On Syria, pt. II

In light of my last post on Syria it might seem that I’ve given no way for the US to legitimately act in response to such awful acts.

However my intent is to problematize a decision that could be so easily (perhaps rightfully so) cast in stark ethical terms by comparing it to equally tragic, if less graphic, ones we’ve knowingly and consciously overlooked. My claim is that our insistence to act is a product of both moral outrage and a desire to be the kind of nation who responds to such blatant human rights violations. We desire it the way we do because we’re not that sort of nation: look at Chicago’s homicide rate, hundreds of innocents dead in Egypt, the “collateral damage” (or the entirety) of our drone program, etc.

So we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t?

Not quite. I’m trying to bring out the bigger question of whether the US is going to decide to be that sort of country which willingly responds to (and refuses to participate in!) gross human rights violations or if we’ll continue to be an ends-means, baldly self-interested player in the geo-political, global capitalist chess game. If we don’t decide the former or some isolationist position (morally suspect in its own right) then we necessarily adopt the latter.* This is the bigger question the US needs to ask of which the Syrian quandary is a part.

[note: I’ve not once implied military intervention is the only or best form; for this and other reasons I prefer the more vague language of “response” as opposed to that of “intervention”]

In the meantime any moral ground upon which the decision to respond to the situation in Syria might be made is far less than honest, far below consistent, and far beneath authentic. Yes, we can decide to intervene in Syria, but this is my attempt at a plea for dialogue around what it is about Syria that makes us want to act the way we do so that such reasons might direct our acting in every case (or at least more often than it currently does). I want to interrupt the impulse to respond long enough to draw out the ethical reasons behind it – not just the visceral ones – so we can organize decisions around them instead of around something else (plain and pure self-interest, willful ignorance, some other whim, etc.) and so that we don’t simply champion stark issues partially as an attempt to overshadow our inaction (or unethical action) elsewhere.

* realistically I suppose there is room for a complex and pragmatic mixture of these, but let’s at least be honest about it. And let’s dialogue about it over terms other than simply visceral insistence.

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