Monday, September 9, 2013

No Recess in Arab Crisis Déjà Vu

Okay, so it's a little outdated.

Or... is it?

I clipped this corner of a New York Times front page back in 1993 because of the photo.  Taken by Andrea Mohin, it captures an iconic expression of joy and freedom as a little girl scrambles down a stairway to an open door on the last day of school.

Last day of the 1992-1993 school year, that is.  Twenty years ago!  Meanwhile, school has started back up again for the 2013-2014 academic year, so students, their parents, and their teachers will have to wait nine long months before they feel the exuberance of this photo again.  It would have at least made more sense for me to have posted this photo three months ago, right?  But I only discovered it this morning, as I was cleaning out a filing cabinet.

Still, do you notice the article that I inadvertently saved along with the photo?  On that June Tuesday back in 1993, I imagine I wanted to clip out the newspaper's date for reference, so I unintentionally included a news story about the Clinton administration's dilemma over Saddam Hussein's assassination attempt on the first Bush president.

"We just wanted to make sure that every 'i' was dotted and every 't' crossed," explained an official at the Justice Department, and quoted by the Times to provide a reason for then-President Clinton's perceived delay in responding to the assassination attempt on a former U.S. president.  The first Gulf War, between Iraq and Kuwait, had ended after decisive intervention led by American forces under the authority of President George H. W. Bush, and it was believed that Iraq's Hussein tried to exact revenge for his humiliating defeat.

Yet, instead of rushing off all cock-sure and bombing ancient Baghdad back into the Stone Age, the Clinton administration was taking its time picking over the evidence and, as some of its critics claimed, simply dragging its feet, loath to further exacerbating tensions in the Persian Gulf.  Clinton, after all, was a Democrat, and his predecessor a Republican, although when it comes to targeting the physical well being of America's chief executive, politicians of any stripe will generally close ranks in defense of our president, if only for symbolic purposes.

As it happened, Clinton had become satisfied that the intelligence gathered against the Iraqi regime provided sufficient proof of a plot - and indeed, links to a likely bombing earlier that year - against Bush.  Three days before I clipped this photo, with the assassination story alongside it, a targeted airstrike of 23 missiles rained down on facilities in Baghdad belonging to the Iraqi Intelligence Service, which supposedly coordinated the plot.  This article was merely a review of what took the Clinton administration as long as it did to settle the score.

As we contemplate today's showdown with Syria and the regime of Bashar al-Assad that President Barak Obama has manufactured for us, it's more than ironic to see how a previous Democratic administration handled far more compelling evidence of mortal danger against America's own president.  Proofs were gathered, and witnesses encouraged to provide details that only they could have known.  It took time, but after America's case had been built, the international community stood by our well-vetted airstrikes when they took place.

Few people are debating whether or not a chemical attack took place near Damascus on August 21.  What's highly debatable, however, involves the party - or parties - responsible for the attack.  Was it Assad, and forces loyal to his government?  Was it a faction from one of the rebel groups challenging Assad's regime?  Was it a rogue third player trying to instigate further upheaval in Syria?  Without an answer to "who," we really don't have an answer to "why," which means we certainly don't have an answer to how we retaliate, or even if we should.

It appears that Russia has stepped up to the plate, taking seriously what Obama administration officials initially characterized as being an insincere offer by Secretary of State John Kerry to let a UN weapons team assume control of Syria's chemical arsenal.  If that does take place, it still doesn't answer the question of who first released lethal chemicals into the Syrian population, but it shows yet another diplomatic gaffe on the part of the Obama administration that could further weaken our standing in the international community.

Talk about crossing eyes and dotting tease!  Is this what American diplomacy has degenerated into?

Look at that photo again.  Yeah, I know it's grainy, but you get the idea.  Wouldn't it be so nice to be like that little girl, scampering down the stairs, mere feet from that open door, and a summertime full of freedom?

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