War & Peace: Syria, and why We all depend on Whistleblowers to ensure an Open Government

Based on statements by President Obama and a speech today by Secretary of State John Kerry, it is evident that the administration is seriously contemplating an attack on Syria. This in response to the recent and horrific chemical-attack that killed more than 1,400 citizens, a third of whom were children.

But, it is also evident that there is deep hesitation, and much of that goes back to the deceptions that preceded the U.S. attack in Iraq in early 2003. We owe a lot to the few who doubted those deceptions and ferreted out the facts, so that we could later see how the larger population was manipulated. And, we also owe a lot to Whistleblowers, those brave few who defied power and spoke up with disclosures that the people needed to see. Frankly, in recent years, the larger picture has become clear: government officials (not just elected leaders, but agency heads, too), when they become too enamored with their ability to display power, tend to reach too far and take too much, and always to the detriment of the people. Is it any wonder than, that these few people with power and position have a clear disdain for Whistleblowers, that they have an incentive to undermine and destroy those Whistleblowers?

As the saying goes:

power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely

President Eisenhower paraphrased this maxim in early 1961 with his speech about the military-industrial complex. Here is the key portion:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

A pacifist, sharing Ike’s concern, would recognize that a missile strike generates missile sales and other money flowing to defense contractors. He or she might say: “…that was a horrific attack, but why should my country charge forward with missile attacks upon the despised government that may possibly be behind these recent events? Will we accomplish anything, or just show our power while again lining the pockets of the defense contractors?” Despite the present obsession with jobs and money (seemingly, the obsession is as bad as it has ever been), the reality remains: peace must be the paramount objective, and jobs without peace are neither desirable nor sustainable.

Speaking of ‘jobs’ … lucky for us, the U.S. Congress is momentarily exceeding their average job productivity; yes, they are in recess, thus getting more done than has been their norm these past few years! Meanwhile, the British are actually debating the Syrian situation. They just finished nine hours of mostly-articulate presentation, for all the world to hear. They arrived at the conclusion that the British military will NOT participate in an attack. One speaker, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby said:

“The step of opening fire is one that must only be taken when there is no possible alternative. If we take action that diminishes the chances of peace and reconciliation, when inevitably a political solution has to be found whether in the near term or long term future, then we will have contributed to more killing and this war will be deeply unjust….”

 A public broadcasting radio show, Here and Now, covered the story this morning. Comments were offered by Robert Scales, a retired Army Major General and former Commandant of the U.S. Army War College. Here is his concluding paragraph (at 4:14 on the audio clip):

“…Goodness gracious, we’ve got more than enough firepower in the region to deliver what some are calling ‘shock-and-awe lite’. That’s not the issue. The issue is what’s called asymmetry of amnesty, is another War College term, which is that, this is a sectarian civil war, the most brutal, the most relentless, the most savage of all wars in the pantheon of types of wars, of civil wars, and religious civil wars are even more horrible. This is more like a forest fire that no one can squelch. And so, I think the main worry is that we are firing a symbolic gesture across the bow for the Syrians in a war that won’t end for decades….”
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So, what’s next? Perhaps all we can do is hope that our political leaders will show good sense. And, let us all hope that Whistleblowers will continue to speak up, so we can know the full details of what our government is doing.