How Credible Are We on Syria?


President Obama has indicated that the credibility of America’s Congress and the international community is on the line concerning how to respond to the reports of Syria’s use of chemical weapons on its citizens. While that may be true, I wonder if our credibility would increase if the United States and other countries with chemical weapons would dispose of them fully.

As President Obama highlighted, the international community has deemed “abhorrent” the use of chemical weapons. What about our own possession of chemical weapons? While America has disposed of 90% of its own chemical weapons, 10% still remains (See the reference to this percentage in a recent Guardian article). Going further, what about our stockpile of nuclear weapons? For all our concerns over other countries having or attaining nuclear weapons, the U.S. is the only country to have used nuclear warheads in battle.

I do not offer these reflections to foster a state of paralysis, and I am concerned that indifference and indecision may win the day concerning Syria. Of course, not all hesitation on this matter is based on indifference and indecision. Some of the hesitation is bound up with the sheer complexity of the issues before us. Questions have arisen concerning the moral makeup of the rebel forces in the conflict with the Syrian government: Will the rebel forces act more morally if they gain control as a result of intervention? Why are we seriously considering intervention now, when so much carnage has already occurred? Will hostilities spread throughout the region and entangle increasingly global powers in the conflict? While I fear the possible escalation of hostilities in the region and beyond if military intervention occurs, I am also mindful of the concern that indifference and indecision may seriously damage America’s credibility to do good on the regional and global stage. Past acts of hesitation in other conflicts, such as in eastern Europe, impacted negatively our credibility in various sectors.

Indifference and indecision concerning some form of intervention (military or otherwise) will not address the conflict on the ground in this situation. Nor will inconsistency. Not only must nations not be allowed to use chemical weapons. They must dispose of them as well as nuclear weapons, including the U.S., if we are going to make the abhorrence charge: if it is always wrong to use chemical and nuclear weapons, we should not have them at all.

One might argue that we need chemical weapons and nuclear warheads as deterrents against nations that have them or are developing them. But if we are concerned for increasing our credibility (not simply militarily), we must do more than consider strikes against the use of chemical weapons or threat of use of nuclear weapons. We must engage in an ongoing process of disposing our own. If, however, the argument for intervention is not really about how abhorrent use of chemical weapons is morally, but rather about American self-interest (including other nations’ use of such weapons), then our government should be consistent and drop the moral argument and proceed as honestly and selfishly as it can. Still, if selfishness reigns, how can we point the finger at Syria if its own self-interest shapes its strategy?

This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and at The Christian Post.

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