Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Isaac Newton was no dummy!

Isaac Newton revisited

 Does anyone in Washington remember Isaac Newton? If not, they should. He was not a famous politician or president or prime minister.  He was someone who studied the elemental forces of nature ( and mankind is part of nature) and  developed conclusions ,  calling them 
" laws" to predict the consequences of any motion or action which disturbs the natural order of things. He said things like "a body at rest tends to stay at rest" ( think of that all you couch potatoes out there).  And, “ bodies in motion tend to stay in motion”, and , perhaps most significant of all " For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction".   That's his third law of physics, and it applies equally to military actions as well as any other actions undertaken by human beings.

     For some reason we lost sight of that law when we attacked Saddam Hussein's Iraq. We were so impressed with the "shock and awe" of our military prowess, and the pulling down of Saddam's statue that we declared “mission accomplished” too soon. Only later did we realize that Newton's third law was still operative, and the response to our colossal use of force was more diffuse, and delayed, but nevertheless equally as powerful.  It took us ten years of blood, toil, and treasure to cope with it, and the results of our effort and the benefits derived therefrom are still elusive.

     Fast forward to 2013, and we are again faced with atrocities perpetrated  by another middle eastern madman in the torturous murder of his own civilians , innocent men women and children , with Sarin gas. Such an act is beyond reprehensible. But the key question remains , are we in the United States the sole arbiter and the sole enforcer of international law? Are we the only drawers of the lines in the sands of international engagement? Is there still no room for the United Nations to act, and if the international community does not act because of Russian or Chinese obstructionism, is there no room to hold the leaders of those countries accountable in the court of world opinion? 

     Former UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson,  who President Obama most resembles stylistically, had perhaps his finest moment when, during the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962, he faced down the Russian Ambassador Zorin and said, “Do you deny the existence of Soviet Missiles in Cuba?  Yes or no, Mr. Ambassador.!  Answer the question.  Don’t wait for the translation.  Yes, or no?..and I am prepared to wait until hell freezes over for your response!" 

    President Ronald Reagan's finest moment was when he said in Berlin, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! " Perhaps John Kerry and/or Barack Obama's finest moment could yet be, "Mr. Putin, the evidence of your client,  Mr. Assad's culpability in the use of chemical agents against his own people.   is incontrovertible.  Are you going to allow him to continue mass murdering his fellow Syrians by lethal nerve gas? Mr. Putin, the world demands to know what you are going to do about it?"

    After all the rhetorical exchanges, one key issue remains.  That is whether a military strike against the Assad government by the US would make things better or worse. What are the probable consequences of such an action? We have heard a lot of rhetoric about the consequences of American inaction, but we should not forget the applicability of Isaac Newton's principles to the situation at hand.

That Third Law of physics is a tough one.  Perhaps when there are no good options, the choice should simply be to not exercise any of them. If the choice lies between don't just stand there, do something, and don't just do something, stand there, maybe inaction is the better choice. If action means that we unleash forces that we do not yet know the full consequences of , then inaction makes eminently more sense. Sir Isaac Newton was no dummy.