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What Is to Be Done in Syria?

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As the UN Inspection team left Syria Saturday morning and some reflect upon President Obama's apparent dwelling in a "lonely place" with regard to military strikes against Syria -- it has become clear that the new rallying cry for the west seems to be: Something Must Be Done.

Indeed, John Kerry implored that Something Must Be Done in Syria on Friday and
he is now, "seized with the importance" of Syria pushing hard to ensure military action is taken. However, unlike in many planned interventions of the past which often had key geopolitical strategic aims, today many seem to view Syria as a template for the west's -- and their own -- 'moral correctness'. Hence Kerry's assertion that an attack "matters deeply to the credibility" of the United States.

Of course, it is a horrific matter, killing citizens and humans. However, it seems reasonable to ask how specifically when 100,000 have already died, why using chemical weapons is somehow now far worse. President Obama warned of crossing a "red line" -- and now there is concern that "American credibility is at stake". Very little of the discussion is about national sovereignty or autonomy -- or indeed the impact such strikes are supposed to have, aside from somehow ameliorating a profound sense of western guilt.

As Brendan O'Neil the editor of UK publication Spiked argues, gone are the political goals of the past and instead what has come to replace them in this ideological vacuum of our time is a therapeutic attempt to galvanize some sense of purpose in the west, by bombing "evil."

Of course, things are never quite as clear as "good vs. evil" once one gets out of the movie theater and in to the real world. The world where in Syria, the west has intervened already and exacerbated tensions along ethnic lines, given weight and support to "leaders" who were not in the ground but in Sorbonne -- gushing over the Syrian National Council and exaggerating claims for the Free Syrian Army. Lacking clear goals and objectives, the cack-handed nature of western intervention has been far more about trying to present itself as having some kind of moral purpose at home -- and has intensified issues and helped make it more regionally problematic. All the while the very real issue of ordinary citizens and the devastating impact of a civil war is discussed in the terms of politicians quest for moral righteousness.

The desire for a "low-impact" affair, with minimal western casualties but some kind of "show" of what is "right" versus "wrong" is utterly juvenile. It represents the hole at the heart of western thinking. David Cameron, the British prime minister, was extremely enthusiastic for a military attack, although parliament voted against it. Obama has declared that "a lot of people think something should be done but nobody wants to do it". The implication being, someone has to be strong enough, of moral fiber and mettle to just -- do it.

Charles Blow points out today in a piece entitled "War Weariness" that 50 percent of Americans according to an NBC News Poll are opposed to military intervention. Blow asks whether we must always take action.

Doing nothing -- in fact -- is also a clear action. Too often we keep hearing the cry "Something Must Be Done" and that is a somewhat despairing clarion cry which will do little to help the situation in Syria and much potentially to harm it. It has become more apparent to many the destabilizing and intensification of conflict effect that western military strikes can have.

In an age where the Cold War is long gone and the "humanitarian intervention" of the 90's was left sorely exposed and backfired and with Afghanistan and Iraq still with us, it is shocking that the discussion about military strikes and attacks are reducible to a morality play about "decent" western politicians versus "evil" others. An attempt to combine "no boots" militarism with declarations of moral superiority will not help the situation in Syria. Posturing and asserting that the Syrian chemical attack necessitates a response from Europe and the U.S. with absolutely no sense of what that is meant to achieve beyond a "we are outraged, we don't like you," is irresponsible, craven and dangerous.

We do much, much more by arguing to not attack. That is what is to be done.