Last resort means exactly that. It means the final, only remaining course of action after every other possibility has been attempted and has failed.
Lethal violence is only ever justifiable as a last resort. This is a moral principle, because people get killed in war — and not just the “bad guys” or the enemy, but allies, noncombatants, innocents and children. There are no moral shortcuts when those are the stakes.
But this isn’t only a moral principle. It’s about prudence as much as ethics. It’s practical, because military force is a blunt instrument that tends to create new problems and unforeseen consequences. It’s an astonishingly expensive, rarely effective measure that only a fool would employ if there were any possibility or any hope of some other resort.
The U.S. is a long way from it’s last resort in responding to the ongoing butchery in Syria.
A lack of imagination about other possibilities doesn’t justify the claim that such possibilities have all been exhausted, or that they have all been tried and failed. That’s particularly true when such a lack of imagination is deliberate.
What would convince me that military action against Syria is justifiable as a last resort? Show me a press conference outside of the Albert Einstein Institution in Cambridge, Mass., with Gene Sharp standing at a podium, flanked by the joint chiefs of staff, the president and the secretary of defense. “There’s no other reasonable option,” Sharp says. “This would be the most effective, wisest approach. The best remaining option for the people of Syria.”
- Scott Lemiuex: ‘Experts’ Who Are Always Wrong on Everything Want to Bomb Syria
- Juan Cole: Kerry signals US intervention in Syria, but to what end?
- Matt Yglesias: Military Strikes Are an Extremely Expensive Way to Help Foreigners
- Fred Kaplan: Obama’s Guns of August
- Ari Kohen: It’s Not Collateral Damage If We’re Aiming at It
- William Lindsey: On the Syrian Situation: Immediate Response, Yes; War, No
- Anne Laurie: Maybe There Is No “Right” Choice in Syria
- Faheem Younous: Keep doomsday religion out of the Syrian conflict