I have just read what for me is a compelling case against the United States bombing Syria. The following are my own words, but the ideas are taken directly from Dan Ebener. He calls it “the Catholic case against attacking Syria,” using Catholic social doctrine but I can’t see what’s Catholic about it. I’m convinced because I think he is right: it gravely risks making things much worse rather than better for just about everybody involved.
Ebener gives several convincing arguments:
- The evidence is pretty strong that somebody used chemical weapons. It’s more likely to have been the Syrian government, but the evidence is not conclusive, and it could have been the branch of rebels supported by Al Qaeda trying to get the U.S. involved to support their attempts to overthrow Assad.
- It would be illegal for the U.S. to bomb Syria under the circumstances. Russia and China will clearly use their vote on the UN security council to veto a military strike on Syria. Since the U.S. itself was not attacked, we will violate international law if we attack Syria without international backing. In other words, as Ebener puts it, “we would be breaking international law against a country that we think broke international law to show that breaking international law is wrong.”
- But let’s assume the U.S. bombs Syria and removes Assad from power. I think about the possible alternatives. The most powerful of the diverse rebel groups is probably controlled by extremists such as Al Qaeda. If they gain power, they will have access to Assad’s chemical weapons. Whether or not they have already used chemical weapons (and they may have) would they use them to maintain power? I fear it is a strong possibility.
- Along with putting the extremists in power, the chances that US military involvement will escalate the war seem to me to be huge. Iran has already said it will not stand idly by, and Russia has made it clear that it is not a neutral observer. How can a situation like this possibly make things better for the millions of Syrians already displaced? or the millions more civilians caught in the line of increasing fire? It is no good saying we would not target innocent civilians. Modern warfare makes it almost impossible not to kill innocent bystanders. Wouldn’t it be better to use the funding that would be used for a military attack to provide humanitarian assistance?
- I was living in England on 9/11. The response throughout Europe was one of solidarity with America. But I saw that solidarity slip away as the Bush administration decided to use it as a chance to attack Iraq under the false pretenses that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction but was really a war in pursuit of oil and greater control in the Middle East.
Today, I’m convinced that our credibility and reputation would be far greater if we relied more on demonstrating that we are a country that lives according to its principles and the rule of law, even when we are threatened.
But the alternative to not bombing Syria is not doing nothing. So what can we do?
- We can give much more in humanitarian aid to help the refugees both in and around Syria who have fled the violence, support a full-fledged arms embargo in relation to all sides in the Syrian conflict, and reiterate again that the only viable lasting solution is political.
- We can give our strongest backing to the United Nations/Arab League and call for a conference including Iran to work toward a negotiated settlement,
- This settlement should not make the mistake we made in Iraq where we tried to replace all government institutions and people who had served in Saddam’s government. It created a political vacuum, and ultimately simply changed the groups theoretically in control. It has not established true democracy or eliminated regular acts of terrorism. A true solution has to include the entire diversity of ethnic and religious groups in Syria.
America is often a trigger-happy country, and we tend to think that if our bombs are the biggest our moral superiority must be beyond question. But the world today needs countries with the wisdom to find other paths to peace besides violence.
Besides, what we’ve had to recognize more than once since Vietnam is that our bombs simply don’t automatically make us the winners anymore.
And we really do need peace if we are going to survive.