Syria: How Many Are You Allowed to Kill?

Not us (the US hunting license doesn’t seem to come with a bag limit), I mean the government of Syria, the rebellion against which has resulted in some 93,000 deaths to date (on both govt and rebel sides, although mostly civilians caught in the middle).  John McCain and Bill Clinton are beating the war drums trying to get us all worked up and ready for yet another mid-East war under the unspoken assumption that no country is entitled to kill anyone in order to maintain the status quo. It’s just not permissible to use force to keep a government in power and in control of its whole country. Right? I mean, that’s what made Saddam evil, wasn’t it? He killed people who rebelled against his government, or people who his spies thought looked like they might be thinking about rebelling. How evil is that! I mean, who would dream of killing suspected rebels based only on surveillance data?

So the US is clearly against killing rebels, right? Really? Tell that to honest Abe Lincoln, whose actions to quell the rebellion against the United States cost the lives of 600,000 Americans.  And he didn’t even have any nerve gas.  Everybody seems to think that was just fine. Ancient history? How about some more recent examples. We chased the Taliban and al Qaeda out of Afghanistan in 2001 and have been fighting there ever since to keep the new, preferred Afghan government in power. Quashing that rebellion (or, more realistically, trying ineffectually to) has caused the deaths of many 10s of thousands of Afghans (poorly counted).  Another one? We overthrew the government of Iraq in May of 2003 and installed a new one. Every bit of the fighting in Iraq over the decade since then has been to kill rebels trying to defeat the new Iraqi government. Conveniently, nobody’s gotten an accurate count of the number of Iraqis who’ve died as a result, but that (again, poorly counted) figure appears to be in excess of 100,000.

All right, so it really is ok to kill rebels. But then, if it’s fine for 100,000 to die to keep a shitty Iraqi government in power, how is it a casus belli when 93,000 die in the course of keeping a shitty Syrian government in power? Which is it? Killing rebels good? Killing rebels bad?

But Rob, we were killing people in Iraq and Afghanistan to keep Al Qaeda forces from getting control! Oh, that explains it. It’s ok to cause death on a massive scale as long as it’s to keep Al Qaeda and other Muslim fundamentalists from overthrowing a government (after all, we don’t want them in power because they’ll kill people who oppose them). There we go. But hold on. Many of the Syrian rebels are Al Qaeda or Muslim fundamentalists, and now we want to help them. Damn, there goes that theory. This is hard. Wait a minute. I detect a common thread here. Killing rebels is good when we do it, even on flimsy excuses (drone strikes anyone?), and bad when anyone else does it. There you go.

Now Rob, that’s not fair. Sometimes we support rebels and sometimes we support governments. It just depends what’s in our national interest. 

Oh, ok. And our national interest in Syria is what exactly? If it’s not keeping Assad in power, and it’s not letting Muslim fundamentalists gain power, what is it? Haven’t heard that yet. Seems to me, our main national interest should be to not get dragged into yet another mid-eastern snake pit that will drain money, lives, time and effort that we could better apply to problems that affect people here in the USA.

The Security State: Bend and Spread ‘Em

The recent revelations about the NSA’s data collection efforts on phone calls, emails and internet use have lots of people, including myself, up in arms (figuratively, NSA, figuratively!!). But people are talking like all this alarm might actually lead to some change. Well, let me tell you that the snoopy horse is not only out of the barn but so far down the road that the cloud of dust has already settled and the clickety-clack of hooves not even a distant echo. Besides, lots of people just love that the govt is keeping its paternal, all-seeing eye on everything we do (the ultimate helicopter parent, except these helicopters are black). These people say “I’ve got nothing to hide, so let ‘em listen.”

Well, all you people with “nothing to hide” need to learn the difference between “secrets” and “privacy.” Let me help you out. The reason most of you are reluctant to drop your pants in public, bend over, and spread your cheeks so that passersby can inspect your nether regions is not because you have something illegal going on in your butt to hide but because there are certain things that you wish to keep private (and I thank you for that). And just because some people like to post naked pix of themselves online doesn’t mean it should then be mandatory for us all.

And why exactly does the government treat the program itself as something to hide? If it’s perfectly legal, oh no, nothing wrong here, perfectly constitutional, why does the spying (oops, I mean “safety monitoring”) need to be such a secret? Why are people being prosecuted for trying to tell us about it? After all, for a decade, every terrorist has worked under the assumption that the US govt is doing everything it can to tap their calls and emails. It’s certainly no secret to them. If anything, these reports on the NSA’s advanced capabilities are likely to help deter would-be terrorists, and should be publicized even more. Hell, they should make shit up about what they can do. No, the govt is desperate to hide its 4th amendment abuses from us, not the terrorists. Why? Because they know that the prospect of having what you say and to whom you say it stored in a big database (that “no one will actually read”) will have a chilling effect on free discourse—admit it, it’s there at the back of your mind right now, isn’t it? The idea is not so much to find out what we’re doing and saying as to intimidate us from doing and saying it in the first place.

But I don’t know why the govt should be concerned. When was the last time they reversed course on anything even when pretty much everyone wanted it (background checks at gun shows, anyone?), much less when lots of people on all sides of the political spectrum think it’s just fine.

Orwell’s 1984. You thought it was a fantasy novel, not the new operator’s manual for the USA.