Syria, like Libya, was on the list cited by Clark, and on a similar list attributed to Dick Cheney by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his memoirs. U.S. officials, including Senator John McCain, have for years openly expressed a desire to overthrow the government of Syria because it is allied with the government of Iran which they believe must also be overthrown. Iran’s 2013 elections didn’t seem to alter that imperative.
As I was writing this, the U.S. government was promoting U.S. war-making in Syria on the grounds that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons. No solid evidence for this claim had yet been offered. Below are 12 reasons why this latest excuse for war is no good even if true.
1. War is not made legal by such an excuse. It can’t be found in the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the United Nations Charter, or the U.S. Constitution. It can, however, be found in U.S. war propaganda of the 2002 vintage. (Who says our government doesn’t promote recycling?)
2. The United States itself possesses and uses chemical and other internationally condemned weapons, including white phosphorus, napalm, cluster bombs, and depleted uranium. Whether you praise these actions, avoid thinking about them, or join me in condemning them, they are not a legal or moral justification for any foreign nation to bomb us, or to bomb some other nation where the U.S. military is operating. Killing people to prevent their being killed with the wrong kind of weapons is a policy that must come out of some sort of sickness. Call it Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
3. An expanded war in Syria could become regional or global with uncontrollable consequences. Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Russia, China, the United States, the Gulf states, the NATO states … does this sound like the sort of conflict we want? Does it sound like a conflict anyone will survive? Why in the world risk such a thing?
4. Just creating a “no fly zone” would involve bombing urban areas and unavoidably killing large numbers of people. This happened in Libya and we looked away. But it would happen on a much larger scale in Syria, given the locations of the sites to be bombed. Creating a “no fly zone” is not a matter of making an announcement, but of dropping bombs on anti-aircraft weaponry.
5. Both sides in Syria have used horrible weapons and committed horrible atrocities. Surely even those who imagine people should be killed to prevent their being killed with different weapons can see the insanity of arming both sides to protect each other side. Why is it not, then, just as insane to arm one side in a conflict that involves similar abuses by both?
6. With the United States on the side of the opposition in Syria, the United States will be blamed for the opposition’s crimes. Most people in Western Asia hate al Qaeda and other terrorists. They are also coming to hate the United States and its drones, missiles, bases, night raids, lies, and hypocrisy. Imagine the levels of hatred that will be reached if al Qaeda and the United States team up to overthrow the government of Syria and create an Iraq-like hell in its place.
7. An unpopular rebellion put into power by outside force does not usually result in a stable government. In fact there is not yet on record a case of U.S. humanitarian war clearly benefitting humanity or of nation-building actually building a nation. Why would Syria, which looks even less auspicious than most potential targets, be the exception to the rule?
8. This opposition is not interested in creating a democracy, or—for that matter—in taking instructions from the U.S. government. On the contrary, blowback from these allies is likely. Just as we should have learned the lesson of lies about weapons by now, our government should have learned the lesson of arming the enemy of the enemy long before this moment.
9. The precedent of another lawless act by the United States, whether arming proxies or engaging directly, sets a dangerous example to the world and to those in Washington and in Israel for whom Iran is next on the list.
10. A strong majority of Americans, despite all the media’s efforts thus far, opposes arming the rebels or engaging directly. Instead, a plurality supports providing humanitarian aid. And many (most?) Syrians, regardless of the strength of their criticism for the current government, oppose foreign interference and violence. Many of the rebels are, in fact, foreign fighters. We might better spread democracy by example than by bomb.
11. There are nonviolent pro-democracy movements in Bahrain and Turkey and elsewhere, and in Syria itself, and our government doesn’t lift a finger in support.
12. Establishing that the government of Syria has done horrible things or that the people of Syria are suffering, doesn’t make a case for taking actions likely to make matters worse. There is a major crisis with refugees fleeing Syria in large numbers, but there are as many or more Iraqi refugees still unable to return to their homes. Lashing out at another Hitler might satisfy a certain urge, but it will not benefit the people of Syria. The people of Syria are just as valuable as the people of the United States. There is no reason Americans shouldn’t risk their lives for Syrians. But Americans arming Syrians or bombing Syrians in an action likely to exacerbate the crisis does no one any good at all. We should be encouraging de-escalation and dialogue, disarmament of both sides, the departure of foreign fighters, the return of refugees, the provision of humanitarian aid, the prosecution of war crimes, reconciliation among groups, and the holding of free elections.
Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire visited Syria and discussed the state of affairs there on my radio show. She wrote in the Guardian that, “while there is a legitimate and long-overdue movement for peace and non-violent reform in Syria, the worst acts of violence are being perpetrated by outside groups. Extremist groups from around the world have converged upon Syria, bent on turning this conflict into one of ideological hatred. … International peacekeepers, as well as experts and civilians inside Syria, are nearly unanimous in their view that United States involvement would only worsen this conflict.”