When I started this site, I meant to blog only about media because I’m a working journalist and I thought it’d be beneficial to analyze industry news. But there are far greater things in my life that I’m passionate about, that move me to write. And today I find myself intensely driven to type up some words on the all-but-confirmed United States military strike on Syria. Human rights has and always will remain at the core of my heart; it’s what I hope to spend the rest of my life reporting on.
The Syrian Civil War is one I’ve followed closely since its fledgling days during the Arab Spring. If you’ve paid attention to my tweets, you’ll know this to be true. The war began as an understated, afterthought to the cause but is now the only country still fighting the same war more than two years later. Even Egypt has evolved into something far more politically convoluted.
Here’s some quick, consolidated background info on what I’m about to discuss: Syria’s been engaged in a brutal civil war since March 2011, the war involves mainly Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his military regime, the Free Syrian Army (rebels who seek to remove Assad), Hezbollah (sided with Assad), and Al-Qaeda (sided with the rebels), last year President Obama drew a “red line” for military intervention and that was chemical warfare, last week the Syrian army committed genocide with sarin nerve gas, the U.S. and its foreign allies are now weighing their options for a military strike. [UPDATE: Secretary Kerry just confirmed in a press conference 1,429 were killed in the chemical attack, including 426 children.] More than 100,000 Syrians have died to date (and that’s a very conservative estimate). Here’s an excellent interactive timeline for in-depth information on the war. The Washington Post’s Syria for dummies is a good primer too.
Without further rambling, I present my thoughts on U.S. military intervention. Disclaimer: These thoughts are my own; they stand independent of any media organization or publication I’m affiliated with. They are biased opinions. Treat them as such.
1. Drones. The hypocrisy of a U.S. strike on Syria can’t be ignored here, though that’s all I’ve seen American-based media do in its coverage of the proposed strike. President Obama has gone on record to say this strike, if ordered, will be punishment for President Assad’s use of chemical warfare, an act the international community deems as a war crime and crime against humanity. But we all know there’s no black and white in war. And what’s legal doesn’t equate to what’s moral or right. Assad gases his people, condemning them to poisonous death. Obama sends drones to Pakistan and Yemen to target terrorists, but in doing so routinely kills innocent civilians. And it’s legal. Frowned upon by many, but legal. Though if an administration like Assad’s were to disagree with that legality and plan a strike on the U.S. as punishment, there’d be international outrage. And that’s the gray area of hypocrisy.
2. Where exactly does the U.S. strike? I presented a scenario to my family last night that summarizes this point. Think of a U.S. strike on Syria in reverse, where Americans were on the receiving end of a drone or missile strike. Where does the bomb drop? Is there a red dot aimed at the White House or the Pentagon, is the financial district of NYC vulnerable, or are other at-risk cities in the States on the hit list? Either way, innocent people die. And that’s a fact that the Obama administration must face when it decides where to attack Syria. For prime accuracy based off the assumption that the target is either Assad, his military, the chemical weapons or all of the above, there has to be some notion that their location is more than 50 percent confirmed. If you’ve seen Zero Dark Thirty, you know what I’m talking about. But during wartime, when does anyone ever know where the president or prime minister is located, much less their army or weapons? Assad goes into hiding for months at a time, not seen or heard from publicly until he pops up on state TV to reaffirm that his regime will not surrender. That means there is no way of knowing with certainty where to drop a bomb and kill Assad, if that is the goal. And that means innocent civilians will die because, inevitably, a bomb or missile will end up in a highly populated area like the city of Damascus. And that, that presents the administration’s ultimate dilemma. What makes killing innocent lives who’ve already experienced unspeakable horrors justifiable? Nearly 2 million Syrians have fled the country since the war started—a startling 7.7 percent of the population. Those who’ve stayed live the day-to-day in constant fear of a strike. They don’t live, they survive. To pile on the added fear of an imminent strike from another country’s government is as inhumane as the act that sparked the strike. You are fighting violence with violence and in doing so, there can be no solution.
3. Legality. Part of the reason the U.S. and its allies are stalling on this strike is because it isn’t exactly legal according to the Constitution and international law. This morning, the UK concluded it may override a block from the UN Security Council and justify a strike based on humanitarian intervention but that doesn’t guarantee they’ll do so as Parliament debates are ongoing [UPDATE: British Parliament has just voted against a military strike.]. French military forces are ready to strike, but won’t do so without the command of President Hollande, a command he’s not yet willing to give. But really what they’re all waiting for is the okay from President Obama because when the U.S. moves, the West will follow. It’s difficult but not impossible, as the history books show, to attack a country that has not attacked you and poses no visible imminent threat of attack. I suppose the U.S. could suggest recent cyber attacks by the Syrian Electronic Army (though never confirmed to be aligned with Syria at all) on the NYT, Twitter, the AP, and the Huffington Post show signs of imminent attack. Even so, the House is already beginning to demand Congressional approval which speaks for itself about the strike’s Constitutionality. [UPDATE: Obama just announced he'll seek Congressional approval before striking Syria. Congress reconvenes Sept 9. Expect a vote that week.] For better analysis on the strike’s legality than I can give, read these pieces from the NYT and Washington Post.
4. Regional Implications. When you attack anywhere in the Middle East, it’s never as small as just attacking one country because they all closely border each other. Attacking Britain, for example, doesn’t carry the same immediate implications for France, the U.S. and other Western countries simply due to geography. But attacking Syria means indirectly attacking Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and possibly other countries in the region. Israel, for better or worse, is a U.S. ally. A strike on Syria would put Israel at risk for serious retaliation. The same goes for Turkey. Iran, which stands with Assad, has also threatened to join any retaliation efforts Syria proposes, strengthening any attack against U.S. allies.
5. And then what? If the U.S. and its allies do strike Syria, succeed, and punish Assad (in whatever capacity that means to Obama, Cameron, and Hollande), what happens next? Does each country carry on with its business while Syria falls into the depths of Hell as Egypt has since Mubarak was removed over two years ago? Ideally, not. But Obama has said that any attack is meant to be quick and not a catalyst for continued war, meaning he has no intention of a longtime military presence in Syria. But with the regional implications of an attack at stake, that is a fool’s dream.
Have any thoughts to add to the conversation? Please, comment below.