As you’ve gathered, I do not support President Obama’s promised “show” strike against Syria to protest the Assad regime’s alleged use of toxic nerve gas against a community that presumably supported the al Qaeda rebels. To justify my position, I’ve pointed to the fact that there is no benefit to the U.S. in getting involved in Syria. That still leaves the question, though, of why I, a Jew, wouldn’t want to see every country of good will make its utmost efforts to protest the use of poison gas against civilians.
It’s not that I think a Syrian civilian’s life is less valuable than a Jewish civilian’s life (or an American’s life, for that matter). Based on the available news, I assume that those who died were just ordinary people, trying to live in a nation torn apart by an internecine tribal, Muslim battle. If that assumption is correct, those who died are innocent victims, no less than those who lost their lives in Nazi gas camps and mass graves throughout the Pale. So why don’t I want to help?
Well, there are several reasons. My first response relates to my family history. What’s happening in Syria is not genocide, a la Hitler, who wanted to remove an entire race from the earth. There was no military objective underlying Hitler’s decision to round up 6 million people and killing them. Indeed, it was militarily stupid, because it diverted resources that were desperately needed for a two-front war.
In this regard, I know my views about “ordinary war” versus genocide are informed by my Mother’s experiences. While she’ll go to the grave hating the Japanese guards who so brutally controlled the concentration camps in Indonesia where she spent almost four years of her life, she’s never been that hostile to the Japanese people. “They were fighting a war,” she says. “In this, they differed from the Germans, who were destroying a people.”
What’s happening in Syria is a civil war. In the hierarchy of wars, civil wars are always the most bloody and least humane, in much the same way that, in the area of law, the most vicious cases are divorces. Your opponent is close enough for you to hate wholeheartedly.
In Syria, we are witnessing a fight between two closely-related, rabid dogs. These war dogs can be put down entirely or they can be ignored. They cannot be trifled with in an inconsequential way, or they will turn the full fury of their wrath on the trifler, even as they escalate actions against each other. If America goes in, she must go in to destroy one side or the other. Doing less than that is futile and tremendously dangerous, especially because these are Arabs….
And that gets me to the main reason I’m opposed to intervening despite gas attack that Assad’s troops launched. Perhaps to your surprise, I’m not going to argue that “Let the Muslims kill each other there, because it’s good riddance to bad rubbish.” I certainly don’t mind Syria being so busy internally that she has no time to harass Israel. However, that pragmatic response is most definitely not the same as delighting in the destruction of her innocent civilian population.
Instead, my sense of futility in getting involved in Syria is that what we’re seeing is simply how Muslim Arabs fight. They don’t do polite warfare, with rules. They do balls-to-the-wall warfare, with women and children as primary targets. Their cultural preference when fighting war is rape, mutilation, torture, mass-murder, civilian massacres, and soaking-their-hands-in-their-victims’ blood.
When we oppose gas warfare, it’s because it is so wildly outside the rules by which Western warfare has so long abided: we fire things at the enemy, whether guns, or cannon, or missiles. Our culture accepts projectile warfare, but has been for at least a century extremely hostile to non-projectile warfare, whether it’s gas attacks, civilian slaughters, or concentration camps.
Within the context of the Muslim world, when it comes to warfare, anything goes. If we stop one type of atrocity, they’ll come up with another one, because they have no parameters.
Also, to the extent all Muslim/Arab wars are both tribal and religious, they have no concept of civilians. Whether you’re a newborn infant, a teenage girl, a mentally handicapped man, or a doddering old lady, if you belong to “the other” tribe or religion (and everyone does) then you are automatically an enemy and a target. Today’s baby becomes tomorrow’s adolescent rock throwers. That young teenage girl might give birth to another member of that tribe. The mentally handicapped man is proof that the other religion or tribe is corrupt. As for the doddering old lady, she almost certainly raised someone among your enemy.
I’m not saying anything surprising, here. It’s why the Palestinians so enthusiastically target Jewish schools.
Incidentally, it’s worth noting that we did not go to war against Germany at the end of 1941 because it was harassing and killing German Jews. We tend to leave countries alone, even when they slaughter their own people. We went after them because they were trying to take over Europe. To the extent the Roosevelt administration knew about the genocide, it kept it under wraps. There was no way Roosevelt was going to take America to war over a bunch of Jews. It was only after the war that everyone was shocked — shocked! — to learn about the scope of Nazi atrocities.
My daughter rather inadvertently pointed out how ridiculous this “mass slaughter of civilians” yardstick is. For one of her classes, she is required to read three newspaper stories a day. I suggested the report about Kim Jong-un’s order that his former lover and her entire band get machine-gunned to death. I also told her that the regime forced the family’s of those executed to watch their loved ones die, and then shipped all the families, lock, stock, and baby off to the concentration camp system. “They’ll be lucky if they die there quickly,” I added. “The camps are that bad.”
When she heard this, my daughter, bless her heart, came back with a question that gets to the heart of Obama’s flirtation with bombing Syria: “Then why aren’t we planning to attack North Korea, instead of Syria?”
Excellent question, my dear, especially considering North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. We have shown for decades our willingness to stand aside when tyrannical regimes kill their own people — provided that those murders do not implicate American interests. Even during the Cold War, our incursions into other countries were to protect non-communists from communists. Since we couldn’t attack the Soviet Union directly, we engaged in containment by proxy. In other words, our national interests were at stake, because the Cold War was a direct threat to American interests.
In Syria, however, both sides embrace Islam and hate America. There are no parties there that need to be protected to further America’s security interests. We should certainly decry the deaths of the civilians, but the average American on the street seems to understand better than the pettish, petulant Obama that this is one where we should stand aside. This is their culture and they will defeat it only when they want to, not because of half-hearted, ineffectual, silly efforts on our part.
Obama is sort of beginning to grasp this fact, and he’s trying to save face by approaching Congress. He assumes that the Senate will support his war cry, because Democrats are slavishly echoing him and there are a few Hawkish Republicans (like McCain) who support him. He fully expects, however, that the House will vote him down, thereby saying him from the consequences of his own threats and posturing. It’s quite obvious that he also expects that there will be a pitched battle on the House floor, exposing Republican callousness to a disgusted America.
Obama’s hope that Republicans display each other to their worst advantage in their own form of internecine warfare is misplaced. Considering that only 9% of the American people believe intervention in Syria is a good thing, if the Republicans display even minimal good sense in opposing a strike, they will get the full support of the American people.