To Strike or Not to Strike?

Over the past few weeks, we have seen an international spotlight on Syria thanks to the strongly supported claims that the government has used chemical weapons on its own people. With the West looking to respond, President Obama has called for a military strike against Syria. In hopes of putting this potential military strike at bay, Syria’s leader Bashar al-Assad is supposedly considering placing Syria’s chemical weapons under international control. Although I think we should be taking this with a grain of salt – I doubt al-Assad is in any hurry to put his government’s chemical weapons in others’ control. And since when did we start valuing dictators based on their word? And anyway, didn’t he deny using those chemical weapons in the first place?

On August 21, 2013, the use of chemical weapons in Syria killed more than 1,400 people, only adding to the list of casualties this civil war has caused. In total, the past two years of the war have seen over 100,000 deaths, based on estimates from the United Nations. All in all, it is an extremely tragic situation, and if anyone viewed the videos that were released of the effects of sarin gas on those in Syria, you can see what atrocities this war has caused and why the foreign policy debate of a military response from the West has posed such a big question.

Yet while the international community and its leaders, including President Obama, believe a response of some kind is necessary, our President is facing opposition not only from other lawmakers, but also from the American public. A CNN/ORC International poll released today illustrated that while an overwhelming majority believe al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people, they would not want to see Congress pass a resolution allowing for a military strike against Syria. The reason? Many Americans believe that a military strike would do little to “better” the situation in Syria and see no reason to become involved in Syria’s civil war. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, a response would mean we would be helping to uphold international norms yet I have also raised the question as to what consequences this response would yield. And if this is the correct response and if a response of any kind is necessary in the first place.

If we don’t respond, the risk is this: the threshold for using chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war as well as any future wars would be lowered. And if we do, the public, including myself, is going to want to know exactly why. We respond to war with more war. It’s similar to how I view the death penalty – we simply kill those that have killed. Stop violence with violence. Sure, that makes total sense. So if you’re looking for irony, look no further. In the case of Iraq, we have seen how necessary transparency and accountability is – considering we became involved in a war there because of chemical weapons, too. Maybe Iraq was using an invisibility cloak for its weapons? I think that was Bush’s reasoning when myself along with many others politely asked, “Why the hell did you put boots on the ground again?” Or to put it more nicely, “Why did we risk so many American lives?” Sadly the answer ended up being because members of our own government purported that Iraq had chemical weapons. And I think part of the fear – or the reason for so much caution – with Syria is that Americans don’t want to jump to those same conclusions again. We don’t want to get involved in another war when we are finally ending two that have lasted over a decade.

And forget us jumping into the midst of a civil war, a military strike could also heavily complicate international relations and where we stand with the Middle East, according to Steven Cook, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. So say we strike against al-Assad and his regime, then what? We damage their military, but in doing so, we also benefit the militants that are fighting against Syria’s president. And some of those militants happen to be linked to al-Qaeda. And some of those militants are also the ones we happen to be attacking with U.S. drones. Conflict of interest much?

Ultimately, Congress needs to determine if the benefits outweigh the costs here. Is a military strike going to do the trick to illustrating the importance of an international norm against chemical weapons or will it just be the start of us becoming more heavily involved in Syria? How much will we be able to repair the damage of Syria’s civil war – if we even repair anything at all? As President, Ronald Reagan became too involved the Lebanon’s civil war, I’ve already talked about the mistakes in Iraq, and the situation in Egypt is growing more and more on the brink of civil war, so I guess my point is this: the idea and act of war will never be rid of so long as humankind rules this planet, and America can’t get involved in every civil war and international conflict simply due to the fact that we claim and want to remain a superpower. Even if the United States ousted al-Assad, peace would not be brought to Syria – rebels and warring factions would end up fighting for dominance. If you need an earlier example, see Ronald Reagan – he can tell you all about how disastrous Lebanon was as at one point during its civil war, the nation was broken up into 25 different warring factions.

If we are to respond, it can’t be so mismanaged – it appears that we may be in a lose-lose situation. A military strike will not have the effect we want it to, yet no one wants to take further steps. No one wants our military in Syria – well, I’m sure some people do, but again, I want to ask those individuals: why? It’s almost like a military strike is our way of half-assing it – we don’t have to get our troops involved, but we can say we did something to send a “message” to al-Assad that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated. If anything, the focus should not be on those 1,400 individuals that died at the hands of chemical weapons, but perhaps on the 100,000 that have been lost since this civil war began. Yet because the vote is going to lie in the hands of Congress, I will say this: Congress (and our democracy as a whole) was put in place to act on behalf of the people, not the Obama administration. And what the people want is for us to stay the hell out of Syria in every way, shape, and form. Even though I have mad love for our President and even though I find myself siding with the Democrats and the liberals, I do not and will not always agree with his decisions. We cannot risk a failure in whatever the President and Congress decide to do as it will have a drastic impact on our present and future role in the world. Our credibility as a country, as a nation, as the United States, will not be shattered if we choose peace.


  1. “…when did we start valuing dictators based on their word?”

    Furthermore, we might replace “dictators” with “politicians,” based on listening to their words in comparison to actions and policies. With this in mind, we might question the words of President Obama, and every other politician, as to the motivations, evidence, and facts about the situation.

    Cheers! 🙂

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