Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Minor Musing About Syria

President Obama will seek authority from Congress to use military force against Syria because Syrian President Assad allegedly used chemical weapons on his own people. The evidence of chemical weapons use seems overwhelming.,

History should remind us, however, that George W. Bush convinced many that Saddam Hussein had massive stockpiles of WMDs. None were found. George H. W. Bush was aided in his efforts to go to war in Kuwait when stories surfaced about Iraqi soldiers removing babies from hospital incubators and leaving them to die. Those stories were fabrications.

Skepticism aside, there are major principles to follow before going to war. The most simple elements of just war theory include just cause, comparative justice, competent authority, right intention, probability of success, last resort, proportionality.

Upholding international norms against using chemical weapons against civilians meets the criteria for a just cause. Further, Assad's use of chemical weapons disproportionately affected the civilians even if they actively supported the forces opposed to Assad. The comparative justice criterion seemingly has been met.

President Obama is requesting Congress to approve limited strikes to punish Assad for chemical weapons use. If Congress grants approval, war will have authorized by proper authority and force will be used with right intention. Assad is a stubborn man, so this may well be a last resort. Limited strikes seems proportional as well.

The probability of success, however, does not exist. The military strike will not topple the Assad regime. A military strike will not take out chemical weapon stockpiles because such a strike will disperse the chemical agents. Assad will, therefore, remain in power and be able to use chemical weapons again. More importantly, the forces against Assad contain elements as dangerous as he is, so it's unclear that it's in anyone's best interest to have those on the other side come to power.

This situation does not involve self-defense; it will do little to hamper or deter Assad. More importantly, weakening Assad may be a Pyrrhic victory. In that light, military force in Syria is not justified.


M Larson said...

I think part of the problem with any comparison to going to war is that this is not necessarily a calling for war, but instead a military action to attempt to protect from further action. I believe the UN's Responsibility to Protect (R2P) provides a better framework to analyze what path Obama should take. Do we have a responsibility to try to protect lives from a weapon of mass destruction even if it isn't used against us? If we do and the action may prevent Syria from choosing to use chemical weapons again because of a concern of a response by the international community, isn't that then worth the action of a military strike?

Kal Lis said...

On a cynical note, I'll take the fruits of the history of philosophical thought over the fruits of a committee of bureaucrats every day of the week.

That said, no one has a responsibility to act if no action will improve the situation.

Limited action won't topple Assad nor will it degrade his ability to use chemical weapons. There are practical reasons for not bombing the stockpiles.

The forces aligned to replace Assad are no better than he is.

If the duty to protect is paramount, why is no one suggesting intervening in Egypt to stop gang rapes on a mass scale? The government may not be authorizing the action, but it seems incapable from stopping it.

Syria seems akin to a human being with Alzheimer's and terminal cancer who is suffering a stroke. There are no good surgical options, especially "limited" ones.

That's the last point. One doesn't have an affirmative responsibility to do something one cannot do. As a nation, we don't have the ability to wage another full war in Asia. We would need a full war to change Syria.