Last Thursday, our beloved family dog, Katie, died at the age of 12. She was a gentle giant who respectfully deferred even to any mite-size puppy with a prior claim to a bone. Katie might have won the Nobel Peace Prize if not for her weakness for squirrels.
For five years the world has been largely paralyzed as President Bashar Assad has massacred his people, nurturing in turn the rise of ISIS and what the U.S. government calls genocide by ISIS. That’s why I argued that President Barack Obama’s passivity on Syria was his worst mistake, a shadow over his legacy.
The column sparked passionate disagreement from readers, so let me engage your arguments.
I agree that we can’t solve all the world’s problems, but it doesn’t follow that we shouldn’t try to solve any. Would it have been wrong during the Holocaust to try to bomb the gas chambers at Auschwitz? Was President Bill Clinton wrong to intervene in Kosovo to avert potential genocide there? For that matter, was Obama wrong two years ago when he ordered airstrikes near Mount Sinjar on the Iraq-Syria border, apparently averting genocidal massacres of Yazidi there?
Agreed, we shouldn’t dispatch ground forces to Syria or invest a trillion dollars. But why not fire missiles from outside Syria to crater military runways and ground the Syrian air force?
Let me push back. I opposed the Iraq War, but the public seems to have absorbed the wrong lesson – that military intervention never works – rather than the more complex lesson that it is a blunt and expensive tool with a mixed record.
Yes, the Iraq War was a disaster, but the no-fly zone in northern Iraq after the first gulf war was a huge success. Vietnam was a monumental catastrophe, but the British intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000 was a spectacular success. Afghanistan remains a mess, but airstrikes helped end genocide in the Balkans. U.S. support for Saudi bombing in Yemen is counterproductive, but Bill Clinton has said that his worst foreign policy mistake was not halting the Rwandan genocide.
And even if we eschew the military toolbox, what excuse do we have for not trying harder to give Syrian refugee children an education in neighboring countries? Depriving refugee kids of an education lays the groundwork for further tribalism, poverty, enmity and violence.
But, in fact, as even dogs know, a human is a human.
I wonder what would happen if Aleppo were full of golden retrievers, if we could see barrel bombs maiming helpless, innocent puppies. Would we still harden our hearts and “otherize” the victims? Would we still say “it’s an Arab problem; let the Arabs solve it”?
Yes, solutions in Syria are hard and uncertain. But I think even Katie in her gentle wisdom would have agreed that not only do all human lives have value, but also that a human’s life is worth every bit as much as a golden retriever’s.
The New York Times