Does the Washington Post Editorial Page Have ANY Standards Left?

by Kevin Jon Heller

Apparently not, because yesterday’s war propaganda editorial by Sebastian Junger beating the drum for attacking Syria is just spectacularly awful. I’ve been out of the fisking game for a while, but the editorial simply can’t pass unmentioned.

Every war I have ever covered — Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Liberia — withstood all diplomatic efforts to end it until Western military action finally forced a resolution. Even Afghanistan, where NATO troops stepped into a civil war that had been raging for a decade, is experiencing its lowest level of civilian casualties in more than a generation.

When you’re citing Afghanistan — now in its 12th year of conflict, with tens of thousands of civilian casualties, millions of refugees, 3300+ dead US soldiers, and a price tag nearing $500 billion — as an example of successful Western military action, you should probably just stop, delete your file, and go play with your kids.

(But I do like the slogan for the US: “Year 12 in Afghanistan: Lowest Civilian Casualties Ever!”)

That track record should force even peace advocates to consider that military action is required to bring some wars to an end. And yet there’s been little evidence of that sentiment in American opposition to missile strikes against military targets in Syria.

Obama has specifically disclaimed any intention to end the Syrian civil war through military action. But whatever.

Even after 1,400 Syrian civilians, including 400 children, were killed in a nerve gas attack that was in all likelihood carried out by government forces, the prospect of American military intervention has been met with a combination of short-sighted isolationism and reflex pacifism — though I cannot think of any moral definition of “antiwar” that includes simply ignoring the slaughter of civilians overseas.

Yes, the only basis for opposing military action against Syria is “isolationism” or “reflex pacifism.” It cannot be based on the US’s failure to articulate a plausible strategy for using military force, the potential for the US to be drawn even deeper into a bloody civil war, or concern over whether the rebels are all that much better than Assad.

Also, I checked — and I cannot find a single published editorial by Junger calling for military action against Syria prior to the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons. So apparently it’s fine to ignore the slaughter of civilians overseas, just as long as they are being slaughtered in conventional ways.

Of course, even the most ardent pacifist can’t deny that the credible threat of U.S. force is what made the Syrian regime at all receptive to a Russian proposal that it relinquish control of its stockpiles of nerve agents.

No, but someone who pays attention to US politics can. As I pointed out a few days ago, Obama’s threat was anything but credible when Syria became receptive to the Russian proposal. It was exquisitely clear by then that Congress was not going to authorize a military attack on Syria.

The reality is that we have staked our military and economic security on making sure that no other country — including our longtime allies — has anywhere close to the military capabilities that we do. We are safe in our borders because we are the only nation that can park a ship in international waters and rain cruise missiles down on specific street addresses in a foreign city for weeks on end. And we enjoy extraordinary wealth because our foreign trade and oil imports are protected by the world’s most powerful navy.

At least Junger is honest and admits the symbiotic relationship between the US’s military hegemony and its economic prosperity. Now, some people may think it’s probably not a good idea for the US to “rain cruise missiles down on specific street addresses in a foreign city for weeks on end.” But that’s only because they don’t care about keeping the country safe and prosperous. And after all, Junger would be categorically opposed to such attacks if the tips of the cruise missiles were coated with sarin.

I find it almost offensive that anyone in this country could imagine they are truly pacifist while accepting the protection and benefit of all that armament. If you have a bumper sticker that says “No Blood For Oil,” it had better be on your bike.

Remember, tree huggers: unless you live in the woods like the Unabomber, you have no right to criticize US intervention in Afghanistan, in Iraq, or in any other situation the US decides is a threat to its security and “extraordinary wealth.” No, not even if you are in favor of renewable energy sources and reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. If you use even a drop of oil — to soften your baseball glove, say, or to keep that door from squeaking and waking up your newborn — you are committed to uncritically supporting all US foreign-policy decisions in perpetuity.

The United States is in a special position in the world, and that leads many people to espouse a broad American exceptionalism in foreign affairs. Even if they’re correct, those extra rights invariably come with extra obligations. Precisely because we claim such a privileged position, it falls to us to uphold the international laws that benefit humanity in general and our nation in particular.

It’s not just America’s job, it’s America’s duty to uphold international law! By, you know, violating it.

The civil war in Syria has killed more than 100,000 people essentially one person at a time, which is clearly an abomination, but it is not defined as a crime against humanity. The mass use of nerve agents against civilians is a crime against humanity, however. As such, it is a crime against every single person on this planet.

Yes, you read that right. It is not a crime against humanity for a government to murder 100,000 of its own citizens, but it is a crime against humanity to murder 1,000 of them with chemical weapons. Bashir, Saif Gaddafi, and Charles Taylor will be so relieved!

(Junger obviously has absolutely no idea what a crime against humanity is — and, apparently, no interest in finding out. Probably because doing so might undermine his claim that the noble thing to do is intervene in a civil war after 100,000 innocent civilians have been murdered. It’s like the Eddie Izzard line: “after a couple of years, we won’t stand for that…”)

(And no, it’s not “essentially one person at a time.” Junger might want to read something about the stretches of the Syrian civil war he doesn’t care about. You can’t hug your children with ballistic missiles.)

President Obama is not arguing for an action that decimates the Assad regime and allows rebel forces to take over. He is not saying that we are going to put our troops at risk on the ground in Syria, or that it will be a long and costly endeavor, or even that it will be particularly effective. He is saying that he does not want us to live in a world where nerve gas can be used against civilians without consequences of any kind.

Umm, isn’t the title of Junger’s editorial “When the Best Chance for Peace Means War”? So now peace is defined not as the end of fighting — you silly literalists — but as a symbolic (but muscular!) affirmation of the unacceptability of chemical weapons? On the bright side, not defining peace to require peace makes establishing peace much easier.

If killing 1,400 people with nerve gas is okay, then killing 14,000 becomes imaginable. When we have gotten used to that, killing 14 million may be next.

Welcome to the slippery cliff! Putting aside Junger’s absurd hyperbole, it’s probably worth noting again that killing 14,000 people has already become imaginable — Assad killed seven times as many before Obama (and apparently Junger) decided it was necessary to attack Syria. So we should probably just stop trying to justify attacking Syria on “humanitarian” grounds.

The Washington Post should be embarrassed to have published this nonsense.

http://opiniojuris.org/2013/09/13/washington-post-editorial-page-standards-left/

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