Last week, President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike against an airbase in Syria, after the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad was the alleged source of a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens, including children.
Let me be very clear: the use of chemical weapons and the killing of civilians are both morally reprehensible acts. It does not matter who did it or why. These are acts of great evil, and deserve unilateral condemnation.
However, that commitment of atrocities does not by itself demand American military involvement. Gas attacks and civilian casualties are awful, but so are wars, particularly wars where we don’t know who we’re fighting, why we’re fighting, and what the ultimate endgame of our fighting will be. War should not be entered into because of an emotional response. Unfortunately, I fear that, as is often the case in 2017 America, the emotional response will win the day.
Because of this, I will propose a series of six questions. These are questions that I believe must be answered satisfactorily before the U.S. conducts any further military actions in Syria.
#1: Was Assad’s government behind the chemical attack?
It seems that most people are taking for granted that the Syrian government was behind the attack. And it is very possible that they were. But “very possible” isn’t a high enough standard of proof when considering a war. The attack happened less than a week ago. We don’t know all the facts. At this point, Syria poses no immediate threat to the United States. We don’t need to rush; we don’t need another Middle Eastern conflict based on assertions without proof (see: WMDs in Iraq). We need to gather intelligence and make sure that the facts are in order.
#2: Will Congress give consent to an act of war against Syria?
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants the power to declare war to Congress. This is an important part of our system checks and balances. War puts American lives in danger, costs a great deal of money, and the founding fathers recognized this by not putting such a declaration in the hands of any one person. I could understand a President being forced to act quickly and unilaterally in a situation where America is attacked directly. But even then, Congress should be consulted and give consent as soon afterwards as possible. And that is not the situation in Syria–we have made the first move against them. I realize that opinions of Congress are not very high right now. I also realize that the last several Presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, have trampled all over this requirement. That doesn’t make it right. I, for one, take the position that if a war is not justifiable enough to warrant a bipartisan consensus (something like a direct attack on the U.S. probably would), then it is not a war that we need to have.
#3: How will this be different than the war in Iraq, which destabilized the region and created a power vacuum?
This isn’t our first foray into an armed conflict in the Middle East. We fought a war in Iraq to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein. That objective was accomplished. However, rather than a liberated Iraq becoming a light for democracy to the region, conflict and instability have persisted. The lack of strong government in parts of Iraq, coupled with the problems in Syria, created the perfect situation for ISIS to find a foothold. Hussein was an evil dictator, but we cannot definitively say that the situation in Iraq or the Middle East is any better without him. That’s problematic, given the thousands of lives and billions of dollars that were lost to that conflict. How do we know that going into Syria and toppling Assad will not create a similar situation? What is President Trump’s plan to not just fight a war but to stabilize and pacify Syria? Is it just like Iraq, where we think we can go in and topple the existing government and let freedom ring? Western democracies are exactly that–Western. They work in Western cultures with Western worldviews, and they have not flourished in near-Eastern cultures with near-Eastern worldviews. Other forms of government tend to win out.
#4: Whose side are we on?
It seems that the U.S. is moving towards a conflict against Assad’s regime. But if we’re against them (although we should answer question #1 before deciding this), who are we for? There are three other major factions competing for control of Syria. One is ISIS, and it’s safe to say we’re not with them. But what about the rebels? What about the Kurds? And who is on the side of who we are for/against? Much hand-wringing has gone on with Russia, who backs Assad. Is Syria worth instigating another Cold War? Do we really want hostility between the world’s two largest nuclear powers? We need to look at the cost/benefit of entering this conflict on any side. I realize that’s not a popular attitude in our current emotion-driven media climate, but it’s the one that the severity of war demands.
#5: Why do the atrocities in Syria demand our attention (and military action) over other atrocities in the world?
Let me reiterate, the chemical attacks in Syria are a horrible thing. But there are hundreds of horrible things that result in equally large losses of life that go on in the world every week that we never hear about. Why is this the one we will go to war over? What is it about the Middle East in general and Syria in particular that demands our attention and action more than anything else? I’m not saying we turn blind eyes and deaf ears to the plight of the people of Syria (anyone who has read my past writing on the topic knows that I don’t believe that), but I’m not convinced a U.S. military campaign is the right solution.
#6: Why do the atrocities in Syria demand our attention, over atrocities here at home?
For many, I cross the line just by insinuating that atrocities happen here in America. But, let’s be real. The most powerful images coming out of Syria are those of dead and maimed children. This is an awful thing. But, in case we forgot, hundreds of thousands of children are murdered in the womb every year in the United States, with the support of the government. People who scream that the images of the children from Syria must be publicized and acted upon try to suppress the publication of images and videos that reveal the evil of abortion. It seems hypocritical that many of the people who say, “Think of the children!” to justify a war abroad turn blind eyes and deaf ears to the slaughter of children at home. I’m not sure if America has the moral high ground to stand against the immoral acts of any other country. ♦