A lot of really bad things are being done in Syria. People are eating people. People are possibly gassing other people the way an entomologist gets rid of a hive of bugs. If over 1,300 really died from a gas attack in Ghouta, Syria, this would be the most widespread use of toxic gas against civilians since before the US Military overthrew Saddam Hussein. This would morally motivate us to make this madness stop. We don’t want to rewind and replay the Rwandan Massacre. But on the other hand, could we stop this and should we stop it?
To determine if we could stop this we should first figure out what set of actions would create a set of conditions necessary and sufficient to ending the barbarism currently rife throughout Syria. To determine if we should engage in these activities requires us to weigh the unavoidable evil and long term damage to American interests that would result from our involvement in another Middle Eastern Civil War. Figuring these two things out could empower us to make the proper decision as to whether to conquer Syria*, manipulate events in Syria**, or to stay out of this mess*** and perhaps duck all negative externalities.
For barbarism to end in Syria, the actors willing to perpetrate activities that violate the norms and laws of “civilized” conflict such as The Law of Land Warfare or The Geneva Convention have to be rendered unable to continue doing so. This could involve three alternatives. We can convince them to end the conflict or at least fight within the international laws of war, we can deprive them of the means to mass-murder outside the bounds of so-called civilized conflict, or we can shoot the perpetrators.
To determine of a non-violent solution is doable, we have to determine what drives the fighting. I notice three things that could serve as Causus Belli in Syria. The rebels and the Syrian government represent two radicalized and violent sects who are vying for control of the Arab world. The Assad Government represents secular Modern Totalitarianism, while the rebels subscribe to the jihad-fueled Islamic Great Awakening led by Al Qaeda. They both represent possible alternatives the world may end up living under as Judeo-Christian morality increasingly dies out and fades away.
Syria’s economy is an epic failure. Long gone are the old days when Syria held the key to the spice roads and marked the intersection of the world’s greatest trade routes. Spengler wrote of Syria’s economy for the East Asia Times. Here’s how a failed economy can throw gasoline on the fires of conflict.
. It was obvious to Israeli analysts that the Syrian regime’s belated attempt to modernize its agricultural sector would create a crisis as hundreds of thousands of displaced farmers gathered in slums on the outskirts of its cities. These facts were in evidence early in 2011 when Hosni Mubarakfell and the Syrian rebellion broke out.
So the competing governing ideologies both reject the fundamental moral gravamen that would justify not using certain means to win a war. If not disarmed, both the fascist government and the jihadist rebels will use any lethal means they get their hands on with no regard to the collateral damage inflicted. The nation’s economy has totally failed to adapt to the modern world. What about the people themselves? Wouldn’t there be some core of human decency that we could appeal to that would lead these people to refuse to follow leaders who tell them to gas or cannibalize one another?
The Pew Foundation recently took a poll about beliefs and attitudes prevalent in the Muslim world. The results may shed light on the questions. Here are the results pertaining to Jordan which has a population very similar in attitude and belief to that of Syria. In Jordan, 55% of the population has a favorable view of Hezbollah. They also think favorably of Hamas. When asked if they favored traditional Islamic punishments such as chopping off the hands of thieves or stoning adulterous women, a majority of people in Jordan had no problem with this sort of justice.
Jordanians had a low opinion of Osama Bin Ladin and Al Qaeda. This could perhaps encourage President Assad to perpetrate greater violence against the rebels who take Al Qaeda money and fly the black flag. Negative foreign reaction from both France and Turkey may move Assad’s military to dial things back until people’s attention moves elsewhere.
So given the above information, what should we actually do? If we invade Syria and conquer the place I personally believe that we would have to almost enslave these people for a number of years to prevent them from continuing their internecine savagery through every means available. Would we end up risking war with both Russia and China to accomplish this? A US invasion or even a bombing campaign against Syria could trigger the next major global conflict.
If we attempt to influence events from outside we may do some temporary good. The failed sanctions against Saddam Hussein did at least prevent the Kurds from being slaughtered. Russia and China will both hate the US picking on their favored Middle Eastern ally, but will be less threatened if we are only imposing sanctions or logistically supporting a UN or regional peacekeeping effort. It’s much less a poke in the eye than having The Imperial 1st Cav level Damascus.
If we do nothing, either nothing changes, or the tough talk from both Turkey and France may have to be backed up by someone other than the US. Both of these outcomes could damage the prestige and respect other countries have for the United States. However, I think that the do nothing option not only best suits our current president’s personality, it also best serves America’s interests. The costs of another war are too great for the meager benefits we would gain from pacifying Syria. The potential for sanctions or peacekeepers getting us sucked in the way we were sucked into Iraq makes option two potentially too expensive and dangerous for the same reason I don’t like option 1.
It’s hard to be hard-headed and hard-hearted while the children die in gas attacks. It’s nauseating to see You Tube videos of humans eating one another to show off their machismo. However, we have no positive outcome from the invasion and conquest of Syria. I tend to think our best response to Syria, Egypt and Libya all three is to ramp up the fracking and build The Keystone Pipeline. The option of another land war in the Middle East offers America nothing accept the violence, savagery and heartbreak we would ostensibly attempt to prevent in the first place. We can expect nothing better from the world’s developing epicenter of Post Judeo-Christian morality.
*-See George W. Bush and OIF.
**-See Barack Obama and “Leading from behind.”
***-US policy towards the Congolese 5-way civil war.