Can we justify bombing Syria and deposing Bashar al-Assad?
Yesterday, I talked about this topic and said once again, that I would not support such an action. I also questioned some of the “evidence” that Assad gassed his own people in April and the motivations of certain forces, like the White Helmets.
Today, I want to talk about the bad arguments I’ve read and heard in favor of a U.S. intervention in Syria. But first, let’s recap.
Restating My Position on a Full-Scale U.S. Intervention in Syria
In my previous post, I shared a video by Tucker Carlson in which he discussed a possible (and eventual) U.S. strike in Syria in “retaliation” for a suspected chemical attack in Douma. Even though I deeply dislike Carlson and his ilk, he hit on some points in this instant that I agreed with.
Among the posts Carlson made:
- Howard Dean and Lindsay Graham are big proponents of hostile action and this bipartisan agreement is troubling. There needs to be some opposition here.
- We do not really know that Assad used the chemical weapons (on his own people). In fact, both the Syrian government and the “rebels” have access to chemical weapons.
- ISIS has been all but vanquished in Syria and Assad would hurt himself by using chemical weapons on his own people.
- This is a similar situation to the one we had a year ago. There was a chemical attack in Syria just days after Trump’s administration said that regime change was no longer an option for Syria.
- Mattis admitted that there was no proof Assad used chemical weapons in 2017.
- Regime change hasn’t worked in Iraq or Libya.
- We tolerate other atrocities, like the famine in Yemen.
- Striking Syria would harm a Christian community in the country.
- The Army of Islam would be one of the groups the U.S. would be supporting if we went forward with escalation.
- Trump was elected in part because he appeared to be a noninterventionist.
- A war in Syria would be costly, in money and, more importantly, in lives.
My Position on All Interventions
I am an anti-interventionist in most cases. While I don’t support dictatorships or military coups, there is no justification for unilateral interventions or any that do not account for the will of the people affected.
Even if a dictator is harming his citizens, that alone doesn’t justify intervention. Sure, we could get rid of a despot, but again, who will replace him and who will name that replacement? Also, what if that replacement is even worse?
Are there any exceptions to my anti-interventionism? Yes, there are. Basically, there are only three types of scenarios where I will agree that intervention is justified:
- If one country declares war on another, the second country has every right to defend itself.
- If one country attacks another country, like Japan attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor, the second country has a right to invade the first one in response.
- If one country is under siege and it calls upon its allies to help, that intervention is justified. For example, we have a military agreement with Canada to send troops for defense in case it is invaded. This would also help us because Canada is our neighbor.
Now, even though you might not like to see it that way, the situation in Syria is applicable to Scenario 3. This war involved the government calling in its allies (Iran, Russia, Iraqi forces, and even Hezbollah) for help. Syria was under siege, in part by forces planted there and financed by foreign governments, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United States. What, are you telling me that the Syrian government doesn’t have the right to defend itself?
The Worst Arguments in Defense of Western Involvement in Syria
In April, I described an experience I had on a forum arguing about the level of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s guilt in the alleged April 7, 2018 chemical attack in Douma. Personally, I came to believe that the attack was staged, but I didn’t expressly say that. But I met resistance when questioning the argument that Assad was, in fact, guilty and stupid enough to gas his own people again and again. Before I jumped into the conversation, I saw how heated it was, but I jumped in anyway.
While trying to state my point, I chickened out in the end in order to try to get out of it. I know what happens to people who don’t have the “correct” opinions. They become pariahs and are discredited in the eyes of their accusers. In the future, I will avoid such discussions in certain arenas, but I can at least use my blog to say what I want and mean to say.
This is going to be long, but this conversation under an April 2018 Tweet by Katie Halper is shorthand for the type of convo you’ll get:
“Blah-Blah-Blah, Humanitarian Reasons.”
Bullshit. I will repeat: There is no such thing as a humanitarian war. Anyone who says a war is for humanitarian reasons is either dispensing propaganda or has bought into it.
Ultimately, if we strike in another country, we will harm civilians and thus be a cause of their suffering. Besides the possibility of leaving a country with a worse leader/dictator, there are other ways in which we can leave a country in worse shape than we initially found it. For one thing, civilians always die in a war and when we invade a country, we must realize that we will be killing innocent civilians. Besides that, if we impose a new economic system on that nation or mine it for its resources, we are controlling that country and keeping it stunted.
Every time someone calls for regime change, we need to look at all possible motivations.
In most cases, you will find that there is a profit motive behind the war and war contractors stand to benefit the most. They often use mainstream news outlets to support their message.
