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Syria 911


President Obama gave a very compelling, powerfully argued speech yesterday in which he made the case for a military strike against Syria and also the case for delaying military intervention while we see if the Syrian government adheres to Russia’s proposal that the Assad government give up its chemical weapons.

What a relief for the Syrians. I’m sure the hundreds of Syrians who get killed today by bullets, bombs or just disease spread by the conflict are glad they weren’t killed by chemicals. Much better.

Geopolitics is politics on a global scale, which increases the tendency we see in local or national political dialogue to even more dramatically divorce itself from common sense and reach a higher level of absurdity by several orders of magnitude.

How do we solve a problem like Syria? Military actions tend to kill people, so humanitarians tend to be against war in general. Warfare also seldom solves underlying political or social problems. And we often do war for the wrong reasons. Speaking of that:

Today is the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, a tragedy that immediately killed nearly 3,000 Americans – and later prompted a war that killed many more of our soldiers, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

But let’s compare 9-11 to Syria, where more than 3,000 men, women and children are being killed every month.

Weekly deaths in Syria

The attacks of 9-11 led the U.S. into war with Iraq, a country run at the time by an awful dictator who killed his own people (sometimes using gas). Iraq had nothing to do with the Al Qaeda terrorist attack. But our nation felt compelled to act (official line) based on the faulty belief that the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein held chemical weapons and other ‘weapons of mass destruction.’

The evidence didn’t really add up back then and it still doesn’t. A decade or so later, it’s debatable whether or not Iraq is doing better or worse.

The messy outcome of our military intervention in Iraq is cited by many who now oppose a military strike in Syria. And a military strike will be messy, terrible and deadly. Innocent people will be killed, as they always are in these brutal and crude assaults. Even our ‘surgical’ drone attacks on terrorists in Pakistan prove this, that so-called collateral damage is not really collateral at all. It’s inherent to warfare.

That said, it really is absurd that the international community felt no urgency to take action against the actions taken so far by the government and military of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: More than 110,000 dead and counting, millions displaced and in refugee camps.

As we asked earlier on Humanosphere, Why are chemical weapons the red line that can’t be crossed? The answer is purely political: Because that was where President Obama drew the line.

But that doesn’t mean this makes any sense. Why wasn’t 100,000 dead a red line? Why wasn’t 10,000?

Let’s put aside the debate over whether or not we, the US government and our allies (or not), should or should not intervene in Syria.

The more fundamental question is if the international community has already failed Syria – and if so, what needs to change to prevent the inherently absurd tendencies of the geopolitical debate to provide cover for another massive catastrophe that could have been prevented.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.