Heart. The United States’ status as a superpower means it has a definite moral obligation to the citizens of Syria. 100,000 have been butchered by conventional means, and now we have direct evidence to suggest Assad has used chemical weapons not once but twice. The first gas attack which killed a few citizens can be imagined as a trial run for the Assad regime—to see if he could get away with it. Untold numbers died in the second attack—it may be as high as a thousand.
Head. You wish to shift into another conflict. I remind you that Syria’s military sophistication prevents us from simply establishing a “No-fly zone” to allow the rebels a fighting chance. And, anyway, why does asphyxiation from poison gas suddenly warrant intervention? Bullets and bombs do not make for any prettier of an exit from this world.
Heart. Think of the pallets of dead children. What lengths will Assad go to prolong his rule?
Head. Like father like son. Have you read your Friedman lately?
Heart. No, but it would—
Head. (interrupting) Because first you have to understand the parable of the turkey. “One day,” Friedman writes, “according to legend”—
Heart. (interrupting) This is not the time for history lessons.
Head. (continues) “An elderly Bedouin man discovered that by eating a turkey he could restore his virility. So he bought himself a turkey and he kept it around the tent, and every day he watched it grow. He stuffed it with food, thinking, Wow, I am really going to be a bull…
Heart. What does this have to do with anything? People are dying and you deliver a monologue about a turkey? US warships are advancing steadily toward Syria now. A senior administration official has just pointed out that there is little to no doubt Assad is responsible for this. Obama understands that we cannot peddle such mottos as truth and justice and then stand on the sidelines as innocents are slaughtered. Inaction makes us just as guilty as the perpetrators of the violence.
Head. “One day, though, the turkey was stolen. So the Bedouin called his sons together and said ‘Boys, we are in great danger now—terrible danger. My turkey’s been stolen.’ The boys laughed and said ‘Father, what do you need a turkey for?’ He said, ‘Never mind, never mind. It is not important why I need the turkey.
Heart. Our credibility may have suffered in Egypt. Anyway we have already trained elite groups of Syrian rebels in Jordan and Turkey—they need our support. Even if it were wise to avoid the Syrian conflict, we have already committed ourselves to it.
Head. “But his sons ignored him and forgot about the turkey. A few weeks later, the old man’s camel was stolen. His sons came to him and said, ‘Father, your camel was stolen, what should we do?’ And the old man said, ‘Find my turkey.’
Heart. Are you listening? Assad grows bolder by the minute. He could, conceivably, launch another gas attack at any given moment. This war has gone on since March of 2011. That’s 100,000 deaths in 870 days, which is 115 deaths per day! Think of that, every day we delay, 115 more people will die.
Head. “A few weeks later, the old man’s horse was stolen, and the old man’s sons came and said, ‘Father, your horse was stolen, what should we do?’ He said, ‘Find my turkey.’
Heart. President Obama defined a red line. He waffled once when asked if it had been crossed. Now he has no choice. Do you think any Middle Eastern country can possibly respect us anymore?
Head. (clears throat) “FINALLY, a few weeks later, someone raped his daughter. The father went to his sons and said, “It is all because of the turkey. When they saw that they could take my turkey, we lost everything.”
Heart. What are you getting at?
Head. Well, in the Middle East, you have to understand that a cultural system of tribal solidarity governs relations long before the modern system of justice familiar to the Westerners. If you along with your family were away in the desert, and another tribe committed some petty offense against you, there were no police to call. You retaliated in such a way as to send a message to all the other tribes that were tempted to try something that you were not to be crossed.
Heart. (offended.) Are you suggesting that Middle Eastern cultures are not adequately prepared for democracy or modern systems of government? I’ll have you know some of the greatest scientists have come from the Middle East, and—
Head. (interrupts) No, not at all. The point is that in the Middle East, as Friedman says, “The bonds of kinship must be honored before all other obligations; anyone who did not behave in this way was totally dishonored.” Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current Syrian leader, ordered the killing of 20,000 of his own citizens in 1982. It was called the Hama massacre…
Heart. (interrupts) So you mean this happened once already? And you still argue that we should do nothing about it? Five times that many have already died in this conflict. It’s far from a massacre. It’s more like genocide if you ask me.
Head. (continues) Hama was a Syrian town home to Muslim Brotherhood members who—
Heart. Ah, yes, the Muslim Brotherhood, who we let the Egyptian military slaughter just a few days ago.
Head. …Who wanted to challenge Hafez-al Assad’s rule. As Friedman says, al-Assad “understood from the start that at a certain basic level Hama was a tribe-like clash between his Alawite sect and the Sunni Muslim sect.” If al-Assad had simply acquiesced and allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to have taken one neighborhood, it would have been as if they had taken his turkey.
Heart. We can’t simply allow this massacre to continue. You may be right, but, this can’t go on. If we just dispose of Assad (the younger) the Syrians can hold elections and we can leave the country as quickly as we entered it.
Head. Well, sure, unless you have a plan to unite warring factions of rebels, some of whom are tied to different terrorist groups, and indoctrinate them with 600 years of Enlightenment and democratic thought, from Machiavelli to present. Assad the younger’s civil war may not be pretty, but it’s a historical continuation of ancient thought. The ruling Alawite prime minister has been injured—he will not let the rebels go unpunished. He is reclaiming his turkey.
Heart. (sullen) They are rebels, not terrorists, and you speak as if it’s a foregone conclusion that Assad will regain control.
Head. Whoever they are, they have failed to unify into a cohesive unit. If you wanted an intervention, the time for it has long passed. The momentum has returned to Assad. Hell, he even has Putin behind him. In the end, your indignation won’t save anyone, but it would probably just invite greater losses of life—including those of your sons, who would ultimately have to fight on the side of the rebels.