But Syriasly, folks?

By Hilton Price

Nearly a year and half ago, Syrians began an uprising against their government. The protests and armed conflicts revolve around the Ba’ath political party, which many in Syria see as corrupt and beholden to Islamic militant group Hezbollah. The protestors want the Ba’ath party out, and many international governments seem to agree with this sentiment.

It’s hard to know what the U.S. really wants here, due to some baffling maneuvering from Washington. Earlier this month, the U.S. announced new sanctions against the Syrian government and the country’s state-run oil company. However, as sanctions traditionally limit the economic and political options available to a group or country, these latest sanctions seem to be intended to show American concern over the conflict, but not any interest in actually getting involved. They are largely “symbolic,” even according to U.S. officials.

It all reminds me of a bad parenting decision I made a few weeks back. When my little girl refused to go to sleep one night, I found myself struggling to choose a fitting punishment. A time-out would keep her out of bed longer. A spanking would only exacerbate the situation and delay sleep even more. So, as I stood in my daughter’s room, determined to find some way to make her understand she needed to close her eyes and try to sleep RIGHT NOW, I reached for the first toy I saw. With her Etch-a-sketch in my hands, I looked sternly at my little girl and said, “I’m taking this toy away until you can go to sleep.” With that, I closed her door and walked back to the living room.

It took another hour before she finally went to bed. Later that night, I stared at the taken toy wondering what, if anything, I could have done differently. Suddenly, I realized I could not remember ever seeing her play with the Etch-a-sketch.

I called her mom, and sure enough, she also could not remember the toy being used. Grandma, grandpa, and Aunt Judy also had no recollection of seeing the Etch-a-sketch being played with. It was now no wonder my daughter wasn’t bothered by me taking the toy. She didn’t even like the toy!

To my new eyes on an old industry, symbolic sanctions are like punishing a child by taking away a toy it doesn’t like. It may look like a serious action, but it’s really a meaningless gesture.

Punishment has to mean something, or anyone with basic problem-solving skills will see the emptiness of the gesture. I know, because I’ve spent the past couple years with a little someone who has only basic problem-solving skills, and even she would think these sanctions were pointless. Of course, she doesn’t know what a sanction is, but honestly, why would I dare spoil that. I wish I didn’t know what a sanction was. Ah, the ignorant bliss of childhood…

Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, fake-punishing Syria…

If the U.S. wants to stay out of this conflict, that’s fine. It’s the right of any sovereign nation to determine its involvement in the actions of others. Likewise, if the country wants to say, “We don’t like this, but we’ve got way too much going on right now to deal with this,” I’m okay with that. I don’t remember Syrians jumping into our civil war. Of course, they weren’t an independent country until 1946…

My point is, my little girl knew taking her etch-a-sketch away meant nothing. It wasn’t something she cared about, so losing it was not a problem. The United States’ symbolic sanctions against Syria are the same type of thing. Since they will be meaningless to the Syrian government, they will accomplish nothing.

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