Tag Archives: Syria

Home Again

There are many reasons why people want to emigrate to the United States.  One oft cited reason is abundance of economic opportunity.  Where one is perhaps stymied in his attempts to set up shop on a street in Bangladesh so that he will be able to make enough to support himself and his family, he will have no problem doing so in the United States.  Work hard, play by the rules, and the rewards will come your way.  This is the capitalist myth, aimed especially at immigrants, that has endured for as long as Ford has been making cars.  And it has worked — at least in luring immigrants to the United States.  What happens to most of them after they arrive and settle here is a different story.

I often wonder whether some immigrants now in the United States would not have been better off staying in their home countries.  Of course, there are many places that are not liveable even for the most resourceful and optimistic individuals.  I cannot tell you where those places might be from personal experience but if news accounts are to believed modern day Syria seems like an example of such a hellhole.  But what about other places where living conditions might be considered harsh but not unbearable to the point where one is in constant fear of being indiscriminately shot at, kidnapped or tortured?

It is true in many of these places you cannot have a house with a yard and two cars.  You are lucky if you can get a one bedroom apartment with your own bathroom and a separate kitchen.  You will either have to walk or to ride crowded buses and trains to most destinations you’d like to go to throughout the day.  What you eat for the day will be limited to what’s being served at the local food stand or cafeteria or what’s in stock at the local market.

Such living conditions certainly seem shabby when described in the abstract.  And all the more so when considered in tandem with images, littered all over the internet and publications, depicting homes in the West of uncompromising luxury.

The mindset of the immigrant who decides to escape such shabby living conditions in search of the gold-flecked frontiers of the United States is akin to what goes through the mind of a high schooler who is about to leave home for college.  For the student it is the excitement that she will no longer be bound by the rules and conventions that she had to observe while living at home.  No more curfews; no more dinner table rituals; no more lectures; no more chores.  It is the excitement of imminent freedom.

The same goes for the immigrant.  No doubt that with shabby living conditions come more rules and conventions that are meant to prevent conflict and maintain a certain level of social harmony.  To be able to free oneself from these social norms is understandably exciting.

But as is often the case, the immigrant eventually comes to his or her senses, as does the college student  It dawns on the immigrant that living in a place without the constraints that are often placed on one’s conduct in places that present more crowded, inhospitable living conditions make living a very lonely and purposeless endeavor.  And it dawns on the college student that life at home wasn’t so bad after all; that perhaps all those rules and conventions were in place for reasons, even if  some of those reasons never really made sense, and perhaps never will.


The King’s Terms

There is a scene in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart where the British and Scottish armies mass at a battlefield, ready to wage war.  Before the actual battle ensues, the head of the British army speaks with an underling who urges his superior to offer the Scottish army the “king’s terms” as a way to defuse the conflict without bloodshed.  The superior officer scoffs at the suggestion and questions the Scots’ ability to meet these terms.  The underling insists, and the superior officer grudgingly agrees, riding off to meet his Scottish counterparts mid-field to deliver to them the “king’s terms”.  The Scots, through their recently (self-) anointed commander, William Wallace, reject these terms and, under Wallace’s leadership, proceed to slaughter the British army despite being heavily outnumbered and under-equipped.

The arrogance and ineptitude of the Brits, as portrayed in this scene, is reminiscent of how the United States has conducted its foreign policy during this administration and ones that have preceded it in years past.  And no other person better embodies these traits than the current U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry.

When the Syrian government started gassing its own people to death, the United States, with Kerry as its representative on the world stage, rightly condemned the practice.  Obama himself drew the now infamous “red line” which he warned the Syrian government not to cross when it came to snuffing out its antagonists.  But once the Syrian government crossed this line, which almost everyone surely knew it would do, the United States had no meaningful response.  It engaged in a half-hearted effort to punish the Syrian regime with threats of missile strikes.

Then came the “king’s terms”.  As the deadline approached for what might have been a U.S.-led military strike, Kerry publicly dismissed the notion of an alternative non-military approach, pushed by the Russians, in which Syria would turn over all its chemical weapons to international authorities.

In Kerry’s words: ”Sure, he [Syrian President al-Assad] could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting [of it]. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done.”

What is significant about all this is not that the Syrians ultimately agreed to a disarmament plan or how they have gone about complying with the terms of the plan or even the instrumental role played by Russia in making the plan a reality, but that such a high level official of the U.S. government would publicly cast judgment on what another government could or could not do without even a moment’s reflection as to the appropriateness of his remarks.  [Immediately after Kerry’s ill-fated statement, the State Department, in another foolish move, went into damage-control mode, describing it as a “rhetorical argument” rather than an actual proposal.]

The “shoot first, ask questions later” approach of U.S. foreign policy can also be seen in the events that have been unfolding in Ukraine and more recently the Middle East “peace process”, another brainchild of Kerry’s.  The Israeli government, which knows a thing or two about zealotry, called Kerry “messianic” in his determination to force an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  As the Israeli defense minister put it, “The only thing that can save us is if Kerry wins the Nobel prize and leaves us alone.”  The Israelis may have gotten their wish now that the peace talks are in shambles, but at the expense of the credibility of the United States, and Kerry specifically, who foolishly waded into the minefield that is Middle East politics without any kind of exit strategy.

It should be clear by now that when it comes to engaging nations abroad the U.S. has no coherent plan or vision.  It’s vision is that of the individuals who make up its foreign policy establishment, whose massive egos and petty political point-scoring blind them to the true interests of the people to whom they are sworn to serve.

And who could blame them?  Having made of mess of country after country for years on end, maybe the U.S. is finally coming to its senses: that the way to exert its moral authority abroad is with what Obama has called a “light footprint”.  Or maybe that is just another way of saying, we have no clue what to do next, and whatever it might be, just make sure it doesn’t look like another Iraq or Afghanistan.