Syria: Atrocities, Quagmire, and Red Line in the Sand

This is my forty-second weekly Blog regarding the state of leadership in America. On the eve of what may be another Middle East military involvement by the United States, our government finds itself scrambling:
• To identify what US national interests are at stake if we don’t get involved militarily,
• To assemble an alliance of Middle East states to help stop the bloodshed and use of chemical warfare in their own back yards,
• To gain the support of the United Nations for a US strike,
• To obtain Congressional agreement to take military action, and most importantly,
• To explain to the American people why we need to get involved in yet another war.
We cannot ignore these critical first steps designed to foster popular homeland support and build a coalition of nations prior to any military strike on Syria by the US. Understandably, there is a real sense of urgency as the televised video streaming out of Syria every night graphically shows the mounting atrocities and death toll from this horrible civil war. And now, the added picture of chemical warfare casualties reveals a regime headed by a tyrant who cares nothing for his people. However, for the US to go it alone would be disastrous. Instead of the focus and criticism continuing on Syria, the focus would shift to criticism of the US because we are seen as the aggressor in the Middle East. Plus, war, no matter how surgical and precise you want it to be, has a way of creating unintended collateral damage, which would also be blamed on the US. The added complexity of this Syrian quagmire is President Obama’s threat that if Syria uses chemical weapons on its people, then that would trigger a review of US policy towards Syria, increasing the likelihood the US would respond militarily. Well, the reported evidence indicates that the red line has been breached. The ball is now in our court and the question is, are we going to take military action against Assad. Let’s look at the cold realities:
• With Russia and China in opposition to US involvement, UN support is unlikely,
• A coalition of some NATO and Middle East countries willing to aggressively take part in a strike on Syria, is possible but also unlikely,
• Congress may agree to only a limited strike as punishment for use of chemical weapons,
• The polls show little support by Americans for further involvement in Syria.
• The Syrian rebels are not strong enough to force a regime change by themselves at this time.
Given these realities, it would seem prudent to take the time to build a coalition of countries that can jointly develop a strategy on how to move forward with Syria. What is most concerning is that our government should have anticipated that Assad would use chemical weapons at some point and consequently, already had a coalition and strategy in place to respond. Drawing lines in the sand without the collective will and mandate to enforce such a line can only serve to make the US appear weak.
Paul Okum has 40 years’ experience with the Federal Government in the Departments of Transportation, Interior, Army, and Defense in leadership positions, including being a US Army Officer and a human resources director. Mr. Okum has written “Leadership DNA,” a provocative and useful guide book about identifying, selecting, and developing natural born leaders. This book explains the aspects of leadership, including examining good leaders’ behavior patterns and learning how to achieve objectives and deal with poor managers that can cripple an organization.
For more information about Paul Okum and Leadership DNA, visit

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