Monday, September 16, 2013

My turn to take a stab at a huge mess

The media is focused on Syria lately.  Normally I would be all over this sort of thing ranting about how everyone is doing everything wrong but I haven't stepped in until now.  The trick in this case is that Syria is a bloody complicated mess.  Normally I side with the people rebelling against the oppressive despot but that isn't exactly an easy thing to do here because an awful lot of the rebels are just as bad if not worse than the despot they oppose.  Nothing outside powers do is going to be easy or clearly right and no escalation of the war in Syria will be widely supported.

One thing I do think is clear is that our society has a really bizarre reaction to chemical weapons.  We have been watching Syrians murder each other in staggering numbers for over a year now and yet all of a sudden because they are dying from a gas instead of a bullet, an explosion, or fire we need to get all up in arms?  The fact that we came remarkably close to the US tossing bombs into Syria as a cure for Syrians tossing bombs in Syria is a miserable condemnation of our current attitudes towards war.  That the Russian and American governments can't agree which side they should be tossing bombs at just adds an extra bit of frantic hilarity - neither government is remotely trustworthy and both are playing desperate games with each other using many thousands of Syrian lives as pawns.  Putin's piece in the NY Times was spectacular; talk about a wolf in sheep's clothing!

While war is extremely bad it is possible to have a military escalation be a good thing.  WW2 is the obvious example where many countries needed to band together to stop a psychotic dictator from perpetuating mass genocide but very few conflicts are remotely so simple.  That simply can't be the case here as the various actors involved are too entrenched and intertwined for any outside intervention to be successful.  If we want to help Syria we should not be shipping bombs to the Mediterranean but rather food and medical supplies.  We can and should help those caught in the crossfire.  That is something we can do and know that we aren't making things worse.

It is all well and good to say that we must punish people who use chemical weapons.  What many people who advocate attacking Syria on that basis fail to realize is that bombing out cities to punish the actions of a dictator or his armed forces is not helping.  The dictator will stay in power and the people living under the dictator's influence will suffer instead.  If we had a magic ray that could just kill Assad there might be a real discussion about whether or not we should use it but even our smart bombs just aren't anywhere near that smart.  Of course if America actually had a ray that could kill anybody they wanted I would be utterly terrified for the world.  After all, conquering the rest of the world would make things safer for Americans and we all know how much liberty they are willing to trade for the illusion of safety.

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