Hands off Assad (Unbelievable Stupidities)


I think the smartest argument against a U.S. intervention is that nobody in the U.S. or Europe wants to see it happen, and that the U.S. is hated deeply throughout the Arab world. At least let’s be honest about this, that U.S. and world public opinion wants to abandon Syria to the Assad regime. Damned if you do, the U.S. will be damned if it doesn’t. With no actual diplomatic horizon yet in sight, the argument that a U.S. intervention will deepen the bloodbath is contradicted by the argument that U.S. non-action over the past two years has only allowed the bloodbath to deepen. It is probably the case that both propositions are true, which is what makes Syria such an unholy mess. Mostly, I think there’s no good end in sight, no matter what happens or doesn’t happen. But here, at least, are some of the most unbelievable stupidities I’ve stumbled upon online about Syria:

–We can start with this picture, posted above, of the poster promoting Assad and his regime at a “Hands Off Syria” vigil. It was in New York, I’m assuming. Hands off Assad. Some things are too disgusting for words, but I’m passing this picture around. Guilt by association? In this case, yes. It what one face of anti-intervention looks like at its most stupid.

–There’s the claim that Syria is a “pseudo struggle” and “nothing special” because there is no one on the front line whom Slavoy Zizek is willing to embrace as a force of liberation (Slavoy Zizek in the Guardian)

–A solution to the Syrian refugee crisis is to offer 2 million souls and counting blanket refuge in Europe and the U.S., thus emptying the country of most of the majority of the population the regime seems wanting to suppress, murder, depopulate. (cited [and accepted?] by Andrew Sullivan)

–Convening a world council of nations, like the UN but without a superpower veto. The point would be for “the international community” to deliberate and “decide” the fate of the country.  (Michael Lerner)

–Human shields from North America and Europe on their way to protect the regime from U.S. bombing. Will they be sent to protect the sarin nerve gas factories and sites? (reported in the Daily Telegraph)

–The notion that sarin nerve gas is in any way comparable to white phosphorus or napalm. JJ Goldberg has an excellent article at the Forward explaining the difference between chemical weapons and conventional slaughter. It’s easier to kill more people in a shorter period of time with the former than with the latter.

–“What about Israel and its violations of international norms?” You hear this a lot. Aside from scale, the facile comparison ignores something far more important. If international norms don’t apply to Syria, with its more than 100,000 dead and millions dispossessed, and with the introduction of chemical weapons, then they don’t apply and are not going to get applied to Israel-Palestine. Forget about Palestine and forget about democracy. If international norms don’t apply to Syria, then they don’t even exist. Is this the legacy for human rights in the 21st c.? Half a century of human rights conventions reduced to a chimera and flushed down the toilet by the antiwar left, rightwing isolationism, and the furious hatred for the U.S. government in popular Arab public opinion?

–These two bits are incredibly racist: “Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) weighed in on the situation in Syria, attacking President Barack Obama and saying he should ‘let Allah sort it out.’ (reported at Huffington Post). Actually, Palin’s remarks are not much better than Zizek’s, or this one by Andrew Sullivan: “The US has no vital interests at stake in the outcome of a brutal struggle between Sunni Jihadists and Alawite thugs. None. Increasingly, as we gain energy independence, we will be able to leave that region to its own insane devices” (Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish). Racist because it assume that there are no decent people whom to support, morally or politically, on either sides of the Syrian sectarian divides. And stupid, because there are U.S. strategic interests in Syria, including oil and regional alliances (Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia).

There’s also this claim by Sullivan: “This is not about Obama. It’s about America, and America’s pressing needs at home. It’s also about re-balancing the presidency away from imperialism.” (ibid.). No, it’s not about Obama or America or “imperialism.” And it’s not about Andrew Sullivan. It’s about Syria, the modern Middle East, and an ongoing human rights catastrophe now exacerbated by chemical weapons.

