Tuesday, September 10, 2013

No to military intervention in Syria

I wrote this in response to an article in The Atlantic entitled "The Awkward, All-American Marriage of Anti-Interventionism and Racism." I've edited it from it's original form.

As a quasi-socialist lefty who believes in gun regulation and health care for all, it's been more than a little upsetting the past week to realize that I am rooting for the Tea Party to stymie my president and hand him a humiliating foreign-policy defeat.

I, too, have this problem. I hate wanting the same policy outcome as the morally reprehensible Tea Party, but our reasoning is far different and rooted in humanitarian, rather than selfish interests.

The idea that chemical weapons are somehow more appalling than conventional weapons is rooted in British WWI propaganda. The fact is - people are dying regardless of the type of weapon, as they have been for three years in Syria. Fighting war to end war is just more war. More death. More senseless human suffering. For what? So the defense industry can rake in profits?

What we never see is any world leader calling the aggressors out for their sectarian bullshit. Sometimes, you need to say what things are and not try to be diplomatic about it. (Not calling what happened in Egypt a "coup" is a perfect example of this.) When we do try to make peace, we leave certain groups we don't like out of the dialogue (Hamas is left out of Israeli/Palestinian peace talks, for example.) We are sectarian in trying to end sectarian wars. You can't make peace without all the actors sitting at the negotiating table. And there are never serious calls for reconciliation or peacebuilding. That's left for NGOs to do (with their less than 1% of the US budget for funding.) There are never serious calls for the restriction of arms trade or anything that would prevent war from happening or escalating in the first place. We always react, never take any proactive measures to stop war from happening.

And at what price to Americans, too? We have so many problems in our own country. We'll spend 50% of our budget on our military when we have trouble paying the bills at home. Just because poverty and gun homicides aren't as dramatic as a chemical weapons attack doesn't make them less worthy of attention. What's the difference between Sandy Hook (26 dead) and the attack on that Syrian school (10 dead, though many seriously injured)? The difference is the perception that chemical weapons are worse. And why do we think that? Look at the photos of burnt flesh. Horrific suffering. Guns in America are totally fine - it's the evil killer who is responsible, so don't pass any anti-gun laws or do anything. Never mind that 30,000 Americans die every year by gunshot wound. That's 100,000 Americans dead in about the same amount of time as the Syrian war has gone on. But chemical weapons? We'll start a war over chemical weapons. That's a damn warped view of the world.

Most Americans can't point to Syria on a map, and they didn't know the country was at war until the last few weeks. I remember when it started. I remember young Syrians with posters in hand running through the streets of Hamra in Beirut to a pro-Assad rally in front of the embassy. I walked up to the Lebanese tanks that were on my road in front of one of my favorite bars in Beirut and watched the soldiers look bored while war slogans were shouted beneath them. I watched tourism dry up, watched friends leave Lebanon, watched businesses close up, watched Hezbollah banners and Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party banners raised on lampposts and walls and everywhere with a blank surface. The fear that the war would spread was very real. Already people were dying just across the border. But you couldn't find mention of any of it on CNN. Suddenly, people care? All because "CHEMICAL WEAPONS!!1!"

Assad used chemical weapons because his is a tired army, having been at war for three years and counting. The use of these weapons seems to be an act of desperation, a quick way to clear out towns rather than the slower but no less tragic conventional means. It sux. War sux. But choosing sides and adding more weapons to the fray will only make things worse as it always does. Ask Iraq how things are going there. There are innocent people of all sects that are suffering. That includes Alawites, Shia, and Christians who would be categorized on the "pro-Assad" side, as well as Sunnis and others who would be categorized on the "rebel" side. In reality these people just want to live their lives. The militants won't let them. There are Islamists on both sides, Al-Qaeda on the "rebel" side, rebels who attack Christian towns, as well as democracy advocates who wanted to depose a dictator. There aren't two sides. There are many sides, just as there were in Lebanon during those 15 years of the apocalypse from which they are still recovering. We got involved in that one, too. We ran away with our tails between our legs because of it.

I hope the Russian proposal goes through, I really do. Don't drag us into another war in the Mideast. This one is complicated. As I said before, fighting war to end a war is just more war. More death. More suffering.

Opposing military strikes is a humanitarian choice, something the gun-toting Tea Party radicals can't seem to fathom. You know, like Syrians are human beings? That concept blows their minds.

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