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Problem Solving

Hayden Hollingsworth
Hayden Hollingsworth

One of the pleasant aspects of mathematics is that problems have solutions.  As the complexity of mathematics increases there may be more than one way to arrive at the solution and even more daunting is the realization that the solution may be viewed in multiple ways.  There are, of course, mathematical problems for which no solution has been found, but in all likelihood, some genius will conquer it.

Don’t we wish that political problems could be approached with such precision?  In the currently escalating difficulties in Syria, every problem can be analyzed from multiple points of view.  The Alawites, who control the government, are in the minority even among the Shiites, of whom they are a radical branch.  The majority of Syrians are Sunni who have been fighting with the Shiites since the 7th century.  Think of how differently each of these groups analyzes the problems of 1400 years.

To continue the mathematical metaphor factor in the international community, particularly those in the west who have little understanding of the Muslim culture and the struggles through which they have gone. Unlike the problems in math, each solution poses a new set of problems.  Suppose, for example, the Alawites are responsible for the horrendous chemical attacks.  Dealing with Assad and his regime may be a solution, but who can predict what would fill the vacuum left by his removal.  Another possibility is that the Alawites are guilty but Assad is as clueless as he looks.  Getting rid of him in that case would definitely have major implications, none of them good. 

Maybe Hezbollah from Lebanon are the perpetrators.  That broadens the implications for the entire Middle East.  Could it be the “Rebels?”  That’s in quotes because from what we hear no one is certain how many factions there are in that class.  Are some so deranged as to gas their own people in hopes of an international response against Assad?  If they took control it might make the recurrent problems in Egypt tame by comparison. 

Add to all of that the justified paranoia we have over such terms as “slam dunk.”  I truly believe that Colin Powell believed the “intelligence” he had been given, but there is one name missing from the Iraqi calculus:  Hans Blix.  He was the United Nations appointed inspector for weapons of mass destruction in the run up to the Iraqi war.  His assessment that there was not definitive evidence for their existence was ignored by the Bush administration, although he proved to be right. 

In the current crisis there is, unlike the math problem, no solution that does not pose a problem that may be much more serious that the one which we now feel we must solve.  Whoever did the gassing must be brought to justice.  How do we prove who did it and what does the international community do in response?

The President has asked for congressional debate.  Had he not done so, he would have been vilified.  If Congress can be given the facts, not transmogrified to produce a certain result, let’s hope they can pool their collective wisdom into a reasoned solution. 

We have already seen what a knee-jerk response for a political agenda can produce.  Surely, we must have learned something from the debacle of Iraq.

Hayden Hollingsworth


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