Last Tuesday President Barack Obama addressed the nation and the world regarding the situation in Syria. Syrian president Bassar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own people was the topic on last week’s edition of Urchins Take Sides; we, along with some of our readers, addressed the situation as we waited for the US Congress to come to a decision on whether an American-led military strike will come to pass. Now that President Obama has answered that question in the negative, it brings about more questions. Today we continue to weigh in, and we hope you will continue to do so as well.
President Obama covered a lot of ground in his speech on Tuesday, from elucidating further details of the events in Syria to summarising and addressing the concerns raised by his suggested use of military force against Assad’s regime. But the most important part of the speech was the verdict that, at least for now, a peaceful approach is being pursued. While the diplomatic path is being followed thanks to newly announced cooperation from Russia, one of Syria’s closest allies, the overwhelming response from the American people against military action cannot be ignored.
As a pacifist, I find such rallying against the use of force extremely encouraging. However, where were all these voices for peace and ‘diplomatic solutions’ when the US invaded Iraq? Afghanistan? As I recall, if you didn’t support military action at that time, you were ‘un-American.’ When fueled by a misguided vendetta, the people of the US had no concerns about violence, the depletion of resources, or focusing on domestic affairs. Yet, when the US, with all its vast wealth and blessings, is called upon to help lessen the suffering of others in crises, Americans just can’t be bothered. I truly wonder how much the general population of the US even knew about the crisis in Syria before the past few weeks. I am so grateful that peace and diplomacy are prevailing, yet wish people had cared so much about pursuing those paths before it was just the option more beneficial to them.
Ironically, the two aspects of President Obama’s speech that resonated with me the most are somewhat in direct opposition with one another. Firstly, I was relieved and now optimistic to hear that the United States is looking to other nations for solidarity concerning this complicated matter. In his speech, President Obama said
I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin. I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies, France and the United Kingdom, and we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons, and to ultimately destroy them under international control.
This potential for ‘teamwork’ against Assad’s regime may send a message clearer than even the military strike that President Obama proposed in the first place. Not only that, but it relieves the burden of responsibility that the United States always seem to assume during these kinds of violent global crises. Which leads me to the second aspect, ‘American exceptionalism.’ My brain rolls its eyes whenever I hear these kinds of statements, but in the context of the speech they sounded even more absurd. And even more unnecessary. They were most likely included to placate the group of the country that actually believes in it, for they are the ones most likely to have been disappointed in the decision not to intervene militarily. Still, it is sometimes frustrating to be able to feel like we are moving forward when such language keeps getting reiterated for everyone to hear, not just the few who want to hear it.