The Syria Series//Intervening to Lay Groundwork//Dr. Jay Carney//

I should start off by advising you to read Tony Homsy’s prayer/blog below rather than mine…it’s perhaps the most eloquent and theologically honest response to the Syrian crisis that I’ve come across. And he speaks from out of Syria’s experience, which counts for far more than my outsider view…

Given my extensive studies on Rwanda, I can’t help but see Syria through the prism of Rwanda, Burundi and the Great Lakes region of Africa (the ethnic/political/colonial similarities themselves are striking). Perhaps this is why I find myself hesitating in a full-throated call for U.S. non-intervention (which seems to be the dominant voice in this conversation). This puts me in an odd position, as I opposed the Iraq War, had serious reservations about the Afghanistan War, and am generally skeptical about U.S. foreign intervention. And deep in my heart I think faithful followers of Jesus Christ should take the Sermon on the Mount more and not less seriously, which means engaging the pacifist vision that emerges from that narrative (and all of Jesus’s life and death for that matter). But I also think about April 1994, and the fact that a rapid international military intervention could have made a tangible difference in halting the genocide…and no one did anything. And I wonder…if our country would have had a “full debate” in April 1994 on intervention in Rwanda, would people be saying the same things as they do now…about the failure of U.S. Intervention in Somalia in 1993, about Vietnam, about how war never stops war, about the atrocities on both sides (the genocide closely followed a civil war), about equating peace with a decision that Congress makes? I find myself frustrated with this rhetoric, perhaps because so few of us have experienced the brutality of war on the ground in places like Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Eastern DRC, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. So it all seems like pious wordsmithing to me. That’s why Tony’s blog had such an impact on me…it seems real. He speaks from the complicated and real violence that has left over 100,000 people dead in a country that registered little in American popular consciousness until Obama threatened to launch missiles 2 weeks ago…

On one hand, war ultimately doesn’t resolve war, and violence doesn’t ultimately resolve violence…but do military interventions never help lay the groundwork for longer term peacebuilding? Without delving into the overused WWII examples, I will note that late 1990s British intervention in Sierra Leone made a tangible (not exclusive) contribution to ending a brutal war in that country, as did French intervention in Mali last year (the jury is admittedly still out, but Mali is in a much better place than a year ago). I’m not sure the Kosovo intervention was wholly without merit. The ongoing U.N. Intervention in Eastern Congo is not without deep problems, but most of the local Congolese leaders I met in January lamented first and foremost the Congolese army’s failure to protect their people…through force of arms as necessary. The worst phase of the Rwanda genocide itself ended in July 1994 when the rebel RPF militia took over the capital and sacked the genocidal government. As much as I would like to think that nonviolence can stop violence, I’m not sure that’s true, esp. in the face of brutal and massive human rights violations perpetrated by the state. Perhaps we’re still called to faithfully follow nonviolently, but in the words of one of my mentors Stanley Hauerwas (himself a pacifist), “people will die for the sake of your convictions.” This is hard.

I agree that war is not ultimately the answer, but would a Congressional vote to oppose Obama’s military strikes be the answer? Will peace come any sooner to Syria’s long-suffering people? Does the outside world have a role to play in this, or do we just sit back and allow nation-state identity to be the sole determinant of our ethical obligations? I fear that if Congress votes “no” this week and Obama holds off, there will be celebrations in churches (and libertarian political gatherings) across the country…and Syrians will continue to die by the thousands as Americans go back to their NFL games. Regardless of what the U.S. decides this week, peace will not immediately break out in Syria. And so the question that I am grappling with…and to which I don’t have a good answer…is how do we hasten peace? How does the bloodshed slow down? How are leaders held accountable for using chemical weapons on their own people? The Syrian war didn’t need to happen if Assad had heeded the largely non-violent calls for change in 2011…instead he brutally cracked down on protesters and inflamed the previously non-violent opposition. The rebels have been guilty of atrocities, but this is Assad’s war. And it is awful.

 

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