Look at all of the advertisements for cable news networks like Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC. Have you seen advertisements for Boeing, Raytheon, and Caterpillar, Inc.? Who is going to buy from them besides companies that use what they sell and the U.S. government? These companies make the weapons and equipment, so the government has to use them so it can keep buying these things; rinse and repeat.
These companies sponsor news programs because their equipment can be used in countries where the U.S. intervenes, but there’s one caveat: News anchors must promote a message that doesn’t offend those companies. Often, even the “liberal” networks and outlets will promote wars and regime change. They know how their bread is buttered and it has nothing to do with humanitarianism.
Most people don’t know that part of the drive to remove Assad is connected to oil. As I stated in my previous post and in 2017, Israel and certain investors have a vested interest in Syria’s instability because Israel is occupying oil-rich Golan Heights.
Other countries, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, would like to use Syria for an oil pipeline. The Russians and Iranians would like to run another pipeline and Syria favored their proposal.
That’s why the Saudis and other Arab countries asked for the help of the United States to take out Assad. John Kerry all but admitted it in front of a House Committee in April 2013:
This topic completely obliterates the expressed concern about Syrian civilians. People who are in a war zone will run for safety, which includes leaving their place of birth. And in their quest for safety, the refugees might seek to go to lands that are thousands of miles away. However, most of the people calling for Assad’s head do not consider this and even refuse to house Syria refugees.
Not all situations are similar, but there is a comparison to make here with the way we treat Syrian refugees and asylum seekers from Latin America. In both cases (particularly in the case of Honduras), the American government has contributed to the suffering of civilians in these countries, only to turn around and deny entry to the people trying to escape the violence in those countries.
Many of us don’t care or feel that was justified, but then we don’t want to take care of the civilians who try to escape the violence in those countries. Maybe we should stop meddling in other people’s countries.
I would also like to remind you that now Trump has John Bolton in his cabinet. Bolton is in favor of U.S. hegemony and has never seen a war that he didn′t like.
“Assad Did It Before.”
Since the war began in 2011, there have been at least 20 alleged chemical attacks and most, if not all, have been blamed on Assad’s government. Much of the evidence pointing to Assad’s guilt is in doubt, especially since the same people touting that evidence refuse to acknowledge that the rebels, especially known terrorist groups, also have access to chemical weapons. (They also ignore that foreign governments have funded the rebels.)
It has been proven that the “rebels” had access to chemical weapons. And many weapons were in part supplied to them by Hillary Clinton’s State Department. Also, there are other ways for people to smuggle money and weapons to rebels and jihadists.
Now, it makes more sense for terrorists to use chemical weapons because they don’t care about the well-being of the people they are holding captive, beyond using them as human shields and bargaining chips. But we automatically assume that these are “moderate” rebels who always have their families in tow.
Let’s assume that all these fighters are in fact rebels who are trying to protect their families at the same time. How practical is that? How practical is it to start a war against one’s own government, especially when that government has its own army, air support, and powerful allies that can outmatch rebel forces? Wouldn’t they deliberately be putting their own families in danger?
It would have made more sense for the opposition to infiltrate the levers of power within the government and stage a coup. Could they have not infiltrated the Syrian military, or the Ba’ath Party then forced Assad out? Or were there enough people to even do that?
If it worked, it would have taken more time, but it would have been more methodical and as bloodless as possible. Instead, we have an ad hoc war that was more likely started by outside forces.
“These Images Are Proof.”
Proof of what? Many of these videos/images are taken by the so-called rebels after the fact and most of the mainstream media reject scientific analysis that contradicts a certain narrative. Consider:
- Like I said yesterday, while that viral video of people being treated after a suspected chlorine gas attack in April 2018 was real, the people were likely induced into a panic.
- In videos released in 2017, a bunch of White Helmets was shown splashing people with water, turning them over, and stomping on them. Is that how medical professionals are supposed to treat victims who were exposed to sarin? Generally, if someone had been exposed to sarin, they would have to remove their clothes and clean themselves with soap and water, not just water.
- On April 12, 2017, a day after the White House released its report concluding that Assad ordered the sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, MIT professor Theodore Postol offered an assessment that contradicted that report. He concluded that the attack was likely staged or that the bomb that created a crater in the road was detonated on the ground, not dropped from a plane. Based on this assessment, Islamists in the area likely carried out the gas attack or staged one.
When images are taken after the fact, anyone making those images can tell any story they want. As I’ve pointed out numerous times, the “rebels” get the benefit of the doubt, in more ways than one.
