United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay is calling for an independent investigation into war crimes allegedly committed by Syrian rebel fighters. . .Pillay said those on both sides of the war who break international humanitarian and human rights law need to be held accountable. She said rebel forces should not think they are immune from prosecution.
“UN: Syrian Rebels Suspected of War Crimes,” Voice of America
[I]f reading the news or watching television and thinking about the poor Syrian civilians is leaving you so conscience-stricken that somehow allowing the civil war to continue is intolerable, then think about all the other suffering you aren’t seeing on TV. Try doing something to help some of those people.
Matthew Yglesias, “The Case for Doing Nothing in Syria,” Slate
At this moment, in spite of the loss of a “coalition of the willing,” President Obama is reported to be ready to lob some missiles into Syria. U.S. credibility is at stake because a “red line” has been crossed; WMDs, i.e. lethal chemicals, have been used. There was no tag to the chemicals saying “Compliments of President Assad” but the finger of logic points to him.
Both “credibility” and “logic” evoke something red to me: not a line but flags. I mean that I think logic and the reasoning that launches it spins out of a great deal of cultural baggage and therefore I’m not playing the same logic game that either Assad or the rebels are playing. And Obama isn’t either.
I can readily dismiss the “credibility” component here by simply saying that I don’t think after Viet-nam, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq that anyone thinks the U.S. doesn’t go to war. And to keep everyone uneasy and on their toes, history shows that all manner of logics and illogics, falsehoods and mass paranoia propel our actions. Nothing is more feared that an erratic opponent, especially one with a short term memory problem. If we don’t lob some missiles at Syria I doubt if anyone is going to conclude that we’re a paper tiger, that WMDs can be as plentiful and widespread as burgers and we won’t fight.
My own take, prompted by a look back at our past behavior, is that on any question as to what we will do, “Follow the Money!” is not a bad approach. You can expect some U.S. action, covert or overt, if attempts are made to nationalize U.S. owned corporations or ones that American shareholders are profiting from. The fear focus of our “Let Markets Rule!” credo has always been on any hint of socialism, from unions to worked owned businesses to nationalized health care. Right now anything with the word “public” in its label, from public education to public rest areas on highways, smacks of socialism. Every vestige of the offending “New Deal” — now labeled entitlements — must be under constant attack. They need to be “reformed,” which is code for privatized. Whatever might interrupt or possibly close down the U.S.’s march to a transference of wealth from the middle to the top appears as a WMD, a threat requiring a military response.
When you “Follow the Money!” you first consider what impedes profit and then what increases profit. A brief historical survey of the Dow Jones indicates that war is a profitable venture for shareholders, for the top 20% of the population, especially if more and more components of warfare can be placed in the hands of private contractors. In other words, war is a new marketing frontier.
Newspeak, Orwell’s version, tells us that war devastates an economy. “Blood and treasure” for sure but the blood is mostly shed by the bottom 40% of the population while the treasure is reaped at the top end. No one can be so naïve as to believe that a country dedicated to “growing the economy” and doing so on a playing field of asymmetric power and wealth hesitates to use all manner of Newspeak, from humanitarianism to the overthrow of despots and the establishment of democratic liberties, to pursue the ends of profit. Asymmetric power and the severe asymmetry in wealth, a state of affairs that has grown as rapidly as Jack’s beanstalk since Reagan, means that those making a profit on warfare will not hesitate to engage in warfare. Fortunately for them and unfortunately for the bulk of the U.S. population, the wealthy have secured enough political power to pursue warfare as a marketing frontier. Increasingly expensive political campaigns have narrowed the candidates to those of enormous wealth or the pawns of those of enormous wealth.
Because no one on the planet doubts that we are defensive and offensive, reactive and proactive according to the economic interests of our ruling plutocracy, our credibility would not be jeopardized if President Obama decided not to lob missiles into Syria.
When we therefore put a threat to our “credibility” aside we face the idea of a logic at play here. What’s at play is actually a well entrenched mythology of good and bad guys, or right on one side and evil on the other, of truth on one side and falsehood on the other, of reason over here and irrationality over there. It’s a purely Western culture mythos and it’s a convenient way to do the logic of warfare.
According to his logic, the rebel fighters are part of the Arab Spring Revolutions in which long entrenched despots are finally cast aside and democracy enters. They are the good guys here. If someone engages in chemical warfare it’s the bad guy, Assad, a guy willing to cross Obama’s red line because he doesn’t think the U.S. ever lobs missiles at anyone. Or, he thinks these missiles can’t do too much damage. He might think he can wrap the U.S. in a Western aggression mantle and deflect attention from his evil to Obama’s. The kind of logic we use also tells us that the good guys would not launch a chemical attack against their own people, The People that Obama wants to protect.
What if the good guys are really not so good but like human nature itself a mixture of good and bad? At a moment when Hezbollah forces and Iranian support have boosted Assad’s position, why would Assad do something to bait the U.S. into an attack? And if a Jihadist faction of the rebel fighters hold this to be a holy war would not those who die become martyrs to the cause? If the U.S. wreaks havoc on Assad’s forces, would this benefit Assad or the rebel fighters?
Admittedly, it seems illogical for the rebel fighters to kill their own but equally illogical for Assad to provoke the U.S. at a time when the fortunes of war are turning in his direction. But either may be the case if we free ourselves from our own reckoning of logic.
What is the logic of jihad, of any faith? Or, the logic of any total power? Or, the logic of a Constitutional democracy that bends in every crucial matter to the casino logic of Market Rule and Principles? What about the logic of our humanitarianism? It doesn’t seem to extend to civilians in the Congo, Somali, Sudan, Libya, Sinai, Niger, Guinea. I think you can truly say that in Africa shit happens and the innocent masses are caught up in it. In Syria, however, even though Obama wants to bring relief to The People, it seems clear that The People are either on Assad’s side or the rebel fighters’. There are few, if any disinterested parties. There is no damsel in distress to be rescued. The People are engaged in a nationwide warfare, a civil war whose moral consequences are theirs to own or disown. The idea that Americans are moral arbiters coming to the aid of people who have no internal moral values, or at least ones that we can accept, is also part of the Western mythology.
This sort of moral presumption extends to our political presumptions. We are disappointed when free elections result in fundamentalist leaders and not secular, “Let’s Do Business U.S. Style” leaders. We are upset when Arab Spring Revolutions don’t quickly lead to American style democracy, code for the supremacy of “Let Markets Rule!” We are upset when a religious faith or ancient tribal and ethnic feuds get in the way of our own evolution toward a transcendence of all moral categories and a replacement of them with a hierarchy of economic success. We fight when this success is threatened. Newspeak calls this a fight in our “national interest.”
It is the strength of this faith that upholds our credibility throughout the world. It could be that Assad measured our profit link here and found it negligible, as it was for so long in the former Yugoslavia and has been always the case in responding to African atrocities. The moral imperative that the U.S. has followed is in Newspeak lingo Judaic-Christian tinged with Natural Law and inalienable rights and so on. But le ROI, “Return on Investment” is our on the ground operative credo. And everyone knows this.
Is it good or bad business to lob missiles into Syria? And if we don’t does that failure to act indicate to the world that when U.S. “le ROI” is threatened, that we won’t engage in our own “holy” war, one profane by any rule of the sacred, profane but profitable. Our credo is clear to all the world; it admits no incredulity on anyone’s part.