Why the Death Count in Syria Actually Doesn’t ‘Count’


In July 2012, Senator John McCain argued the US’s unwillingness to intervene militarily in Syria to stop a humanitarian catastrophe was “shameful and disgraceful,” because it has allowed Bashar al-Assad “to massacre and slaughter people and stay in power.” Last month, he called on the US to “lead an international effort” to conduct “airstrikes on Assad’s forces.”

“The Assad regime has spilled too much blood to stay in power,” McCain insists.

McCain’s interventionist allies in Congress have been making similar pleas in Washington to initiate military action to stem the Assad regime’s violent crackdown on an armed rebellion. Hawks in the media, like Max Boot and Jackson Diehl, have just this week argued that 70,000 dead – according to a United Nations estimate – is too much not to intervene.

I’ve written ad nauseam and in detail about how disastrous direct US military intervention in Syria would be. Everything from directly arming the rebels to imposing a no-fly zone to sending boots on the ground to topple the Assad regime – all of it carries the predictable consequence of making the humanitarian situation unimaginably worse, which is ironic for war hawks who justify intervention on humanitarian grounds.

But we can expose the weak and even dishonest case for military action in Syria in a much simpler way: by analogy.

Last week, The Daily Beast covered the trial of Rios Montt, “the first former head of state ever to be tried in his own country for actions committed during his rule,” in Guatemala in the 1980s. Montt and his former military intelligence chief, reported Mac Margolis, “stand accused of genocide and ‘crimes against humanity.'”

Montt came to power in a military coup and “was a close ally of Washington who received training at the infamous ‘School of the Americas,'” writes Cyril Mychalejko. The Reagan administration “not only covered up, but aided and abetted war crimes and genocide in Guatemala.”

“Perhaps half of all those who died during the conflict, 100,000-150,000, died between 1981 and 1983,” according to Mike Allison, Associate Professor of Political Science at The University of Scranton.

So in a matter of two or three years, about 150,000 people were killed in a war that was being waged primarily by US-backed war criminals. Less than half that many have been killed in the same amount of time in Syria.

Why weren’t war hawks in Washington calling for the US to militarily intervene to unseat the Guatemalan regime in 1983? Better yet, why wasn’t anybody blaming the Reagan administration for paling around with blood-soaked dictators of exactly the type McCain, Boot, and Diehl now accuse Assad of being? Or better still, why isn’t anyone calling for accountability for the still-living Reagan administration policymakers, say Elliot Abrams, who insisted on maintaining US support for people like Rios Montt?

It’s hard to come to any other conclusion: interventionists in Washington who couch their arguments for military action in humanitarian terms are simply not using human suffering and death counts as a criteria for US intervention. Instead, they conveniently exploit instances of conflict and human suffering when it occurs in countries that they’ve long desired to intervene in anyways.

In 1994, something like 500,000 people were killed in Rwanda in a matter of 100 days. But McCain wasn’t going on television demanding President Clinton invade. Maybe 400,000 civilians died in the Darfur conflict, only petering out in very recent years. Few on the right called for a bombing campaign to eliminate the perpetrators.

Syria is strategically located in the Middle East, is geographically a close neighbor of Israel and a close ally of the recently-empowered-by-the-bungled-Iraq-War, Iran. President Bashar al-Assad is an ally of the Russians who value their last close ally in the region because it affords them geo-political influence and a chance to defy US imperialism. And this is why the conflict in Syria is being used to justify intervention. Not because of the death count.

26 thoughts on “Why the Death Count in Syria Actually Doesn’t ‘Count’”

  1. McCain likes any war and/or humanitarian intervention that makes him mountains of profit. McCain is of course, a war profiteer first and foremost. I think that profiteer motif could apply to any of the Imperial Senators.
    Elliot 'schmoe' Abrams should have been turned over to the ICC a very long time ago. It is a given that the ICC is about useless as teats on a boar hog.

  2. Actually the reason for the advocation of intervention in Syria is to enable Israel to attack Hizballah in Lebanon without worrying about having to engage Syria as well, under cover of the foreign military intervention. And the purpose for that is to enable an Iran war without Israel having to deal with Iranian, Syrian AND Hizballah missiles, which would be economically and politically difficult for the Israeli ruling party. It really has little to nothing to do with the Russians. It has everything to do with Iran.

  3. These people don't care about human life no matter where a man murderd by the way of us or EU created wars.., what they do care is about a functioning democracy or people democracy no matter where it is.., or where it might happens.., Libyan war was about to get Libyan money invested in Africa out of the hands of Africans for development.., handing the country to bunch of Neo mafia and thieves from Saudi Arabia and in general UAE.., meanwhile west will steal the people money and their natural resources.., this is the Neo doctrine presented by Barack Hussein Obama.., what other reason would you think was for him to be given the noble peace prize.., there is no peace in that prize but shame.

  4. John McCain and those who think like him are the reason why we have Obama in the White House.
    I am sick and tired of their logic and their forgetfulness of the principles of freedom of religion and separation of State and religion.

  5. “…they conveniently exploit instances of conflict and human suffering when it occurs in countries that they’ve long desired to intervene in anyways.”

    otherwise, we’d be bombing israel for selling nukes to
    the other apartheid state!

  6. McCain likes any war and/or humanitarian intervention that makes him mountains of profit. McCain is of course, a war profiteer first and foremost. I think that profiteer motif could apply to any of the Imperial Senators.

  7. This war is ALL about Israel and has been since 2001. Under Bush? We awere all over it, now suddenly with the Obama Bolshevik? Its humanitarian murder.

  8. To paraphrase Clint Eastwood in the movie DIRTY HARRY — the US government has no problem with terrorism as long as the "right" people (those who refuse to accept US orders) are terrorized.

  9. In what way was this number reached? In Iraq only bodies at the morgue counted. “Estimates” were unreliable. Funny how they are all of a sudden “reliable” when we have a different agenda to push.

  10. Inteventionsim is virtually always wrong, it creates unintended consequences. Profound I know, but that's all I can think to say.

  11. The reason that not a word was said about the mass murder of Guatemala peasants by Rios Mott and his cohorts in the early 80s is that they were armed and trained by the Israeli military which began providing 90 % of the army's weapons after Carter cut off aid to Guatemala because of its human rights violations. The Guatemalan soldiers wore Israeli army uniforms and the Galil rifle which they sold to Guatemala became a synonym for rifle. As in other areas in Latin America where Israel's loathsome presence was aiding in the suppression of the people's resistance such as El Salvador and Nicaragua, the critics of American actions kept their silence

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