Liberal action group, Credo (who we like, by the way), sent out an alert this morning on Syria. And I have to admit, I got kind of creeped out by the thing.
First, here’s the petition Credo is asking people to sign, then some discussion:
“President Obama: With civilians being butchered and refugees suffering immensely, it is horrifying to watch the brutal civil war in Syria unfold. But U.S. military intervention is far more likely to make matters worse, not better. The U.S. should not bomb Syria. The best thing we can do is commit to holding war criminals accountable, expand humanitarian aid for refugees, and maintain constant diplomatic pressure for a negotiated end to the conflict.”
I’m not one of those who thinks “yeah but” discussions are necessarily off-limits.
Meaning, I do think it’s possible to be morally and intellectually consistent when you say: “yes, I think X is wrong, but…” You don’t just do things, or not do things, because of some puritan desire to be consistent in life. I know this first hand from the gay advocacy work I do. I get involved in some things, and not others. And I may get involved in the gay cause of the day, but not the environmental cause of the day. There are only so many hours in the day, I can’t work on everything, so I have to triage my concern, not to mention it’s not always clear that by getting involved I’m actually helping.
So I get all of that.
But I still got seriously creeped out when I read Credo’s petition. And I’d like to think through, with your assistance, why.
For starters, there’s the yeah-but, and I just can’t avoid it. Yes, Assad is butchering civilians, but. Yes, he used chemical weapons against his own people, but. Yes, we said we’d never let any nation cross this line (again), but.
I think back to how many times we on the left complain about the other slaughters that went unanswered. Rwanda comes to mind (a lot). And then I wonder if this isn’t why Rwandas, and our non-response to such crises, happen in the first place. There’s a always a good reason now not to get involved in something that in retrospect was a gross violation of human rights. In retrospect our inaction looks so cowardly and hypocritical. In real time it makes perfect, albeit sad, sense.
And I get the arguments about Iraq. Though it depends what lessons we actually took from Iraq. Was the problem that Bush lied? That he ran the war poorly? Or is all intervention doomed to lead to more chaos? Our efforts in Libya and Kosovo would say otherwise, as would the first Gulf War. But their success doesn’t mean the current effort would be a slam dunk. Nor does Iraq’s failure mean this would be a failure too.
But in the end, I keep coming back to the moral issue. There was no moral imperative for going into Iraq in 2003 (nor was there an overriding strategic one). That was my biggest problem with the effort. There was for Kosovo. And there is for Syria. And I worry about what it says about us, and the message it sends to tyrants now and in the future, to say: “The best thing we can do is commit to holding war criminals accountable.”
Is that really the best we can do?