Listen to London: Don’t Bomb Syria

There are enough dead bodies in Syria without U.S. bombs adding to the bodycount. (Abdullah al-Yassin/AP)

I want to add my voice to the chorus that is urging President Obama not to bomb Syria. Yesterday the British Parliament issued a sharp rebuke to PM David Cameron’s sabre-rattling when they voted against any military intervention in Syria:

WASHINGTON — President Obama is prepared to move ahead with a limited military strike on Syria, administration officials said Thursday, despite a stinging rejection of such action by America’s stalwart ally Britain and mounting questions from Congress.

The negative vote in Britain’s Parliament was a heavy blow to Prime Minister David Cameron, who had pledged his support to Mr. Obama and called on lawmakers to endorse Britain’s involvement in a brief operation to punish the government of President Bashar al-Assad for apparently launching a deadly chemical weapons attack last week that killed hundreds.

Ban-Ki Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations is urging peaceful solutions to the crisis in Syria.

Both Republican and Democratic members of Congress are expressing serious concerns about the lack of reliable information they’ve gotten about Syria.

Nevertheless, the president seems poised to start bombing.

While the crisis in Syria is obvious urgent and terrible, more bombs are not the answer. After Iraq and Afghanistan, we have unequivocal evidence that US bombs are not nearly as surgical as our military leaders claim. It’s similarly obvious that, for the foreseeable future, there will always be a country in crisis in the Middle East. We simply cannot keep getting baited into these conflicts.

While weapons manufacturers are surely giddy at the prospects of more million-dollar bombs being launched from billion-dollar warships, the US economy struggles, minority students are floundering in our public schools, and we’ve got an immigration crisis to solve. And don’t even get me started about healthcare.

It’s time for the president to turn his sights on his homeland and let the Middle East solve its own crises — with our diplomatic, but not military, help.

Other faith leaders weigh in here.

  • shawnsmucker

    Agreed. Agreed. And…agreed.

  • http://samradford.com/ Sam Radford

    I still don’t know what I think about military action. I do know this though: I am hugely disappointed that here in the UK we’ve completely taken the option off the table. Also, sad as it is to say this, bombs may be part of the solution and it is impossible to say with any absolute certainty that, ‘more bombs are not the answer’. They might be necessary. I wish we’d kept our options open. And it’s all very well thinking that we should focus on our own nations, but we’re all humans. God doesn’t see the national divides in the same way we do; I’m not prepare to stand by and watch as thousands of fellow humans continue to be slaughtered. I don’t know if bombs will help—and so I’d encourage patience and a proper long-term, all routes explored plan rather than something rash (as does seem to be the case with the clamour to respond immediately to the chemical attacks). But to completely remove military action from the equation is both an abdication of responsibility and fails to appreciate the reality. I hope that peace can be found without military action, but I’m not so naive as to think we can be sure we won’t need it.

  • http://samradford.com/ Sam Radford

    Also, I don’t think that describing the behaviour of David Cameron as ‘sabre-rattling’ is either fair or accurate. We may or may not agree with him, but influenced as he is by his wife’s work with Syrian refugees, I don’t doubt the sincerity of his conviction about wanting to protect Syrian people from a horrific and unacceptable situation.

  • http://samradford.com/ Sam Radford

    This by Danny Webster is well worth a read: http://www.threadsuk.com/standing-by-and-watching-as-syrian-children-burn/

    I’ll shut up now. :-)

  • Larry Barber

    “It’s time for the president to turn his sights on his homeland”. What do you have against Kenya? (kidding) I’m not sure I really want his “sights” trained anywhere, at best this is an unfortunate choice of metaphor, given the behavior of our Peace Prize winning President.

