THE BLOG

Too Burned Out on War to Care

Oh yes, let's please get involved in Syria. We're really on a hot streak with war, lately.

If the UN Security Council approves action given recent findings that Assad has used chemical weapons or at least initiated their use in the Syrian civil war, the United States seems poised to Moonify the Syrian landscape. The U.S. may feel obligated to act under the "Responsibility to Protect," by no means a binding international agreement to intervene in atrocities after all peaceful options have yielded nothing. It makes sense, after all. You'd want your neighbor to call the police if your spouse was abusing you, and you'd want the world's most powerful military to step in if your own government is trying to wipe you out. Thus, if you are really a freedom-loving nation then you'll intervene when freedom is stolen to make sure it is returned.

But the American public is clearly not on board with any sort of military intervention in Syria. If you click that link, it will bring you to a WaPo article titled "Syria intervention even less popular than Congress," which should really say something. Max Fisher reports:

Strangely, 25 percent said that they support intervention if Assad uses chemical weapons. I say strangely because the United States announced way back in June that it believed Assad had done exactly this. A large share of people who answered that the United States should intervene if Assad uses chemical weapons are apparently unaware that this line has already been crossed. Presumably, some number of these people would drop their support if they realized the question was no longer hypothetical.

In other words, we have a clear understanding of where the line in the sand is, we just aren't willing to do anything if and when it is crossed. It's hearing your neighbor beating his wife and turning on the air conditioning.

It's no wonder we're reluctant to engage, though. We're burned out. We're burned out on being the self-proclaimed earth police, we're burned out on failing at it, we're burned out on everyone justifiably hating us, we're burned out on the financial burden, we're burned out on hearing what we're doing to our myriads of veterans, we're burned out on this stupid jobs market that after five years still isn't ready to absorb the hundreds of thousands of them finally coming home for good. It's an irresponsible reason to not stand by your word, never mind do what you know is right. As far as good reasons to get involved in a war go, defending the helpless is about as good as it gets. But is getting involved in the tangled relations surrounding Syria somehow less irresponsible? Were we really convinced we were helping the Iraqi and Afghani people or were we just so angry and terrified that we didn't care so long as something was being done? Now that we know that the Bush administration actively took advantage of our confusion to such a disgraceful degree, we are too ashamed to get involved that way again. Despite knowing for sure that the Syrian government is violently oppressing its dissidents, we don't trust our instincts anymore.

Do not misunderstand me, I'm with the 91 percent on this. I was with the 0 percent before Afghanistan and Iraq, but I was only 15 then and no one listened to me for some reason. In fact, I have to wonder if Dubya didn't unintentionally help us out with those stupid wars. In the alternate reality where our born-again Christian president decided to force his beliefs on the country and, against popular opinion, turned the other cheek to al Qaeda, would we not be somewhat more inclined to get involved? Maybe, so long as we didn't simply move on to someone else to punish: North Korea for actually having WMD, Ahmadinejad for democratic suppression, Kony and his hilariously overstated children's army. Without being burned out on Bush's blunders, we might have tried region-wide "democracy building" during the 2011 Arab Spring, getting ourselves more involved than we're even considering now.

It doesn't make us any more comfortable with the elephant in the room: that if Assad is poisoning his own people, we may have to stand by and let it happen. It's abominable, no question, but there is more at stake than just our own fatigued soldiers. Syria could not be a worse country to be drawing our military interest right now. For one, every powerhouse nation backing Assad has not been sitting at our lunch table as of late. What with Snowden and the recent crackdown on homosexuality, our relationship with Russia -- Assad's best friend in diplomacy -- is frigid at best. Let's not even get into our feelings about Iran, which has sent 150 military advisors from the famed Revolutionary Guard to aid the Syrian Armed Forces -- credited with reversing the momentum away from the rebels. Combined with our die-hard loyalty to Israel, our Ecce Homo restoration of Iraq, and our downright strange relationships with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, this is one party we would do well to just avoid and be the straight-edge kid who hangs out at Dunks and waits for his friends to call for ride home.

If you remember your history lessons over staring at the clock and suddenly noticing that the kid you've known since kindergarten got super hot over summer vacation, you'll recall that almost nobody who fought in World War I had anything to do with the conflict that started it. If not for the alliances that tangled together like so many cords behind a TV, whole countries may never have been involved at all. Twitter personality @TheBigPharaoh posted this diagram of the foreign relations around Syria. Almost a full century after the assassination of Prince Ferdinand, that should really strike home. That is the political equivalent of Christmas lights from the attic. The only thing missing from that diagram is France and the UK threatening Assad with hellfire and our de facto loyalty to them.

We've seen this movie, and it doesn't end well. In the same way the disaster of WWI stemmed from being a 19th Century war fought with 20th Century weapons, the first great war of the 21st century would see the rise of the military hacker: State treasuries wiped and intranets riddled with worms and viruses, whole electrical grids and infrastructures knocked out, the instantaneous activation of nuclear arsenals. I don't think we have it in us as a species to make it through that. Wouldn't you prefer a nice game of chess?