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7,000 AND COUNTING: As Syria bleeds, it's time the world took responsibility to do the right thing -- military intervention
IN his 2009 Nobel lecture, President Barack Obama said that "the belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice". Invoking Kennedy, he called for "a more practical, more attainable peace". One "based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions".
It was bold. It was daring. It was a cold and brutal wake-up call in support of the practical rather than the ideological. This is how the world works. This is reality. These are our choices.
Because exhortation alone was insufficient and that it was incumbent upon all nations to engage in order to bring about peace.
That diplomacy should always be the first recourse. And that "sanctions without outreach -- condemnation without discussion -- can carry forward only a crippling status quo".
The apparent indecision of the international community in the face of the recent renewed brutality in Syria has once again given rise to that enduring question of whether the world has both a responsibility and a duty to protect the citizens of a country even from their own oppressive and merciless rulers. We find ourselves, once again, debating the effectiveness of military action.
We find ourselves, once again, frustrated by the inefficacy of our diplomacy. There seems to be a line of reasoning, that despite the continuing atrocities, that despite the sustained assault on the civilian population, the death toll in Syria is still relatively low. The implication being that more people need to be massacred before military intervention can be justified.
The death toll in Syria currently stands at around 7,000, and while the rate of killing has been significantly lower than that in both Libya and Egypt, one can't help but wonder just how many more must die -- and at what frequency -- before our "responsibility to protect" kicks in.
What is this magic number? What's more, how long do we pursue the current course, how long do we continue to hope that discourse and diplomacy will somehow resolve an escalating civil war when it hasn't for almost a year?
There is no denying that a diplomatic solution would be an ideal one. Alas, the notion of prevailing on President Bashar al-Assad's better angels is looking more and more like wishful thinking at the moment.
When was the last time a despot listened to reason? When was the last time a dictator was swayed by the virtue of a good argument?
It is why diplomacy in these situations must be always be founded upon the credible threat of military force. One that the international community must be ready and willing to follow through unless a particular set of conditions are met. Because such a credible threat serves a greater purpose than just that of putting the fear of God into dictators and despots.
It could also embolden local opposition. It could encourage a national groundswell that eventually results in the kind of scenario that has since eluded the diplomatic discourse.
Now any call to action in Syria, any such protection exercise, must be carried out in a manner befitting the international system -- by being United Nations-sanctioned and multilateral in approach.
The debate concerning the use of military force for humanitarian intervention has always been a loaded one.
It is a notion that sits at the crossroads of both realism and idealism. On the one hand, there is the knee-jerk ethical response to a large-scale tragedy that is quickly translated into political action and international policy.
On the other hand, there is the recognition that humanitarian intervention is never purely humanitarian and is in fact the consequence of a myriad of short-term and long-term interests.
Military intervention can, and should, meet certain philosophical and ethical criteria. Because such conduct for the right reasons should make it less objectionable.
We take these drastic actions for good reason. It isn't a question of utility -- the idea that the consequences of doing so will somehow maximise well-being.
It isn't a question of deontology -- the idea that we do so to act in accordance to some moral or ethical standard. It is, instead, a question of virtue.
We do so because it is the right thing to do. Because it is benevolent. Because it is necessary.