Hand-waving at evil

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/02/05/hand-waving-at-evil/

In the early morning hours of March 13, 1964, a woman named Kitty Genovese was raped and stabbed to death mere steps away from her apartment building in New York City. The case is famous because her cries for help were heard by many of her neighbors, who did little to help. One man is said to have shouted “let that girl alone” out his window, causing the attacker to flee for a moment. But when no one actually came outside to Genovese’s aid, the murderer returned and raped her as she lay dying.

When it comes to combatting evil on a grand scale, we like to think we are not like Genovese’s neighbors, yelling out the window but not doing much more. Following the Holocaust, the civilized world said “never again” to genocide. However, as Samantha Power (the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) has observed, “never again” has become “again and again” against the Rwandan Hutus, Bosnia Muslims, and the Iraqi Kurds.

Today, civilians are starving to death by the dozens in Syrian towns besieged by their own government, all part of a civil war that has killed at least 250,000 people. Next door in Iraq, ISIS and other extremist groups are killing, enslaving, and ethnically cleansing religious minority Christians and Yazidi, and executing homosexuals by pushing them off tall buildings. ISIS is conducting mass executions of Christians in Libya as well. Days ago, news broke that Boko Haram, known for its abduction of hundreds of girls in Nigeria in 2014, burned alive nearly 100 children in a raid on a village.

The world’s response to all of this is a little better than the response of Genovese’s neighbors, but not much. In Syria and Iraq we drop bombs on ISIS, but we studiously avoid taking any military action against the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Assad, who crossed the “red line” and used chemical weapons against his own people. Even with respect to ISIS, there seems little chance that our bombing campaign, now entering its 18th month, will result in victory any time soon. In the meantime, the Islamists’ murder of thousands of civilians continues, and their recruitment of new terrorists is unabated.

The best immediate hope for civilians living under the thumb of tyranny is the U.S. military, and especially U.S. ground forces. Without a meaningful American presence on the ground, there is little chance of success against committed terrorist forces. The chaos that ensued when we only “led from behind” in Libya, and the advance of ISIS and the Taliban as we drew down our ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, illustrates the point.

In light of this reality, I have always found “war is not the answer” bumper stickers to be morally grotesque. If the question is “how do you stop the murder of tens of thousands of civilians,” war is pretty much the only answer.

For the same reason, a blanket rejection of using American ground forces in dire cases such as Syria is at least morally stunted. President Obama has refused to make the case for sending ground troops. Some special forces are operating behind the scenes, but the administration’s ambivalence means such efforts necessarily must be limited in scope and effectiveness.

Among the candidates, Bernie Sanders refuses to consider deploying American ground forces to battle ISIS, using the scare-word “quagmire” to describe the region. But many Democrats described Iraq the same way before the military’s “surge” campaign in 2007 dramatically cut civilian deaths, and it was only after we withdrew our forces that bloodshed spiked again.

Unfortunately, the moral case for U.S. intervention is not helped by bloodthirsty-sounding nonsense from some Republicans, from Donald Trump’s bizarre “cut the head off ISIS and take their oil” commercial to Ted Cruz vowing to “carpet bomb” terrorist forces who are intermingled with civilians. Such rhetoric needlessly repels would be allies, both domestic and foreign.

Life in many parts of the world is nasty, brutish, and short. Shouts of “let those civilians alone,” and the occasional airstrike, are of little help to those kneeling in the sand before an executioner’s blade. A moral case for intervening forcefully to save these victims exists; for their sake, I hope the next president is one who will make it.

Contributing columnist Kevin P. Martin is a constitutional and regulatory law expert practicing in Boston. The views expressed in this column are his own and not those of his law firm. You can read his past columns here.