I’m dreading the seemingly inevitable report that shows that arms supplied to Syrian rebels by the CIA were used to murder civilians. Will anyone in the Obama administration decry that “moral obscenity" if/when it occurs?
Sweden, a country with a laudable open-armed immigration policy, has decided to offer permanent residency to literally all Syrian refugees. There are currently 8,000 Syrians living in Sweden with temporary residency permits and they are likely to be joined by many more asylum seekers. The UN estimates that over 2 million Syrians have fled their war-torn homeland in search of safety and prosperity. Sweden’s decision to welcome all refugees, which was made with the realization that Syria’s civil war is unlikely to cease any time soon, is burdened with possible long-term consequences:
Malek Laesker, the vice chairman of the Syrian Arabian Cultural Association of Sweden, welcomed the decision.
However, he warned it could inflame the debate on immigration, encourage people-trafficking, and cause problems further down the line.
"The fact that Sweden is the first country to open its arms is both positive and negative," he said.
"We already have a crisis around that issue in Sweden. I hope that our politicians solve it in a nice way."
Indeed, any instance of mass migration, especially when vast cultural and political differences are involved, could yield serious consequences, not to mention logistical nightmares. But Sweden has knowingly taken such risks in the interest of humanitarianism.
Compare Sweden’s Syrian refugee policy with the limited bombing campaign proposed by President Obama. Which plan poses less of a threat to innocent Syrians? Which runs less risk of instigating more warfare and conflict? Which one manages to “do something” about the crisis in Syria without provoking the ire of Russia and Iran? The answers to these questions are obvious and they illuminate the absurdity of referring to any bombing campaign as a “humanitarian” act.
While it’s probably not advisable or feasible for every country to imitate Sweden’s refugee policy, surely there is more that can be done to aid the Syrian families fleeing death and persecution. If we fail these people, as we have so clearly failed the people of Iraq (many of whom were escaping a war zone that we created), then the words etched onto the Statue of Liberty, which declare that we welcome the “huddled masses yearning to be free,” is nothing but hollow rhetoric, as empty and meaningless as our professed commitment to humanitarianism.
The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, ending months of delay in lethal aid that had been promised by the Obama administration, according to U.S. officials and Syrian figures. The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war.
Although the Obama administration signaled months ago that it would increase aid to Syrian rebels, the efforts have lagged because of the logistical challenges involved in delivering equipment in a war zone and officials’ fears that any assistance could wind up in the hands of jihadists.
How confused is U.S. strategy in Syria? We’d like to witness a rebel victory and aid in that effort by supplying weapons to the rebels, yet we’d also like to prevent a portion of those rebels from emerging victorious with an armful of weapons. According to Secretary of State Kerry in a recent interview, there is a vetting process to determine which rebels are worthy of being armed, but the efficacy of this vetting process has been questioned (for instance, the infamous rebel soldier who ate the heart of his vanquished enemy was part of a so-called “moderate” faction).
In the context of a brutal Middle Eastern civil war, “moderate” may be a difficult term to define. Once upon a time, Assad himself was labeled a moderate by various media outlets. His wife Asma was described as “glamorous, young, and very chic" with "a killer IQ" in a glowing 2011 Vogue magazine profile. John Kerry and his wife even dined with Assad and Asma in 2009. Our understanding of what constitutes moderateness in the Middle East is in constant flux and thus rarely correct for any substantial length of time. So even if, in a best case scenario, the U.S. only supplies moderate rebels with weapons and the rebels then topple Assad and seize power, who can be even remotely sure that Syria will be a better place to live or that the persecution of minority groups won’t continue or that the newly installed regime will align itself with U.S. interests? Perhaps the greatest problem in President Obama’s Syria strategy is that even if it works (which is doubtful), it still does little to improve the living standards of the average Syrian.
Occasionally, some nations are ripe for foreign-influenced democratic reform. Post-war Japan was one such nation. But Syria is not on the brink of democracy, its people largely despise us (a mere 14% of Syrians approve of the job performance of U.S. leadership), and when we intervene in Syria’s internal affairs, we risk entangling ourselves with forces that are either enacting or pursuing policies of violence and oppression.
First and most importantly, an attack on Syria does not make the American people safer. Secondly, the possible death of innocent Syrian civilians as collateral damage from missile strikes may increase local and regional anti-Western sentiment and risks increasing the ranks of terrorists. Thirdly, the lack of a United Nations (UN) mandate or a strong global coalition in support of military action undermines our legitimacy to act.
Finally, we should be cautious in evaluating who we are assisting. While there are responsible elements among the Syrian opposition that want peace and democracy for Syria, extremists — some affiliated with Al-Qaeda — are growing stronger each day, and an American attack may inadvertently strengthen extremists while undermining support for more moderate forces.
One of the factors that led me to run for Congress was my opposition to the unnecessary war in Iraq, which was predicated by faulty intelligence and cost almost 7,000 American lives and, countless Iraqi lives. During my tenure in Congress, I have consistently voted against continued funding for the Iraq war and am proud to have been a part of ending the conflict. I am now in a position to stop another unnecessary war before it begins.
The President has chosen to ask for the advice and counsel of Congress, and with my voice and my vote, I respond: do not attack Syria.
The Syrian rebels posed casually, standing over their prisoners with firearms pointed down at the shirtless and terrified men.
The prisoners, seven in all, were captured Syrian soldiers. Five were trussed, their backs marked with red welts. They kept their faces pressed to the dirt as the rebels’ commander recited a bitter revolutionary verse.
“For fifty years, they are companions to corruption,” he said. “We swear to the Lord of the Throne, that this is our oath: We will take revenge.”
The moment the poem ended, the commander, known as “the Uncle,” fired a bullet into the back of the first prisoner’s head. His gunmen followed suit, promptly killing all the men at their feet.
This scene, documented in a video smuggled out of Syria a few days ago by a former rebel who grew disgusted by the killings, offers a dark insight into how many rebels have adopted some of the same brutal and ruthless tactics as the regime they are trying to overthrow.
As the United States debates whether to support the Obama administration’s proposal that Syrian forces should be attacked for using chemical weapons against civilians, this video, shot in April, joins a growing body of evidence of an increasingly criminal environment populated by gangs of highwaymen, kidnappers and killers.
President Obama intends to provide these same rebels with “small arms, ammunition and perhaps anti-tank weapons" in order "to keep the Syrian opposition going…”
In another time, country, or scenario, these rebels might be the targets of U.S. opposition or perhaps even U.S. drones. Our false hope that all who rebel against dictators must in some sense embody the spirit of ‘76 has repeatedly led us to support criminal organizations. This game we play of propping up a Middle Eastern dictator one day only to demand his ouster the next (Mubarak, Gaddafi, Hussein, etc.) clearly hasn’t altered the systemic problems that have long existed in those countries. If our cause is truly humanitarian, we should heed the International Crisis Group’s counsel, and avoid the further horror that would surely result from flooding Syria with our own bombs and weapons.
OK, our Secretary of State may have once issued wildly inaccurate predictions about Assad, but he’s totally got a handle on the situation this time, you guys. Because if there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s knowing precisely what will happen in the Middle East.