by the Editors of The Nation, issue dated 9/16/13
There are both practical and humanitarian reasons to oppose US airstrikes in response to the horrific chemical weapons attack.
The images filtering out of the eastern suburbs of Damascus on August 21 were horrifying. Uploaded by residents using cellphones and video cameras to YouTube and other social media, they depict hundreds of Syrian civilians victimized by a chemical weapons rocket barrage, writhing in pain, foaming at the mouth and dying, with no visible wounds of the sort that would arise from conventional weapons. Doctors Without Borders has confirmed over 300 killed and said the symptoms “strongly indicate” that neurotoxic agents were used.
As we go to press, a swelling chorus of condemnation, led by the Western powers and including the Obama administration, has laid blame for the attack squarely on the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The administration’s desire to uphold the international convention banning the use of chemical weapons is commendable, but so far there’s no independent verification of the Assad regime’s responsibility. Even so, Washington is reportedly preparing limited military action against Syrian government forces.
If the Assad regime is responsible for this attack—as certainly seems plausible—what could airstrikes be expected to accomplish? And why should the “humanitarian” response to this horrific event be military intervention? Although the American public is, with good reason, overwhelmingly opposed to military involvement in Syria’s chaotic civil war, much of the pundit and political classes have been calling for a US attack on Syrian military targets. Their rationale is not only that Assad must be punished for committing an atrocity but that US “credibility” is at stake—that, having declared the use of chemical weapons a “red line,” Obama will not be taken seriously if he doesn’t order military action. But any credibility Washington had in the region was lost long ago—if not in its war against Iraq based on false WMD allegations, then certainly in the chaos that resulted from the Libyan intervention. And Washington’s recent assent to the bloody coup in Egypt raises serious questions. Why does the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Cairo, and the killing of some 1,000 unarmed protesters, elicit little US response, while an attack killing perhaps the same number of civilians outside Damascus brings missile strikes?…
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