All I’ve been hearing today is that we have to strike Syria in order to “send a message.” I don’t think this is because people think we really need to send a message about the use of chemical weapons. I think it is because the argument for protecting the Syrian people doesn’t make much sense. After all, we’ve stood by while over a hundred thousand civilians have been killed. Does it matter that this much smaller number of people were killed in a specific way? (For the record: I do think it matters. But I don’t think it should overwhelm all other facts.)
Matt Yglesias pointed out something really important about the whole idea of incentives: they work both ways. He wrote, “For example, did this fierce civil war in Syria break out in part because the intervention in Libya led opposition figures to believe that even a low-probability-of-success military uprising stood a good chance of receiving a NATO bailout?” It’s a good question. But regardless the answer, it shows that bombing Syria for its alleged chemical weapons use will send a lot of messages, many of which we may not be too keen on.
Yglesias also mentioned an academic paper that showed that, “Intervening on behalf of rebels increases the number of civilians who are killed by increasing the desperation of government forces.” So I think we should stop any of this talk about the bombing of Syria being “humanitarian.” And watching leaders speak out publicly for this action has nothing but the self-satisfied air of politicians on the eve of a “bloody good war.”
So if this isn’t about humanitarianism and it isn’t about doing what’s right about chemical weapons, what is it about? I think the key can be found in the video below. In it, Wesley Clark (in 2007) says that shortly after 9/11, he learned of a memo that indicated that the White House didn’t just want to invade Iraq, but 7 countries in 5 years. Those countries? Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. I don’t mean to suggest that Obama especially has it out for these countries. But it is true that that there are plenty of powerful people in this country who will always be for war with these countries. And clearly, the disaster in Iraq hasn’t lessened their power.
In the end, I think I am hopelessly cynical about all of this. I don’t even think it has much to do with egos of pride. It is just that politicians have control of armies and God damn it, they are going to use those armies. And they will use any justification they can. It’s humanitarian! Or not. It’s to make the world safe in the long run! Or not. And what’s the worst that could happen? Certainly they aren’t going to die. In fact, regardless of what these western leaders do, they will never be held accountable. So let the bombs drop. Only little people will be harmed—like the guy in the picture above, even though we are bombing to protect him.