  • Steven Kurtz

    We may need to lift our conversation out of the trenches of “good vs. bad” thinking, as if there is a “good” option for us. Chemical weapons are bad, yes, and doing nothing to stop them feels bad to us and may encourage their use, but our bombs will also kill people – and may create unintended consequences that are even worse – more badness – given the ethnic and religious complexity of Syria, its alliances (espec. Iran) and proximities (border of Israel = major threat of massive escalation). What if we weaken the regime to the point that it falls to the rebels? Which ones will win? The only ones who seem to be capable of success on the battlefield appear to be the hard-line Islamists. Does a post-Asad Syria that looks like Iran or Afghanistan a “good” outcome? So we are left with bad vs. bad. or Bad vs. Worse. There are no “good” options. But more bombs is probably not going to lessen the bad things happening to those poor people. We will not be redeemed by violence.

    • http://samradford.com/ Sam Radford

      I agree that this is pretty much a lose-lose situation. I don’t know enough though—and I’m not sure any of us do—to be totally sure that, ‘more bombs is probably not going to lessen the bad things happening’. Hence I want to keep it as a tool in the armoury—if necessary.

      • Steven Kurtz

        I’m just having a hard time understanding what would be gained by attacking. We do not want regime-change (at least that’s what they are telling us) as a direct consequence of our bombs (though, I guess we do want the rebels to accomplish it). But if the regime is left standing after our attack, what would it consider would be in its self-interest to do? What would I do if I were Asad, attacked by the US (et al)? I cannot think of a good outcome for anyone.

        Plus, I’m really not sure where blame lies for the gas attack in Syria. The fundamentalists among the rebels may have made the utilitarian calculus that the deaths of 1500 innocent civilians = more martyrs enjoying eternal bliss in heaven & therefore a justifiable cost of winning (just as the suicide attack agains civilians – which is very old and often repeated news). I never felt that way about the claim in Sarajevo that the marketplace as bombed by Croats and Bosnians to incite Nato’s attack against the Serbs, but this is a different conflict with different ideologies – which makes me nervous about assigning blame.

  • tanyam

    I agree with the conclusion while struggling with the rationale. And unless the rationale resonates with Americans in general, and decision makers in particular, we’ll be here again and again.
    “Let them take care of their own problems,” appeals to nothing in my Christian soul. What exactly is a grandmother and a 2 year old supposed to do to “take care of their own problems,” –if those problems are chemical weapons being used against them. They can’t vote, they can’t pick up a weapon, they are defenseless.
    That doesn’t mean I think the US bombing will help, for all the reasons everyone can name. But I like Brian McLaren’s line, that we can’t continue to watch people with arms be the only ones who show courage.
    So we need 1) a clear rationale about why bombs won’t solve anything; 2) a message other than “turn away and attend to your own business.” I’m not really worried about cooking up an argument against those who are simply profit-motivated,–that’s easy– I’m talking about an argument that works for people who have been raised to take a stand against bullies and are wondering about that deep-seated and mostly right impulse.

    • Craig

      Tanyam, please have a look at the rationale I provide below. I wonder if it satisfies.

      • tanyam

        Thanks Craig, it does satisfy. I think the Atlantic has been publishing some informative and useful pieces the past few days as well. I hope people begin to see there are a lot of reasons to doubt the simple case for lobbing a few missiles.
        I’m utterly convinced that bombing Syria is the wrong idea, but I think Americans will be reluctant to “do nothing” — if that’s the choice they think they have, with all that rhetoric about stopping a bad guy with chemical weapons. It feels a lot like 2003 again — complete with sketchy information and an understandable impulse to “make it stop.” I hope people will read more deeply.

  • Charles Cosimano

    I suppose the only good out of this is that American weapons can hit smaller targets, while the RAF can’t hit anything smaller than a city block. Other than that, this is nuts. We can’t just go bombing everywhere.

  • Dustin Ryman

    IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY! We must see the bigger picture. The American War Machine is a billion dollar a year industry. Look at all the defense contract companies and who owns shares in them. Also, during war, we borrow money from the Fed, a privately owned corporation, and they make billions in interest off of us.

