A note on ambivalence: It’s ok to have feelings that go both ways on an issue and still believe strongly that one course of action is better than the other. There are valid reasons for attacking Assad. I mean, the dude’s a dictator that’s kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, and killed tons of pro-democracy rebels and innocent civilians. And he’s set an ominous precedent with the use of particularly heinous and indiscriminate weapons known as bombs. (Yeah, sarin gas too.) But we feel, strongly, that foreign military intervention is more likely to increase human suffering than to decrease it. Our ambivalence means that the argument is more complex, and probably that we have a greater chance of being wrong. But it doesn’t make it any less important that we be vocal about what we believe. When we believe one position is ultimately better than another, silence is an abdication of our responsibility to raise our voices and better our world.
Here are our letters (you can do this too!) to our representatives in Congress, who will be voting on whether or not to authorize a military attack on Assad’s regime next week:
NO War in Syria!
The United States should go out of its way to help people around the world. We should devote a far greater portion of our resources to it. We should do so because as a wealthy country we have the ability, and those who can help others with limited negative effects for themselves have the obligation to do so. We should do so because our wealth and material abundance is in large part a result of the hard work of the people living in abject poverty who mine the cobalt for our orthopedic implants, stitch together our running shoes, and assemble the laptop I’m writing this on, and we haven’t given them nearly enough in return. And we should do it because a world with much less poverty and preventable disease and much more access to education and potable water is in our own interest in the long-term, as it leads to reductions in population pressures and violent extremism.
But we should NOT attack Syria. It doesn’t make any sense to claim that a military attack here is something we must do, on humanitarian grounds, when every single day of every single year we abdicate our responsibility to take much more humanitarian action for a much lower price. If the cost is something like the $4 billion spent by NATO forces in Libya, that same amount of money could provide insecticide-treated bednets to everyone in the world’s highest malaria risk areas. Given what we know about use and effectiveness rates, that would prevent some 2 billion malaria infections and 4 million deaths in the first five years. There is no way that we can do any equivalent good with Tomahawk missiles (~$900,000 or 160,000 bed nets each) in Syria, obviously. Additionally, military intervention in Syria is likely to kill humans, result in more anti-Americanism amongst at least some groups, and further weaken the international framework for conflict resolution. And then there are the potentially massive consequences and side effects that we can only guess at now (prolonged American involvement, a larger regional war, takeover of power by extremists, etc.).
So, I urge you vehemently to vote against an attack on Syria. We can and should do so much more to help people around the world, but there are so many ways that are better than blowing things and people up.
* = Elizabeth Warren, probably the 2nd most progressive of the 100 senators, is currently undecided on the authorization of an attack in Syria.
Attacking Syria Is a Terrible Idea
I cannot emphasize enough how important I think it is that you vote against an attack on Syria.
No doubt, the behavior of the Assad regime in Syria deserves condemnation and some sort of reaction. But a reaction of military force is the wrong one. It’s expensive in every sense of the word. There is almost no support from the international community. A unilateral strike justified by Syria’s violation of international law would hypocritically violate international law itself. It will further enrage and instigate those who already oppose the United States. And most importantly, there are countless unintended, unpredictable consequences. We simply don’t know. Though most of what we can guess at isn’t good.
We may inadvertently enable the most extremist factions of the rebellion to rise to power in place of Assad, leaving the country ruled by an equally bad if not worse regime. We may instigate a more widespread conflict spilling over the region, maybe even the globe. We almost certainly would find ourselves more deeply entangled in the conflict, and for much longer, than is being suggested. And of course, we will surely kill civilians as “precision” strikes are subject to human error, leaving blood directly on our hands.
I find it disappointing that only now, after chemical weapons were used, do we consider ourselves obligated to respond. 1400 deaths using chemical weapons is awful. But an estimated 110,000 deaths over the last year are condemnable too, no? It’s as if we’ve been waiting for an excuse to get involved and demonstrate our ballistic might, rather than having been interested in preventing criminal behavior all along. If rules are truly manifestations of logic, then a government murdering a massive amount of its own people should warrant a response regardless of their method of killing.
Every argument being made for an attack rests on upholding our reputation while hinging on two things: the strike being limited in duration and scope and of a punitive (rather than preventative) nature. These reasons are glaringly insufficient and short-sighted. Punitive measures of the explosive variety are old-minded, ineffective as a deterrent, and fuel the flames of violent opposition and extremism. And if history (from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan) is to be regarded at all, then the notion that we can be involved only briefly is laughable. For even if we are swift and acute now, this will surely come back to bite us in the years ahead.
We can demonstrate strength and hold Assad accountable for having crossed a “red line” without using explosive, deadly force. Instead of choosing to fight fire with fire, we could, with less money and less bloodshed, invest in education and infrastructure, in Syria and beyond. This may not help justify our military’s size and budget, but it will, with clearer and more just conscience, improve the lives of innumerable humans without the devastation and aforementioned consequences of lethal force.
Perhaps we could respond by sending an abundance of medical aid and rebuilding supplies to the rebels and civilians instead? There are plenty of ways to send a message that we will not tolerate Assad’s behavior without murdering the murderers (and some unfortunate bystanders). In general, I find it shocking that we still – in the name of democracy and humanitarianism – are so ready and willing to take military action in these situations yet refrain from doing more to prevent them in the first place through education and assistance abroad. Imagine if the budget and scope of our military and peace corps were reversed. Imagine if we subverted extremism and violence through empowerment, medicine, and well-digging rather than ironic violence.
When we take a side in a war, we always leave the other side (and the friends and family members of people inadvertently blown up collaterally) angry at us. Almost no one is going to get angry at us for providing potable water, or school supplies, or anti-malarial bed nets, save for a few extremists who will be countered by their own empowered, educated, and still alive peers. If we aim to be true leaders for a better, more just, more free world, we must shift our priorities away from violence and toward the kind of humanitarianism embodied by, say, the Against Malaria Foundation or the Central Asia Institute.
Thus I ask you, at present with Syria, and moving forward with your influential position, to advocate a more sensible and peaceful policy for the benefit of both budgetary and moral reasons.
In closing, I ask you to please keep an open mind. Please take time to read arguments (arguably more eloquent than mine) advising against military action. Don’t let the will of a few loud voices in Washington with questionable track records, large economic players who profit from war, and congressional hawks dictate your decision. Listen to the people you represent. Most of us don’t want this. We can’t afford this. And the rest of humanity can’t either. We can do better.
On vous aime tous,
à Québec, QC.