I must confess that I have been guilty of sitting on the fence with respect to whether the United States should launch even a limited military strike against Syria, ostensibly in response to the chemical bombing of their own citizens. I have wanted to do two things: first, gather as much objective information as possible regarding the complexities of the situation. And second, I wanted to be able to trust my President to evaluate the much better information that he has at his disposal and then to come to the right decision on behalf of me and the American people.
Additionally, I have struggled with an emotional reaction to the use of chemical weapons on innocent citizens, particularly children, and what I see as a need to respond in some manner. I am not inclined to ignore such violence as it was ignored by the world in Europe during the 1940s.
That being said, after considerable soul-searching and information-seeking, I am prepared to say that if I were asked – or even if I am not – I would counsel the President to respond, and respond he must, with actions other than a military strike.
The primary reason I now feel strongly that way is not particularly noble. It is because since 1980 every use of military might on the part of the United States has exacerbated the problems in the Middle East, not reduced them. More of the tremendous pain and suffering of the innocent men, women and children of the region has been caused by US military intervention than by any of the civil wars or local military incursions. The simple and painful truth is that military intervention on our part has been futile. In every case. And there is no reason to believe this time would be any different.
So I will be using my very limited power to make my point, and that point will be that we must say no to another war, no matter how ‘limited,’ for the simple reason that the outcome will again be disastrous, and not measure up to the humanitarian motives we are expressing.
But saying we’re against war is too easy. Just as bombing for peace is too easy. And both approaches are equally ineffective, equally dangerous. What is required at this moment is a fundamental re-examination of US policy in the Middle East – foreign policy, military policy, and most important humanitarian policy.
What we have been doing for decades now has failed. What the President and the Congress need to do at this critical moment is to acknowledge to the American people that war has failed us, and will fail us again. And more importantly we have failed the people of the Middle East, many of whom are crying out for our help today. And we will fail them again if we take the easy way out and rain bombs down on them for the umpteenth time.
We must respond to the agonizing deaths of children ingesting their government’s chemical weapons not by dropping more bombs but by working to eradicate military answers to political differences – forever. That will not be easy. It will not come about quickly or without difficulty or even failures along the way.
The President and others have raised questions of ‘credibility’ if he does not respond forcefully to the Syrian government having crossed some arbitrary ‘red line.’ In fact, the President would greatly elevate his credibility if he publicly proclaimed to the world that war has not been the answer in the past and will not be the answer this time. He will earn his Nobel Peace Prize if he refrains from unleashing the world’s most powerful military on innocent civilians and instead employs his considerable credibility to rally international political capital in a global effort in support of peace in the region.
There is no guarantee of success with that approach. Peace-making is much more difficult than war-making. But while there is no guarantee that US peace-making efforts will succeed, there is a virtual guarantee that a military effort to impose peace on the region will once again fail.