FROM THE EDITOR:Syria response murky, but a must


o much for Obama’s red line in the sand over Syria.

This is probably what happens when your predecessor invades a country on trumped up intelligence. You just can’t have your yellow cake and eat it, too, these days.

I think U.S. intervention on the ground in Syria would be a mistake. However, I do believe that no action at all, or further delayed action, in the wake of the chemical attack near Damascus that clearly targeted civilians would be a mistake, too.

The question now is how weighty the response should be.

Too heavy, and Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran could be forced to respond — Russia’s already sending its own warships to the Mediterranean and Iran has threatened Israel (what’s new there.)

A response that’s too light might be just as dangerous. First, it sends a signal that gassing your own people might in some circumstances — like holding onto power by your fingernails — be appropriate given a weak response by the world’s leading superpower.

A light response would also send a signal to other big boys on the block that the U.S. is just generally weak. Since using chemical weapons on civilian populations is a huge, huge mistake, it requires certain punishment, lest China sees an all-clear to flex more muscle, or Russia or North Korea, all of which are more dangerous by multiples of 10 and 100 than Syria.

So, the response must be a medium one. Harsh enough to send a signal that the U.S. and other civilized nations won’t tolerate chemical weapon attacks on civilians, but not so harsh that a massive regional war is sparked.

Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a terrible toll on this country’s willingness to engage in military action in the Middle East. The wars in these countries were not exactly parade-worthy triumphs. Iraq is a disaster today. Hundreds of people, men, women and children, have died this summer alone in Iraq’s spiraling sectarian violence.

Afghanistan looks likely to fall directly into chaos, if not similar, then worse than Iraq’s. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that as soon as the last NATO troops leave, Islamic crackpots there now and from all over the Muslim world will stream into Kabul and turn the whole country back into an extremist backwater, never mind our billions and our buckets of blood.

Syria’s civil war is serious. An estimated 100,000 people have died. Millions have been displaced. It’s sad to see. Bashar al-Assad is the worst kind of leader — he inherited power from his dictator father.

If not for the heart-wrenching aftermath of 9/11, the Gulf War and its turmoil and the no-win situation in Afghanistan, the man would be gone by now, American boots stomping today all over Damascus.

But like the rest of the war-weary West, we wonder what should we do. Rest assured, we’re not alone in our waffling.

The UK parliament Thursday voted against taking any military action in Syria. French officials made it sound like they were ready to go a few days ago, only now to say a political solution is required. Syria’s neighbor Jordan, swamped by refugees from the civil war, refuses to do anything, and only northern neighbor Turkey seems ready to start shooting. No one seems to want that though either.

That leaves the U.S. and its medium response.

One columnist wrote that attacking Syria after two years of civil war is like stabbing a hemophiliac — the country’s already bleeding to death.

Another urges caution since the U.S. and its allies have never really established the right partnership with any Syrian rebel groups — though the CIA is arming a few militants with special weapons.

Could attacking Syria, then, mean helping a group win power that could look more like Al Qaeda and less like freedom fighters? Maybe, that’s one of the risks of acting at all.

I’m of the opinion that when the leader of the free world chalks out a red line, and it’s crossed, not just once, but more severely each time, then the U.S. has the moral authority, if not the desire to punish, even if we go it alone.

At least we know this, the intelligence won’t be overcooked.

 

High flying

Briefly, I wanted to comment on the decision Thursday by the Department of Justice to alert Colorado and Washington lawmakers that it will allow the legal marijuana industries in those states to remain unmolested so long as guidelines and regulatory structures in place remain robust.

I think that’s a positive signal for the feds to send, particularly since the moneyed people who would like to invest in these nascent industries needed the reassurance that they can invest safely. The threat of a federal crackdown was worrisome.

I’ve been reading a book written by Charles Bowden this summer called “Down by the River,” about the drug business in Mexico, the DEA here and the violence on both sides of the border. Great book. It was published in 2002 and much of the information is thus about a decade old. Compared to the toll taken on Mexico in the last 10 years, the shocking violence portrayed in Bowden’s book recalls an almost golden “age of innocence.”

The more Bowden’s history of the drug business unfolds in his book, the more it becomes apparent that the U.S. war on drugs was as unwinnable then as it is now. In fact, the war kills or jails more innocent bystanders than locks away or kills ruthless enemies. And by that metric alone, it’s a losing cause.

Nobody wants to admit this. And I agree, it’s an ugly thought. It’s so much easier just to lock people up than to figure out how to keep them from getting high.

But to continue wrecking lives and spending billions on cops and jails and allowing the real bad guys, the cartel leaders and the officials they corrupt, to get richer and richer, is national suicide.

I’d rather just legalize it all and take our chances.

Build a regulatory system that monitors recreational drug use, regulate it properly, provide help with addiction, health education, and then tax it all, put the blood-stained drug barons in Mexico and everywhere else out of business. Let Merck or Roche or Philip Morris do the manufacturing, hospitals and doctors do the selling, and cops concentrate on the killers running round instead of street corner kids.

How long until politicians grow a backbone and end this stupid, bloody war? Not long enough, I assure you. But at least when it comes to pot, the feds are letting the states and the voters who approved it lead the way unfettered, for now.