This claim may simply not be true, the claim that “The escalation, regional instability and international entanglement its persistence unavoidably stimulates serve nobody’s interest.” (I forgot where I found this one, but you can google it.) It might not be true because the conflict and its intensification at present as well as the survival of the Assad regime may be in the interest of any number of regional and international players (Russia? Iran? Hezbollah? local Syrian minority groups like Alawites and Christians). The current regime in Syria and the people backing it have expressed no genuine interest in its ceding power, not now or in the long term. On the other hand, it might be the case that there are, in fact, too many Russian and Iranian interests at risk, and that the Russians and Iranians are looking for an exit strategy of their own that will leave the Assad regime out in the cold. This piece by Zvi Barel suggests very strongly that there might be some last ditch, last minute Iranian-Syrian-Russian diplomacy that might draw down the entire conflict in a more peaceful way.  There is also this piece. But what are the chances? At any rate, it would seem, that the onus is now upon them to do something about their client while the U.S Senate and Congress deliberate to who knows what small purpose or large end.

–Then there’s this little bit from Thomas Friedman at the NYT: “The Obama team wanted to be smarter in Libya: No boots on the ground. So we decapitated that dictator from the air. But then our ambassador got murdered, because, without boots on the ground to referee, and act as the army of the center, Hobbes took hold before Jefferson.” I can’t get my mind around these two sentences. It’s not even an argument; just stupid. 

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. http://religion.syr.edu
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6 Responses to Hands off Assad (Unbelievable Stupidities)

  1. donovanschaefer says:

    Zeke, I wanted to say I’ve really appreciated all of your commentary on the unspeakably tragic situation in Syria, and this post especially. I feel like you’re pinpointing here something I’ve been struggling to grasp as it floats around me, the total inability of existing political forms to think through a situation where access to a righteous response–whether that’s principled pacifism or principled interventionism–has been permanently blocked off. We don’t have an adequate vocabulary–political or conversational–for responding to a situation of this complexity, so what you see resurrected are scripts (blocks of texts, practices, and emotions) that were developed for other situations that don’t seem to totally work for Syria but are, for some reason, passionately embraced. Sometimes I feel like I’m watching folks cheer for sports teams that aren’t on the field. This catalog of, as you name it, stupidities feels like a study of that effect–and what are stupidities if not moments of untrammeled self-indulgence?

    • zjb says:

      yes, yes, and yes on each and every count.you get at these aporia much better than i do, with greater subtely. so does Gail, so i’m assuming it’s all that affect theory coming to bear. in contrast, my own thinking is more hysterical, which bring it in very close to the stupidities lampooned in this post.

    • efmooney says:

      Donovan, your speaking of “the total inability of existing political forms to think through a situation where access to a righteous response–whether that’s principled pacifism or principled interventionism–has been permanently blocked off” touches on a subject I’ve not thought through but seems important. It’s the way legitimate terms of criticism can be hijacked leaving their legitimacy sullied and worse. In the 60s before Vietnam and burning cities made less than barricades-radicalism seem weak and irrelevant, “liberal” meant a modicum of graduated income tax, social security, civil rights, anti-imperialism, and domestic poverty programs. The term got hijacked by the right as a smear and simultaneously hijacked by the left as a smear — so that anyone backing anything like graduated income tax, social security, civil rights, . . . was deprived of an unsullied set of critical terms, and so deprived of any robust ideological apparatus with an actual grip on the times. Zak’s catalog of horrors (actual blood-and-gut sufferings on which are added rhetorical, polemical horrors) shows how a blood bath on the ground can utterly volatilize, incinerate, effective tools of critical analysis. American politics, in my view, has never recovered from the trauma of Johnson-then-Reagan and is still lacking in critical apparatus with even the slimmest hope of a claim to legitimacy. The parallel is that Zak, correctly, and impressively, finds the present ideological mush about Syria without even the slimmest hope of attaining the minimal coherence and intelligibility that would give it the promise of legitimacy in public (or for that matter, private) discourse.

  2. palmsundae says:

    I am glad that there seem to be other solutions than “bombing for freedom.” Since when have bombs made things better?

    • zjb says:

      www2? i’m sort of glad too. but the decision won’t stop the ongoing bloodbath in Syria. it just means that, as Sarah Palin say, they’ll just have to “let Allah sort it out.”

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