I may be old-fashioned on this but any stand you take on an issue should be based on knowledge of the facts, a review of other opinions, the history of the situation or situations like it, and a consideration of what consequences you are agreeing to. To this end I want to review the decision we are about to make in Syria. As with most countries in the Middle East and Africa, Syria as a nation state was created by the West.  Colonial powers simply drew lines on maps to fit their convenience. In so doing they linked the fate of many ethnic groups and religions together with little concern about how they would work it out. So it was with Syria. The result in many other parts of the world has been secessions,  internal ethnic strife, and even civil wars. So it is with Syria. It has taken brutal dictators like the Assad’s father and son to hold the Syrian state together. The strains are showing in the current civil war both in the splintered-ness of the opposition, the heavy handed-ness of the government crackdown and the absence of any foreseeable end.

It also makes any foreign attempts to achieve a solution difficult if not impossible. Nevertheless the U.S. is now considering three options which for convenience I will label no military action, limited military action and extensive military action. Some advocates for no military action cite Martin Luther King Jr.s pacifism over Vietnam embodied in Marvin Gaye’s song “What’s Goin’ On”: war is not the answer for only love can conquer hate. For these advocates this is a moral and ethical issue about the use of violence to settle disputes. Others cite international precedent in saying we have no business intervening in what is a civil war no matter how many people are killed. The U.S. is not nor should not be the policeman to the world. Still others say that there is no clear impact that this civil war has on U.S. national interests so we should stay clear of it.

The advocates for a limited military action, like President Obama, say the issue which justifies foreign intervention is the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. Obama drew a line in the sand solely about this issue. Any military intervention should be missiles strikes either to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons capability or at least to punish him so severely that he and future leaders will not feel they can use such weapons which are against international law. The goal here is not to intervene in the civil war or to remove Assad from power, but to take action on the use of chemical weapons.

The argument for a more extensive military action is being made by hawks like John McCain and Lindsey Graham.  They have argued since March that the U.S. goal should be to remove the Assad regime and intervene militarily to  end this civil war.  They argue that on humanitarian grounds as the “city on the hill” we should indeed be the world’s policeman and end a tragedy that has resulted in over 100,000 deaths and the displacement of a third of Syria’s population fleeing as refugees.

There are of course critiques that one could bring against any of these positions.  For example who has the high moral ground the folks who say no to violence or the ones who want military action to end the war and therefore to curtail needless civilian suffering? What is the real national interest here: discouraging the use of chemical weapons, preventing instability in the region or minding our own domestic business? What are the consequences we are willing to put up with: allowing more civilians to die as the civil war continues, the continued use of chemical weapons, a long term commitment that will inevitably see American boots on the ground and stirring up anti- Americanism or terrorism?

I would like to come at this a different way. I don’t think any of these choices will achieve their goals certainly within a year, maybe longer, maybe never. Max Fisher writing in the Washington Post bleakly concludes:

The killing will continue, probably for years. There’s no one to sign a peace treaty on the rebel side, even if the regime side were interested, and there’s no foreseeable victory for either. Refugees will continue fleeing into neighboring countries, causing instability and an entire other humanitarian crisis as conditions in the camps worsen. Syria as we know it, an ancient place with a rich and celebrated culture and history, will be a broken, failed society, probably for a generation or more. It’s very hard to see how you rebuild a functioning state after this. Maybe worse, it’s hard to see how you get back to a working social contract where everyone agrees to get along.

If none of these options will help Syria in the short run how are we to decide which one to choose if we have to choose? If Syria is damned if we do and damned if we don’t we should make the decision based on what is right for us. The fact of the matter is that the continued warfare of the last decade has had an enormous effect on our country.  Not only has it cost billions if not trillions of dollars and hundreds of lives, it has ruined the lives of of many of the people we have sent to fight.  They return home physically or mentally broken, have trouble finding jobs and fitting back into the lives they left behind. There is always a silent cost of war, of depending upon violence to solve problems.  Should we incur it in Syria?  I think not. I too go back to Martin Luther King Jr. who said:

A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.



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