Stay Out of Syria
The Obama administration has seemingly painted itself into yet another military corner by announcing that use of chemical weapons by Syria would constitute a red line that would mandate military action on the part of the United States. Now we are hearing reports that the red line may have been crossed, and some prominent officials are calling for the U.S. to step up its aid to the rebels and/or impose a no-fly zone. Proponents of military action such as Secretary of State John Kerry and hawkish Senator John McCain seem to think that the U.S. can sort out the “good guys” in the Syrian civil war, and use U.S. military assets to help the rebels take down the Assad government.
U.S. military involvement in Syria could only make things worse. Syria does not need a "no fly" zone. It needs a "no weaponizing" zone. The White House and its allies need to stop arming one side of a civil war, and to persuade Russia to stop arming the other. Further escalating the violence will result in nothing that could outweigh the damage of that violence.
The Netanyahu government in Israel has just raised the ante in this precarious situation by conducting air-to-ground missile attacks against Syria, undoubtedly with the tacit approval of the United States. Allowing Israel to attack Syria without consequences is not only the sanctioning of a crime; it also allows momentum to develop for greater violence and pushes peaceful resolution further out of reach. Diplomacy must be actively pursued before it is too late.
Further military interference in Syria would be a disastrous decision in important ways. For one thing, it is not at all clear if chemical weapons have been used, and if so, by which side. U.S. media has a tendency to turn conjecture into accepted fact merely by repeating it. Furthermore, the U.S. military has itself used and continues to use chemical and nuclear weapons — Agent Orange and napalm in Vietnam and white phosphorus and depleted uranium weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ongoing hypocrisy of U.S. policy and practice in this regard undermines our nation’s international moral and legal position.
Secondly, there are few if any “good guys” among the combatants in Syria. Because the White House has decided that regime change in Syria is our business, Americans are now squarely allied with extremist anti-democratic insurgents—the same people the administration has deemed our enemy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As it has time after the time, the theory that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” will come back to bite the U.S. once Assad is out of office.
Those who hold Libya up as an example of the kind of military action that should be taken in Syria don’t understand some very basic concepts. Syria’s air defense batteries are located in urban centers, not like Libya’s, which could be attacked without causing a high number of civilian casualties. If the U.S. targets urban centers in Syria, global opinion will quickly turn against us. Furthermore, the Assad government’s close relationship with major powers Russia and Iran could mean that a U.S. attack would lead to widespread war. An escalated U.S. war in Syria would not be waged simply on American terms. Those who advocate for military action don’t seem to understand the global response to our actions.
But the most basic reason that the U.S. should not interfere militarily in Syria is because we should support self-determination. It should be left to the Syrian people to decide who will run their government. Overthrowing foreign governments is not legal, moral, or practical. It is not a safe practice to encourage. In fact, in nearly a century of warmaking, there is still no example of the United States or NATO having “liberated” a country to beneficial effect. Libya's violence is spilling into neighboring nations. Iraq is arguably in worse shape post-intervention than Syria is pre-intervention.
In the immediate term, the Green Shadow Cabinet calls on the United States government and the international community to provide humanitarian aid—food and shelter for those displaced, and assistance to countries that are providing safe haven for Syrian refugees. And the administration should invest in multilateral diplomatic efforts involving both Russia and Iran, as well as others, to push for a cease fire and an end to weapons shipments.
In the long term, we must win an international ban on weapons and war profiteering, which is a major factor in feeding the cycle of violence.
LEAH BOLGER is Secretary of Defense in the Green Shadow Cabinet. She is a former Commander in the United States Navy, retired.
DAVID SWANSON is Secretary of Peace in the Green Shadow Cabinet. He is author of War is a Lie, When the World Outlawed War, and The Military Industrial Complex at 50.