Since Syria doesn’t seem to be magically disappearing as a global disaster, I suppose I should say something about it. Because we all know I have an opinion that I wouldn’t want to keep to myself, and not just because this is so much like the plot of this season of Newsroom.
Let me preface this by saying the use of chemical weapons is reprehensible. If you disagree, you should find some humanity or just go off to a cave and die. But somehow, the use of such weapons isn’t a thing that seems to bother us as a country. And I think that’s shameful.
I’m certainly not much of an interventionist: if we could morally and ethically and humanely sit on the sidelines of all conflicts that don’t directly concern us, well, I think that’d be swell. But we don’t; we pick and choose and we pick and choose bizarrely and, frankly, unethically. And by the fact that we do choose to intervene at all, I don’t think it morally allowable to stop intervening when the ethical case is so clear cut.
Not that we have a stellar track record for ethically-minded intervention: we, like a rational actor, take action when it suits our political needs, which is at least intellectually consistent if not admirable, as in Iraq in 2003. But when it makes no difference to us, as in Sudan or central Africa or Burma, we are conveniently and conspicuously absent. As much as we might like to think of ourselves as moral protectors of the free world, we are far more politically-driven than anything.
What makes Syria particularly prickly is that it matters to us somewhat as a regional issue, but not as much as Iraq, and it is mass murder, much closer to Sudan or the Kurdish genocide, neither of which received so much as stern words (maybe some stern words) from Team America World Police. So do we react to Syria like we did Iraq, as a matter of regional import, or like we did Sudan, as a human tragedy that is, unfortunately, outside the scope of our concern?
Then how do we rectify our prospective courses of action in Syria with our strikes in Libya and Yemen? These are both instances where we have specific targets, Qaddafi and al-Qaeda respectively, and we take action, relatively quietly, on a small scale. So why can’t Syria fall into this category?
Then, of course, there’s our inconsistency in weapons issues: we launch a pre-emptive strike against Iraq when they MIGHT but probably DON’T have “weapons of mass destruction,” instead launching the country into what we might kindly refer to as disorganized chaos, yet we do nothing but yell really loudly at and emptily threaten Iran when they DO have nuclear weapons capabilities. This logical inconsistency is proof enough that Iraq never had these things: Iran does, and we know better than to provoke them. Had Saddam Hussein actually possessed such capabilities, we probably would never have dared provoke him, either. He was, after all, a genocidal maniac.
Just like another good friend of ours: Bashar al-Assad. So what do we do when this G.M. (genocidal maniac) has and USES weapons like this? Do we just sit on the sidelines and wait for him to attack a country we actually “care” about? Because don’t get me wrong, we don’t really give much of a flying **** for Syria. Not like how we do give two ****s for some of its neighbors (not that we get anything out of that relationship either).
A recap on weapons:
1. Iraq might but probably doesn’t have scary weapons. We launch a nearly-decade-long war.
2. Iran does have nuclear capabilities, but we’re not sure about weapons. We talk loudly.
3. Syria definitely has nerve agents and it’s highly likely that they’re being used against the rebels and civilians. What we do is TBD.
Are we so afraid to take action in Syria, despite the clear moral case (it would, certainly, be a just war by Thomas Aquinas’s criteria), because it’s a civil war? And is it that civil war is, by its nature, an intractable conflict? Do we not meddle in domestic affairs of other states? That last question is tongue in cheek: pre-Revolutionary Iran and Lebanon, for starters, might beg to differ. Of course, last time we put troops in the midst of Middle Eastern civil war, Americans died. Did we, shock, learn our lesson??
Syria is a confounding anomaly: it matters regionally, it’s a clear-cut ethical case, they have scary weapons, it’s a civil war, and its ruler is, by all accounts, a terrible human being. So is it Iraq 2003, is it Iran, is it Sudan, is it Lebanon or is it Libya? In three out of five cases, we act. And the jury is still out.
What I’m suggesting isn’t necessarily intervention: only logical and ethical and behavioral consistency. If we’re going to be Team America World Police, we need to be Team America World Police. Perhaps we ought to be a more ethical version of TAWP. And if we want to stop trying to be TAWP, is this really the right moment?