Originally published on The Huffington Post, September 5, 2013
The Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 edition of The New York Times had two opposing op-eds literally side-by-side that summed up the dialectic as to whether the U.S. should engage in missile strikes in Syria. Nicholas Kristoff (“The Right Questions On Syria”) stated the case for missile strikes and Alex de Waal and Bridget Conley-Zilkic (“What Would Sir William Do in Syria”) stated the opposing case.
Simply stated, Alex de Waal and Bridget Conley-Zilkic argued for a systems approach. They put it as follows: “Punishment, protection, and peace must be joined. None can be achieved in isolation. All require a strong international coalition.” In short, while missile strikes might be necessary at some point, by themselves they are not sufficient to bring about peace and guarantee a robust and stable political resolution to the Syrian civil war.
In sharp contrast, Kristoff argued that while there is considerable uncertainty as to whether missile strikes would (1) stop President Bashar al-Assad from further poisoning his own people and (2) not set off a tremendous firestorm that would engulf the whole Middle East, doing nothing ensured that Syrians would “continue to be killed at a rate of 5,000 every month.”
As a long-time liberal who has argued for peace my whole life, and furthermore, as someone who has spent his entire professional career pioneering the development and use of systems thinking in business and government, I find myself in a strange and uncomfortable position. On the one hand, in the short-run, I find myself agreeing with Kristoff. On the other, I find myself in the long run, hoping for the approach favored by de Waal and Conley-Zilkic. Nonetheless, because of the failure of international organizations to broker any sort of a peace process and to stop Assad in the immediate here-and-now, I side with Kristoff. Psychologically, I cannot stand aside and argue for doing nothing while innocent men, women, and children are gassed.
No matter which way we turn, we are left with an incredible dilemma and a paradox: Will missile strikes drive the warring parties to the peace table or will it further inflame both sides? Will missile strikes, the very antithesis of the systems approach, bring about a systems approach to the Syrian conflict?