The number of victims in Syria has topped 8,000 according to independent observers and to the UN. I will become skeptical when an independent organization such as Human Rights Watch tells me otherwise. Here is a rule of thumb: You don’t allow journalists in; you lose the information battle.
In proportion to the size of the Syrian population, it’s like a massacre of 100,000 Americans (approximately). I think we should intervene to stop the on-going massacre. We, Americans, should do it, first because all human beings are our brothers and sisters and, in addition, because we can do it at little risk to ourselves.
We should further attack the Assad regime, make its functioning difficult or impossible because it’s a terrorist organization with much American blood on its hands. It’s never too late to convince others that helping kill Americans is a dangerous endeavor, that it gives rise to a bill you may have to pay at any time. Creating and maintaining such an impression is conducive to peace. It saves lives in the long run, including the lives of our enemies’ subjects. It’s an indirect act of mercy. Nothing excites the fanatics more than the appearance of helplessness. Nothing helps them keep their cool like the spectacle of iron strength.
Finally, the US should also attack the Assad regime because it’s the quickest and the cheapest way to undermine the hostile and aggressive Iranian theocracy right now. It seems clear as I write (3/16/12) that a confrontation is likely in order to stop Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons. It would be an advantage to deprive that country in advance of a friendly base that is also its only outlet to the Mediterranean. Assad’s Syria is that friendly base.
Obviously, I am not heeding here the opinions of that small fraction of the American public that maintains that there is nothing to fear from Iran, nuclear or not, that Iran is developing nuclear power for peaceful purpose only, that even if it has atomic bombs, it won’t use them, that the threats against its neighbors are just bombastic but basically innocent adolescent talk, that the ayatollahs are sweethearts deep down. This proposal also does not address the notion that others’ defensive posture is precisely what excites Iran’s regime bellicosity because that country is “surrounded.”
Now, there is an apparent issue of the legality of such action. It’s convenient to divide the question into two parts: Legality with respect to our traditions. Legality, or rather legitimacy, from an international perspective. I am of the opinion that there is no “international law” because there is no legitimate world law-making body. Treaties between nation-states are a substitute of sort. I begin with the first issue.
In some American libertarian circles and among leftists, there is great concern about “undeclared wars.” Personally, I don’t think the Constitution requires that Congress declare war in exactly those words. It seems to me that stating loudly and clearly that we will do military damage to Assad’s government and to the military forces faithful to him whenever we please so long as the slaughter of civilians continues should satisfy our constitutional requirement. Still, I would prefer that Congress pronounce the words. Yet, I remember that Congress can always de-fund any military action it dislikes or comes to dislike and thus bring it to a halt.
Then, there is presumed to be an international issue. The fact that the victims that need help depend on, that they are subjects of, a specific nation-state, be it Libya yesterday, or the Sudan and Syria today, leaves me indifferent. Nation-states are often historical accidents. Syria isn’t even that. It was created deliberately by the French under a mandate of the defunct and impotent League of Nations, the hapless predecessor to the United Nations.
There is little that is sacred about nation-states in general. There is nothing that is sacred about Syria, in particular. Unlike the US, for example, it is not the result of a compact between reasonable people who are thinking about what they are doing. Since, shortly after 1963 when the Baath Party took over (with the best of intentions), the country has been kept in a state of underdevelopment by a military mafia drawn from a minority religious group. Incidentally, it’s not even completely clear what are the basic beliefs of this minority religious group, the Alawites. They are secret. Some Muslims don’t believe Alawites are even Muslims at all. And the Alawites sure aren’t Christians or Jews. I don’t care myself, one way or the other. I am only speaking to the probable legitimacy of the Alawite mafia around Assad in a part of the world where religion still confers legitimacy (a fact I regret but cannot deny).
It is true that the dictator Assad, has posed as protector of other minorities, including Christian minorities. Two comments about this. First, once the oppressor of all is gone, different groups can arrive at their own less artificial arrangement to live together or not. I can’t bring myself to believe that tyrants are the only possible protection for minorities. And if some groups cannot get along that ‘s still no a reason to countenance massacres, as we are doing now. There would be more peace,worldwide if there were more secessions. Again, nation-states are not sacred and neither are their borders.
My second comment is that if protecting the few is a sufficient justification for remaining in a position to kill the many then, every bloodthirsty tyrant who takes that precaution automatically receives immunity. In 1945, when the gig was up, Hitler could have said sincerely, “Listen, guys; you have to leave me alone because I protect the Sorbs.” (Look up “Sorb,” and no, I don’t mean “Serb.”) And then, Adolph would have been safe.
The lack of UN approval for a military intervention, I see as a blessing in disguise. The UN is revealing anew its true essential nature right now: We are asked to believe that a military intervention in Libya would be more legitimate if it had the approval of the gangster Putin’s regime in Russia and of the admittedly successful fascist so -called “People’s,” so-called “Republic “ of China. If only ridicule could kill!
The truth is that the UN is not a world government, that it is neither a world executive nor a world parliament. Even less is it a world supreme court. The UN is largely a sinister circus with no ability to confer moral legitimacy on a volunteer dog-catching outfit.
I believe we should interfere with the on-going massacre by Assad’s army by utilizing the abundant military resources we have in the region, especially resources currently afloat in the Mediterranean. From what I understand, we could cause significant mischief by directing drone attacks on tanks operating against residential areas and by sending the occasional cruise missile to”cruise” over military camps and military concentrations. There would be no need to issue specific warnings nor to comment after the fact. The opposition to the Assad regime is large enough and numerous enough to prevail if tanks are not reliably in the equation. Similarly, our forces could shoot down Syrian armed forces airplanes and helicopters, after a single “no-fly” warning.” That would be just to even out the game. And, it is not true that “if you break it you own it,” as the political general Colin Powell once said. There is no need to repeat the difficult experiences of Iraq, and especially of Afghanistan, where we became involved more or less mindlessly in nation-state building. We could break things and kill killers in Syria until Assad and his clique are gone and then, let the Syrians pick up the pieces as they like. They are an ancient and sophisticated people who have been kept in a state of artificial immaturity by a succession of tyrants. They would grow up soon if no one were shooting them in the head and bayoneting their children.
There is even a chance our actions would shame others in the region and elsewhere to lend a hand and to straighten themselves out to some extent. But we should not count on it. The United States should do the right thing irrespective of the actions and inaction of others. Our honor and our humanity are precious in their own right. When their preservation corresponds to our collective interest, there is no excuse for passivity.