“Assad Was Sending a Message to the Rebels.”
Why would he need to do that? That would be incredibly dumb, especially when Assad is winning with the help of his allies and he knows the U.S. would respond if he poisoned his own people.
I’ve noticed that just about every time there is a chemical attack, it comes after the Syrian coalition makes advances in enclaves held by the opposition or after the U.S. president makes a statement against invading Syria. For example:
- In 2013, there was a gas attack after President Obama indicated he had no interest in invading Syria.
- In 2017, the Khan Sheikhoun attack occurred after Rex Tillerson indicated that the Trump administration had no interest in replacing Assad.
- This year, reports of a chlorine gas attack surfaced after Trump said that the U.S. would be leaving Syria “very soon.”
Don’t you see a pattern here?
Additionally, there have been efforts to block investigators from the sites of reported chemical attacks. In 2014, a convoy including members from the United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons came under attack as it was heading to Kafr Zaita to investigate after six chemical attacks were reported there. In April, the United States, France, and the United Kingdom carried out their allied airstrike a day before the UN-OPCW delegation was headed to Syria to investigate. What’s the excuse for the recent example?
“Well, Trump Needed to Send a Message.”
When I was arguing about the alleged April 7 chemical attack, one of the people I was arguing with stated that Trump needed to send a message to Vladimir Putin (whose forces are helping Assad). This guy eventually stated that humanitarian concerns took a back seat to Trump sending this message.
Not only did this guy completely discredit the humanitarian excuse, but he came up with one of the vainest excuses for the “retaliatory” airstrike I have ever read. He also contradicted himself. Even though he tried to take emotion and morals out of it, this is another moralistic argument.
If we have to “send a message” to Putin, that means that Putin is wrong (particularly in this case) and that he needs to be kept in check. We are also saying that the U.S. is right in this case and that we have a moral imperative to stop Assad from winning this war.
“We Can’t Just Let Russia and Iran Expand Their Influence in the Region.”
This is more honest. At least the people saying this are admitting that Syria has become a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia (and among Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Iran, as well), but this is still troubling. While the powerful countries involved in this war — well, at least one side — are using it to get one leg up on their enemies, civilians’ lives are in the balance.
Also, I don’t see how Syria winning this war gives Russia or Iran more influence — unless the two want to become the next hegemons. Russia does have a stake in this war because of the pipeline, and it is a longstanding ally of Syria. Iran has an oil interest, too, because of the proposed pipeline.
Beyond that, the question remains: If we don’t want Russia and Iran to expand their sphere of influence in Syria, who should?
“When We Bomb Syrian Targets, We Don’t Really Hurt Anybody.”
“We never hit civilians, but if we do, that’s only collateral damage. We always hit our targets.”
You know that’s a lie.
“When We Hit Buildings Where Chemicals Are Produced, Those Chemicals Are No Longer a Threat. In Fact, They Burn on Contact.”
That last part was a real argument made by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
This is unmitigated bullshit. If a missile hit a chemical weapons compound, that would release the chemicals. How do I know? I’ve never been in a war zone, but I know what happens when chemicals are set on fire.
Years ago, I was riding in a car when I came across the old neighborhood where my elementary school was. A few blocks ahead of the school, there was a fire in an old building. That building had been shut down for many years, but it used to be a chemical manufacturing plant. Because of the fire, the smell of chlorine — yes, chlorine — lingered in the air within a mile radius for weeks.
Thus, when the OPCW said that the detonation of bombs would get rid of all the chemicals, that’s complete garbage.
“The U.N. Agrees.”
In its 2017 report about its findings from Khan Sheikhoun, the OPCW concluded that the Syrian government did, in fact, use chemical weapons there. However, the same organization conceded that the opposition also had access to chemical weapons. Also, the OPCW’s findings of the Syrian government’s guilt were effectively contradicted by James Mattis, who said in February that we really had no definitive proof that Assad had ordered a chemical attack.
Additionally, after the OPCW was finally allowed to do an inspection this year, it concluded that the Syrian government did not carry out a chemical weapons attack. However, that last part was essentially buried by the mainstream press.
“The People Don’t Really Want Assad.”
In my previous post, I included links to two articles. One talked about a poll conducted by Qatar, a virulently anti-Assad government. The other link contained the video in which voters were happy to vote for Assad in the country’s first open election. A collection of world leaders disregarding those results does not prove that the results were fake.
