The simple answer to the question of whether or not a war-weary nation should insert itself in yet another military conflict is “no”, but life is not a simple proposition, and there are issues involved in the current state of Syria’s more than two year civil war that has to be addressed.
In 2008, during his first run for the office of the presidency of the United States, presidential candidate Barack Obama stated:
I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars.Following reports that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad attacked his own people with chemical weapons, and the President’s declaration that he is considering intervening in the conflict, in order to dissuade the Syrian regime from repeating this act, this statement has been cited by many to somehow indict the President for wanting to take the United States into another Mid East war, owing to the premise offered by some that the President’s limited effort would equate to a "dumb war". But is it?
The publication Der Spiegel recently reported on Asaad’s use of chemical weapons and wrote:
Evidence clearly suggests that Syria's president has deployed chemical weapons. The latest poison gas attack should set aside once and for all any reservations about military intervention. The credibility of Western countries is on the line.The report provided eyewitness accounts from doctors and victims, which related the horrors of the chemical attack:
What happened last Wednesday in the suburbs of Damascus doesn't just add another 1,000 dead to the more than 100,000 victims to date. It was mass murder, a crime against humanity that is outlawed for good reason. Poison gas doesn't just target soldiers, it affects civilians, including women and children -- giving them no opportunity to defend themselves or flee, instead quietly and indiscriminately killing everyone.Bodies which evidenced no sign of blood were held firmly by the agonizing death throes of chemical weapons:
The first reports of the morning, about hundreds of dead and injured in various suburbs to the south and east of Damascus, were followed by videos of gruesome scenes: corridors and rooms full of half-naked and outwardly unharmed bodies, people trembling and uncontrollably salivating and gasping for breath. Doctors and volunteers were shown wading through water among the dead and pouring water on newly admitted victims, both to wash the poison off them and avoid falling victim to it themselves.The President decided to respond to what is described, universally, as crimes against humanity by intervening in the Syrian conflict, in a limited effort, to degrade Asaad’s ability to continue to use chemical weapons. As Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated it:
“Our military objectives in Syria would be to hold the Assad regime accountable, degrade its ability to carry out these kinds of [chemical] attacks and deter it from further use of chemical weapons.”Some critics have sidestepped the “dumb war" argument to accuse the President of wanting to wage an illegal war, and have stated that the President does not have the right to act without Congressional approval. During his trip to Sweden, yesterday, the President addressed these questions head-on, starting with the criticism that some are offering concerning what they feel is an arbitrary “red line”.
I didn’t set a red line; the world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world’s population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war.This is no Iraq, the Barack Obama who eschewed the concoction of dumb wars, during his 2008 run for the Presidency, is still against dumb wars. This “red line” concerning the use of chemical weapons is not of his making. It is a point demarcation that the world has designed and has held in place for many decades concerning crimes against humanity. The President addressed the issue of his credibility on the subject:
My credibility is not on the line. The international community’s credibility is on the line. And America and Congress’s credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important.Concerning the constitutional legality of acting against the Syrian regime’s usage of chemical weapons, the President made it clear that he has the right to act in this limited regard, as he is responding to Congress’ own “red line” as it relates to the national security interest of the nation.
Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty. Congress set a red line when it indicated that -- in a piece of legislation titled the Syria Accountability Act -- that some of the horrendous things that are happening on the ground there need to be answered for.Sponsored by, Democratic US Congressman, Elliot Engel of New York, and introduced in April of 2003, the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act sought among other stipulations to stop Syria’s alleged development of weapons of mass destruction.
The Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act determined that Syria’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction threatens the security of the Middle East and the national security interests of the United States.
The President went on to add:
And when those videos first broke and you saw images of over 400 children subjected to gas, everybody expressed outrage: How can this happen in this modern world? Well, it happened because a government chose to deploy these deadly weapons on civilian populations. And so the question is, how credible is the international community when it says this is an international norm that has to be observed? The question is, how credible is Congress when it passes a treaty saying we have to forbid the use of chemical weapons?Eugene Robinson, who has disagreed with this president on many occasions, recently wrote:
And I do think that we have to act, because if we don’t, we are effectively saying that even though we may condemn it and issue resolutions, and so forth and so on, somebody who is not shamed by resolutions can continue to act with impunity. And those international norms begin to erode. And other despots and authoritarian regimes can start looking and saying, that’s something we can get away with. And that, then, calls into question other international norms and laws of war and whether those are going to be enforced.
History says don't do it. Most Americans say don't do it. But President Barack Obama has to punish Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's homicidal regime with a military strike — and hope that history and the people are wrong.Robinson addressed the argument concerning the relatively small number of deaths through chemical weapons compared to the death toll overall.
If it is true that the regime killed hundreds of civilians with nerve gas in a Damascus suburb last week — and U.S. officials say there is "very little doubt" — then Obama has no choice. The use of chemical weapons cannot be tolerated, and any government or group that does so must be made to suffer real consequences. Obama should uphold this principle by destroying some of Assad's military assets with cruise missiles.
Are the relatively few deaths caused by nerve gas really so different from the many more deaths caused by bullets, rockets and bombs? Yes, I believe they are.Concerning the argument that the President should wait on the United Nations to deal with this issue, Robinson wrote:
There is an international consensus that chemical weapons, because of their potential for mass annihilation, are beyond the pale; any government that uses them will lose all legitimacy. If one despot is allowed to get away with gassing his opponents, other thuggish strongmen — a category of which there is no shortage — will be emboldened to follow suit.
This is a case in which somebody has to be the world's policeman. Given Russia's alliance with Assad's regime and China's long-standing policy of indifference, the United Nations is almost sure to do nothing. France and Britain may step forward, as happened in Libya; but the essential military firepower and coordination will again be provided by the United States.Mr. President, history will judge you kindly. This is not Iraq, and you are not George W. Bush. Assad has committed crimes against humanity by wantonly attacking his own people with chemical weapons; the international community has condemned this behavior. You have the moral and legal bases to act, and it is imperative that you do.