Earlier today, a deranged hoodlum splashed acid in a tourist’s face. Then he fled and was seen entering the crowd at an outdoor concert. The police don’t have enough officers nearby to arrest him. But they have offered to fly a helicopter overhead and have it drop a hand grenade into the part of the crowd where he is believed to be.
If you support dropping the grenade, congratulations. You are qualified for a high-level policy-making position with the Obama administration. It too believes in futile action at all costs.
Such is the situation in Syria today. A hundred thousand deaths into Syria’s civil war, the apparent use of chemical weapons against a thousand more has stirred Obama to action. There are no good options. But there is one that is clearly worse, both ineffective and immoral, and it is the one he has chosen.
Obama proposes a deliberately vague series of military strikes. They are not designed to topple Assad or bring the commanders who ordered the use of nerve agents to justice. They are not calculated to protect civilians or bring the fighting to an end. Only two things seem clear. There will be no American “boots on the ground,” and Syrians will die.
This is not Kosovo, where the bombing campaign was designed bring a reluctant government to the negotiating table, and did. It is not Libya, where the bombing campaign was designed to bring down a criminal government. It is not even Iraq or Afghanistan, where there were at least plans for postwar peace, however ill-considered. There is no plan in Syria, not even a theory of what will happen the day after the bombing.
The Syrian civil war will continue as before, town by town and block by block. The only differences will be that the United States will be even more deeply implicated. It will be blamed for shooting, and for stopping. It will be blamed for the warheads that hit, and for the ones that miss. Whoever comes to power will not thank the United States; whoever is out of power will curse it. Even by the bleakly absurdist standards of warfare, this proposed offensive is pointless.
The Syrian military committed a great evil when it launched nerve agents against civilians. But just because something is prohibited does not mean that responding—let alone responding with violence—is mandatory. No policeman is everywhere; no prosecutor charges everyone.
The moral question is simple and eternal. Will the proposed response do more good than harm? The unwillingness of Obama and his surrogates to answer the question as posed tells you everything you need to know about the answer. They offer instead a series of arguments about absolutes, arguments disgusting in their indifference to human consequences.
It is said that the victims of the nerve agents used are “real human beings.” So they are. And so are the people who will be killed if the United States bombs this war-torn country.
It is said that chemical weapons are illegal under international law. So they are. And so is the use of military force against a United Nations member state without the approval of the Security Council.
It is said that the use of chemical weapons raises an urgent responsibility to protect victims. So it does. But it is also said that the attacks now being urged will, at best, “degrade” Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons. And at worst, they will put Assad to the choice of using his chemical weapons or losing them.
It is said that using chemical weapons is a war crime. So it is. But there have been many war crimes in this civil war, and not all on the one side.
It is said that this is “our Munich moment.” It is not. The comparison cheapens the millions of deaths in the Holocaust, and it ignores the tens of millions of deaths in World War II. When every dictator is Hitler, no one is.
It is said that we cannot stand on the sidelines while a middle Eastern country descends into sectarian conflict. We can. We are doing just that in Egypt.
It is said that we have exhausted our other options. We have not. We could spend the many millions of dollars a Syria strike would cost on easing the suffering of the refugees from the civil war, or on the many other urgent humanitarian crises around the world.
It is said that the United States will lose credibility if it fails to strike now. Perhaps it will. It will certainly lose credibility, both political and moral, if it strikes with little effect and then walks away.
Every bad habit of the Obama administration is on display in this deplorable episode. Having chosen the most politically expedient course of action (in light of its delusional sense of politics), it now seeks to persuade the world that its choice is both most the likely to work and the most morally upstanding. It is neither, and brazen insistence to the contrary in the face of overwhelming evidence is shameful and sad.
I am a resident of the District of Columbia; I have no vote in Congress. But I ask you, my fellow Americans, please call your Senators and Representatives, and tell them urgently to vote against the use of military force in Syria. This is that rarest of political moments in America: a crucial vote on an issue of the utmost importance whose outcome hangs in the balance. Constituent calls and public debate have the power to change what happens this week. Please, please, please vote against this pointless war.