What to Think about Syria

Maybe Saddam Hussein did not have chemical weapons but Bashar Assad does. Assad has always planned a murderous response to any sort of protest or revolt. Reports are that there are 100,000 dead Syrians, and that’s a number that is difficult to even think about. I would recommend the article below on Syria “to bomb or not to bomb.” It is a re-blog from the CNN publication called “This Just in.” The article lays out the issue pretty well with respect to a subject that does not pose any simple answers.

Like all political decisions in a democracy the answer is the result of debate and the particularly difficult problems are not easily solved. There is simply no way to know “for sure” that a military response to Syria will be successful or not. There is no way to know whether the result will be something better or worse. But that does not absolve us from the responsibility of making a decision and so it is incumbent on all of us to acquire the best information and make the best arguments. That’s why the reply below is useful. But here is the essence of my thinking.

One of the main arguments to strike Syria is that we cannot stand on the sidelines and allow such an odious act as the use of chemical weapons go unchallenged. People remind us of the 1930s and how Hitler went unchallenged until it was too late. I have grown tired of Holocaust and Hitler references over the years; it is usually a sign that the discussion is degenerating. But still, the argument does resonate. When you just stand by and do nothing than evil, as the saying goes, will prevail. Even though some people will hide their heads in the sand for a long time, you can’t do it forever.

A second argument is that nuclear and chemical weapons are considered particularly heinous and we have not seen use of them to any significant degree since World War I. And the reason for that is international condemnation and the surety of a punishment that will make their use counterproductive. I think we have to honor this historical convention. We just can’t let the use of the weapons go unnoticed; there must be a price to pay.

Third, is a moral argument. Such arguments usually fall on deaf ears and do not carry the weight of realistic foreign policy but there is a moral position to be taken based on the indiscriminate death that result from chemical weapons, and their violations of just war principles. A weapon in a just war should be a last resort and designed only to immobilize an enemy combatant – not used for psychological purposes or with a blind eye toward collateral damage, which is unavoidable in the case of an uncontrollable gaseous substance.

The leadership of the Syrian government is intertwined with some of the most anti-Semitic and violent terrorist groups and political regimes, namely, Hezbollah and Iran. Moreover, according to the New York Times the world looked away while Russia helped the Syrians acquire chemical weapons. Between Hezbollah, Iran, and Russian support Syria is on its way to being a combustible proxy state that could cause future damage to the Middle East and Israel in particular. If the Syrian regime cannot be taken down then it must be stabilized.

Assad is just a slicker version of Saddam Hussein. He’s essentially a replica of the Iraqi model where anyone who stood in the way was eliminated, and the platform of the major political party was designed to perpetuate a sectarian dictatorship. The Syrian government has been killing rebellious citizens for a number of years. And is one more example of the inconsistent application of force and foreign-policy pressure because it defies imagination how the left could call for intervention and control of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but seem to lose their integrity when it comes to intervening in Syria. Some sort of limited military intervention in Syria will not solve many problems or do much to change the situation. And, of course, the idea that the United States could get “sucked in” to additional military responses is a defensible enough point. But it is not inevitable. It is possible to maintain strong relations and diplomatic pressure and still find certain activities unacceptable and deserving of a military response. I think the use of chemical weapons satisfies anyone’s definition of “unacceptable”.


About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on September 9, 2013, in Political Conflict and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on What to Think about Syria.

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