I oppose intervention Syria. I oppose intervention because of the lack of any good options in Syria, the fractured nature of the opposition, and the very real chance that spillover will happen to neighboring states. More than anything, I oppose US intervention in Syria because I think it will increase the the number of atrocities and war crimes committed by both the Syrian regime and the rebels.
But there is one argument on the anti-intervention side that does not sway me, one that I even consider morally bankrupt. That the US cannot intervene in Syria because the US has itself committed war crimes.
To be clear, I fully agree, the US has committed war crimes. The use of torture by the US since 9/11 would be one clear example. The use of NAPALM, White Phosphorous and depleted Uranium are likely others. If we were to attack Syria for their own violations of the Geneva Protocols, we could fairly be called hypocrites. But that would not alter the justness of the specific act. Let me give an example.
Suppose a person is walking down the street, and sees an old woman being mugged and beaten. Should the person walking down the street help the old woman (call the police, step in, etc)? I think the answer yes. There are limits, of course. The person would not necessarily have to physically confront the attacker if they had no hope of success. But, at a minimum, the person should call the police, scream at the attacker that the police have been called, etc. I think anyone who would ignore the beating and walk on would be a moral coward.
Now, lets take this example one step further. Assume that the person witnessing the beating had previously mugged and beaten old women. Would the just cause of action be any different? Would doing the right thing (finally) be any less right because the person had previously been a mugger? Would that individual be ethically obligated to walk on and let the beating continue? Of course not.
This is basic ethics. The quality of an action is not altered by the previous wrong actions of the person performing the action. We even have a term for it--redemption. Here I am thinking of former KKK members who become active anti-racists...former soldiers who become active pacifists. The examples of redemption are too frequent to count...and are justly celebrated.
I oppose intervention in Syria for the reasons I stated above, but if the US could stop the atrocities in Syria, both chemical and conventional, without a serious loss of life, I would support it. I would even hope that it might mark the beginning of a new use for the US war machine--stopping atrocities rather than performing them. There is a strong moral/humanitarian argument for intervention in Syria, and the people who advocate for intervention are not all war-mongers. In fact, those who would walk on and ignore Syria because the US has previously committed war crimes are the cowards. They are the people who use their own moral failings, their fear of the US being labelled hypocrites, to avoid the hard questions and let tyrants slaughter the defenseless.
I oppose US intervention in Syria, but I am never going to support those who argue that because the US has done wrong, it should never try to do right. That position is morally bankrupt.
Atrocities are occurring in Syria, and my opposition to US intervention has a price in the lives of the innocent. I am letting the old woman get mugged and beaten because I believe that if I intervened, the mugging and beating will be even worse. But if I thought intervention Syria would work, I would support it without reservation--no matter the history of war crimes committed by the US. I would rather live in a nation that belatedly acted morally than one that never did.