Since the use of chemical weapons (hereafter referred to as CW) in Syria, it’s been front page news as the US government and populace, as well as the international community at large, addresses the issues, actions and consequences. Per various forms of media, global society at large seems completely worn out on conflict and is largely against the idea of direct action, pressuring their governments to the point where most international partners are bowing out of the idea. Here in the US, no matter which spin of media you follow there does seem to be a majority against a direct strike by both the populace and Congress.
There are actually valid arguments for both acting against and staying out of Syria. For starters, Syria is a sovereign nation, and this is an internal conflict; in other words, none of our damn business. We didn’t care when the Syrian regime was just using bullets; why should we care now? Of course it’s because Assad stepped on the old CW trip-wire, taking this from a (sadly) rather common Middle Eastern civil war to a topic of international concern. Also, since World War Two the US has both been seen and proclaimed itself as the world’s policeman. Acting or not acting in this situation will either maintain that status, or possibly dissolve it, as stepping aside will make us inconsistent in that role. It may very well permanently change our international status and perception – and that may not be a bad thing.
Many years ago, in the early 1990s when I was a student, I was passed an article written by Philip A. Crowl at the US Air Force Academy in 1978. Originally discussing Vietnam, it’s titled “The Strategist’s Short Catechism: Six Questions Without Answers” and the full online text can be found at http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uiug.30112106658633;view=1up;seq=1. Those six questions – questions any senior decision-maker or military leader should ask before entering a conflict, seem to be even more relevant in light of current events.
To summarize, the six questions must all be answerable before entering a military situation if one is to have hope of success. They should be being asked by our nation’s leadership, and they should be being discussed by our populace. The six questions, in summary (and all should be considered quotes or paraphrases from Crowl’s article), are:
1) What is it about? What specific national interests and policy objectives are served by the proposed military action? How is the value attached to those interests and objectives, and what is their fair price – are these objectives and interests worth the price that war more often than not demands?
2) Is the national military strategy tailored to meet the national policy objectives? Does the military means meet the political ends? Does the military know how far to go, or when to stop (either in physical location, or in level of force)?
3) What are the limits of military power? Is the military being asked to do something it cannot achieve? This often goes against the military – and overall American – “can do” attitude, and so can be hard to face.
4) What are the alternatives? Not only diplomacy and negotiation, but have all the possible military strategies been considered, or only the favorite or most popular? War should always be the last resort of politics, not the first.
5) How strong is the home front? Does public opinion support the war and the military strategy employed to fight it? How much stress can civilian society endure under the pressures of the wartime sacrifices demanded? Can it plausibly be explained as a “just war?”
6) Does today’s strategy overlook points of difference and exaggerate points of likeness between past and present? What are the lessons of experience? Has concern over past success and failures developed into a neurotic fixation that blinds the strategist to changed circumstances requiring new and different responses?
So where do I stand on this (because it would be unfair to criticize without putting forth my own views)? The American people (and their politicians) tend to take a very short view on current events. This doesn’t mean their objection to attacking Syria is wrong, but they should also be aware that if, at their urging, the US government takes no action against Syrian CW stores and activities, they really have no cause to go pointing fingers if – a few years down the road – a Syrian terrorist (or terrorist supplied by the Syrians) drops a CW device on a US overseas base, or even within the US. After all, you had your chance, and decided – justifiably at the time – it wasn’t worth it. Therefore, while my belief is that the US government should respect the wishes of the American people, I personally think we should drop a few dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles on every Syrian CW factory, warehouse and convoy we can find, and lessen the greater threat as much as possible with the minimum loss of life and national treasure.