John A. Tures: Mr. President, take your case to the people

September 6, 2013 

While waiting in line at the Shell Station near LaGrange College, a guy approached me. He looked like someone out of Duck Dynasty who shaved most of his beard. "Hey, are you the guy who writes columns for the newspaper?"

I said I was, hoping one of mine hadn't rubbed him the wrong way.

"Well, what are we going to do about Syria?" he asked me. "I mean, should we really be talking about air strikes in Damascus over the chemical attack?"

The scene and the following intelligent discussion we had might have struck non-Southerners as comical, given the guy's looks (and mine as the geeky professor). Norman Rockwell would have loved it. But whether folks are wearing a coat and tie, overalls and a t-shirt, a dress or power suit, everyone's following the Syria conflict, even the college students. Every class begins with a question about the latest developments.

And part of the reason I've been peppered with questions, and so many discussions are occurring in churches, Cub Scout meetings and college campuses (a good thing, by the way, in all situations) is because there are so many questions to ask. Just what is in store?

The editor of the LaGrange Daily News and I talked about analogies. Given that he's traveled throughout the country once known as Yugoslavia, he was able to point out that my Bosnia and Kosovo interventions weren't exactly perfect analogies for what is currently being planned. Serbia and Syria are not exactly the same thing.

Whether you think the former Yugoslav Republics or the jungles of Vietnam or deserts of Iraq are the best analogy, you have something in common: a lack of a clear idea of what the end game is. Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey have gone before Congress to make the case for conflict.

They've done a pretty good job of making their point, as some Republicans have gone along with the policy to support it, like both Georgia senators, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, and House Speaker John Boehner. Meanwhile, liberals like Nancy Pelosi and libertarians like Rand Paul and Ron Paul are against it.

But while supporters of action have been able to squeeze a limited "authorized use of military force" through a Senate Committee, polls show much less support from the American people. Only about 30 percent support the airstrikes, while roughly 50 percent oppose the idea. The rest are unsure, and no one is filling in the blanks.

Before he became president, Barack Obama was knocked for giving good speeches, but not focusing on getting legislation through Congress. He's become the opposite, working Congress, but having very few televised addresses.

He needs to provide frank discussion of what we're getting into, and why we're committing to a fourth Middle East conflict in the last ten years (not sugar-coated, but what sacrifices we're expected to make), or folks will continue to believe the government really doesn't care for their opinion.

John A. Tures, professor of Political Science, LaGrange College; jtures@lagrange.edu.

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