It is good that President Obama will go to Congress for approval before taking military action against Syria. A democracy's strength comes from its ability to allow an entire People's interests to be addressed through representation, thus Congressional approval allows the representatives of all Americans to register the interests of their constituents. That said, the recent historic tendency of Presidents to avoid taking this step leaves this new found need for Congressional oversight appearing somewhat dubious; that is, it looks like we are trying to avoid taking the plunge.
That said, the US, French, British, and other countries are jumping the gun by turning inward for legislative approval at this time. Before these countries move forward with military action, they need to know what type of post-military action intervention will be available, i.e a role the US is not willing or able to take on. An adequate punitive strike will shift the dynamics of the Syrian civil war, thus blame for any failures in Syria will be placed on any country participating a military strike. As such, this mission is a mission for the International Community, not the US and a handful of Western countries. Consequently, Obama needs to also go to the UN and our allies individually to rally them to Syria's aid, whether or not he can get a UN resolution. Meanwhile, if the US and the rest of the West are going to take the lead in military strikes then we need to know Syria's neighbors and other international partners are willing to help prop up the war-torn country until it can be rebuilt. Ideally, we need to see a thorough assessment outlining the potential ripple effects of a military strike and a failed Assad regime, including a road map to reconstruction once the civil war ends that demonstrates what aid will be required.
Like a waddle of penguins testing the water for predators, the International Community is slowly trying to push some first country into acting against Syria for its use of chemical weapons. At stake is the responsibility of rebuilding an already failing state as a “punishing strike,” which must be so strong that it cripples Syria’s capacity to deliver chemical weapons, will almost accurately facilitate the demise of the Assad regime. Traditionally, the US would take point and the ultimate responsibility. In the current political and economic environment, US leadership must take the form of ensuring there is a strong, broad coalition of nations willing and able to take on a near equally divided stake in the rebuilding of Syria, after the US and its military allies make a decisive strike.
That said, there is a great deal of irony in the fact that the world is both celebrating the anniversary of the “March on Washington,” which aimed to end the suppression of the disenfranchised, and desperately trying to justify the need for action against a government due to a breach of international law versus the need alleviate the oppression of a People. (We may even be going so far as to limiting our response to the Assad regime, so it does not collapse.) There is more time spent debating if military action is “legal,” which is based in treaty law, i.e. agreements that must be recalibrated periodically with the shifting the interests of states, versus enforceable domestic law, instead of honestly discussing action as part of an overall intervention. After all, any reaction to Syria’s use of chemical weapons must include a plan to deal with the broader dynamics of the civil war as action will shift the balance in power.
Finally, a minority of analysts have questioned the validity of chemical weapons use as a red line. In fact, they have even gone so far as to say chemical weapons should not be considered weapons of mass destruction. Although the chemical weapons in Syria may not kill as many people as traditional weapons and there are limitations to the military applications of chemicals weapons, these weapons of mass destruction do have a greater potential while far more disturbing chemical weapons exist, or could come into existence. More importantly, the next step up from chemical weapons is biological weapons. Looking at a worse case scenario, the fallout of such weapons could be irreversible and felt globally. Meanwhile, chemical weapons are also psychological weapons. Not only do they leave people feeling insure when it comes to fulfilling basic human needs, i.e. a drink of water or breath of air could kill you, chemical weapons, especially in the case of nerve agents, lead to agonizing deaths. As such, chemical weapons are weapons of mass torture. This is why they are considered weapons of mass destruction, why their use is forbidden, and why a crushing blow must be felt by those who would use them.
It's good to know President Obama agrees with my argument, and language, for increased economic equality through increased economic leverage. Check out my article "The need for Greater Economic Leverage" (http://voices.yahoo.com/the-greater-economic-leverage-12069168.html), which offers something a little different than the traditional perspective and language we hear on economic disparity, then watch Obama's August 28th, 2013 interview on the PBS News Hour (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/white_house/july-dec13/obama_08-28.html).
From his interview....
"But the – what is both troubling but also, I think, gives me a greater sense of urgency is the fact that this is a trend that’s actually been going on for a couple of decades now. As I mentioned in the speech, you’ve got technology that has reduced manufacturing jobs that used to be a foothold into the middle class, that has reduced things like bank tellers or travel agents that used to provide a good middle-class livelihood, and the new jobs that have been produced don’t pay as much. You’ve got global competition, jobs being shipped overseas.
All these things reduce the leverage that workers have, and as a consequence, it’s a lot harder for every worker – black, white, Hispanic, Asian – to ask for a raise. And employers know that. And companies are making great profits, but they’re not reinvesting."-President Barack Obama
Rising higher education costs are somewhat driven by a tendency for colleges to be ranked by how much they “invest” in infrastructure for students and other endeavors. Although President Obama’s best value ranking system, which considers factors like tuition, graduation rates, percentage of lower-income students, and earnings after graduation, might counteract the negative effects of other ranking systems that are used to sell schools to students, it will probably do little. After all, ranking systems exist for advertisement, not quality control.
Unfortunately, Obama’s system has the potential to produce bad results, e.g. by trying to compare earnings across a whole range of disciplines, thereby inflating the value of engineering schools and understating the value of teaching colleges, or by failing to address the issue of nontraditional students, thus community colleges might be poorly ranked as compared to traditional four year colleges. Meanwhile, education is not simply about salary as many low yielding disciplines are essential to our society, which is part of a broader problem with our educational system and economy. In addition, students that are more affluent can often use their family backgrounds to make a degree more valuable, so schools already attracting affluent individuals will most likely see an automatic boost. Moreover, Obama’s “solution,” even if it properly ranks colleges, will provide very little incentive for schools to suppress prices.
