Just as the Western anti-war movement was awaking from its long slumber, it has been bullied back into its hidey-hole by the events in Syria.
The favorite target (and easiest) of the anti-war crowd has always, or at least since the end of the Cold War, been the United States. America’s huge military budget, inflated annually by bipartisan congressional largesse, its Global War on Terror that terrorizes thousands of people as drones rain down fire and fury, and its campaigns of destabilization in such places as Syria, Iran, Libya, Yemen and the few remaining socialist regimes in Latin America provoke worldwide hand-wringing so intense it’s almost audible.
“Pull the troops out of Iraq!” they cry. “You have been in Afghanistan for nearly two decades! Get out, we say!”
But what happens when an American leader actually tries to engineer a troop pullout? Especially if that leader is someone everyone loves to hate, Donald J Trump? Then all of a sudden, the hand-wringing takes on a different tenor. Then, the peace-lovers suddenly realize that silencing the guns does not end the suffering and injustice, and in fact, for some – even those on the “winning” side – makes things even worse.
The most obvious recent example of this phenomenon is the situation in northern Syria. Now, it’s no longer a question of getting American troops out of harm’s way. Now, it’s all about “abandoning the Kurds.” But even before the recent flare-up ignited in that tortured land by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump was under fire from peace-lovers for negotiating with the thoroughly nasty Taliban in an effort to get out of another tortured land, Afghanistan, and then, when that effort collapsed, he was under fire again for failing to strike a deal. Can’t have it both ways? When it comes to demonizing Trump, sure you can.
War is hell; but getting out of war can be just as hellish. And as always those who suffer the most, from beginning to end, are the poor, or those oppressed by tyrants or religious fanatics, or members of an ethnic group no one in the West knows anything about, such as the Kurds or Pashtuns
The common denominator running throughout the global disaster of imperial war-making is a failure on all sides to understand the complexities of foreign policy, any foreign policy, whether it’s based on naked aggression or on genuine humanitarian concerns. War is hell; but getting out of war can be just as hellish. And as always, those who suffer the most, from beginning to end, are the poor, or those oppressed by tyrants or religious fanatics, or members of an ethnic group no one in the West knows anything about, such as the Kurds or Pashtuns.
There are too many conflicts on too many continents to go into here in detail, but Syria is the prime encyclopedia entry under “the immorality of war.”
All wars are the result of some combination of greed, hubris, racism, ignorance (“humanitarian intervention” usually slots in here), and just plain bad luck. Syria is a perfect storm made up of all of these.
The war there was technically triggered by localized Arab Spring-type uprisings sparked partly by the government’s failure to aid farmers hurt by a devastating drought, and a brutal over-reaction to those protests by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. It was the sort of thing seen all the time in authoritarian regimes, and if it had been left alone, the situation would probably have normalized eventually. But there were economic factors (partly involving pipeline politics) that had long placed Syria in the gunsights of outside players, who quickly intervened to make matters much worse, for much longer than would otherwise have been the case.
Then the forces of political Islam, longtime enemies of Assad’s largely secular political philosophy, and empowered by the US- and UK-led chaos in neighboring Iraq, jumped into the mix. And like moths drawn to a flame, all of the great powers (except China) arrived as well, none of them (except possibly Russia) equipped with adequate comprehension of the complexities of the situation, or empathy with the many varieties of brown people (Arabs, Kurds, Druze, Assyrians, Yazidis and others) set to be maimed or killed over the subsequent years.
These are just some of the complications contributing to the long Syrian nightmare, which spread into other parts of the world as refugees fled the terror, reinvigorating latent racism and hatred of the underdog in many Western societies, especially in Europe. While the Europeans moaned and xenophobic right-wing politics flourished, the real burden of the “refugee crisis” was largely borne in Syria’s own neighborhood, primarily Jordan and Turkey.
Meanwhile in the US, warmongers and investors in the arms industry (and their political beneficiaries) screamed for the overthrow of the “brutal dictator” Assad (while simultaneously supporting loyal weapons customers in the Arab Gulf dictatorships). Meek anti-war voices such as Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard were either silenced or slandered as “Assad lovers” or “Putinbots.”
Then this week, in a bipartisan collaboration rarely seen in the US Congress except when further bloating the Pentagon or giving tax breaks to the rich, an overwhelming majority voted to condemn President Trump for the Syria pullout. Meanwhile Gabbard, the only Democratic presidential hopeful speaking out loudly against regime-change wars, is polling at around 1%.
Yet even through the murk of Islamophobia, Russophobia, Trumpophobia and all the other phobias that obscure Western political discourse, the truth is glaringly obvious. All wars are not just evil in terms of the direct and immediate destruction they wreak on life and property, but in how they usurp all that is valued, or should be valued, by civilized peoples. Wars literally suck the lives out of not only their victims, but their perpetrators as well, and take on lives of their own.
And that is why ending them in a way that does not create even more victims, such as Kurdish families under Turkish bombardment or Afghan women under the Taliban, is not possible. There is only one answer: Don’t make war to start with. Once you do, it’s already too late.