Opinion | Even if chemical weapons in Syria are found, United States should not bomb
Published: Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 01:09
The United States should not bomb Syria, even if the allegations that Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people becomes evident.
First and foremost, for the last two years, the Syrian government with conventional weaponry has killed over 120,000 people, many of them women and children. Most assuredly, that is a human tragedy, as is the over one million Syrian refugees that have fled the bloody civil war. There is a humanitarian response appropriate to assisting those refugees in any way we can, but make no mistake; there is no such concept as a “humanitarian intervention” achievable by the use of military force.
If Assad did use chemical weapons on his own people that is also a human tragedy, but why is it given more moral weight than the conventional weaponry, which have killed far more people?
Some have said we need to send Assad and the rest of the world a message that using chemical weapons on civilians will not be tolerated. Aside from the notion that going to war to send a message is somewhat asinine, the United States has tolerated and even aided in the use of chemical weapons before.
According to an exclusive article from Foreign Policy regarding the Iraq-Iran war, “U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.” Saddam’s own people were at the receiving end of the attacks too, not just the Iranians. As such, the United States hardly has the footing to act as the purveyor of morality and to be the world’s policeman.
My peer, Sarah Shew, in her column, “Weighing costs of U.S. involvement in Syria,” argued, “When, if at all, do we as a superpower have a moral obligation to protect those who cannot protect themselves?”
As a superpower, the United States certainly has the military might to protect others – to act as the world’s policeman. But having military might is not the same as having the ability to solve a complex civil war with varying geopolitical implications (Russia, as Syria’s ally, tensions between Israel and Iran). The only way we could even begin to assuage the situation is if we invaded fully and occupied the country for decades to come. And I do not think anyone desires that.
The calculus should not predicate on the simple notion that we have the military might, thus we ought to act, but rather, does our intervening make the situation better or worse? Inaction often has the connotation as being apathetic, unsympathetic or morally bankrupt, but in this case, what will dropping bombs do? At most, it seems to only go back to the idea of sending a message about chemical weapons to the world. Certainly, there is not much about actually helping the civilians caught in the crossfire. Everyone knows it; war is ugly and bombs, no matter how strategic and careful we are, result in the deaths of innocent people. Where is the morality in potentially adding to the death toll?
Additionally, there is the fear of escalation. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post aptly pointed out, “If we’re involved in Syria and something goes wrong, ground troops might make sense. Escalation might make sense.” Therein the United States would find itself embroiled in yet another Middle East quagmire.
Congress is set to tackle these issues this week and I’m certainly encouraged by President Obama putting the vote to Congress, as the debate should prove interesting. However, in those same remarks, he said he has the authority to strike Syria without Congress’s approval.
In fact, Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post interviewed Secretary of State John Kerry and asked if Obama would abide by Congress’ decision if they voted no on bombing Syria. Kerry responded, “To protect the security of our nation, the president has the power to make the choice to protect our country.” Politically, it would be difficult for Obama to do that, especially with 59 percent of Americans opposed to military action in Syria, even if Assad used chemical weapons, according to a Post-ABC Poll.
Not to say anything of the fact that Kerry’s statement is absurd. Syria clearly poses no risk to the United States or its people.
There are no easy solutions to Syria’s civil war, but the justifications for intervening seem as ambiguous as ever, there is no clear understanding of what success would entail and with a vast potential for unintended consequences.
Sometimes, even the world’s lone superpower does not have the power to save everyone.