We should not launch military strikes against Syria.
That said, this was not a decision I could make lightly. While I generally oppose war, I’m not an absolutist about it. The horror of Syria can’t be overlooked. Assad’s brutal attacks on the Syrians, even before the deployment of poison gas, have been staggeringly bloody. The refugee crisis, which will probably reach 3.5 million people by the end of this year will strain the governments of Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. Furthermore, nothing short of outside force will stop this civil war. Compassion begs military involvement.
When a government deploys chemical weapons, it should be held accountable by the international community. By responding militarily, the international community clearly states that such an action is wholly unacceptable.
The fog of war, however, doesn’t make it nice and neat. I believe staying within the bounds of the military strike’s original intention would be difficult. The strikes could drag us into an involvement at a level we never intended. While deposing Assad is not the intent now, it is the only way to be certain the chemical attacks will stop. But, who will step into the power vacuum?
As articles in the paper have rolled out over the past several days, they have not really provided clarity to the situation. The Syrian stockpiles of chemical weapons are nothing new. Furthermore, it seems fairly well-known that companies, including some American companies and Western European companies, provided some of the raw ingredients that made their way into chemicals used for warfare. I also read that about 15% of the opposition to Assad use the same brutal tactics against the government forces as the government forces use on its opposition. Thus, while we are outraged over the use of chemical weapons, why was so little was done to call into question their production and hold those companies responsible? How can we support insurgents when a substantial percentage of them are no better than the government they seek to overthrow?
Those who seek a military strike should be willing to commit to nation-building, including its costs in terms of time, money, and human resources. Rebuilding Syria can’t be done in a couple of years. It may take at least a generation as its ethnic divisions run long and deep.
Those of us who oppose a military strike should be willing to acknowledge the human disaster the civil war has become and must couple it to a compassionate response, such as accepting refugees (at least in the tens of thousands) into this country to ease the strain on Syria’s neighboring countries. Furthermore, we have to be willing to spend the money (or go into debt) to support them.
Whether one supports military intervention or not, the Syrian situation exposes our own ambivalence in our global relationship. We need to consider this seriously.
If we are to be the nation to which others look for leadership and guidance, then we can’t be reluctant in situations like this. We have to be consistent in the way we project our values across the globe. While that may speak to using military power more freely, I believe it means also being more consistent in the way we conduct all sorts of activities around the world, such as:
- Creating trade policies which encourage economic development in the third world rather than exploiting them.
- Debt relief coupled with economic development to increase the overall wealth and prosperity in impoverished nations
- Holding American companies to a standard of decency so that they do not encourage and abet foreign governments to oppress or take action against its own people
- Increasing foreign aid to provide more assistance in the developing world.
- Be consistent with our alliances by holding a nation’s political leadership to the same values we wish to project (in other words, no more aligning ourselves with dictators no matter how convenient they might be in the moment)
However, if we believe we can’t continue to be the unrivaled global leader, we have to accept some realities:
- We have to accept more messiness in the world, which means we have to accept that world stability will no longer be defined exclusively on our terms.
- We would look to regional players to keep peace in their part of the world. We might also have to accept that there may be no nation in the region which can keep the peace.
- We have to accept international rivals and that our rivals will not necessarily align completely with us.
- We would have to reassess our military. Must we maintain bases across the globe? What would be a realistic size of our armed forces given this new reality? What type of weaponry makes sense?
There is no good or easy decision here (it’s way above my pay grade). But if there is a silver lining to this, it might be that this should force us to acknowledge current realities and then make a sober assessment of who we are as a nation.