Syria: Why moral outrage is self-serving -

Syria: Why moral outrage is self-serving

The West will feel better after its cruise missiles demolish Syrian military installations, but it will do little to help


Ugarit News/via AP video

Sometimes it’s hard to understand the logic that guides the international community. Global power brokers such as the U.S. and the U.K. espouse utopian ideals of human rights, human dignity, democracy and a host of universal axioms no one with an ounce of conscience would argue against. At the same time, they act with apparent disregard, or at the very least disarray, when the moment of truth arrives.

In Syria, the moment of truth withered months ago. It stood up and waved hello when the Syrian regime, headed by increasingly brutal President Bashar al-Assad, began to slaughter his own people. He, or his potentially insane brother, Maher, broke the laws of warfare. And the world did nothing.

Now the world is indignant after a chemical attack killed hundreds in the Damascene suburbs. The tens of thousands of dead that preceded them were apparently not enough to warrant action. Instead, a chemical attack of still undetermined origin, significant only in degree and not in kind (smaller chemical attacks have been reported for months) has galvanized the international community into action.

But to what end?

It seems a self-serving act to claim moral outrage at this point. It borders on Orientalist reductionism, where a single event is transformed into a symbol for all that is barbaric in the Arab world. Now they need our help, those poor suffering people. Now the cruel, inhuman leaders of a despotic regime need a good old-fashioned spanking.

Too little, too late is too facile a statement to describe the international response to the Syrian tragedy. What was needed, and not only in Syria, was a concerted effort years ago to support the emergence of a dynamic, intelligent, self-aware group of young Arabs who had found the courage to challenge authoritarianism. Many of those people are now dead. They fought valiantly against regimes bent on retaining their positions of power, at all cost, regimes acutely aware that the world would not dare intervene.

The cause for which Syrian youth died has now been hijacked by the self-interested elite in the officially recognized Syrian opposition, or subsumed into the cause of Islamists and global jihadists. These groups fight each other and make a mockery of what it was the Syrian youth sacrificed their lives to achieve.

Of course, we in the West will all feel better after cruise missiles demolish the Syrian regime’s military installations. The video game of war will play out in our living rooms and it will feel good. Our moral outrage will be vindicated. We will have done something.

But the reality of war will continue to play out on the streets of Damascus and Aleppo. On the streets of Cairo, Amman and Beirut, people will remain mystified by international community’s fickleness.

Here in Cairo, the U.S. now occupies a surreal space between secular imperialist and terrorist sympathizer. The confusion is understandable from the perspective of the Cairene people: no one is exactly sure what it is the U.S. wants. They’ve heard all the anodyne statements emanating from Washington: calling on murderous regimes to show restraint, invoking abstract notions of freedom and democracy — as if the pot-bellied powerbrokers who have (mis)ruled for decades actually understand what those terms mean. But when the time comes for action, Egyptians have watched the Great International Freedom Machine grind to a screeching halt.

Much the same feeling permeates other Arab nations. While the world plays at geopolitics, the people suffer and die. Most are tragically aware that raining bombs down on the Syrian regime will accomplish next to nothing. The blowback could be disastrous: Syrian missiles launched at Israel, or Turkey (a key NATO ally). The Syrian war could quickly spill out of Syria and consume the region, creating the ideal environment for the Islamic extremists operating in the region.

That frightening narrative could have been prevented if the dominant nations in the world, including Russia and China, had let go of narrow national self-interest and acted instead in the interests of the Syrian people themselves. Sounds altruistic, perhaps a little naïve, but no more so than thinking lobbing a few missiles will change the trajectory of the Syrian conflict.

The fact is President Assad will come out the winner in all of this. He will retain his chemical weapons, they will not be targeted by U.S. missiles), and thus his bargaining power. He will continue to play the terrorist card, an increasingly powerful one in light of the mess that is now the Syrian opposition. And Syrians, sadly, will continue to suffer and die.

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Syria: Why moral outrage is self-serving

  1. I was calling for us to get involved years ago when this all started. And I completely agree, if we had done something then, then there might still be 100,000 people alive today, a secular, liberal organization heading Syria.

    • Just like Iraq eh? Give me a break.

      • More like Libya, which was dealt with quickly and simply.

  2. Hind sight is fine but how do countries, based in the law, know when to jump in? In the American Revolution only 10% of the population were Rebels. What would be the criteria?

  3. Involvement in the Middle East is a no-win situation. You go in & help, you’re an oppressor; you stay out, then you’re evil for not helping.

    • Yes. And that’s why people like you will continue to stand by and do nothing as women and children are murdered. Not an original policy, but certainly a familiar one.

      • So, you gonna grab your gun and lead the charge?

        That’s what I thought. It’s OK to sacrifice our soldiers to satisfy your moral outrage.

