We should have acted in Syria

Christian Gonzalez/Staff Writer

On Tuesday, Dec. 13, Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, indignantly asked the Security Council “Are you incapable of shame?” Her denunciation of the Syrian government’s atrocities in Aleppo, abetted by Russia and Iran, came entirely without euphemism—and rightly so.

Power went on to compare the killings in Aleppo to those that happened in Rwanda, Srebrenica (Bosnia), and Halabja (Iraq): all case studies of genocides that could have been prevented had there existed any political will to prevent international slaughters.

All these instances—Rwanda, Darfur, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Bosnia—have long been highlighted by neoconservatives and liberal internationalists as examples of how non-interventionism can allow genocides to unfold with impunity. Power herself even wrote a book, “A Problem from Hell,” that excoriated America and the international community for failing to uphold their duties to the lives of civilians against whom genocides were perpetrated.

I was neither surprised nor displeased, then, when Power spoke in such unequivocal terms about the shameful indifference that the world has shown to Syria’s carnage. What was surprising was the range of people and organizations that joined in the castigation.

One of the top “Twitter worldwide trends,” according to a CNN report by Christina Zdanowicz, was this: “Aleppo is being destroyed by the silence of the Arabs and the entire world.” The original tweet was written in Arabic.

Amnesty International wrote, “The organization is making an urgent plea for all parties to the conflict to protect the civilian population.” The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs tweeted that “It is time for the world to stand up for the children of #Aleppo and bring their living nightmare to an end.” Editorials from the “Washington Post” to the “New York Times” have called for decisive action to be taken in the conflict.

All of this is very curious, given that many of these commentators and organizations are often at the forefront of denouncing American interventionism.

To take just one example, in 2005 Amnesty International reported, with an astonishing display of historical illiteracy, that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay was “the gulag of our time.” Guantanamo is indeed a ghastly blot on the US record; nevertheless, it cannot seriously be mentioned in the same breath as a Stalinist bloodletting that killed millions.

One can only imagine what Amnesty would’ve said about an American intervention in Syria.

Moreover, it was diplomatic maneuvering and ineptitude at the UN Security Council that permitted Hutu extremists to slaughter about half a million Tutsi in Rwanda. The same UN-style gridlock and incompetence blocked an intervention in Darfur’s genocide, only a decade later.

And it didn’t take long for the “New York Times” and other liberal publications to turn against, and harshly condemn, George Bush’s war against Saddam Hussein’s genocidal regime.

With this record, then, it’s rather difficult to take seriously all the indignation about inaction in Syria. Had the U.S. imposed a no-fly zone in Syria (over a Russian veto at the UN), we would now be hearing about America’s brazen disrespect for international law. Had President Obama enforced his own “red line” by bombing Assad’s regime, we would now be subjected to diatribes about how the US is “destabilizing” the Middle East through its “imperial ventures.”

One cannot hold the contrary opinions that the U.S. is at fault for not intervening in Syria and also at fault for intervening in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. To some people, America is damned if it acts, and damned if it doesn’t.

Despite all this, the correct lesson is being drawn from Syria: the world cannot stand idly by and allow horrific massacres to take place. This is not just a self-evident moral imperative; it is a principle of international law enshrined by the Genocide Convention, which states unambiguously that all parties to the treaty must “prevent or punish” genocide wherever it occurs.

This lesson utterly contradicts all the conventional wisdom about the Iraq War. And so it should: in just five years, according to a PBS report, 470,000 people have been killed in Syria, surpassing the death toll for the entire occupation of Iraq. Half the population has been forced to evacuate.

Worst of all, the end to the misery is nowhere in sight. And, even if the war concludes, the filthy Assad regime is likely to remain in place, sustained in power by Vladimir Putin and the mullahs in Iran.

It’s too late now to do anything consequential in Syria. Providing humanitarian assistance to civilians is important and must continue, as should the bombing attacks against ISIS. But none of that will make a real difference, and everybody knows it.

The world has been saying “never again” since the Holocaust — this despite Cambodia, despite Rwanda, despite Bosnia, despite Darfur. As “Aleppo” joins that disgraceful list, we can only hope that “never again” becomes an injunction and serious call for resolute action, rather than a phrase of regret uttered only when it is too late to do anything about the mass annihilation of civilian life.



The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of FIU Student Media Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.


Image retrieved from Flickr.

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