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Arguments against intervention in Syria, 2013-14

In 2013 intervention in Syria was being questioned in the West on questions of international law and the United Nations Charter. The UN Charter does not prohibit a country requesting outside help. Britain, Turkey and Gulf states were joined by the US in recognizing the anti-Assad coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. But there were people who held that US intervention against the Assad regime was or would be a violation of international law. And there were those, Senator Rand Paul among them, who held it would be a violation of the US Constitution if it were done without Congressional approval.

On 1 September 2013 President Obama was talking about going to Congress to get its approval for a strike against the Assad regime following what appeared to be the use of chemical weapons and crossing Obama's red line. In the "progressive" journal, Truth-out on 4 September 2013, a political science academic at the University of San Francisco, Stephen Zunes, listed his eight arguments against going to war with Syria.

1.  A US military attack would be illegal.
2. There is little strategic rationalization.
3. Military intervention likely would lead to more death and destruction.
4. The US has little credibility regarding chemical weapons.
5. A military attack likely would strengthen the Syrian regime.
6. A military strike likely would reduce the chances of successfully ending the war.
7. The United States is isolated in the international community.
8. The American public opposes military intervention in Syria.

In February 2014 a political science academic at Northwestern University, Wendy Pearlman,

in a column for the Huffington Post, described the Assad regime as having bombarded civilians with explosive barrels and banned cluster munitions and in recent weeks as having,

... killed scores and forced as many as 500,000 to flee their homes. At the same time, the regime's starvation and siege of entire communities, systematic torture of political prisoners, and other crimes against humanity continue unabated.

She described the US strategy as focused on sanctions, diplomacy, and rhetoric and not having deterred Assad. She wrote of President Obama as having backed away from direct military intervention. She wrote of a range of options, from striking Syrian Air Force runways to the establishment of a no-fly zone, and she said such actions could have reduced Assad's capacity to brutalize his population could have altered his calculation of the costs and benefits of doing so.

She listed twelve common arguments that she opposed

 1. The opposition is Assad is too fragmented.
 2. Arms might wind up in the hands of Islamist extremists.
 3. Greater involvement would make Syria another Iraq or Afghanistan.
 4. Assad is better than the alternatives.
 5. If Assad falls, there will be chaos.
 6. Intervention would provoke a stronger involvement by Russia and Iran.
 7. Intervention will only intensify violence.
 8. It would be too risky.
 9. It is too late.
10. Intervention is not a panacea.
11. US militarism is not to be trusted
12. America has no interests in Syria.

She explains why she thinks all of these arguments fall short. Regarding the second argument she writes that Jihadist groups became powerful in Syria because,

blood flowed for months while the opposition's cries for assistance went ignored. Had the international community acted earlier, these extremists might never have emerged on the scene. Most Syrians view al-Qaeda as another form of tyranny. Many have risked their lives to protest against it. It is a cruel irony that the United States, which championed the "war on terror," now leaves besieged civilians to fight al-Qaeda on their own.

Her article is still available online at the Huffington Post.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.