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Musings on U.S. intervention in Syria

Submitted by Sarah DeClerk on September 24, 2013 – 1:23 pmNo Comment

Protesters rally against U.S. intervention in Syria outside the Arkansas State Capital. Photo courtesy of Sarah DeClerk.

Although President Obama generated an incredible amount of controversy when he demanded a military strike against Syria, his patience for diplomacy is praiseworthy.

Less than a month ago, a horrified world watched children, poisoned with chemical weapons, convulsing and dying. It would be heartless to passively accept this massacre and ignore the possibility of its repetition. Given that the Syrian government has now admitted to having chemical weapons, Obama’s aggression is understandable, though not ideal.

It is good that diplomacy, and not bombs, will take the chemical weapons from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s hands. It is good that civilians will be protected from this suffocating byproduct of civil war.

Still, one wonders how many more will die, even with Assad’s concession. Though missiles may be too much, perhaps the weapon surrender will not be enough to promote peace in Syria.

Even if the threat of chemical weapons is removed, civilians in Syria may not be safe. Although gas is a very efficient, affective way to kill large numbers of people indiscriminately, it is not the only way. Assad may find a means of cruelty that will not face international scrutiny.

There is also no way to guarantee that all of Syria’s weapons will be found and destroyed. Obama may have put deadline pressure on Assad, but there are always hiding places. Some of those hiding places may be in other countries, which could spread the weapons and put lives outside Syria at risk. There must be a mechanism for ensuring total weapons surrender.

In his Sept. 10 speech, Obama seemed confident that Assad perpetrated the chemical attacks that garnered so much publicity. Regardless, it is not the job of the president of the U.S. to determine the guilt of one man.

Assad must be judged to determine whether he did commit these atrocities. If he is found guilty, he must face repercussions. It seems fair to put the Syrian president through the world’s judicial system and determine his guilt through due process, a right guaranteed to all Americans. To defend rights valued in our country, we must extend them to Assad. As horrible as his alleged crimes may be, ignoring his rights is hypocritical and demeans our conception of freedom.

As Obama said in his Syria address, the U.S. is not the world’s police. Assad’s crimes and potential guilt should not be judged by U.S. standards alone, because the Syria massacre did not affect the U.S. directly.

Rather, it is a human rights issue of global importance. Every member of the U.N. should have a part in deciding what is to be done about Syria. If the U.S. were to act unilaterally, it would degrade the unity and potency of the U.N. It would also set a bad precedent for other countries.

The U.S. is not an exception to international law and cohesiveness. If our country unilaterally attacked Syria, other countries would feel justified in taking independent action, for whatever cause.

Furthermore, if the U.S. carried out the proposed military strike, it would degrade its image and relationship with the international community. Regardless of Obama’s assurances, we could be seen as a world police force that goes unchecked. It sends the message that the U.S. need not be governed by the U.N., but expects other countries to follow its standards.

It could be that Obama’s military threat encouraged Assad to give up his weapons. Military action could be necessary if he does not fulfill his promises. However, the U.N., not the president of a single country, should give the order.

Additionally, bombing Syria may not be effective. Obama said he wants to deter Assad from using chemical weapons. A strike could encourage him to seek aggressive action against the U.S. and its allies. It could also make his cause seem more sympathetic

Moreover, it does not seem that bombing Syria would help end violence against civilians. Even the limited strike Obama is proposing could cause more civilian casualties. It would certainly damage any infrastructure that could be used to rebuild Syria after the civil war. Violence begetting violence will not bring peace.

Syria would benefit more from a plan for peace than a planned strike. If Assad loses power, who will be in charge? Obama has seemingly sided with the opposition, but there is no way of knowing whether they will make a more positive impact than Assad did.

Deeper considerations involve bringing refugees home, and making sure that home is worthwhile. This is not a simple matter of destroying chemical weapons. The war must end, and then Syria must be rebuilt. All the industries and social services destroyed by war must reemerge for Syria to survive and, hopefully, thrive.

These are all very muddy issues, so perhaps it is fortunate that it is not up to the U.S. to decide them. It seems all discussions about Syria are spoken over the heads of the Syrian people. Everyone listens to presidents, world leaders, Syrian officials and even opinions from the news media. Perhaps instead, people should listen to the Syrian people.


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