Concordian debates, part I:
Two student political bloggers debate American intervention in Syria
See the opposing argument here.
As talk of a Syrian intervention increases, Americans seem increasingly exhausted, tired of war, tired of looking out for the world, tired of getting tangled in other states affairs, and tired of paying for it. The prospect of getting involved, in any way, with another Middle Eastern struggle sounds like something America would want to completely avoid. Understandably Americans are weary about jumping into another conflict, especially when recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan did not exactly go smoothly. But before America chooses to decline action and leave many of the Syrian people without significant aid, one should reflect on a few aspects of this situation that may not immediately come to mind. One should begin with America’s standing in the world and what choosing not to act would do to it.
President Obama has made it very clear that the United States will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons not only internationally but also with regard to the Assad regime specifically. The White House sent a public letter to senior senators containing the following:
Because of our concern about the deteriorating situation in Syria, the president has made it clear that the use of chemical weapons — or transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups — is a red line for the United States of America. The Obama administration has communicated that message publicly and privately to governments around the world, including the Assad regime.
Here is another statement made by President Obama on the matter
Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty. Congress set a red line when it indicated that — in a piece of legislation titled the Syria Accountability Act — that some of the horrendous things that are happening on the ground there need to be answered for.
A White House official said the following after a speech President Obama delivered with regard to the situation in Syria
We go on to reaffirm that the President has set a clear red line as it relates to the United States that the use of chemical weapons or the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups is a red line that is not acceptable to us
So what exactly does all this mean? Think about the way the world will interpret this message if the Commander in Chief of the United States has continuously warned a regime against the use of chemical weapons. Time and time again a “red line” has been drawn with regard to chemical weapons in Syria. Now, that line has been crossed and chemical weapons have been utilized and 100,000 people have died from the violence there. If America sits on its hands as the world community, including other oppressive regimes, watches, our standing abroad will deteriorate immensely. This, however, is not the only perspective that should be considered. The United States’ actions should not only depend on its past rhetoric but also on humanitarian concerns.
As the world becomes more globalized, the space between states around the world seems to be shrinking. Before this new era, an isolationist position could have been possible. Now, however, America needs to realize that standing by the sidelines on this decision makes them much more morally culpable than it did before. Through the international political institutions America has helped to develop and lead, we have made some very clear statements on the attitude the international community should take with regard to governments attacking their own people. From the Preamble to the United Nations Charter: “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small” and “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained.” Clearly one can see that a government murdering its own citizens violates this international agreement. Later on in the Preamble the following is stated as the means of accomplishing the above listed goals:
The international community has a responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take collective action to protect populations, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.
The current violence in Syria stems, somewhat, from a rebellion. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations, this is still not a way for us to avoid humanitarian atrocities
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law
Not only is the Syrian regime attacking its own citizens, it is doing so with chemical weapons—making their actions even more horrendous and placing the United States in a position where action should become a necessity. Despite all of these reasons why the United States needs to help out the people of Syria there are still many who insist on the United States staying at home. Here is some additional perspective on common reasons why the United States should sit this one out. Economic concerns are big, but the highest estimate for the cost of involvement in Syria is around one billion dollars, this is about 0.14% of the Pentagon’s annual budget—surely a small price to pay for the dignity of America abroad and the human rights of the Syrian people. Another concern is the sovereignty of Syria, but that sovereignty is gone when the government refuses to protect the people in it—it violated the personal sovereignty of its own citizens, none of whom will ever make another decision again. One should view the situation in Syria as an opportunity to be the world leader America should be, where we stand up for universal human rights and keep the promises we make. If the world community will not come to the defense of the Syrian people despite broken international norms and laws, then the United States, being the state that helped to shape these international mores, should bear the burden.