Military Intervention in Syria Problematic

Sam White, Contributing Writer

With Congress set to vote this Monday on a resolution that would authorize limited military action in Syria, the United States finds itself yet again on the brink of a bloody, costly and entirely avoidable war that it has neither right nor reason to fight.

The resolution on Monday comes in the wake of the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside the Syrian capital, Damascus, which killed over a thousand unarmed civilians. In a statement, President Obama blamed the Syrian government and President Bashar al-Assad for the attack and urged Congress to support a limited military operation that would, in the words of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, “hold the Assad regime accountable, degrade its ability to carry out their kinds of attacks and deter it from further use of chemical weapons.”

It need not be said that the attack, a flagrant violation of multiple tenets of international law, was tragic and abhorrent by any standards. Few would deny that the perpetrators deserve to feel the full weight of justice, and the prevention of future chemical weapons attacks, especially of this scope, is a goal behind which most everyone in the world can stand united. This is precisely why U.S. military action makes no sense.

Even if the Obama administration is correct in its central accusations — that Assad’s government is responsible for the attack and that the weapon used was in fact sarin, the outlawed nerve agent — it has yet to announce to the world what it expects to achieve through military intervention.

In pitching his administration’s case to Congress, President Obama emphasized that he plans only to weaken Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities, rather than to place “boots on the ground” or engage in a long- term campaign.

Yet the supposedly limited operation he proposes will likely be led with missiles fired from five U.S. destroyers currently stationed in the Mediterranean Sea, possibly supplemented with air strikes, which begs several critical questions: How accurate can U.S.-led strikes be if they are carried out remotely? Who and what, specifically, do they plan to target? Will the destruction of chemical weapons facilities result in further deaths, this time at the hands of the U.S., from sarin released into surrounding areas?

The humbling truth is that if the U.S. does carry out such an attack, it will inevitably contribute to further bloodshed. The strikes it proposes will almost certainly involve civilian casualties and they will, without question, provoke retaliation from President Assad’s most critical allies. Among those openly committed to countering a U.S. strike are Russia, which has pre-emptively deployed its own warships in the Mediterranean, and Iran, whose government continues to support Assad with the assistance of the Shiite extremist group Hezbollah. Iran has additionally vowed to attack Israel in the event of a U.S. strike on Syria, dragging one of the United States’ closest regional allies into what could quickly become a full-scale global war.

Iran and Russia are merely two among the growing multitude of countries — the United Kingdom and Germany now included — pointing out that the U.S. does not have the necessary international permission to carry out a strike on Syrian soil. Because such an attack does not constitute a clear act of self-defense, the U.S. cannot legally proceed without approval from the United Nations Security Council, which permanent members Russia and China have both soundly denied. If the planned attack is, as the Obama administration claims, meant to deter violations of international humanitarian law, what message will the United States be sending to the world by defying the clearcut authority of the highest international organization?

And yet, all of the above scenarios are based on the assumption that the Obama administration is in fact correct in blaming Assad for the Damascus attack. This assumption, as many commentators, both from the U.S. and from outside, have emphasized, is an unverified and dangerous one. While the Obama administration’s statement emphasizes that Assad’s central opposition, the Free Syrian Army, does not possess the capability to carry out a chemical weapons attack, it entirely neglects the possibility of other capable perpetrators, such as FSA-linked al-Qaeda.

With the U.S. in steadfast refusal to disclose the evidence upon which it bases its accusations, and the official report of U.N. weapons inspectors not due for at least several more days, we may not know the true identity of the perpetrators until after yet another convoluted, global and misguided war is well under way. This war can and must be prevented with a “no” vote on Monday so that necessary diplomatic options may be pursued.