Tag Archives: Syrian conflict

Before I say anything more, I should say that I am of fifty different minds regarding U.S. intervention in Syria. Following President Obama’s address on Sunday, someone on Reddit wrote:

Pretty damn reasonable assessment of the situation.
Continue a methodical approach to fighting terrorist’s evolving tactics.
Don’t get baited into a military blunder.
Don’t give in to the temptation to alienate all Muslims.
And we will win this battle.
That simple.

That anyone could think this is simple is scary in and of itself. Whether you oppose all intervention, support bombing but oppose troops, support arming Syrian forces who oppose both Assad and ISIS, are worried that there are insufficient Syrian forces to arm or that they can’t be trusted, support cooperating with Russia and Iran, or making a full commitment and going in with overwhelming force, I can’t give you much credence if you think it’s “simple.”

There are, as they say, no good options, only less bad ones, and most of the options look really bad to me and it’s hard for me to distinguish which one is less bad. Russia’s involved, Iran’s involved and Turkey is our nominal ally who’s acting like anything but. I tend to be naturally anti-interventionist, but at the same time, since we went into Iraq in 2002 and helped to destabilize the region, there seems to be something irresponsible, and frankly immoral, in the desire to just wash our hands of it, though, believe me, I desire that in no small way.

Here’s the good news. I’ve never before been so appreciative of the Atlantic Ocean. Unlike the terror cell that staged the massacre in Paris on Friday the thirteenth, would be terrorists in the U.S. would have a much harder time going back and forth to Syria for training. Although I believe that ISIS has grand ambitions, after all, it’s already declared itself a “caliphate,” I don’t think it could really administer much territory without becoming internally unstable. Unlike some people on the left, I don’t believe that Western countries have become wealthy simply because they have stolen things from other people. I believe that our political institutions and economic system have contributed to our prosperity, and ironically made the West powerful enough to dominate nations in other areas and steal things from them. As China and other countries show, the systems in the West are not the only possibilities, yet there is nothing about ISIS that leads me to believe that they are capable of governing and administering a stable, prosperous state on the scale their grandiose ambitions require. So, while they have expansionist dreams, the U.S. is not in any danger. The same, however, cannot be said for regions that don’t have the luxury of the Atlantic. While I tend to believe that ISIS must eventually collapse under the weight of its own grandiosity, in the mean time they can do a lot of harm to many people.

A few days ago, I read a post called “Bombs alone are not enough, but we need to do something in Syria.” It brought up the “anti-war” movement.

Predictably, the “anti-war” movement mobilized, #DontBombSyria has been trending on Twitter for the past couple of days and ‘Stop The War’ organised a protest to oppose the potential British intervention in Syria with their lame chants and even lamer speakers such as Tariq Ali and George Galloway. The Ayatollahs of the regressive left. Just goes to show how much of a sham this “rally” was when they have someone like Galloway who has a track record in supporting tyrants and thugs like Saddam Hussein, Bashar Al-Assad, the Mullahs in Iran etc.

I was reminded of Dorothy Day. Some friends in my past had once been heavily involved in the Catholic Worker. For those of you who are not familiar with Day, she was a socialist who founded the Catholic Worker organization and whose name has been tossed around regarding possible sainthood. She was also known for her pacifism and spoke out strongly against U.S. intervention in the Second World War. I was searching for some information about that when I came across the website of a British pacifist organization:

The war meant the return of military conscription. Pacifists had campaigned against it, but when it came, the Central Board for Conscientious Objectors was set up to co-ordinate work on behalf of all objectors…. The 100 COs who went to work on farms in Jersey came under German control when the Islands were occupied; about half of them were later deported to civilian internment camps in Bavaria, where they played a lively part in camp life; some went outside to help local farmers grow food; some married local women and settled in Germany (pacifism has no frontiers).

There’s something about chipper British pacifists helping the German war effort that makes me a little ill. I could almost understand a regretful pacifist, someone who felt torn but who truly believed pacifism was a long and difficult, but ultimately the best, road for an enduring peace. I might think that person idealist to the point of not being in touch with the harsh realities of the world, but that person would not disgust me in the same way. The idea that British pacifists today, knowing what we now know about the horrors of Nazi Germany, could write with such a blithe tone shows me that the pacifist movement has no moral standing, that they show a callous, indeed depraved, indifference towards human suffering.

