Friday, September 6, 2013

Syria: Some Queries

The question of what, if anything, to do about Syria is now front and center in the public consciousness. I’ve already indicated my support for limited strikes against Syria to degrade the ability to use chemical weapons. That said, I remain open to opposing viewpoints and I’m not adverse to changing my mind when facts merit or arguments are persuasive.

I’ve been listening to and reading much of the debate over the last week or so, and I’m struck with several questions. I’d love to get some feedback on what people think, both about these questions in particular, the proposal to strike Syria more generally, and, even more broadly, the use of military force.

So, for those who favor a limited strike against Syria:

  1. Is your support based on the use of chemical weapons alone?
  2. Would you support strikes had the Assad regime not used chemical weapons?
  3. If the limited strikes are insufficient to substantially degrade the Assad regime’s ability to use chemical weapons, would you support broader military strikes, including either “boots on the ground” or strikes aimed at regime change?
  4. What are your basic minimums before which you are willing to support the use of military power?
  5. Do you (and have you) consistently applied your answer to question #4 to other conflicts?

For those of you opposed to a limited strike against Syria:

  1. Would you support strikes if we had a better sense that the forces opposing the Assad regime were comprised primarily of “good guys” and didn’t have an al-Qaeda component?
  2. Absent an imminent and direct threat to the United States, to American citizens, or to American allies, do you think that it is ever appropriate for the US to use military power?
  3. (If your answer to question #2 was not an unqualified “no”) Absent an imminent and direct threat to the United States, to American citizens, or to American allies, do you think that it is ever appropriate for the US to use military power without sanction by the UN Security Council or NATO?
  4. What are your basic minimums before you are willing to support the use of military power?
  5. What actions by a government against its citizens, if any, do you believe are egregious enough to warrant the use of military power?
  6. Do you (and have you) consistently applied your answer to questions #2-5 to other conflicts?

We know that there have been (and still are) worse conflicts than that raging in Syria (e.g. Congo, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Sudan) where we (or, for that matter, most of the world) have done little or nothing. And we’ve entered conflicts with, perhaps, less of a toll than that in Syria and where human rights abuses occurred but without the use of chemical weapons (e.g., Kosovo). So what is our real “red line”? How do we (and by “we” I mean the American public, not the American government) make that determination?

I’m not certain that I have the “right” answer (or answers). I certainly have some thoughts. But I’m curious to know what others think.

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1 Comments:

At Friday, September 13, 2013 12:42:00 PM , Blogger MSWallack said...

I'm posting this comment on behalf of erk (who, for some reason, was unable to get his comment to post):

I don't claim to have even one answer, and would distrust anyone who claimed to have "nailed it." I think the burden of argument falls on the pro-strike side; not attacking is a good default position.

1. Should the composition of the opposition sway our stopping civilian atrocities? I don't think so. The future of Syria's government is still a largely independent question, unless the strike isn't primarily to stop the bleeding, so to speak.

2. Yes.

3. Yes.

4.
a. Lack of other options that pass items b-d below
b. Coherent goals
c. A reason to think an attack will be successful in its goals
d. A reason to think an attack won't trigger a worse outcome than not attacking5. Large-scale loss of life, or genocide (which includes mass displacement and other forms of cultural extermination). And no, I don't know what "large" means.

6. Almost certainly not. I'm not sure how many people could answer "yes" to that, but maybe I'm in the minority.

 

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