The Outrage Gap
01.31.13 7:00 PM ET
Seize Syria's Chemical Supply Before It's Too Late
With reports of an Israeli attack on a dangerous convoy moving weapons from Syria to Lebanon, amid broader rumors of Israel contemplating a fuller attack to prevent Syria’s lethal store of weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists, the international community’s—and the left’s—silence and passivity on this issue is appalling. This is not only Israel’s problem. Israel should not handle it alone. The fear of supporting one side or another to manage the Syrian outcome is understandable. It is a mess and it could be hard to avoid getting swept into a long-term quagmire. Nevertheless, amid the chaos, an international force should go in and secure Syria’s most lethal armaments, especially its stock of chemical weapons.
Yes, mission creep is a problem. Once there are “boots on the ground,” they might get caught in the crossfire and overstay their welcome. But what is needed is a raid, not an invasion, an international force with credibility swooping down on specific targets, seizing the weapons, and destroying them, or at least securing them until some stable Syrian leadership emerges.
This mission could serve as a valuable international precedent that would have been useful as Libya fell and Islamist extremists seized some of its vast armory. The Syrian situation is particularly compelling because the Assad regime is known to have chemical weapons in this particularly volatile region. Israel is justifiably worried about those chemical weapons, in addition to anti-aircraft weapons and other Middle East “game-changers” ending up in the hands of Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaeda or other entities sworn to destroy the Jewish State. There are simply too many terrorist groups around combining an exterminationist ideology with a totalitarian lack of conscience about using whatever means are necessary to advance their goals for Israel’s leaders to sit by for too long on this file.
The world can decide, once again, to make Israel the world’s garbage man, doing useful dirty work and then getting condemned ritualistically. Or, for once, we can see some mature leadership regarding the Middle East. Just as George H.W. Bush assembled an international force to liberate Kuwait after Saddam Hussein invaded his neighbor two decades ago, President Barack Obama should assemble an international force to liberate the world from concerns about this storehouse of illegal weapons becoming readily available to armies of international outlaws. And those who consider themselves progressives and peace activists should encourage the President to act boldly but carefully here, working with others to ensure the mission’s credibility, while keeping the goals focused to guarantee the mission’s success.
This proposition should be weighed carefully. The United States and its allies should not violate another country’s sovereignty casually. This move would be a bold, desperate, out-of-the-box reaction to an increasingly incendiary situation. But the volatility of the Syria situation and the lethality of the weapons involved justify such an initiative.
Progressives and peace-seekers claim to be committed to disarmament. But just as there has been a suspicious silence from the professedly pro-disarmament left regarding Iran’s rush toward nuclear power, the silence on Syria has been revealing. More broadly, with a death toll in the tens of thousands, the muted progressive outrage on the Syria mess is defining. The outrage gap between the minimal censure Syria’s mass killings has stirred and the vehement censure Israel’s far more benign, never-lethal-on-that-scale occupation continually attracts illuminates the progressive community’s decreasing credibility on Middle Eastern issues. It seems that Israel’s established role as the progressive target, the left’s whipping boy, distorts the usual moral compass used, inhibits the usual instinctive reactions, mutes the usual outrage and perverts the usual agenda.
Despicable human rights violations, dangers of nuclear proliferation, and threats from chemical weapons of extermination somehow are more tolerated from Israel’s enemies. The longstanding, worldwide epidemic of anti-Zionist myopia—which takes Israel’s guilt for granted—combined with an equally longstanding liberal condescension toward the Arab world—which often absolves Arabs of guilt for immoral international acts—help explain the hypocrisy. But with the contemptible Assad regime teetering, and the regime’s deadly storehouses vulnerable, it is time for some creative, pioneering, visionary leadership and action—quickly, decisively, before it is too late.