Debate over intervention in Syria has raged across the blogosphere with particular intensity since President Obama’s announcement that he would seek congressional approval for airstrikes on Syria’s military infrastructure. Fortunately, that potential disaster was averted by the recent chemical weapons deal. During this debate, one strong voice against intervention came from the anti-war far left.
Though I agreed that the administration’s plan was an atrocious idea, I was seriously disappointed by these arguments; they were generally sloppy, simplistic, and sometimes even downright racist. However, I saw few mainstream commentators or even bloggers I read take on this issue.
The “No War on/in Syria” rallying cry really irked me. There is already a war in Syria and on Syrian civilians, a war in which over 100,000 people have already died. Arguing from the “No War on/in Syria” starting point espouses a US-centric point of view and general ignorance. It’s also important to differentiate Obama’s proposed plan from how we conceive of ‘war’ generally. The mandate and timeframe of the intervention were both explicitly limited, and there would have been no troops on the ground.
Another problem with the left’s aversion to intervention was criticized well by Ari Kohen, “The idea that staying out of the Syrian conflict is so obviously good ‘for humanity’ is just as monstrously foolish as the idea that shooting missiles at Syrian targets is so obviously right and good. But Madonna and so many thousands of others are absolutely certain that humanity is obviously best served by sitting idly by while so many people are killed.”
Many among the anti-war left would hold the respect for human life as one of their dearest values, but simply arguing against any type of intervention at-large without understanding the potential impacts is a direct contradiction of those values.
The knee-jerk reaction from the left against the Obama administration’s plan distorted and essentialized the Middle East. The American interest in Syria was assumed to be somewhere between oil and imperialism, forcing Obama to state that Syria would not be ‘another Iraq or Afghanistan’. This line of argument has become well-entrenched post-2001, but it couldn’t really be farther from the truth in Syria. Yes, Obama’s decision to go to Congress for authorization was a political decision, but it was not an attempt to please the military-industrial complex, conquer foreign peoples, or any of the other false narratives anti-war groups propagated to score political points.
Another well-known trope hijacked by those opposed to intervention in Syria was the terrorist bogeyman (this is not to say that extremist groups do not play a major role in the Syrian opposition). Ironically, the anti-war left had fought against dehumanization and Islamophobia since 9/11, but were more than happy to reproduce these racist stereotypes and partner with the far right or even Bashar al-Assad to improve its visibility on a hot-button issue.
None of this is to say that intervention in Syria was a good idea. Intervention would likely increase civilian casualties, close off diplomatic avenues, and do little to change the facts on the ground. In my opinion, those are the right arguments. As I noted on Facebook, there is nothing more frustrating than people that agree with you but delegitimize themselves by making poor arguments. The anti-war left heroically and persistently fought against America’s follies in Iraq and Afghanistan, but have let themselves and their supporters down on Syria.