        There is no simple solution here. I’m not advocating going in, nor am I advocating that we sit it out. I simply have no idea what the best approach is.

        So, oh wise one – guide me. How do you plan on stopping the killing?

        • Well we didn’t sit out both the two world wars did we. The Americans tried that in WW2 until Japan finally gave them a reason to get into the act. We went over and fought in Korea. Were peacekeepers in Kosovo. Romeo Dallaire went to Rwanda and Harper sent troops to Afghanistan. We ad our F-16’s do a tour in Libya. So what’s so different now? Nothing. Except that the cowards in the U.K. the UN, the U.S. and Canada, are winning the war against making any sort of real commitment to Syria. Shameful.

          • What is different now? Libya and Iraq are both possibly worse off now due to the Wests involvement. We learnt from that and are reluctant to make that mistake again. I don’t think we should be trusting your simplistic advice.

          • So in keeping with your thread. Europe was devastated after both World Wars. Japan suffered horrific losses after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Korea was hell. Vietnam endured Agent Orange. Rwanda was a bloodbath. All interventions have a downside, none attain perfect outcomes. But as history has proven itself time heals all wounds.
            You should join up with the coward’s brigade. I hear the British Parliament is hiring. And I’m sure that with your attitude you’ll rise through the ranks in no time at all.

          • whats truly shameful is your ignorance of the facts. in ww2 the americans were attacked and so retaliation was justified. dallaire went to rwanda and watched as men women and childern were hacked to death while the un did nothing. did stephen harper send troops to afganistan? REALLY?? STEPHEN HARPER?? OMG YOU’RE AN IDIOT

      • so who do we support or bomb…Assad or alQaeda

        • Why don’t you start off with some punctuation before dealing with complex issues Marvi? That might get the ball rolling.

  4. Again, a fantastic article, articulating our concerns and going straight for the jugular, this is the type of journalism the power brokers in this mess need to take note of. The UN also needs legal reform as we see the likes of Russia and China self serving their own interests.

  5. The Prime Directive is the only sensible policy.

  6. You can’t claim ‘Moral Outrage’ against chemical weapons as a justification for a war when you’ve already watched 100,000+ die from conventional weapons.

    We are already doing our part by accepting refugees and providing humanitarian aid. No more and no less should be expected from us.

    • No one’s suggesting that we should. Except that the use of chemical weapons, which are are illegal, and decimated Canadian troops in World War1, should be the line in the sand. We sent back up forces to Libya under a much lesser pretext, and suffered no casualties. So what’s so different now? More apologists like you lining up to join the cowards brigade. And, after the recent vote on the UK parliament, I hear that the British are accepting applicants for that one.

      • You really believe Assad is that big of a moron to use chemical weapons as soon as chemical weapon inspectors from the UN come to investigate? Do you think Assad stayed in power that long being that stupid?

        • Assad is the atypical Middle Eastern despot from a long line of them. His family, like the bin Saud’s in Saudi Arabia, Mubarak in Egypt, etc, have committed human rights atrocities against their own citizenry for over 40 years now that have largely been ignored by the West. Why do you think he wouldn’t feel that he could get away with using chemical weapons now? Because the UN has sent in some inspectors?
          Sure. Whatever you say Rick.

          • Let me know when they find all the weapons of mass destruction like Bush did in Iraq.


          • Unlike Iraq, Assad has stated he has the chemical weapons.

      • metropika you are calling people Cowards for not being conned by an other false flag attack by the Criminals that control the American Government . You are saying that the Uses of Chemical Weapons should be a line in the sand , Where was you Out Rage when the US used Chemical Weapons , in Vietnam , both Gulf Wars , When Israel uses them in Gaza , and when the US and Europe supplied them to Saddam Hussein to Uses against the Iranians in the war Started by Iraq on behave of the US . Then they did nothing when he used the gas they supplied to him on the Gurds ? I think you are a little selective with you Out Rage !

  7. The only reason the USA wants in there is to write cheques to domestic and israel arms manufacturers… they know they can never “fix” these situations i nthemiddle east but it won’t stop them from spending their way to the bottom.

  8. Syrians have been fighting and killing each other since the early 1700’s.
    Muslims like to kill other Muslims of different tribes. Leave them to decide their own fate, and stay out of Syria President O-BOMB-A

  9. What the author says is that chemical weapon use is just fine, let them do it. Doesn’t matter to us. The author fails to realize that because we did nothing up to this point, doesn’t mean that we stay forever silent. Its pure psychobabble, if his family had been poisoned by Sarin I am sure the article would have a different tone. Evidently everything Assad does is great and noble and those 100,000 or so he has killed deserve it and we should just hang back and watch it on TV with popcorn. Deplorable writings.