Everything we have this far heard about what is going on within the Islamic State leads me to believe that when the full knowledge of the atrocities they have committed come to light we will yet again wonder how we sat by and allowed it to happen.

I cannot make a firm case for going in with ground troops, however. The situation is too complicated with the competing interests of countries who are in closer proximity to the conflict prevents a simple solution, military or diplomatic. I cannot see, at this juncture, a reasonable goal, in other words, what sort of state would be there when we left. Still, those who resist further involvement or who advocate pulling out altogether, should not be so blinded by the shine the see on their halos that they cannot see the consequences of their inaction.

(I started writing this shortly after I saw the news but was interrupted and didn’t get to finish until just now. I’ve decided to not go back and change the whole thing.)

Turkey has downed a Russian jet is claims was over its airspace. Russia claims that it was not. As of yet, we don’t know who is telling the truth.

I mentioned the other day that the overly dramatic title “The Clash of Civilization” misleads people into thinking they know what is in the essay without bothering to read it. Many people seem to believe that the concept is that a major international force representing the Muslim world and a major international force representing the West are going to engage in some mighty apocalyptic battle. It is a misreading of the title, because I suspect those people never read the actual essay.

At the heart of the concept is an idea so ordinary it can be easy to overlook, and that is a large part of the point, to bring our attention to something we tend to forget. That is the fact that people tend to side with other groups that have similar language, culture, history or ethnic identity. Take the United States’ “special relationship” with the United Kingdom. What does that mean beyond the fact that the US began as a colony of Great Britain and we share a common language, have strong historical ties and weak cultural and ethnic ties. For some reason, many people find these similarities to be meaningful. It is not a question of whether or not people are right or wrong in this regard. It is a simple observable fact that they do.

The weak part of Huntington’s argument is his choice of the word “civilization” to describe the cultural groupings he has in mind, although I can’t think of a better word. When I hear the word “civilization” I think of the Ancient Egyptian Civilization, Rome, the Aztec Civilization, Incan, Persian and so on. The word is not equivalent to empire, but the image of a central imperial power spreading its culture is strongly implied. Huntington means something significantly looser, more along the lines of “Western Civilization.”

<blockquote>A civilization is a cultural entity. Villages, regions, ethnic groups, nationalities, religious groups, all have distinct cultures at different levels of cultural heterogeneity. The culture of a village in southern Italy may be different from that of a village in northern Italy, but both will share in a common Italian culture that distinguishes them from German villages. European communities, in turn, will share cultural features that distinguish them from Arab or Chinese communities. Arabs, Chinese and Westerners, however, are not part of any broader cultural entity. They constitute civilizations. A civilization is thus the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species.</blockquote>

Since with a couple of exceptions, such as Japan, Huntington’s civilizations do not have a central government capable of projecting power, so the “clash of civilizations” he foresees is not a titanic clash of one mighty empire against another, but the possibility that small, local clashes will draw in other actors who perceive themselves to be closely related to one of the original antagonists. In this way, a local conflict becomes a conflict defined by alliances of political entities united by common cultures, or members of the same “civilization.” He writes, “violent conflicts between groups in different civilizations are the most likely and most dangerous source of escalation that could lead to global wars.” The point of being aware of these civilizational fault lines is to avoid exactly this kind of escalation.

So I was put in mind of Huntington’s argument again when I read about the downing of the Russian fighter jet. In this incident we can see both confirmation of Huntington’s argument and its limitations. The Russians have been bombing some anti-Assad groups comprised of Turkmen. Turkmen are not Turks, but they are seen as a related group.

On the other hand, there is, as far as I understand, no reason based on ethnicity for Russia to back Assad. They do not belong to the same “civilization.” Furthermore, many of the fault lines in the Syrian conflict lie within the Arab world. The division between the Shia and Sunni is evident, but there are also divisions among the Sunni. For instance, the Kurds are predominantly Sunni Muslim, although Shia Muslims, Alevi Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and Zoroastrians. What divides them from their neighbors seems to be ethnicity. These aspects of the conflict are not in keeping with Huntington’s thesis.

It is important to remember that Huntington did not predict that a grand civilizational conflict would occur, only that, with the end of the cold war, these ethnic and cultural similarities would gain importance. The point was to be aware of them in order to avoid a larger conflict.