On Syrians, Palestinians and American Options

I’ve just written the following in response to a comment on the tragic situation unfolding in Syria,  but I think it bears posting here front and center on the main page. Further comments, as always, are welcome:

Ike, you are right that the butchery going on in Syria is heinous and deserves the highest possible condemnation. I also agree 100% with you that the human rights situation going on there is far more acute than “what is going on with the Palestinians.” In fact, Palestinian blogger Sami Kishawi recently made this very point in a recent post in which he also quoted a Palestinian protester in New York who said on YouTube:

The horrible things happening in Syria, even Israel didn’t do to us in Palestine. Anybody who says that the Assad regime is with Palestine and that the atrocities happening are in our favor is wrong, and if the freedom of Palestine was dependent on the slaughtering of Syrian children, I would tell you as a Palestinian that I don’t want to be free.

While this certainly should not be about “who is suffering more,” I do think it’s important to point out that the Syrian situation has been front and center in the mainstream media for at least a year – and has been met with world-wide condemnation, while the Palestinians’ plight, which is constant and ongoing, has flown well under the media radar – and not only is it not condemned by the West; it is actually enabled and made possible by our country. As I’ve written many times before, as Americans and as Jews, I/we are directly culpable in this situation – and, yes, this is indeed something I try to highlight in my blog.

On the issue of “pressing our government to do something about” the Syrian crisis: as tragic as this slaughter may be, I do not think the US has many good options to stop the bloodshed beyond what it is doing right now – and I strongly believe that US military intervention would only beget even greater tragedy. On this point I am in full agreement with Josh Landis – one of the smartest and most insightful Syria experts we have. I recommend his recent post in Syria Comment on this issue:

The US, Europe and the Gulf states want regime change in Syria so they are starving the regime and feeding the opposition. They have sanctioned Syria to a fare-thee-well and are busy shoveling money and arms to the rebels. This will change the balance of power in favor of the revolution. Crudely put, the US is pursuing regime-change by civil-war. This is the most it can and should do…

It seems heartless to stand by and do so little as massacres such as that carried out at Houla continue. More than 13 thousand Syrians have been killed in the last 14 months of revolution. All the same US intervention is not the solution. American troops killed over 10 thousand Iraqis in the first month of invasion in 2003. They killed a further 120,000 Iraqis in anger by the time the country was stabilized and safe to leave – and even then Iraq remains in turmoil and a new dictatorship seems to be taking shape. Car bombs are a daily occurrence in Baghdad.

In all likelihood, the Syrian revolution will be less bloody if Syrians carry it out for themselves. A new generation of national leaders will emerge from the struggle. They will not emerge with any legitimacy if America hands them Syria as a gift. How will they claim that they won the struggle for dignity, freedom and democracy? America cannot give these things. Syrians must take them. America can play a role with aid, arms and intelligence, but it cannot and should not try to decide Syria’s future, determine winners, and take charge of Syria. If Syrians want to own Syria in the future, they must own the revolution and find their own way to winning it. It is better for Syria and it is better for America.


6 Comments on “On Syrians, Palestinians and American Options”

  1. Thomas Bauer says:

    There is one thing which is frequently not mentioned, or if it is, then its impact is not realized: we all get “accustomed” to situations which last “forever”. After some time we do no longer react to ever repeating events which we once considered to be wrong, and slowly, even our perception changes: what once seemed wrong to us, now gets tolerable. This is more than just that things disappear out of the media headlines. It is: we adapt ourselves to the unjust – and to the unjustifiable.
    Occupation of Palestine, oppression of Palestinians is something we begin to live with. There will be an outcry when another operation “Cast Lead” will occur, but it (the outcry) will not change anything, and after many times, we will not even cry anymore.
    In contrast to the situation in Palestine and Israel, the situation in the Arab world, and especially the revolutions and the bloodshed, is something new, and we are eager to express our support for it.
    Illegal building of settlements, uprooting of olive trees, road blocks and incarceration of kids, arrests persons for (several!) periods of 6 months without indictment: we know it since years, and with sufficient time and repetition, we take it as “normal”.
    Bombing of civilians in Syria: unacceptable! But the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and in 2006: they are forgotten today.
    In Nazi Germany, prosecution of jews started slowly. Yes, there was antisemitism from the beginning, but in the first few years personal violence against jews was rather incidental, and certainly not generalized. Slowly, violence increased: the Nuremberg Laws, the “Kristallnacht”, the Holocaust.