The overall problem of the higher education bubble is too much infrastructure. Our higher education system has continually expanded over the past few decades and that growing beast must be feed. Excess capacity, i.e. too many schools offering too many degrees for too many students in need of too many of increasingly higher paying jobs with ballooning college debt cannot be sustained indefinitely. In fact, this bubble would have likely collapsed years ago had the government found a solution to the higher education paradox instead of maintaining it.
On the other hand, people need an education to have a chance at climbing the socioeconomic ladder. Unfortunately, as more and more individuals acquire degrees, the value of those decrees goes down, i.e. employers can find someone to do the work of a college graduate for the pay of a high school graduate while the degree no longer becomes an advantage for the disadvantaged. Clearly, not all degree programs are equal in their educational or monetary value while our economy also tends to undervalue the true benefit of certain degrees by failing to recognize the broader and long-term influence these degree holders have on society. As such, both employers and schools need to recalibrate their thinking on education. Here are three ways on how we can do that:
1. Education should be about learning to learn. Instead of livelong learning, which continually costs money, diminishes the earnings of employees by taking them out of the economy, and perpetuates the higher education bubble, lifelong learning skills should be taught, so students can keep up with changes in our economy by learning on their own. Employers can help embrace this shift in thinking by recalibrating their hiring practices so they hire individuals with diverse, dynamic educational backgrounds. (Employers need to be more willing to take on training costs versus opportunity costs.) Government can help by favoring on-the-job-style training programs over degree or certificate programs held at schools when it comes to technical fields.
2. Schools need to recalibrate their notion of what a bachelor degree and an associate degree are in order to strip their programs of extraneous courses. Associate degrees tend to be more technician/ technical oriented, i.e. they lack the broader and diverse educational experience provided by a BA or BS course load. The bachelor degree course load is, however, supposed to provide students with a general knowledge base built on their even broader high school knowledge base, so they can adapt to whatever socioeconomical need arises. It is the master and doctorate level that are supposed to offer specialized education. Popular BA majors such as women’s students and environmental sciences should be master level disciplines build on degrees in psychology, sociology, political science, and history. Consequently, undergraduate schools need to refocus their efforts on core educational programs.
(Obviously, this sounds somewhat hypocritical coming from someone who has a BS in physics and psychology based politics, but physics provides a broad, highly applicable analytical skill set while psychology based politics is the combination of two traditional course loads for two broadly focused disciplines that resulted from a student creating the major. If students want to specialize while at the undergraduate level, schools should give them the opportunity to combine core educational programs, but schools should not be trying to accommodate every possible major.)
3. We should be focusing on the students, not the schools. Government can help drive students to core educational programs by offering greater aid when students reach their junior and senior years, which is the time when they have declared their majors. Success should be rewarded. When students reach their final years in college, they tend to struggle in terms of finding financial aid. To encourage more students to graduate and schools to help students reach their junior and senior years, which might not necessarily be year three or four, government and private donors should focus more attention on providing added financial aid for students on the verge of graduating.
(Readers feel should free to read more of Matthew Geiger’s thoughts on education by visiting his Yahoo! Contributor profile and searching out his many articles on the subject.)
The International Community and its member countries have an interest in the Syrian conflict due to the broad interests all countries have in a stable International Community and the threat from weapons of mass destruction. (Feel free to read this previous post on the subject http://washingtonoutsider.weebly.com/1/post/2013/06/obama-opts-formilitary-intervention-in-the-syrian-war.html) The likely use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime is unacceptable as it threatens these shared interests and a failure to produce a meaningful response to their use encourages others to use weapons of mass destruction. That said, it is highly questionable as to whether or not a meaningful response will be mustered by the International Community, especially considering that the United States Is thoroughly unwilling, and unable, to engage in such a mission without our allies taking the lion’s share of the responsibility due to the wars in Iran and Afghanistan.
Should there be a military response against the Assad regime, it will be to accelerate the ending of the war with the hope of preserving what is left of the nation’s civil infrastructure and social institutions as well as to secure Syria’s weapons of mass destruction. Intervention cannot stabilize the country, because the Assad government is the only faction large enough and organized enough to immediately reassert control over Syria. Clearly, the bulk of the International Community will not defend Assad.
Consequently, the failing state of Syria will become a failed state, i.e. a safe haven for Islamic militant groups, require some degree of nation building, regardless of international military intervention, or remain in the tightening grip of an ever more brutal Assad. One critical question is whether international military intervention will leave Syria in a worse condition than simply allowing the conflict to burn out on its own. With the use of chemical weapons, deepening divisions, and increasing instability caused by ongoing destruction, it seems Assad will burn his country to the ground before he will give up power while the aftermath will likely leave the nation filled with militant groups and ongoing instability regardless of the victor.
Another critical question is who will intervene. Given America’s recent failed attempts at nation building and the likely outcome, the United States cannot be expected to do all the heavy lifting. The US may help in the military effort, but it will mainly be up to other nations to rebuild Syria. Although intervention should be headed by the Arab League and other Syrian neighbors, the European powers may be the ones who ultimately take on the cause. Unfortunately, even the most successful military intervention and nation building efforts will likely not save the Syrian People from a decade or more of violent instability. In fact, we may well be seeing the sequel to the Iraq War, minus a strong US presence. Depending upon what political divisions emerge and how many militant groups choose to disband, the rebuilding of Syria will either be slow or near impossible. That said, the Syrian People do need to see an immediate end to this phase of their civil war.
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