This essay was originally posted on Ryan’s Desk. It is reposted with permission.
The pattern is almost identical: the drumbeat for war heralded by the denunciation of yet another mini-Hitler in the making with serious sober-sounding pronouncements issued by serious sober-looking people. It’s Iraq all over again just change the names, remove the oil, add in a hulking Russian bear, and you’re set! Every one of these serious sober people is, quite conspicuously, silent on how America’s last death and destruction-filled misadventure through the Middle East went implying by their lack of response that such comparisons would be preposterous! Of course the Powers that Be who swore up and down on a stack of holy books that Iraq would have nuclear weapons in six months which turned out to be a weightless mirage couldn’t be wrong twice, could they?
The fact is the situation on the ground is Syria is anything but clear-cut. On one side of many you have Basher Assad, a Ba’ath Party strongman whose been ruthlessly butchering the Syrian people who rose up in revolt in 2011. On another, and not THE other as the media tries to claim, are the Free Syrian Army, a group of alleged moderates whose alleged popular mandate and alleged secularism makes them the allegedly legitimate party that would be totally cool if they came into power, honest! That is until you look a little closer and notice their hands aren’t entirely clean either. And finally, at least as far as the groups deemed important enough to be mentioned goes anyway, you have the Jihadi faction with al-Nusra as the most prominent example. There’s also probably at least half a dozen other smaller groups who enjoy support from one foreign power or the other, angry or opportunistic Syrians using the opportunity to settle some scores, tribal factions, local defense groups trying to keep everyone else from killing their family and neighbors, and let’s not forget the ordinary people whose most likely aspiration at this point is to be somewhere that is not exploding.
Now why exactly is there a sudden rush to intervene now, when things are at probably their worst, rather than earlier around the same time the US toppled the Libyan government? The reason that’s been given is an alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad government against Syrian civilians. Already we have the United States and France lining up arguing emphatically and unequivocally they have PROOF Assad used chemical weapons against his own people.
Hopefully that proof didn’t come from the same people who said they could prove Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, especially considering the UN investigators are saying it’s going to be weeks before they have a conclusive answer. Regardless the United States, even moreso than Iraq, would be going at it with very few allies to speak. In spite of the public talk of dangerous dictators on a rampage international support is not forthcoming. Even nearby Arab leaders, some of whom have condemned Assad’s actions, are calling for a UN mandate for any intervention. Even the American public is opposed with only 19% supporting intervention and a whopping 56% opposed to intervention in Syria. And yet in spite of this Obama is going full-bore for military intervention. Yesterday a Senate panel voted to approve intervention in Syria paving the way for the full Senate to vote on the matter.
In the voices calling for intervention many are making a lot of hay of needing to support the FSA, nevermind that the FSA is probably not what they say or think it is. They raise the ugly specter of the Jihadi faction taking over and the dangers it would pose to global stability. Yet nowhere do they address a much more pertinent question: why is the Jihadi faction the one taking charge? Oh wait it’s because they’re the most battle-hardened, experienced fighters the rebels have. And why is that? Because many of them got the best military training in the world fighting the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan!
Considering America’s recent track record with interventions, from the over 100,000 civilians killed in Iraq and millions driven from their homes to the chaos and violence which has engulfed Libya since American intervention, maybe we should consider another approach. The Syrian people haven’t asked for the United States to come in and bail them out. Given the recent track record of saving the village by blasting it to pieces it’s understandable why. The American people don’t want their soldiers going into harm’s way to bail out a loose alliance whose behavior is nearly as reprehensible as their enemies.
But most important question is what gives the United States government the right to intervene? How is it, other than overwhelming military might, that it is America’s responsibility to police the world? Considering how incredibly sloppy the Pentagon’s track record has been in these so-called “police actions” one would think based solely on performance alone the badge should have been revoked a long time ago. It’s not as if our human rights record is so stellar, considering half the world’s prisoners are Americans or the unprecedented pervasiveness of PRISM, that we can claim a special right to use force against others.
Ultimately the United States has no special right, duty, or justification to intervene in Syria beyond those of cold-blooded, cold-hearted imperial politics. These wars of empire and influence have consumed some of the best our society can offer, wasted valuable resources and opportunities, and are only adding to the problem. What the people of the United States do have a right, and duty, to do is act. We must not stand by while bought and paid for politicians with bloody minds and bloodless hearts render more destruction. This must happen in spite of the fact that it is doubtful the powers that be will heed us or pay any mind to the will of the masses.
That is not the point.
The point is to remind the high and mighty, the meek and mild, and all in between that power comes from the people and the people together are a power that cannot be denied.