To What End Do We Kill?

In Syria, Answering Atrocity With Atrocity Should Achieve More Atrocity

Are you saying that doing nothing in Syria is the best option? 

The unpleasant reality in Syria is that there are no good choices, for the U.S. or much of anyone else.  But the crushing reality is that, comparatively, the U.S. and perhaps the world will be better off keeping Assad in power for the nonce, rather than coping with the likely chaos flowing uncontrollably from any other outcome.

There is no good reason to make a bad situation worse. It’s likely to get worse all on its own, and unimaginably worse if the government starts to fall.

But wouldn’t it be good if the “rebels” won? 

Not likely. No one knows who the “rebels” are with any certainty, except that we know they are anything but a united, coherent force. We don’t even know if any of them have goals worthy of support. There are many rebel groups with as many interests, most of them lethal – to each other, to their neighbors, to everyone.

But getting rid of Assad is good all by itself, isn’t it? 

Oh, of course, just like getting rid of Saddam Hussein was good all by itself. Have you no memory?

Unfortunately, we have been cursed with leadership that chooses to ignore the reality that nothing exists “all by itself.”  Everything is interconnected, which should be obvious to anyone.  But Obama/Kerry don’t seem to get it any better than Bush/Cheney did.  Their common assumption, that they can control reality and determine outcomes, is a hallmark of hubris (also madness, also bloodthirsty recklessness).

For all the mindless destruction the Iraq war has visited on everyone involved (except the insulated commanders), the indefensible result today is an Iraq that has suffered and continues to suffer far more than it would have had Saddam remained in power.  War crimes tend to turn out badly.

So we should leave Assad in power? 

The first problem with that question is the assumption that it’s up to “us,” whoever “us” is. Unquestionably “we” can intervene in any horrific way we choose, and no one can stop us.  But that’s where our control of events ends, and the benefits of any intervention are hard to identify – most likely because they are nil.

Of course an attack might briefly satisfy the mindless impulse to “do something,” even if all we accomplished was showing that we were tough, by teaching Syrians they better not kill Syrians unless they want us to come in and kill more Syrians.

But chemical weapons are evil, aren’t they? 

That’s really a religious question. But even if they ARE evil, so what?  Foreign policy doesn’t involve itself with questions of good and evil.

That’s not the cavalier response it may look like – the answer is “so what?” because pretty much everyone uses chemical weapons one way of another and almost all the time no one does anything about it.  The cry of “chemical weapons” is mindless emotionalism designed to eliminate thought, not illuminate it.

What does that mean? 

Depleted Uranium (DU) is a toxic heavy metal with lethal properties.  The U.S. and other countries have used and continues to use depleted Uranium weapons, DU WMDs.  Our depleted Uranium still poisons country from the Balkans to Iraq. Logically, we should have been sending Tomahawk missiles against ourselves for the past 20 years, to teach ourselves a lesson we’re clearly having a hard time learning.

So ignore the pseudo morality of a near-hysterical Secretary of State who thought the illegal war in Iraq was a good idea, or at least too popular to resist.  When Kerry calls chemical weapons in Syria a “moral obscenity” (as he did on August 26), remind yourself that he has never objected to DU WMDs.  Ever.

There is no principle at stake in the current Syrian situation, there is no articulable goal that justifies intervention except intervention for its own sake.  All that’s at stake in the unprincipled use of power for its own sake.

Are you saying we should just stand by and watch people die? 

Get over yourself.  We do it all the time when it suits us.

That’s how the world has been for a long time, probably even before we intervened with Indigenous populations by giving them blankets laced with smallpox.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. This article was first published in Reader Supported News. Read other articles by William.