Some have suggested that our options on Syria are nothing, limited missile strikes, or all out war, and that none of these options are good, viable, or principled. In contrast, I believe there is a fourth option that is both viable and principled: an extended air operation. The President could take a similar approach to the one taken in Libya and Kosovo, based on humanitarian principles. Rather than a limited missile strike, he could use an extended air operation, in conjunction with select rebels and special forces to have a more significant impact. I don't know that this is currently politically viable, but I do think it is what we should have done some time ago. I also appreciate that there are no guarantees on what would follow, so I don’t want to suggest that this would be a surefire effort, except in one respect. I believe it would almost certainly limit civilian deaths, even if additional people died via the bombing. In the long run, less people will die if the violence is ended through military action.
Should Obama choose the
more likely scaled back version of cruse missiles only, it could
none-the-less have an effect, and possibly give the Rebels an edge.
here is my bigger concern, doing nothing emboldens both the next very bad
person, and the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons. Don’t get me
wrong, it is easy to be cynical. Once we have decided that 100,000
deaths is not worth intervening in. Or to state it more charitably,
once we decide that given America's recent history it is not
appropriate, or in our interest or there's to intervene in another
Middle-Eastern country, even where civilians are being intentionally and
indiscriminately killed--it is hard to make the case that choking to
death is somehow fundamentally different that being shot or bombed.
BUT, that was not the world’s conclusion the last time chemical weapons
were used on a mass scale during WWI. At that time we decided that
chemical weapons are different, are horrible, and ought to be
Here is something else that should be
unimaginable. The process whereby one painstakingly surrounds a town,
the citizens knowing what is to come and unable to do anything about it.
Fear and dread overcoming reason with no explanation for the children.
Here, there is no need for chemical weapons—shock-waves and shrapnel
will do the job, as shells fall randomly, butchering in mass.
The United States ought to have a fairly consistent foreign policy. One that consistently uses force and diplomacy to prevent the mass killings of civilians, or the use of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. This is not to say that we should police the world. We should not intervene in every civil war, or even every cross border war. Nor should we intervene where we cannot intervene as a practical mater. (Ought implies can.) We should intervene where there are significant numbers of civilians being killed indiscriminately.
last thought. Suppose we look at this from the other side of the
table. Imagine you are Bashar al-Assad or the next sadistic leader. If
you are one of these people and a student of history, and if you compare
and contrast how Mubarak responded to protests in Egypt with how Bashar
al-Assad has responded, it is not hard to come to the conclusion that
full-scale indiscriminate violence works, at least for a time. Beating
protestors and occasionally shooting a few only emboldens protestors. In
contrast, indiscriminately shelling neighborhoods and killing whole
families, that works. That is likely to get you a seat in power for a
very long time, if no one stops you by force.
At numerous points
in history, people of good will have risen up to oppose limited
oppression, often using non-violent techniques. This is the preferred
way to oppose injustice, and it works where there is some sense of
restraint. (South Africa, British India, and the United States circa
1890-1965) This is in contrast to the unlimited systematic use of
violence, rape, torture, and war to hold on to power through any means
possible. (Nazi Germany, Rwanda, and the Black Slave's experience in the
United States circa, 1625-1865) These latter examples of terror and
oppression required an armed response. i.e. Just War.
appreciate that flag waving, the call for intervention on humanitarian
grounds, and even Just War theory itself are often perverted to create
wars of choice. But we redouble our failure when we choose not to
prevent genocide where we have the power to act.
One important counter point to my position. If there are no "good guys" to back. And if the other side is also clearly guilty of significant war crimes and mass killings, (as opposed to the low level war crimes that accompany every war.) Or if they would likely carry out such attacks should they receive assistance. Or if it would take ground troops to really be effective, then the wisdom of the above approach is less tenable.