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For once, diplomacy winning over war

Updated: October 17, 2013 6:14AM



‘It’ll be OK, Sis. I’m out now.”

Last December, those were sweet words of comfort to my eager ear. Today, they echo fears, mine and many others, as America awaits another run-up to war.

Drew’s words. You may remember my regular tales of the long duty of Sergeant First Class Andrew Washington Jr., my younger brother and an Army lifer. Drew did multiple tours: to Afghanistan in 2002, in Iraq in 2003. He returned unscathed. He was one of the lucky ones.

While he was enlisted, I was always on tenterhooks, awaiting the next word of “deployment,” that awful bureaucratic term that signaled he would head, once again, to peril overseas.

Then, finally, relief. By the end of 2012, our wars were winding down. Our “anti-war president” was re-elected. And Drew got “out,” retiring from the U.S. Army after more than 21 years with an honorable, proud discharge.

In recent weeks, my old, stomach-turning fears returned, as President Barack Obama began his saber rattling over the chemical weapons crisis in Syria. Obama has been a reluctant warrior. “I was elected to end wars, not start them,” he said Sept. 6 at the G20 summit in Russia. Yet, he wanted to send other soldiers into another military conflict.

Then, on Saturday, the United States and Russia signed off on a deal: Syrian President Bashar al Assad has agreed to eliminate its chemical weapons arsenal by the middle of next year. In return, Obama pledged to refrain from military airstrikes.

OK. I can take a half-sigh of relief. The United States is the world’s policeman and the owner of the world’s most powerful military force, with a massive military footprint. So massive and powerful, that when Obama started to rattle Assad’s cage, after years of denial, the Syrian leader ’fessed up and came to the negotiating table.

But when we take up arms, there are no guarantees that footprint won’t slide down a slippery slope, to war. In the past, we underestimated the resistance, undersold the potential damage. Thousands of war dead paid the price.

That’s not OK. Not after the last 12 years of war. Not in a nation plagued with a stuttering economy, chronic poverty, a looming federal budget crisis, congressional paralysis.

There was no better time than now to choose diplomacy over war. We dodged the war bullet this time. But the knot in my stomach remains. Questions remain.

“This situation has no precedent,” Amy E. Smithson was quoted as saying in the New York Times.

“They are cramming what would probably be five or six years’ worth of work into a period of several months, and they are undertaking this in an extremely difficult security environment due to the ongoing civil war,” said Smithson, an expert on chemical weapons at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

How can we trust a Syrian president who murdered hundreds of adults and children with poison gas, then lied about it? Can we hope to completely remove chemical weapons, not only in Syria but other hot spots?

Drew will never be “deployed” again. And at least for now, neither will the soldiers he left behind. I’ll take it.



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