Syria: Can we talk?
I mean it. Can we simply talk about this? There are so many things to consider and ponder. We have a responsibility as US citizens and fellow human beings to those whom we might hurt, to be uncomfortable while we determine whether military action on our part is the right thing to do. It is also incumbent upon us to consider whether there are other things we might do. So, can we dig in and look at all that we know and enumerate all that we don’t know and speculate on all the possibilities which might explain both the current realities and the impacts of possible courses of action? Can we do this without being upset with each other for seeing things differently? Can we allow ourselves to remain open and to let more in than what we think we know or feel?
I challenge us all to hear out those who have a very different perspective, whether you think it’s a neoconservative tyranny or a manipulated scenario. We’re talking about bombing people. Certainly, we can afford the innocuous process of allowing ourselves to mentally wend our way down the myriad possibilities before we kill people, right? We have nothing to lose and they have everything to lose. If some country was threatening to bomb us and we learned that they weren’t willing to have a discussion about all the alternative assessments about what’s going on here and all the alternative action possibilities, we’d feel pretty worthless. Syria isn’t another target. It’s a country full of people. Give them the courtesy of considering every reason why we might not want to bomb them.
I’m going to outline some talking points for conversation starters below. I don’t claim to be an expert, in any way shape or form. I’m another Citizen Jane of a super-power wielding nation and I have tons of questions. I also have principles from which I approach things and, for the sake of disclosure, I’ll make those known as I pose the questions.
1. Does anyone believe this is a simple matter of, “look, Assad did something so bad we finally can’t sit back and we must bomb him!”? Is it ever that simple with these things?
2. When someone has the power to harm, is it not their burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the harm they are choosing to inflict really is necessary and right?Power corrupts. We know this to be true. History has repeated this lesson for us relentlessly. So, why do we ever give someone with power the benefit of the doubt? Why don’t we always, 100% of the time, demand that anyone asking to wield power be put under the utmost scrutiny?
In any conflict, the side with the arrows is less powerful than the side with the guns. Those with the guns, therefore, bear more responsibility for the resolution of the conflict. They have more options, as the very threat of their disproportionate power is already an influence over others. Therefore, if they simply shoot down all those with arrows, that is an abuse of power and they should be forced to relinquish it, as they will only continue to abuse. (Show me a pattern in history of power-wielders stopping their abusive ways of their own accord.) The way to check power is to make it impossible for anyone to wield power over another autonomously. (This is the fine distinction of the belief in autonomy: you have the right to autonomy over yourself. You don’t have the autonomous right to harm or control others.) The US has more military might than any nation on the planet. Aren’t we therefore more responsible for the outcome of any conflict we enter – diplomatically, surreptitiously or militarily? Shouldn’t we be under more scrutiny, bear a higher cost and be due a harsher punishment for how we use that power? Aren’t we morally obligated to answer any questions and put to rest any doubts before we take harmful action?
3. Given the duplicitous US history of slavery, genocide, lying about why we’re launching a military offensive and what the mission of that offensive is and how we’re going about it and of propping up brutal dictators only to turn on them when it suits us, why would anyone ever give us the benefit of the doubt? Why would anyone trust us? Why would we not be utterly skeptical and cynical about any claim the US makes to support it’s desire to wield it’s military power?
4. Given the profit motive of so many companies whose businesses are militarily-related, shouldn’t we always have to delineate exactly who is going to make money off a military effort? Wealth is a form of power. As noted above, power corrupts. Another truth history has relentless proven to us is that following the money will always lead to finding the impure motivations behind actions. Follow the money. Haliburton made how many billions after the Bush administration led us into a war against a country which had nothing to do with the bombings in 2001?
5. Why do we allow those is government to have investment portfolios? Their job is to serve everyone. I believe their job is to equalize power imbalances as much as possible by serving and protecting those who are the most vulnerable from those who are the most powerful. How can they be trusted to do that, if they have private interests in the very institutions which have social power? How can they be trusted to do that if they are also focused on accumulating wealth for themselves? What we know is that getting into an elected position in federal government is a pathway to wealth. Wealth is power. Power corrupts. Why do we trust them? Why do we trust anyone who is in the pursuit of personal wealth? Once that is someone’s pursuit, they are pursuing power and, therefore, corruption. Why do we continue to see them as benign or even beneficent? We can see the impacts of wealth inequality. So, as long as someone is pursuing personal wealth, regardless of what tidbits of distraction they might toss out to the masses, aren’t they pursuing inequality? Why would we consider them role models or leaders? Why wouldn’t we always distrust them?
6. In Syria, how many of us know who all the different actors are in their armed conflict? I know, for instance, that it is not a simple matter of government vs rebels. For one thing, I have had contact with people who were involved in the original peaceful marches. I know they are not the ones who took up arms. So, if we’re equating rebels with the protestors, we are mistaken. There may be some crossover, but the armed conflict was not a direct progression from the marches. Different motivations are involved. Beyond that, there are multiple factions and some them fight against each other. It is not as simple as a unified effort of The People vs The Dictator.
I know those facts to be true, but I can’t identify the groups, their origins, their current status, their particular motivations or their principles, beyond some vague ideas. Can you? If not, how can you assess what’s going in Syria and whether US bombs would serve any meaningful purpose?
7. If we don’t really have a grasp on who is involved in what ways and why, how do we know who used chemical weapons? The US is claiming that they don’t care what the UN investigation reveals, because they already know. Why not wait to confirm or disprove? And why the attempt to devalue an independent investigation? What if it wasn’t the Syrian government? Don’t we have to consider that? Don’t the ramifications of enabling the victory of a group which used chemical weapons outweigh any arguments about rushing in before we know?
8. Do we have proof, yet, that chemical weapons were used?
9. And even if they were, how does bombing the country make that better? Is this collective punishment, that is punishing all for the actions of a few?
10. Since this is being done in the name of humanitarianism, are there not humanitarian actions that will actually benefit the Syrian people? For example, offering asylum to refugees and paying for them to get here? Wouldn’t that be a true humanitarian option?
11. What about solidarity with the Syrian people? What would actually demonstrate true solidarity? What about their right of self-determination, to determine their own political, economic and social futures? Shouldn’t that be something that we are calling for? I cannot tell you how many things I have read in which those central points of solidarity and self-determination are absent. The discussion is being posed as being on the side of Assad or being on the side of foreign military intervention. Can we neither support Assad or foreign military intervention? There are democratic, secular and progressive forces opposing Assad. In spite of attempts to turn this into a sectarian conflict (with the Gulf States arming some of the rebels and Iran and Russia arming Assad) this democratic opposition still survives. Shouldn’t we be supporting these forces if we truly are concerned with democracy?
Photo by Alessandra Kocman under Creative Commons license