Additionally, I included two videos from the Jimmy Dore Show, one which showed liberated civilians in Aleppo celebrating because they were no longer under the thumb of militants. It seems to me that despite his flaws or sins, most Syrians prefer to keep Assad, especially in comparison with the alternative: perpetual instability. Sure, it might not be ideal, but no country should be forcing reforms upon another country.
You know how reactionaries love to say that “America is different!!!!” when someone mentions systems in Europe and Canada that seem to work better than ours? Well, Syria is different than America and you cannot say that the systems we have will fit it, especially, when our systems are corrupt AF anyway. And Assad took a step to make his country more democratic when he approved an open presidential election. There’s a chance that the people could push for more reforms, provided that Assad wins the war and all the imported militants are expelled/dealt with.
Yes, Syrians have the right to self-determination.
“Syria Is Past that Point [of Self-Determination].”
That’s what one idiot I mentioned a couple of months ago said to me.
And who says? Some person behind a computer screen or browsing on their phone? Who is an outsider to say that Syria doesn’t have the right to self-determination?
How is Syria past the point of self-determination? Is it because it’s embroiled in a war? And what happens if Assad wins? You do know that the alternative is Sharia Law, right?
When people say things like this and the argument above, all they’re doing is erasing the people of Syria from the equation. While they might believe that intervening in Syria is all about humanitarianism (which has thoroughly been debunked), there is no humanitarianism without the humans who will be affected by it. How can people claim to care about civilians without considering what they want — or by uncritically accepting the stories that speak to a certain narrative?
“Well, the people of Zimbabwe ‘chose’ Mugabe, too.” *wink-wink*
This is basically what that idiot said when I talked about the results of the 2014 election in Syria. Of course, I know that Robert Mugabe was a dictator who tanked his own economy. He was also forced out by his own military.
Then, that idiot inferred that I supported military coups, which was ridiculous. However, while military coups are bad, unilateral intervention by another country could be much worse. That’s all I said, but this dingbat was trying to turn everything around to make it look like I supported brutal regimes.
Anyway, what did this have to do with Syria? Absolutely nothing. All this did was prove to me that the person I was arguing with was a fucking idiot. Yet he had the nerve to call me “fucking dumb.”
“You’re Just an Assad Supporter/Assadist!”
Often, people won’t say this directly, but you know they’re thinking it. And when they do say it, it’s a way for them to avoid answering any questions that the person they’re accusing asks them.
Assad has been accused of the following:
- Keeping political prisoners.
- Allowing militants to pass through his country into Iraq after Saddam Hussein was deposed.
- Ordering protesters to be shot, which supposedly stoked the civil war in the first place.
- Shutting down social media beforehand.
- Repeatedly gassing his own people, even after agreeing to hand over his chemical weapons in 2013 and complying in 2014.
- Only targeting civilians in this war.
- Allowing his officers to rape prisoners.
If Assad is a brutal dictator who subverts the will of his people, gases them, and promotes the rape of his enemies, what do you want us to do about it? Often, the people who make the accusations stop short of advocating intervention, but they just want to say that Assad is bad, evil, and dumb.
Yet the people calling others Assadists don’t have to answer the question posed to them because they want to establish that the other person is evil because they supposedly support a brutal dictator. If the other person is evil, they are automatically discredited, and the accuser is automatically a better person.
You see how this works? This is a form of gaslighting. It’s also a cop-out.
One doesn’t have to support Assad to question all the arguments made in favor of regime change or to question all the information we’re being fed by mainstream outlets. One didn’t have to support Saddam Hussein in order to oppose the war in Iraq. I was accused of being one in 2010 when I expressed my belief that the war was based on lies.
In Hussein’s case, practically no one denied that he was a brutal dictator who oppressed the Shiites, the Kurds, and women and rigged “elections” in his country. Saddam’s crimes were known, even as early as the 1980s. Even though he had massacred the Kurds in 1983, the U.S. worked with him. The U.S. gave him weapons and supported him against Iran.
By comparison, we didn’t hear much about abuses by Assad until the Syrian war began. And much of the evidence against him is suspect. Furthermore, the U.S. wanted to take over Syria when Assad’s father was the leader and as far back as 1949.
It seems to me that a lot of conclusions regarding Syria were already made. When we look at past examples, information has often been manufactured or twisted in order to support the wars the U.S. was involved in. These include both wars in Iraq, the NATO intervention in Libya, the Vietnam War, and the Korean War. How soon we forget.
What Else Bothers Me About This Syria Debate
Ultimately, I am bothered by the effect war has had on the Left in the West.
