A military strike on Syria responding to its use of chemical weapons is now on our horizon. Brute use of war power is always troubling in its myriad of near term unintended consequences and its reassessment in longer term historical reflection.
However, the question of just war always seems to haunt the United States whether it is to counter an invasion or engage in so called surgical strikes. Because this country to a great extent defines its history through the lens of wars past, has committed grave errors in its use of military might, and has a large portion of its economy and government bureaucracy firmly tied to militarism, the exceptionalism we employ in invoking military solutions is not just suspect but unsound.
Far more than the quality of our intelligence regarding Syria today or Iraq yesterday affects our war judgment for we as the world’s most out of proportion sized war machine need to question if we are capable of acting with wisdom. Our outcome calculations have so often become miscalculations and we have become so adept at marshaling emotions to underpin war making at the highest levels of our society that in reality our default understanding ought to be that our modern military judgment is faulty and incapable of rendering good decisions.
Yet as we turn toward the current situation in Syria, for liberals and progressives who have consistently opposed the use of military force as the default methodology for settling conflicts, there lies a deeply troubling set of sub-questions:
- Is war justified to prevent genocide?
- Is military intervention to stop ethnic or minority cleansing right?
- Is armed force appropriate to halt a sovereign nation’s internal civilian slaughter?
- And most troubling of all, where is the line in the aforementioned questions between six-million Jews or fourteen-hundred Syrians or one persecuted victim that creates an urgency to transform diplomatic and economic efforts into war making?
I submit that the difficulty with the preceding questions is the equation of
action X = military response Y
is far too complicated and laden with variables to ever answer. The trouble with our modern world “security” system is that we have refused to reach beyond the nation state to provide the calculations necessary. The world’s nations, especially the United States, are so mired down with their exceptionalism, internal pandering, and self interests that any decisions made on military action are flawed upon inception.
We need to do something on behalf of those being gassed by Assad on the streets of Syria, we need to do something about regimes using bullets or starvation to ethnically cleanse, and we need to do something to have a protocol ready to deal with genocide. Alas punitive strikes are like spanking and only harden a target regime’s determination to become entrenched in its exceptionalism with mere delays in deaths or even more troubling desperate escalation to complete the proscribed killings. The greater step of invasion is far more likely to widen the circle of violence creating more casualties and innocent war victims insensitively termed “collateral damage”
Thus we, both the United States and all nations, must confront our present ineffectiveness of regrettably only possessing the blunt instruments of war, exceptionalism, and self interests in order to help Syrian civilians and so many forthcoming future victims elsewhere. Only a new protocol with new tools applying wisdom based on moral precepts can solve the present concern in a manner that steps toward halting harm and healing hurt. It must be robust, it has to be neutral to sovereign interests, it needs to contain exceptionalism, and it must provide both the immediate term end of killing and a longer term stable solution. Like bankruptcy, a process for emerging on the other side of a governance failure must be implemented, monitored, and enforced.
The solution proposed only appears too late for Syria if we refuse to begin working on it with great conviction and energy now in a humble partnership with the world.