American aid in Syria ‘pertinent and appropriate’
Despite all evidence to the contrary, the United States sets a very high standard for itself as a leader on the world stage. The country would like to be characterized as the standard-bearer of democracy and freedom.
However, an appropriate tagline for America’s last century of foreign policy would and should read “lead by ethos, if not by example.”
A sidelong glance at the shortlist of our hypocritical bungles includes numerous attempts to annex or at least incorporate Cuba economically, military support in the United Fruit Company’s monopolization of the Guatemalan economy in the 1960s, Vietnam, illegally selling arms to Iran to fund anti-communist fighters in Nicaragua during the 1980’s, and more recently, an invasion and occupation of Iraq initiated under disingenuous or misinformed circumstances.
The current dilemma over Syria—embroiled for two years and counting in a countrywide civil war—has become a non-factor for the United States.
Sparked by an unlikely compromise with Russia, staunch allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, President Obama’s administration is now pursuing a diplomatic solution involving U.N.-sanctioned inspection of Syria’s chemical weapons supply, evidentially used by Assad against his own people. Any retaliatory measure which can function multilaterally and avoid mass troop deployment is arguably preferable to an American solo effort.
However, even this pleasantly surprising concordance of global power unearths a cold irony; considering the United States’ flummoxing involvement in the Middle East throughout the past decade or their wider presence in world affairs for the last half-century, the preconditions for intervention in Syria appear far more justified than they ever did for Iraq (the second time around for the second President Bush) or Afghanistan, let alone Vietnam.
Viewed within the context of our unrealistically ideal ethos—the two-faced one that turns us into both sincere spokespeople for human rights and self-satisfied jingoists—the United States should have mobilized in order to assist in stabilizing the Syrian conflict.
It bears mentioning that hindsight further clarifies most historical events, especially the economically and ethically charged ones.
However, this doesn’t deaden the impact of mistakes and iniquities, nor does it undermine contemporary critiques of them.It only renders them more understandable and, with forbearance, preventable in the future.
The crisis in Syria threatens to join another infamous American shortlist of situations that predicated a need for our aid, but contrarily resulted in abstention or belated relief operations (the Rwandan genocide and Bosnian Civil War are the most prevalent of recent entries).
At present, death toll estimations in the Syrian civil war range from 80,000 to well over 100,000, dispersed among splintered rebel factions, government troops and civilians. The precedent for a peacefully administered deposition of Assad is far more evident and verifiable than was the eventual criterion for removing Saddam Hussein from power.
Judging from present circumstances, the United States will not mire itself a fairly tenuous foreign conflict with a potential United Nations-coordinated solution at hand and national sentiment erring on the side of nonintervention. The ennui of our prevalent domestic concerns, including limited bipartisanship, lingering economic uncertainty and wariness after ten years of unfruitful war, is a weight that should be shed before or if we ever again attempt to alleviate problems abroad in any sort of solo capacity.
Nevertheless, it is inescapable that much of our past strength was both abused and misallocated in such a way that has cost human lives both then and now.
Military aid is the foreign policy equivalent to sex; it should be given freely and as frequently as possible, but only in apposite situations.
In the case of Syria, the problem is a combination of intemperance and bad timing. Given an opportunity of historical revision, American assistance would be equally pertinent and appropriate.
Self-important U.S. will not help unless beneficial
Who needs the United Nations when we have the United States?
Clearly, the U.S. Government is the ultimate arbiter of justice. We understand things that the United Nations cannot. We understand that the use of chemical weapons is absolutely unacceptable, sufficient justification for unilateral military strikes, a crime against humanity that requires a response regardless of legality.
Except, of course, when an American ally, like Iraq during the 1980s, uses the chemical weapons. Then it’s not so bad.
We understand that civilian casualties, while inevitable even in honorable warfare, must not be deliberately inflicted—except when convenient for our drone strikes. We understand that international laws must be followed, except when we feel like flouting them.
We also understand that American exceptionalism can be counted on to transcend economic reality. We understand that no matter how much the United States disregards the process of the U.N. Security Council, we will always be protected by our veto.
No matter how often we exploit, bully and attack other countries while we remain powerful, we can count on the United Nations to protect us from similar treatment when we are no longer quite so powerful anymore. We understand that the rules are made for us to apply, and that they will not be applied to us.
Because we understand these things, we are able to act when necessary—that is, when we have something to gain. We know to intervene where there is oil and to ignore other places. We know that a protracted civil war resulting in a humanitarian crisis is worth our attention in Syria, but not in Sudan.
We also know that it’s nice to keep up appearances; we’ll politely consult the United Nations, even while pointing out that we’re going to do whatever we want to do anyway, and that a U.N. resolution just makes us feel a little bit better about ourselves.
We can also be flexible, and agree to a sudden compromise after a bit of accidental diplomacy by our Secretary of State. We know that Russia — unlike international law, or the nation whose political future is actually in question—is a force to be reckoned with. And that is, after all, what we are accustomed to reckoning with: force. It’s the only practical language. It’s why we’re better. It’s why we’re exceptional. It’s why we don’t have to care.
Until, of course, we are no longer the biggest bully on the playground. Then the rules will change, and the world will be a harmonious, protecting place. The countries we abused in past centuries will forgive, forget and defer to our infinite wisdom.
There’s no use speculating otherwise, because that’s the way it is. If it were not, then obviously we would have to change course. We never would have thrown our military might behind pet corporate interests. We never would have been so inconsiderate.
We would have treated the United Nations like a valuable institution, worthy of respect and investment, even deference in our decision making. We would have allowed the international political process to proceed unimpeded, to demonstrate its strengths and weaknesses without being preempted every time we felt impatient. We would have been a better nation.
But as we know, we don’t need to be better. Reasoned morality is a concept for lesser nations. We Americans are just, you know, right.