Lest I seem like I’m piling on the Syrian rebellion, I want to be clear: Bashar al-Assad is a thug who should be removed from power and then removed from society, if not his life, as soon as humanly possible. Reports like this, from Human Rights Watch, are simply horrific. ThinkProgress reports:
In the newly released report, Human Rights Watch chronicles the increasing use of air strikes in the ongoing conflict in Syria, representing a shift from the early days of fighting. Since the beginning of the conflict, an estimated 70,000 Syrians have died, mostly at the hands of government security forces.
Among the targets that the Assad regime is said in the report to have focused on include those with no military value, but instead represent areas where civilians would meet in large numbers. This includes eight documented air strikes on four bakeries throughout Syria, all while Hpeople waited in bread lines away from active fighting between the government and rebel fighters. In once instance, a government helicopter circled a bakery near Aleppo, before dropping two bombs in the immediate vicinity, killing at least twenty-three civilians and injuring another thirty.
The Syrian Air Force, lacking any sort of technology that would enable it to distinguish military targets in civilian areas and strike them with any precision, is nevertheless routinely ordered to strike civilian areas suspected of containing rebel targets. Another name for that kind of thing is “war crimes.”
When I criticize the DC/Serious People impulse to Do Something because People are Dying, Man! it’s not because I don’t think the United States can and should play a role in preventing genocide or stopping warlords (which is all Assad is at this point) from massacring their own people. What concerns me is when we act without invitation, without international legitimacy, without thinking about what to do, inconsistently (why do some atrocities warrant our attention yet others do not?) and hypocritically (as, for example, when we insist that we have to topple a dictator because he once gassed his own people with chemical weapons that we sold to him). Our intervention into Libya didn’t really bother me–the Libyan fighters asked for western aid, NATO and the UN were behind the intervention, and we didn’t arm them and thereby risk arming terrorists (we green-lit having the Qataris arm them, which was probably not the best idea, but baby steps).
Directly aiding the Syrian rebels means trying to pull apart the rebel coalition to figure out which are the “moderate” rebels, and the fact of the matter is, we don’t know. We never know. Providing advanced military hardware to a diverse rebel coalition that definitely includes groups affiliated with al-Qaeda is insanity. But we don’t have to provide direct military aid! If we established some international consensus and aided the Syrian rebels by, say, instituting a no-fly zone over Syria, or just straight-up wiping out Syria’s air capacity, I would be absolutely in favor of that. We won’t, though, because Russia will block any such move at the UN and NATO doesn’t seem to be interested in prodding Russia over this. We should do it anyway. People are dying. Man.