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.

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