A call for intervention

The United States’ role in the world demands our action in Syria.

by Matthew Hoy

The United States and Russia came to an agreement Sept. 14 that will result in the removal or destruction of Syria’s entire chemical weapons arsenal by mid-2014 and postpone the chance of American airstrikes indefinitely.

Heralded as an important step forward for the peace process, Secretary of State John Kerry’s gaffe-of-the-gods got the credit for stopping a potential war.

Removing Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons is undeniably good for the current state of affairs. Most would argue that stalling American airstrikes is
equally beneficial.

But to say that this step has stopped war and moved Syria in the direction of peace is a bizarre, Americentrist notion that forgets the more than 100,000 already dead, ignores the more than 2 million refugees and excuses inexcusable actions by a mad dictator.

It’s akin to telling a first-time murderer that they won’t be sent to prison as long as they give up their guns. Except, of course, that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is by no means a first-time murderer, and instead of killing one person, he’s killed thousands.

I understand that 58 percent of Americans are against military intervention in Syria, and I understand if Congress had voted on American airstrikes, the result would likely have been a “Nay.”

Both are immensely important facts. Taking military actions without the support of the nation is folly, and President Barack Obama would be remiss in his role as The Great Moderate to ignore a congressional vote that he called for. He would be remiss in any role to do so.

But in this mad dash to postpone a vote on striking Syria for fear of political implications, he’s forgotten that his responsibilities as president extend beyond our nation’s borders.

I do not mean to imply that Congress is without fault here. The fact that they are so willing to abandon hundreds of years of protocol prohibiting the use of chemical weapons in warfare is disheartening at best. But I lay the responsibility of our reaction on the shoulders
of the president.

There is an attitude among Americans that because these weapons were used on people who happened to be born on a different piece of land, they’re not our problem. It’s an old argument, and a familiar one thanks to Iraq.

That doesn’t change the fact
that it’s absurd.

Human rights violations are not gender-specific, they’re not race-specific and they’re not nationality-specific. They are human-specific. We allow all of these social constructions between “us” and “them” to justify inaction
and indifference.

President al-Assad committed human rights violations, and they are absolutely our problem because they’re everyone’s problem. But our government has embraced this attitude of apathy, and so have many others.

Armenian-American rock band System of a Down asks in its song “Sad Statue,” “What is in us that turns a deaf ear to the cries of human suffering?” Why, in the face of blatant violations, is the world so comfortable to sit back and do nothing? The answer is, as it always seems
to be “politics.”

In the face of these politics, our response should not be to engage in “unbelievably small” airstrikes, as Kerry put it. Our response should not be to abandon the concept of accountability in regards to human rights violations and make illusory progress with Russia. Our response, as the nation that claims to value human rights above all others, should be to push as hard as we can for an international, comprehensive United Nations Peacekeeping force to end the civil war in Syria.

In the event that Russia and China will not cooperate, even once the U.N. has released its “overwhelming” report — expected this week, which confirms that chemical weapons were used in Syria on Aug. 21 — then we can cross that bridge.

For now, removing chemical weapons from the equation does nothing for the millions of Syrian refugees and 100,000 dead. It is a woefully inadequate solution, just as airstrikes would have been.

We need to take a lesson from Iraq and apply it here. Contrary to popular belief, that lesson was not “don’t get involved.” It was “don’t get involved alone.”

My argument hinges on the idea that use of chemical weapons is a human rights violation, or at the very least
a war crime.

There are a number of people who have made the case that death by chemical weapon is no worse than death by any other means. These people point out that the more than 1,000 deaths associated with chemical weapons pale in comparison to about 100,000 dead by
conventional means.

I believe the multitude of protocols banning their use, instated over hundreds of years, speaks to a different reality. Chemical weapons kill by torture, and even after years of debates about “Enhanced Interrogation” techniques and Machiavellian arguments about security, I believe we are still a country that does not condone torture.

It is our job to lead the charge of stopping actions such as these. We can’t do that with a slap on the wrist.