Bombing Syria is not a last resort, so bombing Syria is neither just nor justifiable

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.”

Show me that and I’ll accept that this is a last resort.

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  • AnonaMiss

    If you mean to ask their opinion on whether the US should enter the war, they’ve been courting foreign countries, including the US, for support for a long time now. Since before the rebellion became radicalized.

  • Hexep

    I didn’t say I was happy about it.

    I shouldn’t even have taken a stance on this, honestly; I’m a foreigner and it’s none of my business. As always, America will figure something out.

  • Daniel

    I’m not American either- but the UK government is getting puffed up about military intervention too. I want something done about Syria, but I can’t imagine what good military intervention would actually do. I think the governments calling for armed intervention are doing so because it’s the immediate reaction rather than because it’s the best one.


    You actually think the Constitution means anything when the Fourth Amendment has been trampled over repeatedly in the name of the Drug War and the War on Terror, on top of which the Reconstruction Amendments are regularly blown a raspberry at by Republicans who think black people are all just whiners and complainers.

    You’re precious.

  • aunursa

    I regret that I don’t understand how your comment applies to my point, which, had you read carefully, you would have realized was not really about the U.S. Constitution.

  • The President doesn’t have to consult Congress for up to 90 days. It’s even in the War Powers Act.

  • AnonaMiss

    I’m pretty sure Aunursa is being sardonic. Given that he just quoted Obama on the limits of the power of the presidency.

  • Ben English

    I don’t know how (or IF) it would either. I’m in the same boat as you there. I just think ‘is it the last resort?’ is not a helpful question to ask in the circumstances: world powers looking at a foreign civil war that doesn’t involve them directly and considering whether they should intervene. The question should be, “Do we have an obligation, or even a right, to do something?” And if so, what?

    It’s tempting to point out parallels to Iraq, but though there are quite a few, Iraq was still very different. You had a dictator solidly in power, no ongoing civil war, the fear of weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to actually be there, and a hostility towards weapon inspectors making it look like he had something to hide. There was an illusory ‘last resort’ scenario that can’t possibly manifest in Syria today.

    There are many (many many many many) good reasons that I’m not endorsing an attack on Syria, but I feel that the last resort principle isn’t applicable here.

  • Mmmm. Fair point.

  • Mary

    I do agree that caution is still needed. I have read that UN inspecters were ALREADY THERE when this alleged attack happened. So why would they risk a chemical attack under those circumstances? Right now I can’t remember where I read that so I don’t know if the source is reliable or not.

  • Andrew Cutler

    I think there’s a nuance here that keeps getting missed – particularly when comparisons to the Iraq invasion were made, and that’s that there’s already a ‘war’ of some sort going on in Syria.

    The case could be made, that intervention in Syria could alleviate certain pressures and ultimately prevent more bloodshed, suffering and atrocity than it causes, simply because the bloodshed, suffering and atrocity in Syria is already immense, and the potential that intervention could put an end to the war sooner must be considered.

    The same case could (probably) not have been made with Iraq. In that situation, war was made where there was not war before. In such a situation, it is almost implausible that intervention would result in a net decrease in suffering.

    Basically, what I’m getting is that it unacceptable to start wars, but it’s acceptable to end them.

  • aunursa

    “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation… [The president can only act unilaterally] in instances of self-defense.”
    -Former constitutional law professor, 2007

    “The only logical conclusion is that the framers intended to grant to Congress the power to initiate all hostilities, even limited wars.”
    Uncle Joe, 1998

    “The consequences of war — intended or otherwise — can be so profound and complicated that our founding fathers vested in Congress, not the president, the power to initiate war, except to repel an imminent attack on the United States or its citizens.”
    -Uncle Joe, 2007

  • John Alexander Harman

    Hafez Assad might have at least born some resemblance to the “dark god ruling over his minions with nothing but personal charm” fantasy of a dictator; most of what I’ve read about Bashar Assad suggests that he’s a fairly ineffectual figurehead for a coterie of generals and government ministers who actually run the country.

  • John Alexander Harman

    The U.S. could probably cripple the Syrian Air Force without causing too much collateral damage; bombing combat aircraft in their hangers and blowing holes in air base runways to keep them from operating isn’t likely to kill anywhere near as many civilians as those aircraft do when they attack rebel positions (or suspected rebel positions) in heavily populated areas with unguided bombs and rockets. Rocket and artillery batteries like the ones that apparently delivered the nerve gas could also potentially be targeted from the air without much risk of civilian casualties, depending on where they’re located. Not saying we should or shouldn’t do so, just answering your particular questions.

  • Alix

    (Ten days late… Stupid internet.)

    Nobody would go for that.

    Frankly? I would. But I am decidedly non-interventionist.

    Thing is, there’s always a good pretext for war if you look hard enough – or even if you aren’t really looking, as in this case. Maybe this sounds awful, but I really think there’s far more long-term danger in promoting the idea of the U.S. or any state as itself the entity that gets to determine what’s right and wrong in the world, especially when that’s coupled with interventions – like war – into another state’s matters. It creates this sense that we can go in and restructure other states at whim, as long as we can coat our bullying in righteousness. That’s … dangerous.

    Honest to God, isn’t this kind of intervention what the UN is supposedly for?