Just war theory is something we all ought to brush on. The two axioms of the theory I think are important here are these:
1. That the decision to engage in military action is only just if there is some probability of success.
2. Once the decision to engage in military action is taken, strikes must meet some measure of military necessity.
The recent Tomahawk strike fails both of these axioms. It is not clear what we are attempting to achieve. Who do we want to win in this scenario?
Assad is a monster, and the people in the west who support him are fools, but understanding the Syrian situation means understanding the viewpoint of his supporters. The Druze, Christian, Alawite, and other minority ethnic and religious groups which make up the vaguely Ba’athist coalition supporting Assad see the current conflict as an apocalyptic war for their very survival.
And they use that excuse to paint everyone they’re fighting as in league with or in support of the Islamic State. Including the Kurds.
The Kurds also see themselves as involved in a war where their political independence from Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran and an independent Kurdistan, is the only way that they as a people can survive.
The Free Syrian Army see themselves as warriors against the oppression of a fascist, dictatorial regime.
IS Sees themselves as soldiers of a genocidal god, sent to sweep away lesser peoples.
In that environment, where half a million people have died, what exactly does a tomahawk strike on an airfield achieve? What’s the measure for success here?
Even if we had some hope that military action in general might bring peace to Syria or achieve some other goal, what military necessity does this strike in particular serve? What does it accomplish?
It doesn’t degrade Assad’s capacity to attack civilians.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (a London-based information office cited by NYTimes, BBC and NPR among others) Khan Sheykoun, the same city which suffered a chemical attack, was attacked again yesterday. Less than trustworthy news sources like the New York Post are saying that the attack came from the very airbase we hit with Tomahawks. I doubt that and can find no information to back it up. Further, I would like to point out that the attack on Khan Sheykoun wasn’t so much a military strike, as an announcement to the world that Assad can still hit Khan Sheykoun whenever he likes.
According to SOHR, most of Assad’s aircraft were busy targeting Raqqah and rebel held parts of Damascus. So there’s no appreciable degradation of the Assad regime’s aerial capacity.
Further to that first point, It’s not clear what degrading Assad’s air force would do, anyway, except for potentially helping ISIS massacre Christians, Druze, and Alawis. But hey, we stopped Assad in the process! Nevermind that we may have stopped genocide A only to enable genocides B, C, and D.
Once again, as in Iraq, it is not clear to anyone what a successful outcome of this conflict would be.
I cannot see what military or humanitarian purpose this strike served. I cannot see what strategy it takes forward.
Obama kicked this action into the long grass last time by sending a request for action to congress. The moment Congress started thinking about the Syrian situation, instead of feeling about it, they saw what Obama saw. There are no good options. There is no metric for a successful outcome here. I have been at times Critical of Obama over the lack of an overall strategic vision, but in the case of Syria, the Obama Doctrine of “Don’t do stupid shit” is the smartest strategy to employ.
The only outcome I can see from this strike at all is that it makes Trump and a few dozen politicos feel better.
The precious feefees of the power elite are the reason we engaged in this military action. The record backs me up here. Feelings are the reason Trump himself gave for authorizing this act: the poor little Syrian babies that he’s suddenly decided to care about.
Feelings do not justify military action.
Unless there is a clear goal our actions are set to achieve, and unless our plan has some level of probable success in achieving that goal, we shouldn’t be bombing people.
That is basic. Fucking. Military. Strategy.
This is true even if you’re a fascistic sociopath who hates other human beings and is generally in favor of mass slaughter. Weapons are expensive and should at least be used intelligently. Especially since this particular weapons system endangers US sailors any time it’s fired. Strapping 1,000 pounds of explosives to another explosive and firing it into the air where it is guided by a computer system of dubious but improving reliability isn’t a safe activity. So we better make damned sure that when we’re using these things, there’s some rational goal we’re working to achieve. Literally any comprehensible strategic reason would do.
That is the standard that even your average brutally oppressive military empire normally holds itself to. The British Empire didn’t bother fighting wars it had nothing to gain from. Even in all of its genocidal brutality, its actions were at least reasoned.
We can’t even meet that standard.
We’re engaging in military strikes because it makes the president feel better.
As if that weren’t disgusting enough, some of our party leaders and media commentators have developed enough of a case of Stockholm Syndrome that it’s making them feel better too. This shower of useless incompetents who’ve somehow found themselves running the country have spent so much energy acquiring power that they can’t handle situations where there’s nothing they can do. These powerful people are confronted with a situation in Syria where there are no good options, no possibilities for success, and nothing we can do at this stage but add to the body count. And apparently, adding to the body count, and then making up fanciful myths for themselves about proportional responses is just the salve their bleeding hearts require.
For Trump, it’s not the poor little babies he cares about. It’s the existential horror of at once being both the most powerful person on earth, and knowing that even then, as a mere mortal human being, there are a great many situations where you are still completely and totally powerless. Making that feeling go away is worth a few lives, apparently.
The ultimate, disgusting result is this: everyone who has supported this act, who has praised Trump for his “proportional” response, is saying that Syrian lives are less important than American feelings.
This isn’t normal.
This isn’t rational.
This isn’t acceptable.
Anyone who tries to say otherwise deserves to be shouted down.