The Audacity of Syria

Over the weekend President Obama laid out the case for initiating a limited military strike against Syria.  The reason for the strike is simple: Syria used chemical weapons against its own people, breaking the bright red line that President Obama drew in 2012.  Perhaps what gets left out is that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people, breaking the red line months ago.  Syria went unpunished then for contravening the Chemical Weapons Convention; why should this time around be any different?

Adding fuel to the fire, as so well articulated by Jon Stewart, is that tens of thousands of Syrians have already died in this conflict from guns, munitions, airstrikes, and endless war.  If the end is the same, the means should not make a difference.  In other words, the world should have intervened long ago to put an end to the conflict, regardless of what weapons are used.  The calculus for an outside strike is unfortunately very tricky due to any number of reasons against intervention:

  • Israel is right on the border.  Retaliation for bombing Syria will probably be taken out on them.
  • Syria will not go the way of Libya because of its cache of Russian-made, modern weapons.
  • Syria is caught in a civil war, not in a broader (i.e. regional) conflict.
  • Bombing Syrian targets will create a political vacuum, political instability, and thus may spark a broader (i.e. regional) conflict.
  • A failed state may become a haven for Hezbollah (which it already is) and/or Al Qaeda.
  • Much to the same point, an undesirable Assad regime may be replaced by an equally despicable group.
  • The UK voted against a military strike because of all too recent memories of Iraq.  The same can be said for the American public.

Then again, substantial, legitimate, and compelling reasons for a limited military strike led by the United States exist.  include:

  • Using chemical weapons on a population is unconscionable because it indiscriminately kills not only soldiers but women and children and innocent people.
  • Using chemical weapons contravenes the Chemical Weapons Convention, and Syria should therefore be punished.
  • Incidentally, should Iran contravene the Nonproliferation Treaty, will Iran also go unpunished?  Punishing Syria can send a message that the international community takes it treaties seriously.
  • Assad and his immoral regime need to go immediately.
  • The surgical strikes, accompanied by political support for a cohesive and grassroots regime, could force Assad out and usher a stable government in, although what the government might look like is months away from becoming a reality.

The last point worth making is that independent of Syria, President Obama took a gamble by asking Congress to authorize the use of power.  If memory serves, Congress has not authorized any war since World War II.  Doing so now makes the President look weak, at least in the view of some.

So does that make the presidency look weak?  Absolutely.  But by asking Congress to bless the war strike, we make our democracy stronger.

Taking into account both domestic politics and international sensitivities, there is no easy answer to Syria.  However, there is no doubt that Assad and his regime must  someday answer to the horrible war crimes it has perpetrated, and that day cannot come soon enough.

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