Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Syria: Will bombing make it better?

Everyone and his dog seems to be weighing in with their opinions regarding what is to be done about Syria. Should the United States take military action? What should that military action be? What would be the consequences if we do not take any military action? Would our credibility in the world of international politics be irrevocably damaged?

Those are some of the questions being asked, but are they the right questions? Ultimately, none of this is about the United States, although there are people in this country, many of them in political power, who try to make everything in the world about us. They insist that if we do not insert ourselves into every single issue that comes up, then we are weak and no one will ever listen to us again.

Now, I am just an ordinary citizen who is sick to death of war. My country has been at war for more than ten years. Young Americans have been coming home in body bags for all those years, although none of those young Americans have been sons or daughters of any of the politicians who sent them to war. My instinct is that this is enough already. Before we insert ourselves into another war, we need to be 100 percent certain that our national interest is at stake and that our intervention has some reasonable expectation of shortening the war and making things better for the people who are suffering. I'm not convinced that either of those two criteria are met in Syria.

Obviously, what is happening in that unfortunate blood-soaked country is a moral obscenity, but that hasn't changed recently. It has been a moral obscenity for at least a couple of years. Thousands of people have died or been maimed needlessly. Millions have been displaced. The burden on Syria's neighbors, particularly Jordan and Turkey, but also Lebanon and Iraq, because of refugees from the war pouring into their countries has become nearly unbearable. Jordan, it seems, has almost reached its breaking point. Would American bombs raining down on Syria make any of that better?

In Salon.com today, David Sirota explores four essential questions that deserve definitive answers before our country takes any military action. His second essential question is my first question: "Will an action actually make the situation better?" I think his conclusion to his discussion of that question, in which he notes our recent history with the Bush adventure in Iraq, is worth considering carefully.
After all, the decision to forcefully intervene against Saddam Hussein ended up creating vast atrocities – and it is hardly clear that the war resulted in a net reduction in human suffering. (My emphasis.) So Iraq proves the whole idea that military intervention is automatically synonymous with morality or humanitarianism is a ruse – and not an accidental one, either. It is designed to guarantee certain ideologically driven policy decisions – regardless of whether those decisions are the right ones. 
Military actions, of even a limited nature, always end up having unintended consequences. Moreover, one of the consequences that we can be absolutely sure of is that, if we act, more people will die, and they will not necessarily be guilty people. And, in the end, will those deaths shorten the war and make things better for the survivors, or will they merely exacerbate the suffering?

I think the president is wise to involve Congress in this decision. No matter what he does, they will criticize him and complain that things should have been done differently. But at least, in forcing them to go on record with a vote, he is limiting their options for complaint.

Kudos are due the British Parliament for their courage in saying no to getting involved in this dirty civil war. It is unlikely, I think, that the U.S. Congress will have such courage.  

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