Last Tuesday, I watched a TV report from Homs, Syria by Marie Colvin, a Long Island native working out of London as foreign correspondent for The Sunday Times. It was both emotional and sobering. Colvin, who sported a patch over her left eye resulting from a hand grenade thrown in Sri Lanka, commented on the Assad government’s artillery barrage of Homs and its youngest victims. A small child lay dead of a shrapnel wound.
Colvin’s story grew even more disturbing on Wednesday. She was killed by continued shelling. French journalist Remi Ochlik was also a victim. They were not the first journalists to die in Syria as once-peaceful marches against the government slowly segued into armed conflict.
Many Americans, in government and out, may see Colvin’s death as the final straw and proclaim their readiness to march our troops into Damascus—or at least create no-fly zones and supply the Syrian opposition with weapons and other support. In a perfect world, we’d do it in a heartbeat. The Assad regime, which dates back forty years, father and son, is just that horrendous. But in the world as it is, I would not rush any decisions without an international consensus—although one likely to exclude Russia, a minor but mischievous player, and possibly China, still determining its geopolitical role.
The Middle East, unfortunately, remains a political cesspool. While Assad’s government will likely fall, we have no idea what will replace it. If Libya and Egypt are examples of last year’s Arab Spring, events in Syria will take a long time to sort out and not necessarily to any responsible party’s satisfaction. As Tom Friedman lamented in Wednesday’s New York Times, “This sordid business makes one weep and wonder how Egypt will ever turn the corner.”
And there’s more. Iran—threatening to execute one of its citizens, a Christian, for apostasy (no Muslim may convert to another religion)—also has Washington’s attention. Israel may be preparing to bomb Iran to prevent the ayatollahs from building, or being capable of building, a nuclear weapon. Or Jerusalem may be bluffing to prod the U.S. and the West to ratchet up sanctions, which seem to be making Iran very uncomfortable. Iran remains obstinate and bellicose, driving up the price of oil in the process.
Back to Syria. Do I want to see the Assad regime topple? Like yesterday. The government is brutal and corrupt. Moreover, its fall will undercut Iranian influence in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza dampening an always-threatening powder keg. But I pray that President Obama will avoid much of the emotion surrounding these issues and keep a cool head. And that goes double for his Republican opponents. Rushing into the Middle East is like sprinting into quicksand. That’s why my novel, Slick!, includes an epigraph from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Friar Laurence suggests that adventures like those the U.S. launched in Iraq may be well meant but disastrous. “Virtue itself turns vice being misapplied, and vice sometime’s by action dignified.”
Arab Spring has come around again. Simple it isn’t.
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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. And check out the review posted by Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’ll also find SLICK! at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.