Syria (Shame)

I’m astonished as to how little my friends on the liberal-left talk about Syria, this refusal to commit to a position, not one way and not the other. Sure it’s complicated. And no one wants to see another Iraq. But this is going to be our Rwanda, Obama’s Rwanda, and we are going to have to live with that, feckless. We remain silent as 30,000 people get slaughtered, combatants and non-combatants.

There are two arguments against intervention. One rejects intervention in principle by the U.S. and Nato. This was the principled position of opponents to the intervention in Bosnia, even after the Srebenica massacre. Against this argument, there is no way to argue since the opposition to western intervention is “unfalsifiable.” The second argument is pragmatic. Any intervention will stir up the sectarian divisions in Syria and destabilize the region further. And then there are the Salafis. There are simply no good options, simply no side to support, according to this line of argument.

I’m not in a position of authority or influence. So whatever I say does not matter a bit. But I think it’s time that we stop worrying about the Arab Spring and the Muslim Brotherhood. When President Morsi of Egypt went to Iran, everyone got all uptight. When he got to Tehran, he said in public that the Assad, whom the Iranian regime supports, is a butcher. A recent article in the New York Times about security cooperation between Israel and Hamas against the Salafis in Gaza only supports the view that politics always trumps ideology. And there’s a common interest between Israel and Egypt regarding security in the Sinai. One thing that I think is interesting about the Arab Spring is how little it has to do with Israel, one way or the other. It’s just not clear how things are going to work out, not for the Arab Spring and not for Israel, but I’m betting on a mix of enlightened and un-enlightened self-interest.

Forget boots on the ground, a land invasion, a military occupation ala Iraq, creating a safe haven, or even arming the Free Syrian Army with advanced weapons, which might then fall into the hands of the wrong people. I’m not a military expert, but if and only if the Arab League and the Turks gave the go-ahead, how hard would it be for the U.S. and/or Nato to either knock out or degrade the Syrian airforce, helicopter bases, and weapons depots? Would someone who understands these kinds of things please tell me?

Politically, I think it’s being proven every day that without some forceful intervention that more and more people are going to die, the region will grow even more unstable, and the influence of the Salafis will get stronger. I guess the counter-argument is that things can always get worse than they already are. It’s an argument that I find persuasive. Morally and politically, though, I think there are  strong claims to doing “something” under the right international rubrics.

About this, Middle East scholar Juan Cole, no shill for Israel or any Jewish lobby, has written recently: It is in fact a source of shame to our major world institutions that they are allowing a government to use military weapons against its own civilian population. But there is only one redress for this situation, which is the UN Security Council. It has remained reluctant to take a pro-intervention stance, stymied by the Russian and Chinese veto. Cole supported the intervention in Libya. He only thinks any intervention in Syria has to go through the Security Council, which Russia and China make impossible. In my non-professional opinion, the Arab League and Turkey would provide sufficient moral-political cover.

I have no expertise as to understanding what that something might look like. I can only claim the raw shame I feel as I follow the news from Syria. “Their” blood is on “our” hands, and I can’t see how we can pretend to be innocent of all this. I’d ask “you” what “you” think, but we’ve been pretty quiet.

I posted the above last night. This morning I checked the “Syria Comment” blog by Joshua Landis. I don’t know much about Syria, but Landis does. He’s a recognized Syria scholar and runs what might be the best blog about Syria and about the  crisis. Like Cole, he’s no Zionist shill. He began the crisis against U.S. intervention, arguing that the Syrians need to arrive at their own “equilibrium.” He has since changed his mind because of the regime’s unchecked use of air power. That’s why his call for intervention is limited to heat-seeking missiles. Again, I don’t know if that’s the right idea, but the more basic point has to do with the need to try to figure things out  before they get worse without making them get worse. Note to his comment in the post about a territorial solution to the threat faced by the Alawite minority, that the Assad regime might have to fall back to the Alawite dominated regions of Syria to protect the Alawites from getting slaughtered.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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1 Response to Syria (Shame)

  1. Thank you–a very interesting piece on an important point. You might be interested in this: The most interesting point you make is, I think, entirely true: the ‘Arab Spring’ is not about Israel, and attempts to frame is as an anti-Israeli movement are simultaneously blind and insulting, as well as missing the very real opportunities for a futurally improved (if radically different) relationship between Israel and it’s closest neighbors.

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