Wednesday, September 04, 2013

To War Again? What Think Ye?

American life in the early part of this century was indelibly affected by the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks and their aftermath. Many facets of life today are still colored by these horrific events. So I can't help but reflect on the past dozen years as I consider the current push to take the U.S. to war in Syria.

To war? Yes. Although the administration describes its military ambitions in Syria as a very limited affair, one cannot deny that such intervention would be an act of war. Nor can anyone guarantee that the conflict would be short lived and would require minimal American blood and/or treasure. The most prescient among us cannot see where this will lead.

Like most Americans, I supported going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. In retrospect, I see that no one can really say whether we or the world are better off for having engaged in these conflicts. Effective arguments can be made either way. But all such propositions rely on projected might-have-been scenarios that are impossible to prove.

The entire reason behind engaging in any military conflict is to make life better than it would be otherwise. No serious person considers war a panacea. We all pretty much know war produces unsavory and often unexpected outcomes. But it is proposed that those outcomes are preferred to what would happen if we didn't press the matter.

How do past conflicts rate on this scale? Perusing this list of wars involving the U.S., it seems that clear victories have been pretty sparse as of late. Some of the listed victories are questionable. The 12-year Iraq no-fly zone was a victory? Then why did we end up going to war in Iraq?

Numerous conflicts are ongoing. Almost no one thinks that Afghanistan is going well. Have our efforts there improved American lives? Foreign lives? Most Americans can't tell you what our objectives in Afghanistan are. Many military people wonder the same.

After a quick victory in Iraq we had a very bad time before wrapping up the operation somewhat favorably. We no longer have a blustering dictator there. The government isn't overtly challenging the U.S. But the security situation there is a shambles and there are reports of operational terrorist training camps in the country.

Many Americans don't even remember the 2011 Libyan Civil War because U.S. involvement was relatively brief and low key. We went in, did quick work, and got out, while other governments did most of the high profile work. And the conflict ended fairly rapidly.

Administration supporters are suggesting that the Syria incursion would be more along the lines of Libya 2011 of Bosnia 1993-95. Lots of air support. Make things go boom. Then leave.

Maybe. But the Pottery Barn rule warning given to the Bush 43 administration on Iraq applies here too: If you break it you own it. Unlike Libya, the U.S. would not be simply playing a supporting role. Unlike Bosnia, the U.S. would not be just taking part in a mission championed by the U.N. and carried out by NATO.

Just as no one doubted that Saddam Hussein was an atrocious and obnoxious dictator, no one doubts that Bashar al-Assad is a murderous despot. Nor is there much doubt that he has used internationally forbidden chemical weapons against his enemies in the current civil war.

President Obama insists that the objective of any U.S. attack on Syria would be to simply eliminate Assad's ability to use banned weapons of mass destruction, not to effect regime change or even affect the balance of power in Syria's civil war. Go in, blow things up, and then leave the warring parties to continue their fight.

Some are asking why the U.S. should do this. As one Democratic senator put it; while Syria has been meddlesome, it offers no direct threat to the U.S., nor do we have any allies there. Why should the U.S. get involved in a war where it's a shame that both sides can't lose?

Some suggest that since Russia and China have been supporting Assad, the U.S. must support Assad's enemies, even if they are also our enemies. Did we learn nothing from using the Vietnam War as a proxy for the Cold War?

President Obama insists that the action is necessary to bolster faith in international law. If one state can flout broadly agreed weapons prohibitions, what will prevent other states from doing so if there are no resultant negative consequences? The administration also argues that Assad could easily use these weapons on our allies in the region; although, he has not yet moved to do so. So the strike would be both punitive and preventative.

Of course, this only works if it produces the desired results. We will only know in hindsight if it was worth doing. We might well ask what might be the worst possible outcome if we did not attack Syria? What might be the worst possible outcome if we did?

Also, there are those pesky voices echoing all the way back to the Spanish-American War asking why the U.S. should play the role of being the world's police force. How well has this served us? Others are asking whether this would be both a just and a necessary war. Just, perhaps. But necessary? I will leave that to your judgment.

Given our recent track record, Americans spanning the political landscape are justifiably reticent to become involved in another Middle Eastern war. No doubt there is plenty of domestic political gamesmanship involved in the matter. But that ought to be a tawdry sideshow to the important moral and security questions before us.

Is this the right thing to do? The answer is simple for both staunch libertarians (no) and defense hawks (yes). For everyone else it is not so cut and dried.

Some will choose apathy, reasoning that the government will do whatever it will do regardless of their opinion on the matter. Some will choose a shallow response based on what their perceived political allies are saying.

But I think it matters how one feels in one's heart on the matter. A reasoned and even prayerfully formed opinion is worth pursuing, because doing so will reveal more of your own true character. Honest people can come to different conclusions. But no one can rob you of the qualities developed through this process. And should anyone ask your opinion, you will be able to answer from a solid mooring deep within your soul.

2 comments:

Bryan Dorman said...

I would say that the answer is a definite NO but prophetically it WILL happen.

Isaiah 17 shows a VERY detailed happening on what will happen to Ephraim when Damascus is turned into a heap of ruins.

Robb said...

Honestly, I'm not for it.

In my younger years, I was always supportive of military action. Death and glory and whatnot being my main reasons. Those, however, are the reasons of the naive or stupid.

As years temper my view of the world, I increasingly see less need for war in the traditional sense. Wars arose in our early days as a species because you sometimes wouldn't survive without your enemy's food and resources. In our time of plenty, we don't need to conquer and loot to survive. This is not a threat to us as the Axis warmachine which displayed that it was perfectly willing to enact violence upon us. This is just another violent act in the middle east. If the United states reacted to every violent act like this in the entire rest of the world, we would be forever embroiled in warfare, our young and valiant souls dying in every corner of the world for inglorious and sometimes despicable reasons.

It seems to be that this is but another maneuver by the political class to secure some perceived measure of power or security for them. If it were the lawmakers leading the charge into battle, I doubt we'd have quite as much of these useless conflicts as we have now.