Tuesday, September 3, 2013

US not morally superior to Syria

Over on Truthdig, Juan Cole makes a cogent argument for why diplomacy, not cruise missiles, are the best tool for defusing the Syrian crisis. For instance:
I am not arguing that because the United States and its allies have indiscriminately killed large numbers of innocent noncombatants in the past, the Syrian government should be held harmless for its own gas attack at Ghouta, which killed hundreds of innocent civilians. Two wrongs never make a right. I am arguing that the United States is in no moral or legal position to play the Lone Ranger here. The first steps Washington should take are to acknowledge its own implication in such atrocities and to finish destroying its chemical stockpiles and join the ban on land mines and cluster bombs.

Now that we’re in the 21st century, moreover, it is time to cease using the supposedly macho language of violence in response to political challenges. Tossing a couple of Tomahawk cruise missiles on a few government facilities in Damascus is not going to deter the Syrian government from using chemical weapons, and it will not affect the course of the war. Sonni Efron, a former State Department official and now a senior government fellow at Human Rights First, has argued that the United States and Europe could have a much more effective impact by announcing that in response to the Baath provocation they were going to close the loopholes that allow Syrian banks to continue to interface with world financial institutions. This strategy would involve threatening third-party sanctions on Russian banks that provide Damascus with a financial backdoor. A united U.S.-EU push on this front would be far more consequential for the Syrian government than a limited military strike.

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