On Anti-Interventionist Politics and Grief for Aleppo

This is a complicated moment for many with anti-interventionist politics. Do I feel differently about US military intervention in Syria than I did when I spoke up for the first time against US involvement? No. Do I carry the weight of knowing that none of us can ever be certain of anything, and that people are dying horribly right now? Yes. I do feel that weight, and I think that’s appropriate.

Reports coming out of Aleppo indicate that the city’s remaining medical practitioners are being slaughtered — if they are not dead already — and that entire families are being executed, both in the streets and in their own homes, as others voice on social media that amid the approaching sounds of explosions, they expect to be dead soon.

Only a few years ago, I stood in front of a crowd and spoke to why I did not think we should engage, militarily, with what was happening in Syria. I remember what I said — what many of us said — and I believe it no less now as it now rings in my ears alongside the words of those facing unthinkable violence in Aleppo. I still believe it because I think we must make decisions that are guided by what we know about systems and the outcomes they bring. Millions of people are dead because of the interventionist warfare that has played out over the past two administrations. Even when named as humanitarian, US military interventions are grounded in imperialism, and we know what bloody nightmares that imperialism brings.

The severity of an atrocity does does not change the reality of our practices, with regard to intervention and endless war.

That is not to say that the world has not failed Syria. We most assuredly have. But failure takes many shapes, and I do not believe that failing to throw bombs at a complex social and political problem was one of them. But I acknowledge that many feel we should have intervened militarily on their behalf, and I feel their anger and grief deeply. I feel that I should.

But I am also painfully aware of the ways in which we did participate. Through leaked diplomatic cables, we know that the United States government not only worked to destabilize the Syrian government, with an eye toward regime change, but actively encouraged sectarianism to fuel those efforts. As Robert Naiman wrote in The WikiLeaks Files, “It was easy to predict then that, while a strategy of promoting sectarian conflict in Syria might indeed help undermine the Syrian government, it could also help destroy Syrian society.”

The CIA’s bungled efforts to affect matters on the ground — where militants armed by the Pentagon actually wound up fighting groups armed by the CIA — are an excellent reflection of how clueless the United States has been with regard to this conflict. As a country, we didn’t know how to coax a better outcome, from a military standpoint, and more firepower wouldn’t have changed that. When a country has no working strategy, no concept of how to align itself with a just and strategic outcome, adding more explosions is not a fix.

That said, I believe in assuming the weight of our positions, because some decisions are heavy, whether we’re right or wrong. And I will never assume that I am above mistakes and missteps, especially in matters affecting the safety and freedom of others. So while I hold to my beliefs today, in grief for what we are witnessing from afar, those beliefs do feel heavy in my heart and in my hands.

The story of what has happened, and what is happening in Syria is complicated, and I am definitely not best suited to tell it, but there are many, many ways in which the systems we oppose laid the groundwork for all of this, and compounded the struggles of those most impacted. So when we talk about how we failed Syria, and what we can do now — as well we should — let’s remember to dig deep and not act as though our only moments of truth are about whether or not to pull a trigger.

All of that said, I believe that as people who love justice, we have a duty to bear witness, and I will continue to do so. Social media has created a means for some people to be heard in what may be their last hours, and I will hear them. I hope many of you will do the same, and that we will echo the truth of their experiences in whatever ways we can. We must honor their truth and the truth of this moment, now and always — while doing whatever we can to help.

To all who are impacted by these atrocities, I extend my love and solidarity, for whatever it is worth in this moment.