By Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history
The Middle East has long been the epicenter of complex problems that wash like waves into other regions. No different than his predecessors as far back as Truman, President Obama is faced with a complex nexus of interrelated problems and hard choices.
The Arab Spring has brought with it change, much of it unwelcomed in Washington. Under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, the future of Egypt is uncertain. An Iran armed with atomic weapons is a dismal prospect. Yemen is in disarray, al-Qaeda doing its usual destructiveness. The prospect of an independent Palestinian State on the West Bank has moved to the back burner. The Sinai has fallen into total disorder. Hamas and Hezbollah will surely take advantage of the region’s problems, each being fed by Iran.
And then there is Syria, which presents an unimaginable host of problems that can destabilize the region even further. Much of Syria is in ruins, its ancient cities along the coastline demolished by the Bashar al-Assad regime’s air force, tanks, and fighting between paramilitary units and the regular army. Syria is sinking as a nation and the ability of its leader to rule over what was Syria two years ago is limited. But al-Assad still has a monopoly of power. He is being resupplied by the Russians and the Iranians, using Hezbollah fighters to put down the Opposition in the most brutal way.
Barring a bolt out of the blue, Syria is shaping up as the greatest foreign policy challenge of Obama’s presidency. One suspects his humanitarian instincts push him in one direction, his geo-political instincts in another.
After two wars in the region, he is mindful of the perils of getting involved in a civil war. In the words of The New York Times’ Tom Friedman, “If you torch it, you own it.” After a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is the last thing Obama wants. However, if the U.S. continues to stand on the sidelines and wait to see how the crisis unfolds, Obama will be accused of being heartless or too tepid.
Like many, Obama would like to see al-Assad pack and leave, but if he falls, the gates of hell will open in a region not known for moderation. There is the fear that once al-Assad is gone, Syria could be dismembered, further collapsing into chaos with Hezbollah moving into its western and southern sections, which Israel would not tolerate. Given the prospect of Syria falling into total chaos, dismembered, or worse, one has to question if some of Obama’s advisers want al-Assad to leave anytime soon.
Obama may be taking a leaf out of the Israeli handbook on the region: better the devil you know that the one you do not. If al-Assad emerges relatively intact and manages to reassert control, it will take years to rebuild a broken Syria. From a humanitarian point of view, this is hard to swallow. But it just may be a very hard reality, a bitter pill. As one Israeli said, the choice is between plague and cholera, both horrific but at least we know al-Assad, so-to-speak.
Letting the situation play itself out, standing on the sidelines may be the best choice, however distasteful. But al-Assad has to be put on notice: opening your arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and committing genocide on an unimaginable scale would be a game changer.
President Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera was one of more than 300 college CEOs to sign an open letter to President Obama and other policy leaders calling for tougher gun control laws and declaring their opposition to laws that would allow guns on campus.
The campaign was started by presidents Lawrence M. Schall of Oglethorpe University and Elizabeth Kiss of Agnes Scott College, both located in Atlanta, Ga. Presidents from mostly private, non-profit colleges have signed the letter, which was written in response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and 6 adults.
Since the on-campus shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, several states have sought to allow guns on campus even in opposition from college officials and faculty. After the Newtown massacre, some lawmakers called for teachers to have access to firearms in their classrooms.
But Díaz-Herrera and the other College Presidents for Gun Safety are demanding a crackdown on access to guns.
“Just 10 days after the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., gun violence claimed the lives of two first responders here in our own backyard in Webster—not far from our campus,” said Dr. Díaz-Herrera. “Clearly, something has to be done, as our letter states, ‘to ensure that current and future generations may live and learn in a country free from the threat of gun violence.’”
Here is a segment of the letter:
“We are college and university presidents. We are parents. We are Republicans, Democrats and Independents. We urge both our President and Congress to take action on gun control now. As a group, we do not oppose gun ownership. But, in many of our states, legislation has been introduced or passed that would allow gun possession on college campuses. We oppose such laws. We fully understand that reasonable gun safety legislation will not prevent every future murder. Identification and treatment of the mental health issues that lie beneath so many of the mass murders to which we increasingly bear witness must also be addressed.
“As educators and parents, we come together to ask our elected representatives to act collectively on behalf of our children by enacting rational gun safety measures, including:
• ensuring the safety of our communities by opposing legislation allowing guns on our campuses and in our classrooms;
• ending the gun show loophole, which allows for the purchase of guns from unlicensed sellers without a criminal background check;
• reinstating the ban on military-style semi-automatic assault weapons along with high-capacity ammunition magazines; and
• requiring consumer safety standards for all guns, such as safety locks, access prevention laws, and regulations to identify, prevent and correct manufacturing defects.
“The time has long since passed for silence and inaction on the issue of reasonable and rational gun safety legislation. We hereby request that our nation’s policy leaders take thoughtful and urgent action to ensure that current and future generations may live and learn in a country free from the threat of gun violence.”
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