Saturday, August 31, 2013

Is The Use of Chemical Weapons Sufficient or Necessary to Justify Force?

President Obama’s plan to use military force against Syria’s government is a flawed policy decision.  The only way in which force is justified now is because chemical weapons have been introduced, which is to say that the use of chemical weapons automatically justifies the use of force.

I disagree.  In this particular instance, the Syrian government has for two years been waging a nasty war against both the rebels and the civilian population of the areas that support the rebels.  According to a UN report noted in the NY Times this past June, 92,901 civilian deaths have been documented, with the actual number likely being considerably higher.  Now about 100 have been killed in a chemical attack (apparently not the first one).  

If the use of military force was not justified before, it is not justified now.  Civil war is a nasty business no matter how you look at it.  Had the Syrian government not committed enough atrocities against civilians prior to the introduction of chemical weapons?  Haven’t countless other governments in civil wars committed atrocities against their people?

The question is where do you draw the line?   How do you make a decision to strike militarily?

We cannot be the world’s policeman.  We cannot strike militarily every time there is a civil war and the government uses brutal force against both the rebels and their civilian supporters.  There is no moral imperative to intervene nor is it in our national interest.

However, we should draw the line where a government is conducting ethnic cleansing or genocide, regardless of the technology used.  That does present a moral imperative.  That was the case in Bosnia, where we intervened.  That was the case in Rwanda, where we didn’t intervene.  That was the case in Dafur, where we also didn’t intervene.  And we should have in each of those cases, with or without the support of the international community or close allies.  That is not the case in Syria.

The White House talks about our credibility being at stake.  Our credibility in the world is certainly a very important commodity.  But if a policy we have is flawed and especially where it is not supported by the international community then to proceed in the face of such opposition is nothing but national ego.  It has nothing to do with credibility.

We should have a clear policy on military intervention in cases of civil strife and stick to it.  To my knowledge, we have no such policy.