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No moral high ground in attack on wayward Syria

Canada has joined in on the beating of the war drums in Syria. Well, not really war, as any military action in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons will come from cruise missiles and armed drones making strikes on key targets. And as Canada has neither cruise missiles nor armed drones, we’ll basically be offering up moral support.

Then again, morals are in short supply in this instance.

To be sure, there are no good guys in the civil war going on in Syria. The Baathist regime in power has carried out atrocities under the autocratic rule of Bashar al-Assad, just as it did under his father for three decades prior to that. The government, aligned with Russia and Iran, is no friend of the West. The bulk of the rebel forces are aligned with the likes of al Qaeda, again no friends of the West. Essentially, it’s a battle between Sunni and Shiite factions.

More than 100,000 people have died in the conflict. If one sets morals aside, a fight between two groups that could be classified as enemies could be seen as a good thing, especially if it’s contained within Syria’s borders. The country, unlike others in the region, has no real strategic value – i.e. oil – so there’s little practical reason to intervene.

U.S. President Barack Obama, however, has backed himself into a corner, having declared the use of chemical weapons as crossing a red line. Given that he’s made statements that, if the chemicals are traced back to the regime, a strike would be forthcoming, he has to deliver or risk having the U.S. look weak. That has implications far beyond Syria.

Complicating matters is the Americans’ credibility: We’ve seen this weapons of mass destruction argument used before in Iraq, with well-known consequences. We’ll need more than their word on it. That some of the usual coalition-of-the-willing suspects are ready to play along doesn’t seal the deal.

With its history of intervention in other countries, often clandestine, the U.S. has been complicit in a long list of atrocities. It has no moral authority to step into the Syrian civil war. Yes, the war is a catastrophe for the people there, but the planet has seen many such unfortunate wars that the U.S. and others in the West were fine ignoring, largely because there were no strategic or economic benefits to getting involved. If attacking Syria makes sense, then the same should apply to the Rwandas and East Timors of the world.

As with recent military adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – none of which has brought peace and democracy to those countries, rhetoric aside – there’s a very real risk bombing Syria will serve only to reinforce the Muslim world’s view of the U.S. and the West in general.

The history of U.S. hegemony in Latin America is clear, with more than a century of military and economic oppression. That same model is at play today in the likes of Iraq and Afghanistan and, perpetually it seems, in Israel and its Middle-East neighbours.

As it stands, that policy is doing more harm than good. It will do nothing to ward off another 9/11; quite the opposite, in fact.

Intervention and occupation by the West have made Islamic extremists more popular with the native populations, exactly the opposite of what needs to happen for things to get better.

In reality, we’re probably better off ignoring the carnage in that part of the world: the oil will still flow and people in the West won’t notice a difference.

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