Monday, September 2, 2013

Should the U.S. Attack Syria?

    At the last report President Obama was going to ask Congress for a resolution supporting a planned military strike against Syria in retaliation for that government's use of chemical weapons in rebel held areas. The president says that the proposed strike would be limited in nature, would not involve ground troops, and would not be aimed at producing regime change. Nevertheless, it is our conviction that Congress should vote "no."
Bashar al-Assad
 There is little reason to doubt that the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used poison gas, and that numerous civilian casualties resulted. And there is some weight to President Obama's argument that the world cannot afford to stand idly by while a brutal tyrant commits war crimes against his own people. The use of poison gas creates a dangerous precedent with repercussions for all humanity. Yet a unilateral military strike by the U.S. would be a terrible mistake.

    First of all there is the fact that Syria is a sovereign, independent state, and that a military strike, no matter how limited in scope, amounts to nothing less than an act of war on our part. Syria has not attacked the United States, and is not a direct threat to us. The chemical weapons attack took place within the confines of Syria's own borders. The U.S. simply does not have the authority unilaterally to attack another country with which it is not at war.
    Secondly, a limited military strike is unlikely to change anything inside of Syria. Assad will still be faced with an insurrection, and he will continue to use any means at his disposal to survive. Short of a ground invasion of his country to remove him from power he is unlikely to change his tactics. If anything, a "limited strike" by a foreign power will only cause his supporters to rally behind him.. It would risk life and property without achieving a positive result.
    On the other hand, a military strike by the U.S. could have far-reaching and potentially catastrophic results. What if Syria decides to retaliate by firing some missiles into Israel? What if Iran decides to enter the conflict on behalf of the Assad regime? What if Russia decides to intervene? Wars often have unforeseen consequences because the outcomes are determined by factors other than logic and justice. What is, at the moment, an internal conflict within Syria could easily mushroom into a regional conflict instead.
    Nor do we want to appear to be supporting Assad's enemies, either. The civil war in Syria is rapidly assuming the aspect of a sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites, with the mainly Sunni rebels receiving support form elements of Al-Quida. Why defeat the Islamic extremists in Iraq only to support them in Syria? It is not the proper role of the United States government to adjudicate the competing claims of two opposing factions of Islam. And yet that is exactly how it is likely to be perceived in the Middle East.
    The use of poison gas does create a dangerous precedent for humanity. But so does the notion that any country is free to attack any other country at will. The proper forum for addressing crimes against humanity is the International Court of Justice in the Hague, and any military action against Syria should only be taken under the auspices of the U.N. Security Council.
Human life is sacred. The commandment "Thou shalt not kill" underscores a basic moral principle. Under the classical just war theory a war must have both a just cause and a reasonable chance of a positive outcome. It is not clear that either of these are present in the case at hand. We therefore conclude that that proposed military action is morally unacceptable.

Other posts in which you may be interested:
American Militarism 
You Shall not Murder 
Peace on Earth 
"Blessed are the Peacemakers"


  1. We have often disagreed. This time, I agree with you.

  2. I just hope Congress does too. I can't help but wonder if Mr. Obama's advisers have told him that this is a lose-lose situation, and suggested that the most face-saving way out is to ask Congress to vote on a resolution, figuring that it will probably get voted down. If it worked for David Cameron, it can work for Barack Obama too!

  3. I agree with that, too.

    No good will come of this war. Intervening will only cause us to pick up a lot more of the blame than we would get for not intervening.