The September 13th issue of the Pipe Dream featured a much-needed discussion on possible military action in Syria. It is important that readers get to hear all sides of the issue, given that military campaigns affect everyone as tax-payers, citizens and classmates of those with family and friends still in the country. However, much of the printed discourse failed to cut through the mythology surrounding the United States’ place in the world and how it handles the idea of “international standards.”
Julianne Cuba begins her piece by echoing President Obama’s claim that the United States is exceptional for its “ability to realize when basic human rights are being violated.” Is she aware of the current global controversy over the National Security Agency’s violation of internet and phone privacy of citizens and government officials from Brazil to China? Is she aware of the countless innocent lives taken by drone bombings, including at least three of American citizens? The idea that the US is particularly good at recognizing human rights violations is only coherent if the basis for such a claim is that the US is an expert in human rights violations. But then there is the problem of Israel, a government accused by the international community of using white phosphorous (provided by US aid) in its many conflicts, and of sterilizing Ethiopean Jewish immigrants. Why did the US not step in when these accusations arose, when they surpass those against the Syrian military? Julianne laments how Assad is killing hundreds of innocent people, whereas US drones have been killing dozens of innocent people monthly since the War on Terror began.
The other pro-strike commentator, Ryan Tierney, takes a more cautioned approach, but relies upon an unnamed Syrian student for key information, like how only a “small fraction” of the rebels are extremist Muslims. How are we to know this? The landscape of Syria is littered with extremists allied with al Quaeda and other groups who are pumping more and more fighters into the country all the time. What comes next is appeals to ideology (that the US is and should be the Policeman of the World) and sexism (lamenting the dead “women and children” equates the two), but the most intrigue can be found in the claim that “there must be consequences for slaughtering your own civilians and violating international law.” The US has drone bombed at least three American citizens into oblivion – where was Ryan? And what international agreement has Syria signed that it has violated?
We must let our past failures at “humanitarian war” inform our judgment, not “cloud” it. Ezra Shapiro brings up many good points, including Israel’s involvement. What many missed during the hearing in Washington was when Secretary John Kerry claimed that Israel, our sacred ally in the region, would be unable to defend itself if we were not to intervene – only to turn around seconds later and assure that Israel could defend itself if allies of Syria were to target it after a missile strike from the US. Logic games must end and rational discourse must begin if we’re talking about starting yet another front in the endless, limitless Global War on Terror.
Class of 2014
Correction: Sept. 20, 2013
The original version of this letter misstated which substance Israel was accused of using in 2009. It was white phosphorous, not sarin gas.