My father wrote a post on facebook the other day that pretty much echoes exactly my position on the growing situation in Syria:
The question keeps coming up: There have been 100,000 killed in Syria and another 7 million displaced. Why get all worked up now because 1,000 people were killed by poison gas?
The Geneva Convention in 1925 banned chemical weapons because even though they aren’t a great battleground tool, they’re a weapon of terror that does a great job of killing civilians and have a terrible propensity for huge collateral damage to the innocents.
So, I understand why a message about the use of this WMD kind of needs to be sent. If Assad can get away with it, who will try it next: North Korea, Iran, Hezbollah, who?
But, why should that message be sent by us? The Geneva Convention signatories cover most of the world, so why is it up to us to unilaterally do something about it having been broken? Part of the excuse for the Iraq War was that Saddam had broken some United Nations sanction. I had the same question then: If it is a U.N. sanction, then the U.N. should be taking care of it. We have no right to designate ourselves as the enforcement arm for the U.N. Similarly, we shouldn’t designate ourselves as the sole enforcer of the Geneva Convention. If sending a message about use of WMDs isn’t that important to the rest of the world, then maybe we should ride along with them. It is their world just as much as it is ours.
He’s right. Joe Biden has said that the US is ready to act regardless of what the UN investigation team finds. Biden says we are certain that the chemical attacks were carried out by Assad and his regime. While I think it’s highly likely that this is true, why not wait for the UN investigation to confirm it? They’re going to be there a few more days. We were certain that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but because we acted on our *ahem* certainty, we wound up looking like buffoons to the rest of the civilized world.
And if we’re ready to act on our certainty, regardless of what the UN finds, then we must have some knowledge they don’t. Why do we not communicate that to the UN and get them on board? This whole situation stinks, and I say this as a person who doesn’t think was is never necessary (though I think the times when it’s required are very, very rare). For me, if Assad is guilty, it’s a cost benefit analysis. Innocent people will die if nobody intervenes. However, if we intervene, innocent people will die on account of our bombs and such. Either way innocent people are going to die, and there’s no perfect solution. We should be reticent to have the blood of the innocent on our hands, and only do so if it will lessen the amount of blood shed on the whole. But in order to make sure that’s the case we need to be careful, and we need to approach it as a global community. If we fail to do that, I think the USA will have failed morally and in the deepest conceivable fashion.
And it will mean we would not have learned our lesson from transgressions past.
If you want to know more about what’s going on in Syria, but are afraid of sounding uninformed, it’s cool: the Washington Post has you covered with the basics.