that regard versus further depress the economy. Katy, how about a little intellectual honesty? You really can't believe what you wrote.

Van nailed it again. Both Obama and Burns are irrelevant.

You guys sure do concern yourselves a lot with people who are irrelevant.

Not really, just pointing out the obvious and reminding people of the hypocrisy of those people.

"Not really". Really!? Almost every post ends in Obama-bashing.

It is our patriotic duty to fight against liberalism where ever it sprouts it's ugly head. Liberalism is the poison that is killing America

This is the sort of objectification of people that all to often leads to lynchings, pogroms, mosque burnings and church bombings.

Gracchus, when was the last lynching in this country? Mosque burning? Church bombing? Often? When?

Correction: Greed is the poison that is killing America.

I don't know Gen_X_er, I think that it is envy, jealousy and a feeling that you are entitled to something that you did not necessarily earn; expecting others to chip in and share things they have equally with you.

Katy’s sycophancy for Obama seeks no bounds. This very unpopular president both in the US and abroad could only get the French to join him in a coalition against Bashar al Assad. How appropriate, Obama and the nation so well known for surrendering. Like to peas in a pod. Before Obama became president, America was respected in the world. Now Obama is taunted by Bashar al Assad’s 11 year old son because America is perceived as weak by both our friends and our enemies.

If you think "respect" is what the world feels for America's adventure in Iraq, perhaps a visit to Merriam-Webster is in order. I'm really surprised that Van and the usual suspects seem unable to deal with the fact (yes, fact) that the only protectors for Christians in the Middle East have been secular dictators - Mubarak, Saddam Hussein and the Assad family. Perhaps better to abandon them than to give up the core principle: opposition to everything Obama. And as to Van's flip and insulting comment, "...so well known for surrendering[,]" I can only humbly suggest you pay a visit to Verdun and then hang your head in shame.

We should not have abandoned Mubarek as what we got was the Muslim Brotherhood. Libya is another blunder on our part. We simply supported one ruthless group of extremists over another that we had pretty good control over. The fact is that Obama was on the wrong side supporting the wrong people in his over throw attempts in the Middle East. You CAN'T negotiate or befriend Islamic fascists and expect them to be honest and true and allies. We need to stay out of Syria and Obama should not need advisors to realize that. It reveals is inept leadership and his naive world view.

LOL Gracchus you think the French and Obama are respected warriors. That explains your extreme distorted political leanings.

The French are weaklings and we pulled their tail out of two World Wars. Obama is the laughing stock of the world stage. He is more interested in social domestic agenda than the real dangers facing the world.

"That explains your extreme distorted political leanings." Who made you the judge and jury on distorted political leanings? The mere statement is an affront to everything Americans stand for. You know that little thing called freedom. Just where is it written that GOP - Good, Democrats - Evil. The only thing evil here is the closed minded thinking that of those that honestly believes in what you rant about.

"Ils ne passeront pas." Van, your talent for believing you have the explanation for what other people do and think is beyond breathtaking.

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