I know that many people who I respect intellectually disagree with me. I don’t know that I am right. Nonetheless, I feel somewhat compelled to comment on such an important topic as whether the United States should strike Syria. So here goes…
First – my background. I served in the United States Air Force and was willing to put my own life on the line for my country. I served in political advisor positions for around twenty years, working for both Democrats and Republicans during that time. I think my experience gives me a good perspective.
The reasons for a strike seem to come down to four: 1) chemical weapons usage cannot be tolerated; 2) President Obama declared a red-line on their use and if nothing is done he will lose authority overseas; 3) the protection of civilians; and 4) if America does nothing it impacts our national security by encouraging other regimes to break international treaties on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Respect – I am going to take those out of order. No elected official should ever draw a line in the sand or declare a red line. It’s the stupidest thing you can do. It gives your negotiating authority to the opponent. If they call you on it, you are either forced to do what you said or to back down. I am not for killing people, destroying things, putting our people in harm’s way, etc., to save face for a member of either party. Sometimes you make a mistake and you cut your losses. If you said you would do something and you won’t, just stop while you’re behind. The first rule of holes – when you find yourself in one, stop digging.
Chemical Weapons Usage – The first argument is the most valid. If we were part of an international force that was going to Syria to destroy or confiscate all chemical weapons and apprehend those who ordered them to stand trial for crimes against humanity, I would say YES. But we aren’t. The fact is that no other country agrees with us. France is willing to pat us on the back, but not help militarily. Further, we aren’t getting rid of the weapons or the people who used them. We’re throwing a few missiles at them and not accomplishing anything.
The evidence of the chemical weapon attacks is not clear to me either. At first, I was convinced the attacks had occurred. I am even thinking they did. However, attacking another sovereign country is an act of war which requires a strong causus belli. The initial photos I saw of body bags were in fact taken from Kurds killed by Saddam Hussein years ago. At that time, Obama, Clinton and Kerry opposed getting involved. Where was the trumpet call to punish chemical weapons when whole Kurdish villages were exterminated in Iraq? The other evidence included a spent artillery shell “like the ones used for chemical weapons.” Well, if you can take a picture of a whole shell, you can swab it for chemical residue. There are supposed to be at least 1400 dead. What about them? What about the survivors? Can’t they be tested? I didn’t really give enough cynicism about the government position until someone asked, “Should Hillary Clinton let us know if this was the result of a video on YouTube.” If they have not been forthcoming on the atack on Libya that actually killed Americans in our own embassy, why do I blindly trust unsubstantiated reports now?
Even if there were chemical weapons used in violation of global law… If no other country cares, how is America going to enforce it by launching some missiles? It’s really sad, but if the world does not want to enforce the chemical weapons ban – there is no ban. The world did not enforce the nuclear non-proliferation treaty either, now North Korea has nukes and Iran is soon to follow. Nuclear weapons scare me a lot more than an artillery shell of chemical weapons in a civil war. We did nothing about those countries either.
Deaths – Less than 2,000 Syrians are purported to be killed by chemical weapons. Over 100,000 died in the civil war from other weapons. We will kill more if we attack with missiles. What lives will we save? Why did we let the massacres occur in other countries like Rwanda then? What about the 100,000 Christians killed world-wide last year because of their beliefs? What about the 1,000 Christians killed in Syria this year? We won’t save any lives, we will add to the list. If we don’t get rid of the chemical weapons, they can use them again, or just blast civilians with conventional weapons. After all, in a civil war, the enemy is the civilians. If they were military, they would work for the Assad regime.
National Security – Syria has virtually no national security interest to the United States. The lynch pins of peace in the Middle East are Turkey and Egypt. Both of which are in turmoil yet we do nothing to help stabilize them. Israel is our only clear ally. Oil countries can impact our economic interests by driving up world prices. We could help the oil situation if we did not regulate and prevent domestic energy production, but until we stop shooting ourselves in the foot, oil is important. Syria is none of those things. Killing their own people brutally is horrible, but does not seem to effect our national security in any way.
So, I guess I reject the arguments for intervention. Now some reasons I oppose it:
Reasons to go to War – In Afghanistan we had a government in the Taliban training and housing Al Queda that not only attacked us but declared war on us. Both the Taliban and their terrorist guests declared war and took action against us so we went in. I wish we did not do ‘nation building’ but going in made sense to me. In Iraq, we had a country that invaded another – Kuwait and WAS condemned by the United Nations and had a huge coalition go in to stop them. The national security concern was that Iraq would control too much of the world oil and that Saudi Arabia would be their next target. They had already fought a long war with Iran, used chemical weapons, and tortured people, but yes, it was a war for oil. At the end, a truce was called. Iraq violated the truce, and we went back to finish it. We should have finished it the first time, and again, the nation building does not work. Those are real wars with real national security concerns.
Repercussions – 1) If I was Syria, why would I just take missile strikes and not fight back? Why not send some missiles into Israel, or destabilize Jordan? I would do something, what have I got to lose after all? 2) If I am Russia, and my only remaining foreign-based naval base and my best trading partner was attacked, what would I do? Especially since I just sent a naval task force to help them. 3) If I am Iran, why not get involved? 4) If I am Afghanistan or Iraq and America is leaving, why not choose now to act up? 5) If I am Egypt, why not act up more? 6) If I am Turkey, and my leadership backs the rebels, why not get involved?
More repercussions – What if someone sinks one of our ships? What if Assad uses more chemical weapons after we hit? What if we really cut loose and help the America-hating Islamist revolutionaries take over the country bordering Israel? What if the conflict widens and it expands out of control like WW1 that all started with assassination and countries afraid to lose face and back down?
Now, that brings us back to the decision to use force or not. How many American lives are you willing to spend to go it alone in the world and attack Syria over a purported chemical strike that killed 1,400 people? What is victory? What is our exit strategy? What will we achieve? Are we simply going to unite the Islamic world against us, or at the very least make Assad look like a hero for standing up to us?
This is my thought process and why I oppose striking Syria at this time.
Someone just reminded me – President Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize when he entered office for all the reset to American foreign policy he was going to make to get us out of wars and have the world love us again. Sigh.