Friday, June 07, 2013

Waiting for a Sign

America's policy towards Syria has been rather ambivalent. And most Americans seem to share in that ambivalence. It's not hard to understand why -- it's a complicated problem with a lot of moving parts and competing interests at stake. On the one hand, Assad is most certainly a bad guy. On the other hand, the rebels are an amalgamation of different factions ranging from genuine reformers to Islamist radicals. On the first hand, Assad's forces have been continually massacring civilians. Then again, the rebels hands aren't exactly clean either. American intervention might stop some of the more egregious atrocities; but of course America is belatedly discovering that we're generally not as good at intervening as we think we are. Stepping in could send a message that America will stand up for the innocents in the middle east, or it could be seen as yet another imperialist intrusion.

So it's complicated, and I don't begrudge anyone for thinking that it's complicated and not having firmly set views. What I do find somewhat amusing -- to the extent one can find humor in this tragedy -- is how some people clearly want to take a firm stance, but can't figure out what stance that is because the only thing that drives them is opposition to some third party who remains infuriatingly neutral.

For example, some leftists are very desparate to stake out a position opposing "Zionist" interference in Syria. Unfortunately, they're stymied by the fact that Israel doesn't have a clear favored side. Israel's relationship with neighbors like Syria is complex -- while obviously Assad is no friend of the Jewish state, he's also the devil they know, and instability on Israel's borders is a more immediate threat than the relatively manageable current Syrian regime. The result is that Israel generally doesn't care what happens inside Syria so long as their own border remains secure and weapons aren't transferred over to Hezbollah (this same logic, incidentally, is why contrary to popular belief Israel was not a prime cheerleader for the Iraq invasion). But you can see certain folks just straining to identify which side Israel supports -- propping up their puppet Assad or tearing down their enemy Assad -- so they can go all in on the other side.

I feel like I'm seeing a similar dynamic with respect to congressional Republicans and Obama. A lot of them seem quite anxious to attack our Syria policy, save for the part where they don't know what they think it should be. Are we abandoning democratic revolutionaries because we don't have a stomach for a fight? Or are we supporting the new al-Qaeda and giving comfort to terrorists? Since the Obama administration hasn't taken a decisive step, they're at a loss. It is, in a sense, a sterling example of the maxim that "today's conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today: updated daily" (specifically, the impoverishment of conservative ideology when it isn't clear what liberals want today).

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