Syria: Indifference and moral ambiguity

Syria: President Obama and moral ambiguity

Photograph Reuters, Yazen Homsy

The burnt out ruins of their former homes and neighborhoods smolder under the inhospitable cloudy skies and cold rain. The rain, along with a constant stream of missiles and shells continue to fall upon the Sheikh Maqsood district of Aleppo. Residents of this predominantly Kurdish neighborhood in Syria scurry nervously past bombed out buildings and piles of broken concrete. Refugees in their own city, they have become prisoners of an unyielding war which has caused unrelenting misery and destruction to their homeland. As heavy artillery continues to bombard the citizens of Aleppo, the rest of the country remains in a perpetual state of anxiety and fear.

March has proven to be one of the bleakest months in the history of Syria. As frightened civilians continue to flee Aleppo and Homs for safer havens within the country, President Bashar Assad and his brutal regime continue to launch assaults against rebels and civilians. The bitter conflict between the Free Syrian Army and Assad has led to the deaths of thousands of Syrians. According to UN reports, an average of 3,000 Syrians are killed each month. So far, March has been the deadliest month since the Syrian uprising began more than two years ago. 6,000 people have died. The UN estimates the total number of people killed in Syria since the armed conflict began has surpassed 70,000.

More than half of the people killed in Syria’s civil war are civilians. Men, women and children continue to be targets in numerous bloody attacks across the country. As indiscriminate attacks continue to take place against civilians, the rest of the world looks on in horror, apathy, concern, and indifference. Russia and China famously vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have threatened sanctions against Assad. Jordan is reportedly helping arm anti-Assad rebels, and both David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande have expressed their support for more “moderate” armed rebels in Syria.

It seems as though certain politicians residing in the EU and Jordan favor an increase in the number of trained rebels in Syria. Along with providing more safety for their aid workers in Syria, England is currently training a unit of 300 men to fight against Assad and his military. Arming anti-Assad rebels in Syria is not a new concept. A majority of President Obama’s national security team supported arming the rebels against the Baathist fundamentalists. Almost none of these officials are around anymore.

The intentions of certain European countries to intervene in Syria appear to be motivated by a desire to put an end to the violence, as well as place a tourniquet around the endless stream of refugees who continue to flee Syria in search of shelter in neighboring Turkey and Jordan. Stability in the region, as well as security risks for international interests are the most likely contributing factors as to why Cameron, Hollande, Leon Panetta, Martin Dempsey, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former CIA Director David Petraeus pushed for intervention in the way of armed rebels.

As Cameron and Hollande continue to try and convince other world leaders to invest in stopping Assad, it is unclear whether or not a regime change in Syria will bring positive changes to the people. After years of crushing violence against the citizens of Syria by the regime, it is difficult to say. Will other developed nations feel compelled to take action against Syria? If so, what type of action? An armed intervention against Bashar Assad seems unlikely. There are obvious dangers when it comes to arming unstable rebel groups (the rise of the Taliban after the Russian occupation in Afghanistan). How many weapons could possibly fall into the hands of organizations such as the al-Quds Brigades and other groups? If the current arms embargo is removed, will it cause more violence and sectarianism, or will it help aid the rebels to adequately defend themselves against Assad? How many more lives will be lost due to the inevitable rise in clashes between the Free Syrian Army and the military?

As someone who vehemently opposed the war in Iraq, I am cautious about further US involvement in the Middle East, however, President Obama has a moral imperative to speak out against Bashar Assad and his brutal dictatorship. Aside from pledging to donate $155 million dollars in nonlethal humanitarian assistance, the Obama Administration has stayed silent.As the civil war closes in on nearly three years of fighting, it would benefit him to join world leaders in having a serious discussion about the ongoing struggle of getting humanitarian aid to the region, and what to do about the escalating violence in Syria. He has a responsibility to do so.

The United States has a rather unsavory tendency to involve itself in the Middle East only when national interests are at stake. For nearly the past century, oil has been the precious commodity in the Middle East. Too often, human lives are caught in the crosshairs of brutal dictatorships and imperialism.The continuation of violent conflicts in  Syria has perpetuated political, psychological and socio-economic instability for much of its citizens. Sadly, when a country which has little to no economic power or natural resources faces ethnic cleansing and genocide, few come to the aid of those who are suffering.

I should mention that oil production in Syria has been in decline for a decade and a half.

What would Howard Zinn say? How would Henry Wallace react? What advice would FDR give?


6 thoughts on “Syria: Indifference and moral ambiguity

  1. Well, I think Howard Zinn would say ‘stay out.’ But of course, we would have to ‘stay out’ out of a lot of other places also – which we have not done, and thus our record of intervention is a total mess, and quagmire out of which we will never be able to extricate ourselves.

  2. After reading Zinn’s On War, I believe he would most likely be against any involvement in Syria. He always made compelling and thoughtful arguments as to why war is unnecessary.

    Syria makes me think of East Timor, but on a smaller scale. The brutality perpetuated by the Indonesian government was awful. President Ford refused to take any action in the region.


    • A friend and I are having this interesting, running discussion about wars. We started with WW I – I came to the conclusion a long time ago, that American involvement in it was a tragedy and that it actually led directly to WW II, which led to…and so on. We have worked our way backwards to the Civil War and the American revolution…it makes for some interesting discussion.

  3. “What advice would FDR give?”

    Well, FDR stayed out of WWII until the US was directly attacked, so I have a feeling he would advise Obama to do exactly what he’s been doing.

    Great thought-provoking post though. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you’re cautious of another intervention after the Iraq debacle. That goes for all Americans. I think there just isn’t enough political will for another significant intervention right now.

    • David,

      I believe you are correct about FDR. It wasn’t until Oliver Stone’s recent history series on Showtime, that I understood why he was reluctant to go to war. There is so much to consider. Deciding to go to war should never be done in haste, like the Iraq War. War is terrible.

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