Letter: Think First, Act Second

To the Editor:

Three times in the last 50 years, the United States has involved itself in a major war in Asia or the Middle East, and each one, in its own way, has turned out to be a disaster: Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. In each case, it would seem that the involvement came about mainly because of a lack of information about and understanding of the true circumstances on the ground of the country being attacked, and a totally unjustified self-confidence on the part of the strongest advocates of the war. It is possible that we are being offered another opportunity to act impulsively in the case of Syria (“Obama Delays Syria Attack,” Valley News, Sept. 1.) It is hard not to agree with the idea that if the Obama/Kerry perception of the situation in Syria is accurate, then the use of chemical weapons on a civilian population amounts to an atrocity that the world ought not to stand by for and watch without an attempt to intervene.

The questions that are hard to answer are: Why should we be willing to accept that the war-hawk perception is accurate this time or that there is anything we can do unilaterally to intervene effectively in it? The idea of letting the Congress “debate” a future course of action for the country is surely unobjectionable. But the pronouncements that have been coming out of congressional figures so far, on the talk shows and in the newspapers, seem to be not very well informed and in many cases to be only partisan knee-jerk reflexes without much depth of knowledge or perspective behind them.

Rather than a “debate,” what might prove more profitable would be a “study,” in-depth and humble, before any decisions about attacking are even contemplated. The study should include a review of our other Asian and Middle Eastern wars of the last 50 years with the question in mind of how those situations could initially have been so poorly understood. This time, let’s try to think it through first.

David C. Montgomery