I’ve been decrying the violence against children in Syria for five years now, since my heart was torn apart by a video of Rena, a four-year-old Syrian girl shot by a sniper back in 2012. I’ve posted other photos and videos of dead and dying Syrian children since then – admittedly with few suggestions on how to make the violence against helpless children in Syria stop. I’m still struggling for answers.
By all estimates, there are certainly at least 500,000 casualties to date in the Syrian conflict, many of them children, as well as a great number of non-combatant women and men. We as Americans have their blood on our hands. The God, Guns and Glory GOP under George W Bush started a war in Iraq under dubious pretenses, and lacking any plan for the stabilization of the country afterwards, left behind the chaos that spread across the border to Syria – and gave rise to ISIS and other militant groups. These are facts – no amount of whitewashing by those who supported the war will undo their veracity. Donald Trump’s claims that Obama and Hillary created ISIS – and conservative media’s support of those statements – is frightening doublespeak revisionist history of Orwellian proportions.
And while I wouldn’t hold President Trump directly responsible for the murder of children in Syria (unlike anti-abortionist groups that called Obama a baby-killer), it is certainly possible his press secretary’s statement that toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was no longer a priority, that it was instead a “political reality that we have to accept in terms of where we are right now” – just a few days before the chemical attack – may have been a signal to Assad that he could deal as ruthlessly as he wanted with pockets of remaining resistance without fear of retribution from the US. In other words, Sean Spicer’s dissembling may have emboldened Assad in this latest attack. (Warning, this video is graphic and disturbing.)
The US has been complicit in the killing children in the Middle East for a long time. We’ve supported a regime in Israel that has in the last decades killed hundreds of Palestinian children in the name of ‘security’. (Yes, Palestinians kill Israelis children too, albeit in far fewer numbers and without American support). We fed and fueled the feud between Iran and Iraq for eight long years, resulting in one million dead Iranians and half that number of Iraqis. Not content to simply stoke the fire, we embarked on two major excursions into Iraq, the last of which produced an estimated 100,000 further civilian casualties. President Obama laughed ISIS off as a ‘JV team’, and did too little too late as they grew to power, sacrificing thousands more lives in the region. We’ve failed to take any effective action in Syria, while many thousands of children have died.
I think a secularist worldview, trying to find rational solutions to the world’s problems, by nature creates strong pacifist tendencies. War is almost never the correct solution to the problem, be it political, religious, economic, or otherwise. War is never clean or neat or ‘surgical’ – these terms apply only to the side that has sufficient technology to inflict much greater harm than it suffers, countries like Israel and the US. There is always ‘collateral damage’, meaning the slaughter of innocents, which in my opinion is unacceptable. But if military action is ever a solution – and I do believe it sometimes is necessary (is that because of the American side to being americansecularist? I’m not sure), then certainly protecting the most vulnerable among us would be one of those times.
I’m going to cut Mr. Trump some slack on his missile-attack response to the latest Syrian atrocity. The cynic in me says that, much like then-President Clinton’s airstrike on a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant, (read Christopher Hitchen’s brilliant deconstruction of that action ), Trump needed to create a distraction from the Russia scandal – and gross incompetence – his administration has been mired in. Bonus points that he had to stop holding hands with Putin to give the order. Trump and the GOP have been wildly inconsistent on military action since George W left office – or perhaps wildly Machiavellian. Their position has basically been that if Obama took action, it was a mistake; if he didn’t, he was weak.
However, I’m going to assume that Donald Trump saw these videos and was moved by them – as anyone should be – and that led to an actual change of heart. I’m going to assume the 180-degree change of opinion on Syrian action was motivated by genuine human concern and outrage when, perhaps for the first time, he came face-to-face with the realities there.
But missiles do not policy make, and if we want to see an end to the indiscriminate killing of children in the Middle East – and elsewhere – it will require intelligent, effective policies that so far no administration has been able to come up with. Airstrikes are the equivalent of taking away your teenager’s allowance after he’s murdered the neighbors, a sort of ‘well I had to do something’ kind of response. In fact, the bombed runway is already in use, and I’m sure innocents in Syria continue to be slaughtered by their own government – maybe not with gas canisters this time, but murdered nonetheless.
I refuse to join the partisan fray, to criticize each and every decision the ‘other side’ makes, simply because it’s the other side. But I can’t really applaud the decision either, as I don’t really see what it accomplishes. I understand – after I see these videos, I want to throw missiles at someone – anyone responsible – as well. However, it does absolutely nothing to dissuade Assad and company from committing further atrocities.
Real remedy in Syria requires intelligence, competence, and the guts to make unpopular decisions. I am pessimistic that our current president is any more capable – indeed is in many ways less capable – of solving Syria than his predecessors.
The photo above comes from an excellent aljazeera.com post – a must-read if you’re not clear on the causes current Syrian conflict.