It was an astonishing move we witnessed in British parliament just before the weekend. Standing in opposition to Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for intervention in Syria over the regime’s supposed chemical weapon usage, the assembly voted 285 to 272 against entering into a conflict with the country. The United States has lost a vital ally in its own calls for war. As a result, the Obama administration has turned toward France for assistance. An interesting turn. Why would the one country who opposed everyone else’s involvement in Iraq be on the other side this time? The simple fact is that France, like its ally, has a specific interest in getting involved with Syria. Any choice on the part of each country to launch a strike on Syria is ultimately about tightening control in the region, not about protecting human life.
As for France, the country’s purpose in the conflict is more than transparent. This is the same country that occupied Syria between 1920 and 1946. It is also the same country that has had its trade relationship with Syria become more difficult in recent years, especially with wheat products. Anytime we hear about “strategic interests” as a reason for invading a country, it is little more than a buzzword for economic opportunism.
One U.S. Army-commissioned report from 2008, titled “Unfolding the Future of the Long War,” details just what the interest is for western countries that is so inherently tied to the region. The report notes that “the economies of the industrialized states will continue to rely heavily on oil, thus making it a strategically important resource.” This also means there is a clear “motive for maintaining stability in and good relations with Middle Eastern states,” because of the essential “linkage between oil supplies and the long war that is not easily broken or simply characterized.” What makes this proposed strike on Syria about human life, and not about the mere control of precious material resources? The supposed distinguishing line between this looming conflict and the former one in Iraq is skimpy at best.
When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry began using language today calling the alleged chemical attacks a “crime against humanity” and speaking of the United States’ role “as a leader in the world,” he suddenly brought an emotional appeal to the forefront. “Instead of being tucked safely in their beds at home,” he said in a press conference, “we saw rows of children lying side by side, sprawled on a hospital floor, all of them dead from Assad’s gas, and surrounded by parents and grandparents who had suffered the same fate.”
Of course, the question still remains as to why Kerry – or anyone, for that matter – would view missile strikes as a sensible retaliation for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. How preposterous is this, suggesting that the best way to address death and destruction against humans is to inflict more death and destruction against humans? The idea is absurd. To be “dead from Assad’s gas” or to suffer death from an onslaught of American drone strikes is still to face death. Where is the moral sense in such a response? Why was the same response not taken in the 1980s against a chemical weapon reliant regime in Iraq? One thing we lacked: the right interests, and the right opportunity, at the right time. Call it a “strategic” decision, if you will.
We are always rather selective in responding to humanitarian issues. That is because the humanitarian justification, even in Syria, is secondary. It is a shield to protect the real interest in getting involved from being too heavily scrutinized.
Americans should not forget the damning revelation of retired U.S. Army general Wesley K. Clarke, either, who in 2007 spoke of a memo written by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that mentioned “destroy[ing] the governments in seven countries in five years … to start with Iraq, and then we’re going to move to Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.” Sure, the schedule has fallen behind a bit. But we just needed the right event over which to retaliate. A destabilized collection of countries might mean destruction of human life, but it also means that a nation like Syria can never escape from foreign government control. Welcome to the Roman Empire Redux.
The dichotomy imagined by this administration is one of either doing nothing or responding with military action. Perhaps there should be a third option for once, one of moderation, diplomacy, and fiscal sanity. The irresponsible decision to launch a strike on a nation like Syria is propped up as a benefit to human life, but it means little more than a way to maintain political control.
Op-Ed by Chris Bacavis