Syria war drumbeat builds, but where is it leading?
Pundits from John Bolton to Nick Kristof are issuing calls to arms. But there's little regard for national interest, or the law of unintended consequences, in the urgings to act now.
Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.
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I looked up from my desk, and a wave of nausea and anger washed over me as a I saw the body of a little girl in a party dress. The images were twinned to a UN report that alleges 1,000 children were killed in Syria last year, largely by the regime, and that kids had also been subjected to sexual assaults and torture by security forces.
But then I started thinking. How often had I seen on CNN the broken bodies of children killed in Iraq during the US occupation, or by NATO airstrikes in Afghanistan, or by drone strikes in Pakistan? The answer I came up with from my own recollections was "never." I asked around the newsroom, and most folks there agreed.
IN PICTURES – Conflict in Syria
The point is not to draw equivalencies, but simply to point out the implied argument made by the unusual choice to show these murdered kids: A special horror is unfolding in Syria, and the world (read, the US) must do something to stop it.
Perhaps the world should. But far less explored are the practicalities of military intervention, the risks that horrors as great or greater await by widening Syria's civil war into an international conflict. For now, a simple narrative is being spun of a depraved Assad and his helpless victims. Serving that cause yesterday were claims from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Russia was rushing deliveries of attack helicopters to Assad's army "which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically."
Russia is denying that claim, saying it's only repairing MI-24 (Hind) gunships which were sold to Bashar al-Assad's father, Hafez, more than a decade ago. Either way, such helicopters would be more useful for fighting the Free Syrian Army or other armed rebel groups than targeting civilians. Syria has thousands of tanks, mortars, and artillery pieces and 600,000 soldiers who are the main threat to civilian population centers.
So if you were for, or against, going to war with Syria before the claims were made about the helicopters, your thinking shouldn't be shifted. And make no mistake, the longer Syria's war goes on, the greater the likelihood that President Assad will follow in his father's footsteps with a truly horrific massacre. In 1982, Assad the elder had at least 10,000 residents of the city of Hama killed in an atrocity that ended an Islamist uprising against his Baath regime.