Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Democracy inaction

Dedicated readers often wish to hell they had something better to do know I'm a milquetoast American citizen.

Vote and grouse, that's my modus operandi — vote for the issue and person that tires me the least. Grouse in what amounts to shouts in the wind, small and weak and scattershot.

I am an April fool. For most other months too.

A couple of weeks ago, President Barack Obama wrote me back — typing two spaces after every period, which is the strange thing I noticed first.

Yes, I know he didn't write it. Yes, I know that citizens writing about certain topics get a crafted response from someone in the White House; I'm guessing it's the press office via the State Department re: "Talking points, Syria," pulled from a digital pigeon hole.

"Thank you for writing," President Obama wrote. "Three years into the Syrian conflict, we face a brutal and protracted civil war, which extremists are exploiting and which poses a threat to stability throughout the region. I am glad you took the time to share your concerns."

Mr. Obama capsulized for me the history of the current crisis in Syria, the causes — violent responses to peaceful protests against the Bashar al-Assad governent —and the outcome, more than 130,000 dead and millions finding bleak shelter in dead spaces in their ravaged country, and across ragged borders.

All stuff I know from the daily osmosis of public radio.

Then Mr. Obama said what the United States is doing and how it helps — humanitarian assistance, negotiations for greater international aid, participating in negotiations between the Syrian government and its opposition, that sort of thing.
One thing I have said since the beginning is that I will not pursue an open‑ended military intervention in Syria,
Mr. Obama wrote.
Last year, when the Assad regime violated international law by using chemical weapons in an attack that killed over 1,000 Syrians, I was prepared to respond through narrow and targeted military action. But when a diplomatic option opened up, we took it—because I believe any chance to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force is one we must pursue.
"Targeted military action" is why I wrote Mr. Obama, puffing out my dove feathers to urge the United States not to enter another protracted war. Some dove: Syrians are being slaughtered — literally, slaughtered! — with no one to help, and I told Mr. Obama: Don't let it be us!

I blogged about it — twice.

There you have it: My exercise in democracy, my stepping out of the rut of citizenship into the merest definition of activism. I tapped a letter like I'm tapping now, and pressed "send."

And the slaughter continued. And continues. The "diplomatic option" was Russia agreeing it would see to Syria's dismantling of chemical weapons, half of which have now been destroyed or made inert, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reported last month. The United States, China, Denmark and Norway are reportedly contributing resources and expertise to remove and neutralize the weapons.
And in the months ahead, we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve—one free from dictatorship, terror, and fear,
Mr. Obama concluded, before thanking me and referring me to its Web page regarding policy issues with Syria.

Here's the thing:
  • The Web page's last reference to the Syrian conflict is last Halloween, and
  • I wrote President Obama in early September
Since then, the world has happened. Maybe it's no worse than many terrible ages of our time on earth, but it bears its own brand of impending collapse. Not the least of which is that Russia called in a major good-guy discount by helping de-horrify Syria (which is still a horror and which Russia still supports, which I don't get, but my country stands by some egregious world neighbors out of American interests, so pot, kettle; kettle, pot).

The discount makes Russia's sweep of the Crimean Peninsula, right into Ukraine's backyard, awkward for the United States, because Europe depends on Russian energy and doesn't want to poke the bear too hard, and President Obama really doesn't want to make more war and end his presidency where he came in. At least, that's what I suppose.

Better that President Obama — or his office — had not written back at all. I already knew how busy his administration is — how hellishly busy any administration is trying to balance our country's place and might — I did not expect a letter and I'd have felt better if every single person had better things to do than write me. Even if it was to click "send."

On the other hand, I did expect a letter would be exactly like this.

Syria chews away while we attend to the crisis in Ukraine. The world chews itself up. Corporations and monied interests seem more driven to chew away on us, our money, our children, or freedoms, because they can, because we let them, until we either get mad enough finally to move against them, or until no more is left.

All that's left to conclude from my blog posts is that I have not moved off my ambivalent, frustrated, grousing ass, looking for a way to make a difference and not remain a good man, doing nothing.


  1. Shawn, love your musings on a broad palette of issues. Just about everything I've read is thoughtful, humble, well-done and entertaining (although I'm partial, so maybe I can take the place of Mom since Mom's not here). Never asked you how you came to be a Giants-49ers guy (although I know you've been consistent on that count ever since we were 5. I haven't been; I'm no longer a Dodger fan). On Syria, how can anyone be anything but ambivalent. Assad can spread misery with or without chemical weapons -- as can the opportunistic extremists -- so any reduction in chemical weapons stocks, though desirable, is indeed a hollow victory amid the ongoing carnage. What irks me are the cocksure denunciations of Obama from the Right on any policy, including Syria. Most of the cons (largely "neo-cons") who consistently, mercilessly deride our pres on Crimea were uncharacteristically milquetoast over Russian adventurism in Georgia, even though the policies of Obama and Bush were similar. They're double-standard bearers through and through. An exception is John McCain, whom I deeply respect because he'll bash a political ally almost as quickly as an adversary if principle dictates. (e.g., dubbing Ted Cruz a "wacko bird," which he is). I'm all about surgical strikes and drones where and when practicable. I think it's good that we bounced Saddam Hussein, although it probably created more problems for us than it solved -- and the pretext was outrageous. And you're right -- our foreign policy has been demonstrably self-serving enough that it undercuts our moral credibility. Here's a link that serves as a great example: http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/03/24/ukraine-russia-panama-dewayne-wickham-putin-obama-column/6793805/ I didn't know any of that about the origins of the Panama Canal until this chap enlightened me. Keep it up, brother. God bless ya.

    1. hey brian, thanks very much for your thoughts on this. we as citizens also have to (as much as i hate this phrase) work smarter, not harder, exercising our rights and concerns as citizens.