Friday, September 06, 2013

The Syrian Question

We don’t understand this region at all. It is ruled by the Law of Unintended Consequences

I’m old enough to remember the various escalations, de-escalations, truces, cease-fires, harbor minings, troop buildups, troop withdrawals, and intensified bombing campaigns that took place during the war in Viet Nam, all geared towards the purpose of “sending a message.” Ultimately, it was all fruitless effort expended in a part of the world that we had barged into without fully understanding.

It was a mistake that we shouldn’t repeat, and if events of the past decade can also serve as lessons to us, embarking on a war of choice is a mistake as well. Wars are a lot harder to get out of than they are to get into. At least Congress is going to do their job and take a vote on it. I was worried for a while there that they wouldn’t.

I fully understand the importance of maintaining an international consensus that puts the use of chemical weapons beyond the pale. It’s pure barbarism, beyond the acceptability of any civilized norms. Unfortunately, the international community has shown little interest in supporting the idea of collective security envisioned in the charters of the United Nations, and even less inclination to do anything about the use of biological and chemical weapons. It’s unfortunate as well that our claims to moral superiority in this regard ring hollow to the rest of the world, due to the fact that we knew Iraq was using chemical weapons in their war against Iran during the 1980s, but provided covert strategic assistance to the Iraqis anyway. The strategic imperative was to stop an Iranian victory at any cost, and we did not protest or intervene. Our unlimited use of drone strikes around the world doesn’t help us to make a persuasive case either.
As much as I might be sympathetic towards Obama’s goals on this issue, it is actually the limited nature of what he is proposing that most makes me inclined to oppose it. Getting rid of Assad might be one thing, but what he is proposing would have little practical effect other than to bolster Assad and to get more people killed. Inevitably, more innocent people will be killed.

Fundamentally, it is morally wrong to kill people for the purpose of “sending a message.” 
Even if we were to intervene in a way that would tip the balance against the Assad regime, is that what we really want to do? I’m no expert, but from what I’m gathering, most of the secular-minded and ordinary citizens who took up arms in the Free Syrian Army against the regime a couple of years ago have either been killed, fled the country, or gone home in disillusionment. The anti-Asad movement now seems to be dominated by foreign jihadis and the al-Qaeda affliated Jabhat al-Nusra.

A few months ago I saw this interesting speech given by Sheik Nasrallah in Lebanon around the beginning of the year, about Hezbollah's looming showdown with al Qaeda in Syria. What he warned about has since come to fruition, and Hezbollah is now providing overt military support to the Assad regime, destroying its own credibility on the Arab Street in the process…. The Middle East never lacks for irony as Hezbollah, of all people, whine about the "meanness" of people who set off car bombs.... This has become a sectarian Shia-Sunni conflict through and through, and we should not allow ourselves to be pulled into it. There is blowback for everything we try to do in the Middle East. I feel badly - terribly - for the children of Syria, but unfortunately the place is ruled by the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Putting up a video like the one below is somewhat out of character for me, but there are much more explicit and barbarous ones out there. It shows the actions of the “Takfiri” that Nasrallah speaks of… The treatment of Christians in Syria is well-documented, if still not widely known, but look at how these sectarian thugs treat a small, unarmed group of muslim truck drivers who fail their Sunni quiz. These were guys just trying to make a living. Their trucks weren’t even hauling trailers. I was deeply moved by the courage of these ordinary men, as they stoically came to realize that they could lose their lives at the hands of these crackpot zealots, for just trying to do their jobs. (WARNING… Very disturbing).

Senselessness. Somewhere the cycle of tit-for-tat violence needs to stop. When will these wars end? Let’s heed Pope Francis’s advice on the Day of Prayer and Fasting. To suggest a fast is something new, positive, inspiring and welcome. It puts faith and sentiment into notable and noticeable action.

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