    I wonder how strong this effect of slowly bending (changing) ethical standards is. And i wonder what we can do against accepting the unacceptable.

    We must avoid to get “accustomed” to the unjustifiable. We must never, never accept the wrong inflicted to individuals, we MUST keep our ethics clean. Your blog, Rabbi Brant, tries to do this. I hope many people read it.

    • Shirin says:

      Excellent point, and very well-said.

    • i_like_ike52 says:

      Syrian, under the Assad/Alawaite regimes , has more or less been a totalitarian police state. But, I guess that is okay as long as the regime is “popular”, right, Shirin? The Nazi regime in Germany was also very popular. All the Left/Progressives said that Mubarak was bad and had to go, but regarding Syria, they are more “nuanced”. Why is that? Is it because Assad spouts socialist rhetoric and says he is a principled opponent of Zionism and the US whereas Mubarak maintained a sort of peace with Israel and was pro-American, even if Assad’s regime was more repressive than Mubarak’s?

      • Well, Ike, I guess I have the disadvantage of having actual knowledge based on both book learning and lots of direct experience. That tends to lead to seeing and understanding things in a complex, multidimensional level, which seems to be a real problem for people who prefer to cling to their simple, two-dimensional cardboard cutout images which are so much easier to process. I understand.

        I was told in 1991 and again in 2002-03 that I had no credibility on Iraq because having lived there for so long immersed in the life there, speaking the language and all, I had too much direct knowledge and experience to be able to have an objective viewpoint. Yeah, that’s a real disadvantage. Sorry about that. I’ll shut up now and listen to those who are more qualified by virtue of never having set foot there. :o}

  2. Shirin says:

    Something that I never hear except from my friends in Syria and few American “radicals” (who I suspect don’t really know what they are talking about) is that however you feel about Bashshar Al Asad and the Syrian regime, the “opposition” in Syria have conducted themselves very badly, have instigated a good deal of the violence, and are a big part of the problem. In fact, it is not always possible to be certain which atrocities have been committed by government forces, which have been committed by “militias loyal to the government” – whatever that consists of – which have been committed by “opposition groups”, and which by opportunists who are merely taking advantage of the situation.

    Syrians hold a very broad range of views on Bashshar and the regime, and by no means are all Syrians opposed to the government. In fact, the President was very popular until the current problems arose, and even now many Syrians have a far, far more nuanced, sophisticated view of what is going on in Syria now than any Americans I know, including a few I normally consider pretty knowledgeable. A few of my Syrian friends have surprised me, in fact, because prior to all this mess they despised the President, and while they are not by any means pro-Bashshar now, they are much less one-sided in how they view him and his position. Others are unreservedly on the side of the government. I haven’t talked to a single one who is pro-“opposition”, though all of them acknowledge the need for reform, and saw the demonstrations and demands for change favorably in the beginning.

    Syria is a wonderful place with wonderful people and a very diverse population who have lived together in harmony for many centuries. I hope Obama will not destroy it under the name of “saving” it. We don’t need an “Operation Syrian Freedom”.

  3. Shirin says:

    By the way, I often have problems with Josh Landis, as I do with this:

    the US is pursuing regime-change by civil-war. This is the most it can and should do… Wrong again, Josh. This is far more than the US should do. The US should not pursue regime change in Syria or anywhere else by ANY means. That is up to the people of the country, and not remotely the business of the US, which always goes ham-fisted pursuing not ever the interests of the people involved, but what it ignorantly, and misguidedly believes to be the interests of the US.

    And then, of course, the US is amazed and outraged at the lack of appreciation on the part of the people it has “saved”.


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