An open letter to Sen. King regarding the Syria debate

Erin Rhoda | BDN

Sen. King,

I was heartened to read that you are having as difficult time as we, the American public, are figuring out what the Hell to do regarding the Obama Administration’s proposed military action against Syria. I write this to you as someone who is also struggling with this question. I understand that the situation is complex, that it is not simply a matter of being pro-war or pro-peace. I appreciate the fact that whichever course is taken will be a bloody one, and that there are no easy answers. Acknowledging all of this, it makes less sense for me to offer my perspective on whether or not to support a strike, and more to explain what stands in the way of my being able to take this so-called “debate” seriously.

I should underscore that while I am a leftist, I am not dogmatically anti-war and I am not a pacifist. Yes, I am leaning towards the Alan Grayson “We are not a dictatorship” camp with regard to this issue, but I don’t always fall into one predictable camp or another. I am simply—like most people I know on the left, right, and anywhere in between—sick of the way we find ourselves in conflicts sold to us with lies, blurred realities, and [inevitably broken] promises. When it comes to our elected representatives, it is safe to say that I have trust issues.

Both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have been careful to note that this is not a repeat of 2003. Obama reminded that he did not support the Iraq War, which is heartening, of course, but he is a supporter of the extrajudicial killing of Americans. (I did appreciate your call for judicial oversight of drone strikes, by the way.) Jeff Jarvis, once an Obama supporter, has expressed his disappointment with the president, declaring him a proto-Nixon. And while Mr. Obama suggests he welcomes a debate about secrecy, security, and spying on the American people, he has waged a war against whistle-blowers and associated journalists.

Having gone through a war that was declared on false pretenses and built by the allies of the administration that waged it years before it was declared, Obama’s approach of hosting a conversation might appear to be an important step in the right direction. The President’s “I can do this with you or without you, Congress” swagger, however, doesn’t do a lot to suggest that this is this debate really means anything. Yes, while I am happy that the untrustworthy administration responsible for that last war are no longer in charge, I am not much more at ease with the administration that replaced them.

This is the foundation of my disillusionment with this so-called debate, or any important national conversation, for that matter. Considering the lingering single-digit approval rating of Congress and the wide-spread acknowledgement that heaps of corporate interest money is corrupting any attempt at holding honest dialog, I am not an outlier either. Much more often than not, we vote for the person we think will do the least harm with all of the temptations and corruption that comes with the power we are putting them in, not people capable of holding intellectually honest conversations because those folks rarely seem to make it into the relevant, important rounds of the contest.

So to ask me to take seriously the terms of a debate between a body of corrupt, opportunistic political tribalists and an executive who trusts me so little he is willing to spy on me—and, should he choose to do so, kill me by way of flying robot—is laughable

Despite all of this discord, the administration’s PR push already appears to be distorting the dialog. Based on the language being employed in this particular sell, “limited strike,” we are led to believe that what is being proposed is simply a passing slap on the wrist. In his case for a strike, Nicholas Kristof characterizes said action as “a few days of missile strikes.” It almost sounds tidy. However, in explaining what a strike might look like to NPR, Michael Eisenstadt, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said:

There is likely one or two submarines […] there. Some of our submarines have up to 150 Tomahawks. So you’re talking about anywhere from 200 to 400 Tomahawk missiles probably being launched if the forces in the Eastern Mediterranean remain at current levels.

Because we are all on the same page about not wanting to see boots on the ground in any way, the strikes will likely be based on 1 to 2 day old intelligence. More from Eisenstadt:

In that case, it’s possible that the information is several hours or maybe even a day or two old, and that raises all kinds of potential problems. The target may have moved by the time the Tomahawk gets there. Or even worse, they may have moved in civilians, and unwittingly, we might end up killing civilians.

So this tidy “limited strike” could mean about 200 to 400 missiles being dropped on several-day old intelligence. Or to do it right, we’d need to get boots on the ground, which we are being promised isn’t going to happen. So what’s the point? The further we dig into the realities of this proposal, it doesn’t sound as limited and precise as those on the sales circuit would like for us to believe. And so here we are presented with corporate money-influenced, untrustworthy, and generally unsavory characters trying to sell us a strike by downplaying what is actually scheduled to happen. It isn’t the substance of the exchange that makes it difficult for Americans to get on board, but those hosting and setting the terms for said debate.

Additionally, Kristof suggests that while it would be nice if Syria case were to be taken to the International Criminal Court, it is unlikely to happen. So without that option, what are those opposed to the strike suggesting be done, he asks. He does this without addressing the irony that while the US relationship with ICC is certainly better than it was during the Bush years, we refuse to participate in a real way in fear that we, might be held to the same standards to which we hold other countries with our “a few days of missile strikes” (or a decade long occupation, for that matter) held to their heads. What is the alternative? How about we make an actual effort to commit to bodies that assess accountability when it comes time to decide how to act, we do so with the prospect of being held accountable for our actions at the front of our minds.

I very much appreciate your independence of thought and affiliation, and I appreciate the deliberateness with which you look at these complicated issues. And while I appreciate the importance of what this debate should be, this is what it looks like from the outside. We have been burned repeatedly by burners that look a lot like this one, and most of the cooks strike us untrustworthy.

Many thanks for your time and consideration.

One of your 1.3 million constituents,
Alex Steed

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.