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Friday, August 30, 2013

Syria seriously

The controversy over what to do, if anything, about Syria and the deaths of non-combative civilians, whether by poisonous gas or not,  points up the failures of America and its press. The coverage emphasizes the deadly dysfunction into which the U.S. has fallen. 

For the press in the U.S., the story is Obama and what he plans to do about Syria.   At best, the press glosses over the actual circumstances that Obama and anyone else confronted with the problem must face and what the considerations are.  

The press is predominantly interested in providing space for the Obama-haters and opponents.  It feeds on the controversy in its quest for readers, assuming that American readers are driven by their dislike or like of Obama.  But regarding Syria, Obama is not the story.  The deaths of innocent, vulnerable people is the story.  

The vote of the British Parliament against participating in any military action on Syria was for the press merely an occasion to run out and get lots of quotes on what Obama might do, not to examine what other countries might do and what is possible to be done.  Its mission is to inflame the feelings people have about Obama in the hopes of capturing an audience excited to vent its opinions on him.  Almost ignored in the coverage of the British vote is that the U.N. inspectors on site in Syria have not issued their report, and how the conclusions drawn in that report might change the factual basis on which decisions about Syria are made.  

There are precedents to be considered.  In that regard the Nazis and the Holocaust are relevant.  In regard to political discussions, Godwin's Law is a popular dodge. It posits that “if you mention Adolf Hitler or Nazis within a discussion thread, you’ve automatically ended whatever discussion you were taking part in.”  However, Godwin was referring to the mindless accusations in political discussions, not thoughtful examination of the Holocaust.

The Holocaust is the predominant moral touchstone regarding the oppression and extermination of human beings.  When those acts are encountered, the Holocaust will inevitably be used as a moral gauge.  As one military observer expressed it in post World War II Germany,  when the Nazis marched the Jews down the road to the cattle cars that would take them to the death camps,  did the people think they were being taken to a Sunday School picnic?  The remark was made in regard to the evasion and denial of the German people about what was being done to the Jews.  

That is a question that must be raised in regard to Syria.  After 9-11, the U.S. invaded Iraq on the premise that it possessed weapons of mass destruction, which turned out not to be true.  And it invaded Afghanistan because that is where Al Qaida trained the 9-11 attackers and the mass-murder squads it prepared for other attacks against western culture.  Syria is known to possess nerve gas and it is apparent that someone used it on the Syrian people.  The salient fact is that Syria possesses the weapon and its people are being exterminated and driven out of their homeland.  So, do we have any moral obligation to do something about it?  Or do we dismiss these deaths and oppressions as none of our business?

Another precedent is Kosovo.  We felt a moral obligation to stop the ethnic cleansing--read mass murder--taking place there.  

The situation in Syria is more complicated.  Some of the rebel groups fighting against the Assad regime are Al Qaida adherents, and they are not exactly driven by any moral fervor to stop the killing and oppression.  Rather, they tend to want to be the privileged killers and oppressors, as the Taliban are in Afghanistan.

The west faces a problem with the Islamic-oriented factions.  There is absolutely no moral common ground between the Islamists and west on which any dialogue can be exchanged.  

The person who speaks most knowledgeably about the precedents is retired Gen. Wesley Clark, and the only major medium to consult with him on the circumstances is National Public Radio, which American conservatives have targeted for extermination.  He commanded the NATO forces during the Kosovo campaign. 

We know that any actions involving ground troops would embroil us with the rebels as well as the Assad regime.  There is the danger that if we bombed the Assad weapons caches, the poisons could be released and spread over that part of the world.  Possibly, surgical strikes against communications systems, radars, and some weaponry might slow down the killing of the innocents.  But that is all conjecture and possibility.

We can ignore what is happening to the Syrians, and then try to live with it through denial and evasion.  The Syrians can go to that massive Sunday school picnic in the sky.  So can we, as we relinquish what moral high ground we ever claimed. 

1 comment:

don stevens said...

Had the USA acted quickly to support the anti-Asad forces, the Taliban types wd have had very little influence in Syria.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States