29 August 2013


There is a considerable amount of saber-rattling going on with regard to Syria's use of chemical weapons against civilians.  As disgusting and horrible as such action may be, it is hard to see how the end result is any different from being killed by bombs, gunshots, or fire. Granted it violates "International Law," but it is unclear why the United States has to enforce it. The argument is that if we don't, the law is meaningless, but how and why does it fall on the US to give it meaning? Nevertheless this action might be justified if it were to take place within the framework of some kind of coherent strategy. The problem is that we do not appear to have one, nor have the consequences been thoroughly vetted. 

Do we simply lob some missiles over to send a message about chemical weapons? What happens after that in terms of retaliation? Opponents have already said they would target Israel, never mind that Israel is not instigating the attack. If they do, certainly Israel will respond to defend itself, and then we have a wider war. To think that we can shoot some missiles as a message and then walk away is incredibly naive. The message otherwise can be reduced to “it’s okay to go on torturing and killing, just don’t use chemicals.”  If it is still about restoring US credibility it is too little too late, in terms of the President's "line in the sand," unless we are prepared to go much further. 

I would not oppose military action if there were a clear strategy to produce some kind of desired outcome. But there doesn't appear to be any. The time to act in Syria has gone by. We still have not provided the opposition with adequate weapons to counter Assad's forces, which we should have done over a year ago. Now it is not all that clear who is leading the opposition, and there is a rising Al Qaeda presence on that side. As awful as Assad’s regime may be, a country dominated by Al Qaeda would be far worse, and present an actual threat to the West.

That points to another law, the War Powers Act, according to which unless there is an imminent threat to the US, congressional approval must be obtained. Those who opposed George Bush for acting aggressively should note that even he obtained congressional approval before taking military action. It is hard to argue that Syria presents an imminent threat, so what is the legal basis for such a strike? These questions ought to be debated in congress before acting. To argue there isn’t time for that is ridiculous, given that the administration has let it be an open secret that we are going to attack so there is no element of surprise and the Syrian regime already has ample time to prepare.

Furthermore, we would be involving ourselves more deeply in what is becoming an overall civil war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, with Iran and its allies aligned against most of the Arab states. Instead we should see this as an opportunity to get out of the line of fire, which I’ll explore more fully subsequently. Aiding one side covertly is one thing; getting directly involved in an even longer war is another.

Our priorities are also warped. If western countries are to be involved at all in this region, they ought to be stopping the continued persecution and increasing extinction of Christians in the Middle East, which we’ll also expand on next time. Right now our only strategy seems to be to punish Assad’s Syria, but not so much so as to topple the regime, which presumably would lead to chaos in the region. The problem is that “Syria” is not much of a nation to begin with. The current geography of much of the Middle East consists of provinces carved rather haphazardly out of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. This is one of the main reasons there is continuing turmoil in the area. The regime likes to pretend there is some relationship to the ancient Assyrian empire, but there isn’t any. Thus it is laughable when people in these countries question the legitimacy of Israel, given that their own countries are essentially no older in historical time.