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OPINION: Syria: Throwing up one's hands in despair

A Syrian rebel soldier stands on a damaged tank in Sabadani, near Damascus. AP Photo

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The other day, at a Democratic fundraiser, I happened to see a well-known congressperson. I asked how this congressperson would vote on the administration’s plan to take action against Syria. “I don’t know,” he answered.

And if this congressperson, who presumably is privy to all sorts of foreign intelligence that the average person doesn’t have access to, doesn’t know, how can most people know?

In the beginning, we heard about Assad. Bashar Assad, everyone knows, is a bad guy, a dictator. He massacred thousands of people at Hama, a city that broke into revolt against his government in the early 1980s. He has helped the terrorist organization Hezbollah in the south of Lebanon and has exercised control over Lebanon that has, in effect, taken away that country’s independence.

Assad is also close to U.S. rivals such as Russia and China. And starting this year, there have been increasing reports of Assad using chemical weapons, which are illegal under international law.

So, when the revolt in Syria happened, people in the west naturally thought that the rebels were democratic forces that were part of the “Arab spring.”  As the civil war developed, however, it turned out that many of these forces were not democratic at all, merely rivals.  Even Secretary of State John Kerry has said that up to 25 percent of the Syrian rebels are “mujahedeen,” or Islamist extremists. Some are reportedly close to Al Qaeda. 

Many of the rebels also have atrocities of their own on their hands. A recent issue of The New York Times showed rebels forcing half-naked prisoners to kneel, seconds before they fatally shot them. Another report detailed how an Islamist rebel force set a Syrian Christian village on fire.

According to Amnesty International, both the Assad government and the rebels are guilty of human rights violations. The government is guilty of operating a network of torture chambers. But the rebels are allegedly guilty of not only killing civilians but cannibalizing them after they’re dead.

The Syrian civil war is oddly reminiscent of the Yugoslavian civil wars of the 1990s – several small nations, each of them proudly nationalistic, warring on each other, taking on their revenge by killing civilians and teaching children to hate. U.S. intervention in the former Yugoslavia did cool things down there, but will they do the same in Syria?

It seems to me that neither side is worth the full-fledged support of the U.S. or its allies in the West. Clearly, something has to be done there. But that something, I believe, should be the job of the United Nations, not the United States.

I’m still not 100 percent decided what the U.S. should do about Syria. I don’t like people who automatically say “my country, right or wrong” and support  any U.S. military intervention that comes our way. But neither do I like people who are so hostile to the U.S. that they adhere to the “eleventh commandment” that says that if the U.S. and a foreign nation, particularly a “third-world” nation like Syria, are involved in a conflict, then the U.S. is by definition always wrong.

The Syrian situation is such a jumble of tragedy, violence and all-around bad karma that it would take an expert from the State Department, the Council on Foreign Relations or the Foreign Policy Association to decipher it. Until we have all the relevant information, the U.S. should not make Syria into another Iraq.

September 9, 2013 - 11:30am


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