Following the news that a chemical weapons attack killed 355 in Syria, Obama and other European leaders announced that they would launch air strikes within a week. Obama also announced that he’d “prepare” classified documents to be released in order to justify the intervention. This is disturbing on a number of levels, and a number of concerns come to mind.
Why Strike Now? What’s Changed?
I know you’re saying, Didn’t I just say that a chemical attack killed hundreds in Syria? That’s true, but reports of chemical weapons in Syria have been coming out for a while. Even now, it’s unclear who was behind the strike, Assad or the rebels. And this makes sense. Why would Assad want to attract attention to the conflict by using chemical weapons? A U.S. intelligence official commented that doing so would be “pretty f*****g stupid.” In fact, the last time the UN commissioned an investigation in Syria, they found that rebels likely used chemical weapons, but there wasn’t enough evidence to blame either side.
Who Are We Going to Support? Who Are We Going to Bomb?
I know again, you’re saying, Obviously, we’re going to bomb Assad. But wait a second. Assad’s the guy who just asked the UN to investigate recent chemical attacks in the capital, Damascus. Now, no one, including myself, is a fan of his. He’s a brutal dictator. I stand in solidarity with those who oppose him. But his opposition, the “rebels,” has been hijacked by Al-Qaeda linked organizations. Is that who we want to support? Have we not learned our lesson from when the CIA supported Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan, and trained Osama bin Laden?
What’s Our Short-Term Strategy, Kill Thousands of People to Get One Guy?
We did this in Panama in 1989, to oust Manuel Noriega. We ended up killing 3,000 civilians, only to see increased crime, corruption, and poverty. We similarly bombed Yugoslavia in 1999, killing around 9,000 people and destroying much of the country’s infrastructure. The bombings had catastrophic impacts on their health, environment, and economy. It’s a pretty simple pattern. Assad can hide anywhere, and indiscriminately bombing parts of the country is bound to do much more harm than good.
What’s Our Long-Term Strategy, Destroy Yet Another Country?
Let’s say we do get Assad, without much damage done (I know it sounds crazy, but just go with it). What are we going to do in Syria afterward? Are we going to install a corrupt dictator who lets us do whatever we want, and turn it into an Afghanistan, where women’s rights are a joke, where the Taliban is still strong, and where a split-up seems likely? Or are we going to do nothing afterward, like in Libya, where we turned a country with the highest standard of living in Africa into a pile of rubble, now dealing with chaos and anarchy? Are we going to occupy the nation indefinitely, and turn it into an Iraq, where sectarian violence is at its highest since 2008? And what if the Syrian people rebel, and want to drive us out? Will we bomb them into submission, and turn it into Vietnam, where even after 50 years, thousands suffer from birth defects?
Who’s Supporting This? Who Likes What You’re Doing?
First of all, the American people sure don’t. Not with Iraq and Afghanistan still fresh in our minds. A majority, 60%, oppose intervention, while just 9% support it. Even if Assad used chemical weapons, only 25% would favor intervention. Not even the Syrian people want us to come in. A whopping 70% support Assad, while only 10% support the rebels. That poll’s from NATO, the same people that are trying to overthrow Assad now. It’s no wonder that we’re considered the big bully in the Middle East, where 77% of people see us as the biggest threat to peace. It’s hard to say they’re wrong about that.
Is This Even Legal?
Well, no. Not by any means. Without the consent of the Security Council, it would be illegal per international law, but the US may try to bypass that. Without approval by Congress, it would also be unconstitutional. But then again, when do we care? The bombing of Libya wasn’t legal either. Which brings up a curious point that seems to tie all this together?
Is the US Trying to Do the Right Thing, Or Destabilizing a Nation For Its Interests – Yet Again?
After all this, only the latter makes any sense. America has vital interests in Syria, a strong ally of Iran, the country we love to hate (even as irrational that may be). Depriving Iran of an ally would be a great strategic victory for the US, even if it meant mass suffering for the Syrian people. On top of that, if we take a quick look at a map, it’s easy to understand that Syria is a pivotal area in the Middle East, especially since it’s right above Israel, a strong ally of the US.
Are There Any Alternatives?
The noted political activist Noam Chomsky gives 2 viable alternatives, neither of which involve randomly bombing the country. One is to “encourage Israel to mobilize its forces along the Syrian border”, which would force Assad to withdraw forces from much of the frontline. The other alternative would be to “press for negotiations in Geneva, which would force Assad to step down and create a transitional regime.”
The choice we have is not necessarily between dictatorship and Islamic fundamentalism. This protest movement is part of the larger trend in the Arab Spring, but as Assad has cracked down on it, it’s been forced to militarize. Our choice is between dictatorship and democracy. Launching air strikes is not the solution. Military aggression against the Syrian people is not the path to democracy. Evidently, that’s not what the US wants. Until we change that, Syria is likely to get missiles, not peace.