A week or two ago, another self-described progressive said out of the blue that he wished that someone in Syria would assassinate Assad. That bothered me because this person, who would otherwise advocate for justice, was asking for an extrajudicial killing without thinking about the consequences of such an action.
Now, take a look at this video from Jonathan Pie:
In this video, news reporter Jonathan Pie talked about the recent action by the United States, Great Britain, and France to launch missiles at targets in Syria. Pie’s point was that while he thought it was justifiable to go after a leader who would gas his own people, the countries doing so also had blood on their hands.
Now, I agree with some of the things said in this video. For one thing, Russian President Vladimir Putin is a corrupt authoritarian and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is likely guilty of human rights violations. I also agree with Pie’s comment that French President Emmanuel Macron isn’t really a leftist, given that Macron encouraged Trump to carry out the allied airstrike.
However, I disagree with this type of intervention even in the case of a despot who gassed his own people. Pie’s case illustrates what has happened to Western leftists. We are under pressure not to oppose the actions of our governments in the case of war, especially with regards to the Middle East. If we speak up and question the reasoning behind our wars, we are called unpatriotic and/or sympathetic to dictators or terrorists.
We have arrived at this point where Democrats and lefties have accepted war as a reality and have bought into this notion that opposing war makes them weak and/or naïve. This is in large part due to Barack Obama’s expansion of U.S. interventions during his eight years in office and our acceptance of a candidate (Hillary Clinton) who voted for the war in Iraq despite that being a litmus test eight years prior.
There is no real anti-war force on the left, but we really need one. This is a problem and it hurts our standing in debates moving forward.
What We’re Not Talking About
I’ve said a lot in this post (I’m probably over 3,000 words already), so I’ll be brief here. When we are talking about Syria and how bad we think Assad is, these are the things we are ignoring:
We are not talking about the brutal dictatorships the United States supports. We currently support over 70% of the world′s dictatorships, and some of our allies, including Saudi Arabia and Israel, have been committing their own human rights violations.
We are ignoring how brutal the Saudi regime is. Even though Saudi Arabia is an “ally,” it funds terrorists, it is guilty of many human rights abuses on its own citizens, and it is carrying out a genocide in Yemen — and we’re helping them do that last thing. According to one estimate, at least 15 million Yemenis are without health care and access to clean water. If they die, that number will surpass the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust.
We are ignoring how repressive the Israelis are to the Palestinians, reporters, medics, Arab Israelis, and black Jews. Since the Palestinians started their protest in April, Israeli soldiers killed at least 130 civilians and injured 14,000 others. The soldiers killed reporters and medical professionals. Within Israel, the right-wing Likud government has officially made Israel an apartheid state, taking away some rights from Arabs there. The government has also made it clear that Ethiopian Jews are not welcome in Israel.
We are also ignoring how Israel has a greater effect on the U.S. government than the Russians ever had. A lot of the people in power in the U.S. are connected to AIPAC, which advocates for Israel’s initiatives. Israel has also pushed for an end to the Iranian nuclear deal and has been escalating things in Syria by attacking Iranian planes.
We are not talking about how regime change in Libya has led to increased violence and a failing state there. There are open slave markets in Libya and the government has been overtaken by warring militias.
We are not talking about the effect of war on the men and women who serve in the U.S. military.
We’re not talking much about Flint, which still doesn’t have clean water. What Snyder is doing is criminal, and he may be poisoning Michiganites in the interests of frackers, but he and some other government officials have been released from a class-action lawsuit despite his malfeasance. Why is no one talking about occupying Michigan and deposing this callous sociopath?
You know, it should feel bad when I agree with someone I don’t like very much, but in the case of Tucker Carlson, it feels quite good to be on the same page about interventions. It felt good to hear Tucker Carlson say what he had to say because he made sound arguments, he spoke with such clarity and honesty, and he said much of what I already said before.
Of course, it feels so much better to hear these things be said by better people. I just wish there were people in Washington who looked at this in a reasonable way. Unfortunately, Trump has John Bolton in his ear, a lot of lefties have gone out to lunch on this issue, and there are so many people in favor of U.S. hegemony.
Beyond that, I cannot stand the blatant hypocrisy behind these interventions. We are failing to take care of our own citizens, we have selective outrage that overlooks the atrocities being carried out by our allies, but we have the nerve to judge other leaders and say that what they’re doing is immoral?
Ultimately, I want us all to step back and think about the people who will be affected what we get out of this. We do not have to like various leaders of countries, but the decisions our leaders make can make ordinary civilians’ lives much worse. And it will likely come back to us in the form of terrorism.
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