Syria - Is there nothing we can do?
Jul 16, 2013

Syria - Is there nothing we can do?

In the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, as the world collectively tried to parse the abhorrent barbarism and purposelessness that had occurred, a new foreign policy doctrine was proposed: liberal interventionism. It was a policy that advocated for military intervention by the powerful west in situations where the humanitarian crisis was so severe that it demanded the moral responsibility to act. While sometimes decried as merely a paint job for the post Soviet era that apologizes away the unchanging underlying military imperialism of the US and other western players, it nevertheless had great appeal to members of the pacifist leaning left - which I typically include my self into - who looked at at horrors like the Rwandan genocide and asked: is there nothing we could have done? A few years later, the Balkans wars provided the international first case of this doctrine, with rather mixed results.

Almost two decades later, the conflict in Syria has the same tug on our heartstrings. The death toll has perhaps crossed one hundred thousand, rivaling the Iraq war. UN refugee chief Antonio Guterre calls this the worst refugee crisis since Rwanda. It is a dictatorial crackdown on a populist uprising turn civil war, all in the lens of a proxy conflict between many external geopolitical powers. That such death and destruction can still happen should remain a harsh remainder of how far we still have to come as a global society.

Is there nothing we can do? Can the richest and most powerful countries on the planet, the self appointed police of the world, the self proclaimed moral arbiters and upholders of freedom, democracy and human rights - can we not do anything? Is the only solution to sit idly by, releasing a statement here or there on the horrors that are occurring?

I am not immune to the constraints of realpolitik. Indeed, much of the Geopolitics and War section of this blog has been to analyze and advocate based on the realities that we face. I recognize the difficulties involved with Russia which still sees Syria as a form of client, as its last jewel in the Mediterranean, that Russia felt burned after Lybia when they agreed in the UN to a no fly zone only to see the US/UK/France turn this into a full flown air assault to aid the rebels on their path from Benghazi to Tripoli and is thus in no mood to cooperate here and so blocks UN actions while arming the establishment. I recognize that the international community's previous attempt to nation build in Afghanistan turned into an over a decade long bog of failure that has left Afghanistan about where we found it: among the worst places to live on the planet. I recognize that just as with Iraq, that intervention, regardless of intent, may spark a vastly worse conflict. I recognize that arming rebel groups or imposing no fly zones can entrench and prolong conflicts. And I recognize that the public may have noble intentions, but that those in power may use this to impose through force their own agendas and that the entire call for humanitarian concern and liberal interventionism may be no more than providing political cover. Despite all this, is the answer still that we can not do anything?

I offer no proposed path forward here, no option that seems uniquely good. This is no Afghanistan, where I would profess tweaks and changes that could be done differently to greater efficacy. I don't call for war, and am painfully aware of the destruction and ineptitude and twisted goals that occurs when the public calls for (or does not protest strongly enough) to military action that has proved disastrous in the past decade. This post is no more than an outpouring of emotion, an exasperated response in the face of such needless cruelty. So I repeat: is there nothing we can do?

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