By the morning of August 21, most people were aware that something immeasurably bad had happened in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. Video footage of Syrians flooded social media, showing Syrians on makeshift hospital floors, clutching their faces and throats; grabbing their chests. Some were screaming. Others had stopped.
A preliminary assessment released by the U.S. government alleged that Syrian President Bashar al-Asad had used chemical weapons to kill 1,429 of his own people, 426 of whom were children. It also reported that the attack was not an isolated incident; there was high confidence that al-Asad “has used chemical weapons on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year,” and that the regime had “a stockpile of numerous chemical agents, including mustard, sarin, and VX and has thousands of munitions that can be used to deliver chemical warfare agents.”
Far removed from the civil war, the gassing, and the horrors on the ground, the rest of the world settled in to the uncomfortable question of what we should do.
Military hawks have been making the case for immediate action; a punitive measure against al-Asad. This has been the case argued by President Obama, who has been desperately rallying support from the international community with less-than-hoped-for success.
Attempts to pursue action through the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) have been abandoned after resolutions were vetoed by Russia, forcing President Obama to turn to congress.
The president’s assessment that Congress is a more functional than the UNSC might might tell just how broken the UN currently is. And while it is a fluid situation, congressional approval isn’t looking very promising either. An Associated Press survey revealed a divided senate and the support of just one-in-six among House members.
Opposition has been coming from the president’s left and right flanks. Take these two quotes and think about which sounds more likely to come from someone with “Rand” in their name:
“War should occur only when America is attacked, when it is threatened or when American interests are attacked or threatened. I don’t think the situation in Syria passes that test.”
“Most people understand, this is simply not our problem.”
The first quote comes from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, in a Time Magazine editorial. The second came from Florida’s flamethrowing Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson, speaking to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.
Rep. Grayson’s comments are absurd. Chemical warfare, anywhere in the world, is very much our problem. It’s both a moral problem in a global community and a threat to national defense.
Sen. Paul’s point is taken. But, then, why the hell did we invade Iraq?
We were told that Sadam Hussein was “evil.” He was “evil” because, among other things, he gassed his own people – in March of 1988, he dumped mustard and sarin gas on the Kurdish city of Halabja. The attack killed between 3,200-5,000.
And he might have nukes, we were told. So we threw our armed forces at him.
Any possible military involvement in Syria, obviously, comes a great risk – the severity of which we can’t measure until after the fact. That’s kind of how war works. The notion that any foray into the region would be quick and easy can be debunked in three or less mouse clicks.
But comments from elected officials – many of whom voted for the invasion of Iraq – unmask the actual reason behind opposition to Syrian intervention:
We can’t fight Syria because we’ve spent a decade fighting the wrong wars.
Take a look locally.
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski stated in a recent press release: “After the past decade, I am extremely wary of asking more of our military men and women, but will not hesitate to call upon them when a need arises with a responsible, comprehensive plan mapped out.”
Representative Don Young couldn’t escape the reference either: “After a dozen years, the American people are sick and tired of sacrificing lives in foreign wars.”
Both Murkowski and Young voted for the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq.
There is no mention of Syria without tethering to the decade of fail that we have endured and the war authorization resolution that caused it; a decade that’s cost us between $4-6 trillion, ended the lives of nearly 7,000 servicemen and women, with suicides now outpacing combat deaths. All while serving as an active recruitment advertisement for the forces we still oppose.
We’ve become deeply skeptical of military involvement. This is good; we should be skeptical when someone calls for military strikes.
We aim to be a free people. Domestically, that means you should have a really good argument if you want to criminalize something. In turn, as it relates to foreign policy, there needs to be an incredibly strong motive to go out and meddle in another states’ affairs at great risk to our troops.
The scary part is that, ten years ago, war stopped being the very, very, very last option.
This past March, we recognized that tenth anniversary of the Iraq War. NPR’s Renee Montagne interviewed one of the invasion’s loudest and earliest champions, former chairman of Defense Department’s Defense Policy Board Richard Perle.
In her final question, Montage asked Perle:
Ten years later, nearly 5,000 American troops dead, thousands more with wounds, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead or wounded; when you think about this, was it worth it?
What we did at the time was done in the belief that it was necessary to protect this nation. You can’t a decade later go back and say, well, we shouldn’t have done that.
The tough truth underlying the compartmentalization is, for many elected officials and people wishing to avoid thinking about why they object so strongly to intervention, that’s exactly what is happening. We’re going back and saying “Well, we shouldn’t have done that.”