Why, when our government was complicit in chemical attacks on Kurdish villagers and Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq War, do we believe that it suddenly cares about victims of chemical attacks in Syria? Why, when our government has openly supported dictators throughout the Middle East and beyond, do we believe that it is now motivated by a genuine desire to bring freedom to Syria?
While some are, to be sure, well aware of our government’s transparent insincerity, they gamble on the hope that a war that is otherwise driven by sinister motives will produce outcomes that are at least incidentally humane. For such people I invoke the lessons of Libya and Iraq in arguing that the gambling odds aren’t that favorable.
I genuinely empathize, of course, with those who, after viewing footage from the site of the most recent alleged chemical attack, cry out for justice. They, too, are victims of a sort, for their compassion is routinely exploited by those who hunger for war. Nevertheless, it’s important that they resist the self-centered desire for emotional gratification—not that this desire necessarily characterizes all or even many of them—and rationally consider the actual consequences of reversing Assad’s gains through continued military intervention.
Christians, especially, must be conscious of the danger in which U.S. aggression puts our fellow believers (if, indeed, they view them as such). “In Assad’s Syria,” reads an article published last Monday in Haaretz, “the ethnic and religious minorities enjoyed total freedom of worship, and the churches and non-Muslim houses of prayer flourished.” By contrast, Christians and other groups in both Syria and Iraq have faced the threat of extermination at the hands of ISIS. It should not surprise us, therefore, that Syrian patriarchs had this to say in a joint statement issued on the day of the attack:
We…condemn and denounce the brutal aggression that took place this morning against our precious country Syria by the USA, France and the UK, under the allegations that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons.
There are other pressing questions that rarely, if ever, seem to be asked of our leaders by mainstream journalists. How, when Assad is on the verge of total victory in Syria’s war on terror, are we to believe that he would gas his own people, disregarding the explicitly-drawn line that, if crossed, guaranteed a military response from the U.S.? Why, when ISIS reportedly used chemical weapons “at least 52 times in Syria and Iraq,” do we automatically assume that it was Assad who committed the most recent alleged chemical attack? Why, when actors other than the regime are reasonable suspects, would we not demand an independent on-site investigation before hurling tomahawk missiles at “suspected chemical facilities”, which is precisely what the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons planned to conduct on the very day of the attack?
Lastly, why should we risk a disastrous and evidently unnecessary confrontation with two formidable adversaries, one of which is a nuclear power? Yes, ours is indeed the single most powerful military, but a victory might come at a tremendous cost that we so often ignore. Looking ahead, few of us will be comforted by the following attempt at a consolation: “Sure, 25% of our country is radioactive, but hey: We ‘won’ the war with them evil Russians!”
I do not claim that there aren’t better alternatives to Assad. However, it takes more than “nice people” that “have no base” to replace him as Syria’s leader. Among the various groups fighting Assad—and one another—which ones envision a genuinely free Syria and have the power to make this vision a reality?