Notes on Syria

Someone messaged me to say, in response to this, that I should write about how Assad is a good leader, and about how the US is illegally trying to overthrow him for oil.

Uh… no. I shouldn’t. Because that isn’t my position.

I really can’t say what, if any, ulterior motives our government might have for fomenting or supporting civil war in Syria. I can only speak to what they have publicly declared as their justification. I think this is the only productive way to have this debate. Otherwise, we wouldn’t even be talking about Syria anymore.

When I hear about chemical weapons being used in Syria it upsets me. I can’t help but feel that the whole of the civilized world needs to do something to stop these horrible atrocities from happening, and that we should punish those who commit them. Honestly, I often wish someone would just put a bullet in Assad’s head, and I have been one of those who has cheered on our government support for the SDF.

But… I remember when Obama announced we’d be sending arms to Syrian rebels. I remember saying, “This is a really bad idea. Didn’t we learn anything in Afghanistan?”

I remember having conversations about how, if we’re going to wage war, then it needed to be a proper war. And if we couldn’t wage proper war, then we shouldn’t do it at all. Because this irregular warfare thing we keep doing is fucking bullshit. Supply weapons to civilians? Without manpower? Those civilians would need real fighters. And if it wasn’t us, it would be Al Qaeda. And if Al Qaeda came to their aid… if Al Qaeda ended up being the ones who train them… they’d turn Syria into a recruitment ground. Al Qaeda’s ranks would grow… with our own weapons and money.

Turns out, this is exactly what ended up happening. But, anyway… sending our own troops to help fight that battle wouldn’t have been a good thing, either.

Speaking as a military veteran, I can tell you that while irregular warfare is shitty, directly fighting a civil war for someone else is even shittier. Because when we put boots on the ground in another country, it is never viewed by the people of that country as assistance, but rather, as an invasion… and we end up fighting innocent people… which is why so many of our combat vets are so fucked up in the head.

Furthermore, if we are going to put boots on the ground in another country to fight against that country’s government, we need to recognize that by doing so we are committing an act of war against that country… and such things should not be done without an official declaration of war. Not if we want to continue calling ourselves a civilized nation.

I say this because a civilized nation does not engage in war without proper justification, without a clear end-goal, without an exit strategy, and without the means to sue for peace. A civilized nation doesn’t start wars it cannot end.

Which raises the question: Do we have justification for declaring war on Syria? In actuality… we don’t. Because they have neither attacked, nor threatened the United States.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t do anything at all? I don’t think so. Syria is a member state of the United Nations and the Chemical Weapons Convention. There are mechanisms in place for dealing with these issues that don’t involve rogue military action. So why aren’t we using them?

One could argue that we don’t, because these mechanisms have proven to be ineffective. But… I think that, instead of disregarding these options,  our international leaders need to sit down and have a conversation about why they’re ineffective.

I have a feeling that we haven’t, thus far, because if we were to do so, our leaders would have to be honest about a few issues that none of them want to confront. But that’s just tough. For the sake of world peace–which should be their primary objective–the conversation needs to happen.

And while deliberating about what we can and should do about Syria in response to human rights violations, I think we really need to give careful consideration to the issue of whether that response should involve displacing Assad at all, and what that would ultimately mean.

Assad is a bastard, but he is only the face of what Westerners object to… which is the inherently brutal and ruthless nature of dictatorship itself. So… what most of us really mean when we say we need to get rid of Assad, is that we need to get rid of Syria’s system of dictatorship.

But what should it be replaced with? Many believe that if Syria’s dictatorship falls, it would automatically be replaced with democracy… but that isn’t how things work out in reality. It could happen. But only if it is born of the people’s own struggle and will for it. It has to be their fight. If your desire is for a democratic Syria, then the best thing to do, is let them struggle for that themselves.

And here’s something that a lot of Americans don’t realize. Assad may be a dictator, by our own stardards… but he is an elected one. Syria actually is already a democracy. It’s just not a liberal one like ours.

And so… if you are for intervention, then you need to get real and stop using “democracy” as a reason for it. And you must accept that it would likely lead to the election of a different dictator… or more likely, the propping up of theocracy, which is even more oppressive. And if democracy is your only reason, it may be time to rethink your position.

There is a small voice in military strategy that says, “The Middle East is not ready for freedom.” This is an extremely difficult idea for Westerners to grasp… because who in their right mind doesn’t want to be free? I, too, had a hard time understanding this. Until I started making friends with people from the region.

Recently, one of these friends very patiently told me about his sister in Syria, who calls every week… in tears. And he said to me, “Americans have a hard time understanding why we would want a dictator… even a cruel one… but these are the only guys who can suppress extremism and ensure secularism for us.”

This haunted my thoughts for weeks–and still does… especially since our own political culture is starting to lean toward this sort of illiberal, intolerant democracy.

Author: Naomi Allen