Like many of you, I am relieved to hear President Obama’s decision to wait for Congressional approval before attacking Syria.
- First, it respects the international rule of law
- Second, it respects the will of the American people
- Third, it gives time for possible coalition building or peace negotiations with Assad
On the first point, this highlights the importance of the UN, even in the face of vetoes by a recalcitrant Russia and China. Britain’s House of Commons recently voted narrowly against military involvement in Syria. France is set to discuss measures next week, with the majority socialist party members showing most support for action while conservatives are most likely to vote against it. The Arab League will talk about it today. And the UN hasn’t analysed the materials it picked up from the chemical weapons attack of August 21st. Russia threatened action if Syria was attacked, as did Iran. Lastly, the goal of any strike has never been clearly articulated.
So it appeared that if anything were to happen it would be:
- Based on uncertain premises,
- Likely to escalate, not diminish violence, and
- With an unclear goal.
On the other hand doing nothing, which has been the response for over two years, doesn’t seem to have worked out well. Certainly not for the 100,000 dead and the 2 million displaced by the violence.
Ever since Obama’s decision to move warships to the area, people have actually started talking about Syria. That in itself is a small victory. While Bush rushed forward with ever-more deceptive rhetoric on Iraq, Obama is stepping back to give us all an opportunity to become aware of the situation in Syria. That might in fact give too much credit to Obama. The public has little taste for yet another war in the Middle East, especially one with so little foreign support. Isn’t this just Iraq all over again? What does Syria have to do with us, anyway? Should we really start another war in the Middle East? (Note: the war was started long ago.) Doesn’t Russian Television tell us it’s a bad idea? Such questions, innocent enough, may reveal that we have been ignorant about Syria for too long.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. I’d be happy to be proved wrong, but I agree with the Onion’s satirical, but spot-on, commentary from Assad:
Well, here we are. It’s been two years of fighting, over 100,000 people are dead, there are no signs of this war ending, and a week ago I used chemical weapons on my own people. If you don’t do anything about it, thousands of Syrians are going to die. If you do something about it, thousands of Syrians are going to die. Morally speaking, you’re on the hook for those deaths no matter how you look at it.
So, it’s your move, America. What’s it going to be?
After pondering a couple military possibilities, (fake) Assad suggests doing nothing:
I suppose you could always, you know, not respond with military force at all. But how can you do that? I pumped sarin gas into the lungs of my own people, for God’s sake! You can’t just let me get away with that, can you? I mean, I guess you easily could, and spare yourself all of this headache, but then you would probably lose any of your remaining moral high ground on the world stage and make everything from the Geneva Conventions to America’s reputation as a beacon for freedom and democracy around the world look like a complete sham.
In real news, a similar position is taken in the face of such attacks as well. “International peace and security depend on certain taboos that are easily recognized when they are broken,” says Ian Lustick, a University of Pennsylvania political scientist. “It can be more important for an intervention to take place because nuclear or chemical or biological weapons are used, as opposed to just measuring how many people are killed.” (via NPR)
Whatever happens next internationally, I hope that the one thing I can convince you to do is to take some time and learn about Syria. It really is an amazing, beautiful and diverse country with a a rich history – much of which is slowly being destroyed.
Last month, when I wrote about Burma, Imperialism, and the Buddhist-Muslim violence I noted that I was struck by the similarities in the imperialist history of Burma and Syria and some of the parallel political repercussions of the two nations. You can watch the BBC documentary I mentioned there here:
Do watch it. One of the fascinating facts that I picked up after watching it (and a tiny bit of searching around) is that the current president of the Syrian National Council, the representative body for the Syrian people which has been recognized by the US and other nations but which is based in Turkey, is a Christian named George - you can see him interviewed on the CBC here. In fact there is an amazing diversity of people in Syria, but the only ones we’re told about in the news are “the rebels, some of whom may be affiliated with Al-Qaeda.” (In fact, Al-Queda is a threat not just to Assad, but to the vast majority of Syrians.)
Just one more personal note. I live in a large post-graduate student house now and for the last two years I have had a Syrian woman as a housemate. We have talked now and then about the uprising and war. The one phrase that rings in my ears from our conversations, the one that I have so little answer to is, “nobody cares.” – “He’s killing children, and nobody cares. He’s bombing whole cities, and nobody cares. He’s using gas and…”
Show you care. Read these:
- 9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask
- All Necessary Measures: Responding to Syria with Our Imagination
- Some works from Samantha Power (Obama’s recent appointment as the US Ambassador to the UN) – Is Humanitarian Intervention Dead?, Bystanders to Mass Murder, and The Democrats and National Security.
Discuss them with friends, family, strangers. Maia’s suggestions, including medical aid and dropping “love bombs” (supplies) sound great. But they wont’ happen if we avert our eyes for another two years.