When it comes to intervening militarily in nations such as Syria, the United States no doubt has the might but does it have the right? Such a strike, in President Obama’s opinion, would cause Assad’s regime to stop using chemical weapons and send a strong signal to other leaders and to terrorists worldwide that violation of the chemical weapons ban has consequences.
Use of chemical weapons against one’s own people or against any people is deplorable. But does the United States have a legal and moral basis to launch an attack against Syria or against another “rogue nation” engaged in civil war where chemical weapons are involved tactically and not as a broader genocide?
From my limited understanding of international law and historical precedent, a compelling argument exists that we should not fire missiles at Syria. A comment thread on Facebook influenced my thinking a great deal.
The thread, started by my cousin Ron Walrath, mentioned how an attack with missiles and smart warheads on a sovereign nation would, in fact, be an act of war. My cousin, by the way, is a retired Marine Corps colonel who served for 26 years with stints in Lebanon and in both Iraq wars.
Why? Even if no American “boots were on the ground,” a potential attack on Syria would be not unlike the Japanese attack on Hawaii in World War II using bombers launched from ships. There were no Japanese boots on the ground, yet President Franklin Roosevelt considered that an act of war.
Walrath pointed out that Syria has not attacked the United States or one of its allies. Rather the country is embroiled in a civil war within its own borders.
In an op-ed to the New York Times, Russian President Vladamir Putin also mentioned the need for the United Nations and for respect of a nation’s sovereignty. Putin mentioned how influential countries, such as the United States, acting outside of the U.N. could weaken the security council and erode the organization so it goes the route of the now defunct League of Nations.
Is his letter, Putin wrote: “The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.”
What if, despite our military’s best efforts a smart bomb would hit a hidden chemical weapon stockpile and the carnage from our missile strike actually causes more horror and civilian deaths? In my mind, such a risk makes military action too big of a risk to take.
The president clearly said he wanted a surgical strike to send a message to regimes around the world that the use of chemical weapons in war is not to be tolerated. But presidents don’t always get what they want as a result of military intervention.
President Obama dismissed the idea Tuesday that the United States would be drawn into a larger conflict. But if a cruise missile attack were viewed as an act of war, American allies such as Israel could face retaliation. President Obama mentioned how prepared Israel was to defend itself if the Assad regime struck that nation in retaliation.
Might the “unshakable support” of the United States for Israel involve U.S. ground troops if situations on the ground changed from what the president predicts? If you have family in the military are you prepared to see them writhing and foaming at the mouth from exposure to chemical weapons?
Repeatedly pundits have said there are no good options in the Syria situation, so why assert our military might in a way that violates a nation’s sovereignty, possibly draws our nation into a larger war or puts the United States at greater risk for a terrorist attack? Thankfully there appears to be a diplomatic solution emerging, due in part to Russia’s willingness to negotiate removal of chemical weapons from Syria.
Perhaps we as a nation will dodge this bullet this time and avoid an act of war. But on another day and if similar circumstances arise, we might not be so fortunate. Would it be right, then, to exercise military might?
Kevin Boozer is a staff writer for The Herald Independent. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.