The U.S. has a moral responsibility to aid those suffering in a civil conflict and stop the use of chemical weapons.
This alleged war crime has re-ignited the national debate over a U.S. intervention in Syria. If either side used chemical weapons, however, it would simply be another nail in the coffin of the case for U.S. intervention. And regardless, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a war criminal, and it is time for the U.S. to step up.
Since the Syrian civil war started 22 months ago, more than 70,000 Syrian civilians have died, 1.2 million have fled the country, two million are internally displaced and four million require humanitarian aid within the nation of more than 20 million people, according to the United Nations. Assad and his army are responsible for the majority of this human suffering and strife.
Assad has repeatedly shown that he is willing to use his bombs and artillery units to annihilate civilian population centers and fire live rounds to disperse peaceful protestors, so there can be no doubt that Assad is criminally massacring his own civilians.
The willingness of Assad to kill his civilians leaves little doubt in the international community that he would use chemical weapons against his own people. It is “widely believed” that Assad has stockpiles of chemical weapons, according to NPR, which are very easy to launch against civilians to inflict enormous casualties. If he actually did, it becomes even more urgent that the U.S. intervenes in Syria.
In light of these factors, the U.S. has not just a political but a moral obligation to intervene in Syria. When dictators infringe upon the inalienable rights of food, shelter, water and freedom from fear, the international community has an obligation to wage a just war to restore those rights for a terrorized citizenry. The U.S., therefore, must intervene in Syria for the simple sake of morality.
The U.S. has the ability to create change in Syria, so a hypothetical war would not be unwinnable. The U.S. military is the largest in the world and was more heavily financed than the next 13 largest militaries combined in 2011, according to The Washington Post. The overwhelming force of the U.S. military would allow the U.S. to deploy the resources necessary to stop the Syrian army by bombing military installations and chemical weapons depositories.
Syria will not become a counterinsurgency mission. Assad has alienated so many of his people through conventional bombings and the alleged use of chemical weapons that they have begun to take up arms against him in a civil war. If the U.S. intervenes in Syria on behalf of the rebels, it would be working with existing rebel forces to push out Assad.
True, the conventional weaponry used by the U.S. is likely to create collateral damage, but the U.S. will come nowhere close to killing the 70,000 civilians that Assad has already killed or the thousands he will likely kill if he uses chemical weapons.
Instead, the U.S. would be able target Assad’s forces to support the rebels in creating regime change.
The Syrian rebels would be ready to create new leadership after overthrowing Assad. Rebels have already held provincial elections to decide the new leadership of some of the rebel-held provinces, and the rebels include government activists ready to work for stable democracy from Damascus, according to NPR.
Compared to Iraq and Afghanistan, where there was little organized opposition ready to rule, Syria is much closer to creating a democracy that would lead the country to a stable future.
True, the U.S. will likely need to be involved in helping to foster the fledgling government, but that investment would help create stability in the volatile Middle East and enhance the U.S. image in the Muslim world.
It’s time for the United States to step up and help right an international wrong.
Dan Morgan-Russell is a freshman majoring in international relations.
As the death toll in the Syrian civil war nears 70,000 lives and new allegations about the use of chemical weapons by both sides of the conflict emerge, the U.S. finds itself ever closer to making a decision to intervene.
But U.S. military intervention, despite the allegations about chemical weapons, would be neither a productive nor feasible form of engagement with Syria. To avoid a repeat of the Iraq debacle and a standoff with Russia, the U.S. and international community should support continued diplomacy and engagement instead of intervening on the rebels’ behalf.
With no end in sight to the Syrian civil war, Admiral James Stavridis, head of U.S. European Command, indicated at a U.S. Senate hearing that U.S. and NATO talks have not yet ruled out the possibility of providing lethal support to the anti-government militias or using military capabilities to enforce no-fly zones and impose arms embargoes against the Assad regime. The United States has also signaled its support of British and French efforts to act in arming the anti-government militias.
But military intervention would repeat the mistakes of two of the United States’ most misguided wars: Korea and Iraq. Ongoing arms sales from Russia to the Syrian government mean that U.S. action to aid the rebels’ military would be perceived by Russia as a direct threat to diplomacy. Russia, which draws 10 percent of its global arms sales revenue from the Syrian government, is incredibly sensitive to any U.S. actions that might potentially undermine it in the realms of economic and national security.
The stakes are even higher when one considers that Russia blasted Israel earlier in the year for its bombing of Syrian government outposts near Damascus. Risking a military confrontation and proxy war with Russia in Syria resembles the same foreign policy failures that drew the United States into a proxy war with China on the Korean peninsula.
Little more than 10 years after the United States began a failed and erratic attempt to rebuild Iraq, we should be wary of new calls to police the world. The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq cost nearly $2 trillion, left the United States involved in the process of rebuilding a nation rife with ethnic differences that were never fully understood and embroiled our military in wartime scandals such as Abu Ghraib, which decimated our international credibility. The United States, which also acted alongside our allies in Europe, was left holding the bag, the paycheck and by far the largest military commitment when European support of the war effort rapidly declined. This cannot happen again.
Some would suggest that the alleged use of chemical weapons changes the game. Last week, allegations were traded back and forth asserting that chemical weapons had been introduced into the conflict, prompting Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to say that “an increasingly beleaguered regime, having found its escalation of violence through conventional means inadequate, might be prepared to use CW [chemical weapons] against the Syrian people.”
The use of chemical weapons does not change fundamental arguments against intervention. If anything, it strengthens them. The irony should not be lost on the fact that Ake Sellstrom, the Swedish scientist appointed by Ban Ki-moon to investigate the allegations of the deployment of chemical weapons, also once headed the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.
Following a 2002 investigation, the Sellstrom-led UNMOVIC concluded that no evidence existed to corroborate the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq had resumed producing weapons of mass destruction prior to the U.S.-led invasion in March of 2003. Intervening in any capacity before the investigation is allowed to run its course would be the height of folly.
Though the use of chemical weapons on the Syrian rebels, if verified, represents a great atrocity that the United States should take diplomatic and economic action against, military involvement should be avoided until such weapons demonstrate a threat to the national security of the United States or our allies. If the United States responded to every foreign scuffle with military action, we would find our military overstretched from Darfur to Myanmar to Uganda.
Compared to military action, the cost of diplomacy and concerted engagement are minimal, but their benefits are equally important.
Nathaniel Haas is a freshman majoring in economics and political science.