Reflecting on Syria on the anniversary of WWI

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entrance into World War I. To Europe, this is a significant day because it marks when the U.S. abandoned its longstanding isolationist position and began what Europe perceives as the United States’ modern transatlantic relationship with European nations.

Liberty Memorial-The National WWI Memorial in Kansas City, Mo.

While I was traveling in Brussels last week, I constantly heard about the anniversary and its importance to the relationship. There will be an anniversary celebration in my hometown of Kansas City at the National World War I monument today. You can watch it live here.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reflecting on that history, the Trump administration’s current foreign policy (especially in light of recent events in Syria), and my travel experiences in Brussels.

It’s always interesting to travel abroad and hear another perspective about your country. We had a lot of conversations about why American audiences don’t keep up with foreign current events until it actually affects America.

One person said that’s exactly the issue. These events rarely affect the U.S. so the American public can opt out of learning about them because the impact is not immediately visible. We have the two longest and largest peaceful borders in the world. We have two oceans flanking those borders. Meanwhile, due to geographic position, numerous borders and history of war, Europeans don’t have the luxury of not paying attention to foreign affairs.

Fun Fact mentioned while I was in Brussels: The last 60 years of peace in Europe is one of the longest stretches of peace in European history.

Another person I spoke with said something else that stuck with me: We’ve done a poor job — in both the U.S. and Europe — of showing people why sometimes their best interest rests in involvement outside their own country. (I’d say that’s especially true in the U.S. after two lengthy wars in the Middle East.)

Finally, I personally think that sometimes international reporting assumes a base knowledge we may not have in an area. That makes it difficult for people who don’t follow an issue daily to understand the coverage.

SYRIA

This brings me to Syria and the U.S. involvement. I think we really need to understand what’s going on there because it affects our safety and security. This is my attempt to help you get up to speed on this issue. It’s certainly not exhaustive —but will hopefully help you understand coverage of the issue better.

If you missed it yesterday, I gave a brief description of what is happening in that country. You have the Assad government (backed by Russia and Iran), the rebels who want Assad removed, and ISIS all fighting in the area. Caught in the middle are innocent civilians like the father whose 9-month old twins were killed by chemical weapons and the thousands of migrants fleeing the country from war and famine.

This affects the United States because:

1) There are migrants looking for safety and security. We have typically responded to them due to our commitments to the U.N. and the Geneva Conventions.

2) As the rebels and Assad government continue to fight, so does ISIS, which has space to operate.

3) The war crimes committed by Assad, in my opinion, could create a generation that feels anger towards the world that did not come to their rescue. That’s very dangerous. Here’s Marco Rubio giving a more eloquent explanation than I have.

First of all, let’s talk about the severity of the war crimes. I think in the minds of the American people ISIS seems like the most important enemy with their beheading videos and terrorist attacks. They certainly are dangerous and important to stop, but here is a rundown from The New York Times of all of Assad’s methods which include starving people, bombing hospitals and using chemical weapons. (Warning: There is a graphic picture.)

The European Union wants Assad removed from power and a new government formed which is inclusive of the rebels. Some believe that if you could get the two sides to form a new government, those sides would team up to defeat ISIS rather quickly. I think that’s a little overly optimistic, but not impossible.

I personally don’t see how you can move forward without Assad being removed from power — especially with these families witnessing their children being killed. Do you think those families could live in peace knowing they are governed by the same regime that willingly gassed their children?

There’s no way.

The challenge is that Russia is still supporting the Assad regime. So what happens now? Does the U.S. continue to push Russia to keep Assad in check? How does that sit with our advocacy for human rights? Do we get involved and take action against Assad? How would that affect relations with Russia? Can the American public stomach another military intervention?

These are not easy questions to answer.

So what can you do?

Call your representative — Tell them how you feel about this issue and your thoughts about how the U.S. should proceed.

Contribute to organizations who are responding — Whether it is an organization like IRC, Save the Children or the White Helmets, themselves.

If you are unfamiliar with the White Helmets, I highly recommend watching this Academy Award-winning film on Netflix. It’s short, but emotional — and will make you remember that even in the worst situations there are people doing some good in the world.

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