Syria – Okay, Don’t Send Weapons – But Don’t Think You Can Avoid Dealing With The Refugees, Then – 28 July 2013

I wonder how critics of sending Western military aid to rebels in Syria propose to deal with the extent of the refugee crisis caused by hundreds of thousands people fleeing Syria?

It is sufficiently unnerving to me that military aid might end up in the hands of the non-democratic opposition (read: jihadi) in Syria that I can understand some of the worry about military aid…though I also note that in past history, it has certainly been possible to direct such aid. Stalin was pretty good, for example, at sending guns to only one part of the republican forces in Spain in the 1930s…we know this because they used that hardware to slaughter the other republican forces in Spain. Certainly today’s pre-eminent superpowers (the US and the EU) can manage to accomplish the same but in the service of more decent ends. Indeed, there is much riding on ensuring the weapons fall in the correct hands, because if they do not, history will not record that Westerners sensibly aided democrats, it will record that they foolishly armed the jihadis.

Since recent events have not shown that the Obama Administration fully grasps this nuance, I have ultimately drifted to the side of opposing sending the weapons. It seems to me that an administration that has no clue how to deal with Edward Snowden likely also has no clue about how to deal with Syrian jihadis…and for the same reason. The way to defeat anti-Western propaganda is to emphasise transparency. In the case of the Snowden affair, the response should be large-scale declassification of documents – but for some reason, the administration is hunkered down behind its total secrecy bunker. That’s a huge mistake. Likewise, the response to criticism of weapons transfers to the Syrian opposition should be transparency about how this is being done – the weapons are being placed under the control of organisation O which bears the responsibility for their distribution, etc., etc. This way, if weapons do end up in the hands of the Allah Or Bust brigade, we know there has been a terrible error made, and we can use this to judge that the administration has made the wrong decision. For some reason, though, we don’t have that kind of transparency either – the administration shadowily hints at what it is going to do, and we’re all guessing as to how it will do it. That’s a huge mistake.

So here I am finally on the side of not sending weapons…not because I think that’s clearly the right decision, but because I fear the way the decision is likely going to be made, given current indicators of the government’s behaviour.

That’s par for the course, I suppose. The whole history of the 2000s and the 2010s, for me, seems to be characterised by “I agree with what you are trying to do, but oppose the way you are trying to do it.” I was delighted Saddam Hussein got taken down but appalled by the rest of Bush’s Iraq decisions. Likewise, I’m delighted someone is resisting Assad, but here come some more of those questionable decisions about how that gets done. I don’t particularly want to be taken for a ride in Syria the way I was in Iraq. This is where I get off the carousel. If the administration wants my support, it should be more transparent.

But I have some questions for the anti-intervention types whose cause I am now reluctantly joining, and the most important of those questions is what they plan to do about Syrian refugees. You don’t want to get involved in a proxy war in Syria? Fine. Don’t. But leaving almost two million (and counting) refugees to fend for themselves as stateless people in other countries is likely to ensure that this war gets brought to the rest of the world. Imagine what it would be like if _your_ government was trying to obliterate you and the rest of the world said “Meh, whatever, as long as you don’t try to come to our country.” How might you respond? Would you let them calmly deport you back to Syria?

Syria, it should be pointed out, won’t let anyone renounce Syrian citizenship. This was a point that came up a few years ago when American authorities wouldn’t let Canadian citizen (and my fellow Ottawa-Gatineau resident) Maher Arar return to Canada because they suspected (it turned out, falsely) that he was a terrorist. Since Arar comes from Syria, and Syria won’t let anyone from there renounce citizenship, the Americans claimed it was legal for them to deport him back to Syria. Once in Syria, Arar was tortured by the Syrian government. (Since the Bush Administration treated Assad like a buddy, this was not seen as problematic. The Obama Administration has yet to repudiate this monstrous injustice to Arar.)

Right now, one of every six people in Lebanon is someone who is fleeing Syria. Jordan’s refugee camp for Syrians is now described as the “fourth-largest city in Jordan”. Turkey also has 400,000 Syrian refugees within its borders now, and there are about 160,000 Syrian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The most recent protests in Turkey and Egypt have done little to distinguish themselves as far as concern for Syrians are concerned – both of the protest movements now active in those countries have demonstrated vocal interest in deporting the Syrians back to Assad.

Do we allow that to happen? If we’ve decided it’s too risky, or imperial, or whatever, to make Syria safe for actual Syrians…are we also going to stand by while those who made it out are sent back to their oppressor?

As far as refugees from an unjust society are concerned, is “none” once again “too many” for the world to shelter? The alternative is unthinkable – to watch as Assad kills, and as those lucky enough to stay alive nurture a hatred of us for returning them to the scene of the crime.

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