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Fuel on a Mideast Fire: U.S. Intervention in Syria Would Make Catastrophic Situation Even Worse

Proponents of military involvement have it all wrong: The United States should de-escalate hostilities.

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The silence of not only the US (where it is expected) but in Europe, in capitals in the global South and in the United Nations in response to the Israeli bombing represents the serious problem of double standards in the application of international law. That means global apartheid in foreign policy: not only in the distinction between how poor people’s weapons (suicide attacks, chemical weapons, close-up and personal killing with guns….) and rich countries’ weapons (nuclear arsenals, cruise missiles, drones, B-52 bombing…) are responded to, but in the broader dualism of good/bad violence. It’s the acceptable, perhaps regrettable but necessary violence of the cowboy, the colonizer, the conquistador, the rich, in the form of the US, NATO, Israel, versus the unacceptable, inherently evil violence of the Indians, the colonized, the occupied, the poor.

What if, just for another example, Syria decided it had had enough of Jordan allowing Saudi and Qatari weapons to transit its territory en route to Syrian rebels, and Syria took preventive action by bombing Jordanian military targets near Amman? What if dozens of Jordanian civilians and military officers were killed by Israeli bombs – and what if those killed included some of the 200 or so CIA officers now training Syrian rebels in Jordan? Would the US government simply acknowledge Syria’s right to prevent its enemies from getting arms? Would the United Nations secretary general confine himself to an expression of “concern” and urge “all sides” to be calm?

The Israeli airstrikes ultimately raise the political pressure on President Obama; they don’t change the situation on the ground or change the illegality of any US military attack on Syria.

(And note, this is all besides the hot-button question of just who these armed rebels really are, anyway…)

So what should the US do? 

The first thing is to de-escalate the fighting – to staunch the horrific bloodletting that Syria’s civil war is creating for the Syrian people. Initially, that means stopping the arms shipments to all sides. That means negotiating directly with Russia, on a quid pro quo agreement to stop US and allied training and arms shipments to the rebels, in return for an end to Russian and allied arms shipments to the Syrian government.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent Moscow meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the follow-up diplomacy underway hold out a small bit of optimism.  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced a joint commitment to “undertake an obligation to use the possibilities that the US and Russia have to bring both the Syrian government and the opposition to the negotiating table.” The first move was a Russian-US call for an international conference with the Syrian government and the opposition. So far, there is no indication that either the US or Russia are prepared make any concession towards pulling back from military support of their respective Syrian sides – but renewed calls for such a conference could be an important start. We should also push to insure that negotiations look carefully at what the economic incentives and pressures are for each of the players as part of seeking non-military approaches to move forward.

The US should also take more responsibility for funding the huge cost of caring for the millions of Syrian refugees and internally displaced. The UN’s humanitarian funding appeals for Syria remain seriously under-resourced– yet Washington’s “humanitarians” continue to debate only military action. A new US policy would include full funding for all United Nations agencies’ appeals, as well as a campaign of diplomatic pressure on all sides to honor international obligations to protect non-combatants.

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