Though the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had a close vote recommending limited military action in Syria (10 for, 7 against) the fact that a vote was rushed to further conversation by the full body and the character of amendment says a lot of about priorities. They begin and end with us.
There is something painfully elemental in such talk about how much “conscience” has been piqued by Assad’s use of Sarin nerve gas. Pictures of children’s agony have been appropriated as exhibit # 1 before a court of international value. Breathless, Secretary Kerry is eager to pile on more evidence of the misdeed. One wonders who he really thinks he’s talking to…and what’s he got behind his back? Why, it’s an array of the finest in American weaponry and firepower…this Syrian error can be corrected with the scalpel of U.S. violence. Here’s the promise: We can do it better and with a minimum disruption to every day life. Why, you’ll be able to look out your window while doing the dishes in Damascus and witness the tidiness of our retaliation!
Can we wake up to such lunacy?
This is the disconnect which haunts U.S. foreign policy: it is perpetually, implicitly imperialist. What we do and say is most important. The world could tolerate this if it remained just preachy but a 60 day sustained air campaign (with a 30 extension if needed, mind you) makes grand statements about Syrian excesses into a cynical charade. If you thought the Syrian people were miserable with Assad’s gas just wait until Obama’s missiles arrive, 1400 casualties could be just the starting number. For every intended combatant, ten more civilians will be harmed.
The American weapons industry has been loyally waiting in the wings to service this need to form such foreign policy with an added guarantee that “American casualties will be minimized” if not removed altogether. It is the dirty little secret of modern warfare post Gen. Colin Powell. It was born by a fear in the U.S. military after Vietnam that it would be left high and dry by public opinion. Those nightly body counts by Walter Cronkite are tattooed on this nation’s soul. The solution is a modern variant of the saying attributed to an American general during that war in southeast Asia: “find the bastards and pile on!”
Or, in today’s military techno-speak, increase the lethality of the battle area for toxic effect to the opposing force while minimizing friendly consequences. Make war quick and avoid those headlines of the loss of our boys and girls.
The American swagger for justice aimlessly searches for meaning because as Mark Twain said, “Our conscience takes no notice of pain inflicted on others until it reaches a point where it gives pain to us.” We have so insulated ourselves from discomfort that we are the faintest voice in things that matter. All this would be a silly lecture if it weren’t for those missiles pointed at Syrian soil.