Like many, I was disheartened to hear Secretary of State Kerry compare the current situation in Syria to Munich. The analogy is poor. A far better analogy would have been Evian – for it was at the luxurious resort at Evian that world leaders met in 1938 to discuss the “Jewish Problem” and, ultimately, do nothing.
If there is anything to be learned from the acts of genocidal leaders in the past century – from Talaat Pasha in the Armenian Genocide to Jean Kambanda in the Rwandan Genocide – it is that rational discussion is no longer possible. A person who decides that the slaughter of thousands will benefit him politically is not likely to be influenced by a strongly-worded letter.
I am reminded of the news conference held by the U.S. State Department at the beginning of the Rwandan Genocide. The spokesperson kept referring to “acts of genocide” and was asked, “How many ‘acts of genocide’ does it take to make a genocide?” Why? Because as a signatory to the Genocide Convention, the United States would be required to respond to genocide. Alison des Forges was right when she said that Rwanda was probably “too poor, too far away, and probably too black” for anyone to care.
Unfortunately, the current situation in Syria has been framed as a U.S. intervention in the mold of Iraq. The language often has terms such as “military strike” and “involvement”. It is a sad legacy of Bush’s Iraq misadventure that progressives now appear powerless to act. I can understand those who might be pacifist in all cases. I am not one of those, nor is the majority of progressives. Use of force to stop crimes against humanity is something that, I would hope, progressives support.
Two recent articles have shown that a least a few progressives feel that a response to these Syrian atrocities is not only appropriate, but essential. In the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson said:
Maybe all this reluctance is a warning that we, too, should demur. But let’s at least be honest with ourselves: If we don’t act, nobody will. The clear message to Assad, and to other tyrants, will be that poison gas is frowned upon but not actually prohibited.
If someone has a workable plan to snatch Assad and his henchmen, haul them before the International Criminal Court and put them on trial, I’m all ears. As things stand, however, the possibility of someday facing charges in the Hague must be low on the Syrian dictator’s list of worries.
If Assad and his government are ever going to be held accountable for the use of forbidden weapons to murder hundreds of civilians, the only realistic way for that to happen is a punitive U.S.-led military strike.
Similarly, Jewish leaders have petitioned Congress to vote to authorize President Obama to use force in response to the Syrian mass murders:
Dear Congressional Leaders,
We write you as descendants of Holocaust survivors and refugees, whose ancestors were gassed to death in concentration camps. We write you as a people who have faced persecution for many centuries, and are glad to have found a safe refuge where we can thrive in the United States. We write as a people proud of our religious and historical tradition of helping the needy and defending the weak.
The recent chemical weapons attacks on the Damascus suburbs constitute a serious crime against humanity. These attacks killed upwards of 1400 people, the majority of them innocent women and children. As a people who themselves once faced the horrors of genocide and survived, we had hoped that we would never again open our newspapers to images of mass graves filled with suffocated young children. Now that we have seen such images coming from Syria, we call upon you to act.
Has the United States committed brutal, quasi-genocidal acts in the past? Yes. Will an armed response in Syria end the killing there? No. But it will state it clear terms that those who commit genocide face swift retribution.
I am reminded of two times in the past century where progressives failed to acknowledge crimes against humanity because of their desire for political purity. The first was during the Great Ukrainian Famine under Stalin. Left parties throughout the West argued that it was just a capitalist ploy to discredit Soviet socialism. Walter Duranty even received a Pulitzer for his glowing report of Soviet conditions. It was not until Gareth Jones and Malcolm Muggeridge uncovered the extent of starvation that Duranty was questioned; yet, he remained unrepentant.
Similarly, during the 1960s it was all the rage on the left to glorify Chairman Mao. There was hardly a college campus where one could not easily find a copy of Mao’s “Little Red Book”. Perhaps the most famous images are Andy Warhol’s silkscreens of the Chairman that mimic those of Marilyn Monroe. At the time, no one on the left would acknowledge the deaths resulting from the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. R.J. Rummel estimates that 30 to 40 million may have died as a result. Perhaps that might be enough for someone to resign from the Maoist-Leninist school.
But no. The chorus on the left is deafening in its vehemence to avoid any armed response to the Syrian regime’s mass murder of its people using poison gas. More than likely, the poison gas canisters were once aimed at Israel. I can assure you that Israel has made it clear that any gas attack upon Israel will result in an immediate and devastating response. Were Israel to wait on the progressives in the West, there would be little left to defend. I disagree with Israel on many, many issues – but I cannot fault them on this one.
The language used here at FireDogLake, at DailyKos, and at other so-called progressive websites against those who favor a response to the Syrian gassings has been withering – most recently, “the pimp hand”. It should come as little surprise that progressives have found themselves looking in from the outside of political power for so long. I am reminded of the language used against Joe Lieberman in the effort to unseat him because of his support for the Iraq War. “LIEberman” was the least of it and rather juvenile. Lamont’s campaign director compared Lieberman’s supporters in Waterbury to a place where the “forces of slime meet the forces of evil.” And if you remember, Lamont didn’t win.
So, please, enjoy you spas and your mineral waters. And make sure to vilify those who believe that a response to Syrian mass murder is justified. You are mot likely going to win this round. And your deep concern is duly noted.