Overwhelming public opposition to bombing Syria has been repeatedly attributed to the Iraq war by various media outlets. They’ve even come up with clever terms, like “Iraq fatigue” and “Iraq syndrome”, to describe the supposed illness that afflicts an overwhelming majority of the American public—because, it turns out, not wanting to drop bombs on people is a horrific disease that must be eradicated.
William Galston of the Brookings Institute took to the Wall Street Journal to scold this illness for getting in the way of saving the Syrian people. “Little more than a decade after the Vietnam syndrome was laid to rest, an Iraq syndrome has replaced it,” writes Galston. “The question is whether this new sentiment will dominate policy—whether acting for the wrong reasons in Iraq will prevent us from acting for the right reasons in Syria.”
At the Daily Beast, Eleanor Clift echoes this narrative, writing, “Everything is seen through the prism of Iraq, and the Iraq syndrome functions much the same as the Vietnam syndrome, making Obama’s challenge more than about Syria, but about banishing an entire mindset.”
In USA Today article titled, “Obama’s Syria push stymied by Iraq fatigue“, Senator Dick Durban—who voted in favor of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria— complains, “Our decision is being made in the shadow of the war in Iraq.”
MSNBC’s Richard Wolffe, who cheer led the invasion of Iraq, essentially told MSNBC’s Alex Wagner that Americans need to move past the Iraq war, arguing, “[Syria] really isn’t Iraq. There are huge differences and like after the post-Vietnam period, we have to break out of that.”
But war lovers aren’t alone in promoting the “Iraq syndrome” narrative.
Melissa Harris-Perry, a progressive on most issues, appeared on Alex Wagner’s show alongside Wolffe and she said the following: “The reason that so many progressives in this moment are having such a reaction of being appalled at the idea of intervention in Syria has much less to do with the Syria moment and much more to do with Iraq.”
However, a look back at polling data suggests that liberals/progressives were opposed to the Iraq invasion, before so-called “Iraq fatigue” existed.
As the Pew Research Center noted in March 2003, the month the United States invaded Iraq:
Liberal Democrats are the only ideological or demographic group in which a majority believes the United States made the wrong decision to use military force in Iraq. Most liberal Democrats (54%) think the United States made the wrong decision to attack Iraq, while 42% believe it was the right decision.
Whether intentional or not, for Harris-Perry to blame Iraq for progressive antagonism towards military intervention is disingenuous. But regardless of who is pushing it, the “Iraq Syndrome” trope is a bullshit argument that needs to stop.
We know Syria is not Iraq. And sure, the lies that pushed us to invade Iraq have likely led many Americans to question the Obama administration’s claims about Syria more than they otherwise would. But the idea that the Obama administration and his fellow war hawks are victims of the Iraq war’s legacy because it makes it harder for them to sell us war is beyond insulting and highly offensive.
First off, it makes it seem as though the biggest moral failing of the Iraq war was the Bush administration’s lies. Sure, we Americans got screwed (especially the 4,000 plus soldiers who died) and should rightfully be pissed and more wary of government warmongering. But you know who the Iraq war fucked over even more? The Iraqis.
The war might be a thing of the past for most Americans (with the exception of military veterans with PTSD), but for Iraqis, the war never ended. The overwhelming birth defects, another despotic regime, a lack of the basic services (electricity, clean running water, healthcare), endless bloodshed from US-fueled sectarian violence, not to mention the millions killed, injured, displaced, widowed and orphaned—this is what the United States did to Iraq. If anybody can claim to suffer from Iraq war fatigue, it is Iraqis.
Americans, and the world for that matter, have every reason to be resentful that our government lied to us, but don’t for one second believe that those who want to bomb Syria are the victims in this scenario.
There are also progressives turning to Iraq as the main reason to oppose Syria, and that’s a fair argument, but I don’t think it’s entirely effective, especially if evidence reveals that Assad was indeed behind the alleged chemical weapons attack. If the administration is telling the truth, pointing at Obama and shouting “Iraq lies” won’t cut it. For that reason, I find what the US government did to Iraq to be an even more compelling case against bombing Syria.
Either way, being angry about the US destruction of Iraq is not a syndrome. Perhaps those who aren’t offended by US imperialism are the ones with the illness.
Speaking of Syria, I wrote an article for Al Jazeera America highlighting the voices of Syrian activists who participated in the initial uprising and have continued, against incredible odds, to nonviolently oppose the Assad regime. Though they’re not a monolith, the majority of people I spoke with were opposed to US military intervention. It’s no surprise, then, that they’ve been largely excluded from media coverage of the conflict. Here’s an excerpt:
Somar Kanjo, 30, joined the first wave of protests in Damascus in the spring of 2011, then fled to his hometown of Saraqeb in the northern Idlib province. While he has dedicated himself to non-violent projects such as producing educational materials for displaced children in rebel-controlled areas, Kanjo supports those who have joined rebel fighting groups. “I’m against being armed, but it was necessary,” he told Al Jazeera by phone from Turkey, where he was visiting his parents. “The regime made it necessary.”
Since it fell to rebel forces over a year ago, Saraqeb has been a target of relentless government shelling, which is why, according to Kanjo, most Syrians in the town welcome U.S. military intervention.
But in Damascus, most of which remains under regime control, even many opponents of the regime also oppose U.S. intervention, according to Khaled Harbash.
Harbash, 21, joined the uprising in April 2011 by helping to organize demonstrations as head of the Hama Civil Team. He moved to Damascus last year, where he has continued to engage in political activism with Building the Syrian State Current, a non-violent opposition group whose members organize meetings and democracy-building workshops among Syrian youth in hopes of building an inclusive foundation for a post-Assad government. The Current opposes outside intervention and armed opposition and favors a diplomatic solution to the conflict. Though it operates independently of the internationally recognized opposition groups, its members inside Syria continue to be targeted by the Assad regime.
Harbash is equally disdainful of all outside parties engaged in Syria’s conflict. Russia, the Gulf states, the West and Turkey are all “part of the problem and complicit in the crimes committed against civilians in Syrian villages and cities,” Harbash said. “What started as interference is now an assault on Syria’s sovereignty.”
He fears that outside intervention prolongs Syria’s war and could turn the country into “a failed state.”
“The United States is not an international judge who can punish and forgive as they please,” said Harbash. “Any military strike would not be against the regime, but against the entire country. And Syrians who for two and a half years have suffered from the war will bear the consequences.”
Osama Nasser, 35, is an activist with the SNVM who recently moved from Damascus — where he’d been in hiding — to East Ghouta, the rebel-controlled area targeted in the alleged gas attack two weeks ago. Although he also opposes the proposed punishment strike over the Ghouta attack, he’s angrier that the international community had done nothing to stop the violence that has claimed more than 100,000 lives over the past two and a half years. “The West cares only about its reputation or its image,” he said, “not about innocent lives slaughtered every single day.”
Nasser has little faith in a limited U.S. action that will leave the regime intact. “Besides,” he says, “the history of such intervention doesn’t show that this will bring peace or democracy for the country.”
When asked why he committed to nonviolent resistance instead of joining the armed rebellion, Nasser said: “I believe in people power. Arms don’t bring democracy.”
You can read the rest here.