    It’s a scam. War is big business.

  • James_Jarvis

    One of the arguments being put forth for bombing Syria is that a line was drawn in the sand with regards to use of chemical weapons. A military response is therefor necessary for the US to maintain its credibility. I don’t agree. The US would become like Jephthah in the old testament who made a promise to sacrifice the first living creature he saw if God granted him a military victory and ended up sacrificing his daughter to keep a hastily made promise.

  • Ryan Cloverfield @Become Ordai

    One of many justifications currently being put forth regarding bombing Syria can be a range ended up being drawn in the actual sand in terms of use of compound weapons. A armed forces reply can be consequently needed for the united states to help keep it is reliability. We don’t agree. America would likely turn into such as Jephthah inside the previous testament whom created the guarantee to lose the initial living creature they discovered if Goodness naturally your ex the armed forces success as well as found themselves compromising the little princess to help keep the quickly created guarantee.

  • Andrew Dowling

    The biggest issue I have with this issue is that a lot of people who weeks ago knew next to nothing about Syria or its history are suddenly experts on what the result of a directed airstrike against them will be. I at least admit I don’t know enough about Syria or its history to make a declarative judgement. Could a limited strike exacerbate the problems? Sure. Could it contain some violence and ultimately save innocent lives? Yes as well.

    I’m tired of “Progressives” (and most would put me in that camp) being so reactionary on a very nuanced and complicated topic (which is often the response of those on the other side). Many of the reflexive arguments against a strike repeat the same assertions made in the late 1930s when millions of Europeans were beginning to be rounded up into concentration camps. No it’s not equivalent but the point remains. Most times violence begets more violence. But not all the time. I think there are instances of extreme humanitarian turmoil (such as directed genocide) in which violent intervention can save lives and prevent untold amounts of unimaginable pain and suffering.

    And no this is nothing like Iraq part II (which I will say non-boastfully I was against at day 1). From what I have read, it is more akin to the Bosnia/Serbia strikes, which DID save lives.

    • tanyam

      It’s always like this though, isn’t it? Congress makes decisions that have huge effects on the lives of men and women all over the world. Most Americans figure they don’t know enough, stay quiet, and the decisions are made for them.

      I’m actually pretty sure I know more about Syria then my congressman,–you’d agree, if you knew my congressman– but I’m going to keep reading. Gotta say, I’m not coming across much that makes your point. In fact, not even Obama claims that strikes will stop the killing — he made the case for strikes based on sending a message about chemical weapons. (Which are responsible for about 1 percent of the deaths there. In other words — a couple of missiles, and the killing will continue. This is an article which makes the point more clearly. http://www.salon.com/2013/09/03/4_essential_questions_before_we_rush_to_war/

  • Craig

    I think that there’s a fairly straightforward way to draw the conclusion that a U.S. attack on Syria is currently unjustified. I’d appreciate knowledgeable feedback.

    To justify a military strike, it’s not enough that it is the necessary means of making good on Obama’s “red line” statement. The strike must rather be justified in terms of the future good it will do either for the Syrian people themselves (including, most importantly, Syria’s most vulnerable non-combatants) or for people beyond Syria (especially those who are or might become vulnerable to violent tyrants). It is doubtful that a strike will make anyone beyond Syria significantly less vulnerable to violent tyrants even if it succeeds in preventing Assad’s future use of chemical weapons. It at least as likely that people beyond Syria would become less vulnerable to violent tyrants if Assad continues to use chemical weapons on his own people, as this would have the likely consequence of reminding the international community of their horror, strengthening future U.S. and international opposition against the next tyrant who wishes to follow suit. But it is also doubtful, at this point, that a U.S. military strike would significantly improve the prospects of the Syrian people, including the most vulnerable among them. A weakened Assad is still to them a very dangerous Assad, and any of the prospective replacements to Assad aren’t clearly going to better serve the Syrian people.


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