War is justified when your country is attacked or your people are threatened, when danger is imminent or lives are at stake, when diplomacy has been exhausted and words no longer suffice.
But even when war is the right course for a nation, it should always be the last alternative.
That’s why I’m so puzzled by the Obama administration’s suddenly hawkish posture concerning Syria.
It feels as if our nation has moved from rhetoric to recklessness in a matter of weeks. The transition feels rushed. It feels reactionary. It feels wrong.
Is this the Nobel Peace Prize winner?
It’s hard to connect this Obama — he of the bright red line represented by chemical weapons — with the man who argued so passionately against the war in Iraq.
It’s difficult to see the Nobel Peace Prize winner when I look into the face of the man who is now threatening to launch missiles at a country that has not attacked America.
If Syria used chemical weapons, that was wrong. No one denies that. But is the fate of the 1,400 Syrians who died as the result of a chemical weapons attack any different than the fate of the estimated 100,000 who have died by other means during that country’s civil war?
Do the deaths of the chemical weapons victims outweigh the deaths of the roughly 6,600 American service members killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
As crass as it may sound, the answer to those questions is no.
How is this good for the U.S.?
That’s why I don’t believe America should attack Syria. Not because I lack compassion for the innocent Syrian civilians who died at the hands of their government, but because I don’t see how limited missile strikes can result in a good outcome for America.
If, as Obama has asserted, America’s involvement is necessary to enforce the international community’s rules prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, then the international community should respond.
If the bright red line on chemical weapons was drawn by the international community, and not by Obama, then the international community should take unified action. America’s should not act alone.
Britain has already bowed out. The French, while considering military action, face a citizenry that is largely opposed.
With a G-20 summit taking place in Russia this week, the Russians, who have blocked United Nations-approved military strikes, will take center stage along with America and other industrialized nations. And while Syria is not the primary subject of those meetings, Russia is already trying to cast doubt on America’s version of the chemical weapons attack. We’ll see if they succeed.
Still, one fact remains.
If Congress grants Obama the approval he seeks on Syrian missile strikes (the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution granting limited authority on Wednesday), and U.S. allies maintain their virtual silence in the wake of the G20 summit, America will be left standing alone on Syria.
That means the American people will not only bear the responsibility of striking Syria. America will bear the cost.
In addition to the cost of launching Tomahawk missiles valued at up to $1.4 million apiece, there is a cost here that is much more expensive than money.
It’s the cost associated with radicalizing more young men in the region.
It’s the cost of giving our enemies a propaganda tool.
It’s the cost of inserting ourselves into a war that is not our own.
The fact that the Obama administration is willing to pay such a heavy cost tells me that this is about more than chemical weapons. It’s about the balance of power in the Middle East.
We’ve already supplied arms to the Syrian rebels in the hopes of turning the tide against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Iran, with the assistance of Russia, has bolstered the al-Assad regime. In essence, the Syrian conflict has become a proxy war, and America’s proxy — the Syrian rebels — are not necessarily losing, but they’re not winning, either.
The use of chemical weapons by the Syrians gives America the excuse it needs to up the ante, to use missile strikes to turn the tide of the war and to cement American influence in the region.
Using a chemical weapons attack as an excuse to insert ourselves into a war sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Almost as crazy as the weapons of mass destruction narrative that led to the invasion of Iraq.
Obama was right when he opposed that war. It remains to be seen whether he’s right this time.
One thing is certain: If American interests in Syria lead to the use of military force, our actions had better be worth the cost.