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Hell in Syria: Who favors intervention?

The Syria nightmare has gotten worse than imaginable, and now the only thing conceivably worse is what can be expected in the foreseeable future. In this awful environment, some interesting data has appeared about public attitudes from two important parts of the world: the U.S. and the Middle East. Here are a few thoughts about the findings. Please read this as not as a collection of cold statistics, but as a tally of how human beings assess the lives and value of other human beings, their responsibility to humanity and their fears and morals.

U.S. on Syria: 45 percent of Americans support military intervention in Syria by the U.S. and its allies, if it is confirmed that the regime has used chemical weapons against the rebels. Only 31 percent actively oppose it and nearly one quarter have no opinion. The Pew survey was taken prior to the EU’s non-extension of the weapons embargo on Syria on Monday, a step in the direction of Europe providing arms and perhaps towards intervention – which for Americans, could incrementally legitimize intervention.

However, only 18 percent of those surveyed said they are closely following news about Syria. That means over 80 percent gave an answer (or had none) based on something other than what they actually know about Syria. My guess is that for the one-third who are opposed, the traumas and controversies surrounding a decade of two American wars left them resistant to new interventions, regardless of the circumstances. Nearly half accept the principle of intervention – it’s not clear whether they support it in order to stop the slaughter or in order to maintain President Obama’s “red line” credibility.  Still, this is a major shift from March and December of 2012, when only one-quarter of Americans felt the U.S. had any responsibility for involvement.

The Middle East on Syria: Another recent Pew study shows consistently low support among Middle Eastern countries for the U.S. and the West providing military aid (weapons and supplies).

Jordan is the only country in which a 53 percent majority supports such assistance, compared to 44 percent who reject it. Egypt, Tunisia, the Palestinians, Turkey and Lebanon all reject military aid by nearly two to one or even more (in Lebanon fewer than one-fifth support intervention and a full 80 percent are against it).

It doesn’t seem logical to connect support in those countries suffering spillover effects of the war (by some estimates there are 360,000 refugees in Jordan at present), since Lebanon, the war’s most imminent victim, is most opposed.

My explanation here is, of course, speculative as well. It seems possible that after having watched the effects of American and Western military involvement in their region, many Middle Easterners arrived at the conclusion that these are the last things they want to happen at their borders again.

It is heart-wrenching to wonder how the world can “stand by” and watch what is now estimated to be the slaughter of anywhere from 80,000 to 120,000 people and millions of others displaced (by one estimate I heard, so far in 2013, 8,500 are being killed every month). If the people of this region don’t want Western help, they must be afraid it will make things even worse, if that’s possible.

Or maybe it’s not that. Maybe Middle Easterners (and for that matter, the Americans who are opposed) share the view of Charles Glass, writing in The Guardian: “…24 million Syrians are victims of the escalating arms deliveries to all sides. They face a prolonged war whose casualties will dwarf the estimated 70,000 lives lost to date” (a conservative estimate from March). Glass offers a screamingly modest proposal that Iran and Russia refrain from pouring arms into this corner of hell, rather than adding more.

Another modest proposal came in the form of a low-publicity panel held at Tel Aviv University yesterday titled, “The Humanitarian Disaster in Syria.” The question was whether Israel, despite one million political reasons not to, can find a way to provide humanitarian assistance. The panel was chaired by Dr. Eyal Chowers, and his response was an urgent yes; he suggested for a start that Israel open its doors to refugees from Syria for now. I can imagine enormous complexities to implementing that (for example, the fact that Israel has been completely incompetent at coping with the African asylum seekers already here, and therefore such a move seems politically unrealistic). But the general point Dr. Chowers made is incontrovertible to my mind: “the question is not how Israel can justify humanitarian intervention, but how it can justify non-intervention?”

This raises the question of what Americans or Middle Easterners would have answered if they had been given other options in the polls: like supporting more countries getting involved in humanitarian aid and intervention, or expanding arms embargoes on the countries shamelessly pouring them in. Maybe it’s time for everyone to start asking these questions.

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    1. aristeides

      Of course it would make things even worse. That’s what military intervention does, it kills more people.

      And now Russia is intervening on the other side, so Syria is going to end up hosting a proxy war between interventionists.

      Not to mention Israel, who never seems to have heard that starting a war with Russia isn’t a good idea.

      I think that if it weren’t for the assumptions on both sides that outside powers would intervene, the Syrians wouldn’t gone nearly so far, on both sides.

      This isn’t going to end well.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn9

      Now that Iran, Hezbollah and Iran have intervened on one side it wouldn’t be sporting to not intervene on the other. This is especially true since both Hezbollah and Iran seem to have hitched their wagons to Assad’s fading star. None of these groups are interested in compromise and that’s fine.

      Send anti-tank and anti-air weapons to the Syrian rebels and let them bleed Hezbollah and Iran until they can’t take it any more and abandon Assad. This is what Iran did to the Americans in Iraq when it supplied the Shia militias with training and IEDs to target American and coalition forces. Hezbollah’s previous attacks on American marines in Lebanon are well known. Turnabout is fair play. Make Hezbollah run chastened with its tail tucked between its legs back to the Dahiyeh and force Iran to be isolated from their proxies and facing a hostile Arab world.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        That should be Iran, Hezbollah and Russia..

        Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Iran and Iran are really ganging up in Syria.

        K9 makes the anti-intervention case very clear.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          There is no anti-intervention case. Intervention has already taken place. The question is whether Iranian, Russian and Hezbollah intervention should be allowed to stand and Assad should be allowed to massacre his way to keeping himself in power.

          Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      It’s particularly foolish to assume that one intervention requires more intervention on the other side. That way lies total war.

      But as long as only Arabs and Iranians are dying, it would seem to be OK with K9.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Brought to you by the school of thought that was against intervention because it was an ‘internal Syrian problem’. Now it is against intervention because, well, it is just against intervention. The truth is that you are against intervention because you wish for Assad to slaughter his opponents and you forgive Hezbollah because it does that which you support – murder Israelis.

        Reply to Comment
        • aristeides

          Load of bullshit, K9.

          You possess rational faculties, but Zionism has ruined them.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Says the man who thinks that Hezbollah is going to Syria to massacre Sunnis as part of its supposed mission of defending Lebanon from Israel. Not even the Lebanese buy this load of crap.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Yaron

      The author quickly draws the conclusion that accepting refugees from Syria means intervention and dismisses it comparing war refugees to political and economic refugees from Africa. But there is a difference between aid and intervention. Turkey and Jordan received refugees without being dragged into the war, even though it is not easy. I would be happy if even a symbolic gesture would be made to help the Syrians. This would certainly help Israel leave its ‘living with its back to the Middle East’ mentality in the long run. But I know I may as well talk to a wall…

      Reply to Comment
    5. Boro

      Why everybody see violence as the only mean to solve the Syrian issue.
      What started as an internal/small Syrian problem turned to become a global war, or an introduction to a third world war.

      Why everybody see Hizbulla as the problem (Hizbulla is a small melisha) that has a bloody history with Israel.

      just try to be rational and remember Media is not biased about wts happening in Syria and with war only suffering come, nothing els

      Reply to Comment