For the last few weeks, since the chemical weapons attack in Syria, worldwide attention is now being paid to the developing situation. Earlier last week, Mr. Obama’s planned coalition of nations he had hoped would back American efforts to contain the Assad regime has slowly began to crumble one nation at a time. First, the British Parliament, on August 29th, 2013, made a historic vote that Great Britain has only had happen one other time and in 1956 – Parliament has rejected Prime Minister David Cameron’s push for military action in Syria. Since then, it has become clear to the world that Germany, Italy, and other European Union and NATO member nations will also not support action in Syria. According to Reuters, it now appears that France’s National Assembly quite possibly follow the example of the British Parliament.
Facing a difficult sell to both Democrats and Republicans within our own Congress, it appears that there is sufficient opposition to military intervention in Syria coming from both parties within the House of Representatives to prevent the passage of any bill designed to authorize the use of military force. Even if enough support was farmed out of the Senate, without the concurrence of the House, it would be unconstitutional for the president to conduct military action without the approval of both chambers. On Friday afternoon, there was even discussion and doubt that there would be 60 senators that would vote to authorize the use of military force. As I have been listening to the various talking heads, students and faculty members on campus, and in discussions with neighbors, there are several consistent reasons why military action in Syria does not have the support that the American public gave for the post-September 11, 2001 invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
There are only two cases in which war is just: first, in order to resist the aggression of an enemy, and second, in order to help an ally who has been attacked.
(1689 – 1755)
If there is any time that Montesquieu is appropriate, it is at this time where we face a serious decision about what our role in Syria should be. Over the last six weeks, and before this latest chemical weapons attack, the world has witnessed the use of poisoned gas that have been deployed in smaller scale attacks. Personally, given the amount of evidence this latest attack was by rebel forces, I believe it is safe to say that both sides – the governmental forces under Assad and the rebel forces – have used these weapons of mass destruction. I believe that most Americans probably have similar feelings about who should be held ultimately responsible and accountable for the use of these horrendous weapons. I also believe it has many Americans asking themselves that if the government forces of Assad and/or the rebel forces would be willing to use this kind of weapon on their own countrymen, what is to prevent them from using the same weapons against U.S. forces in the region?
Americans are also war weary. Since 2001, the nation has been fighting the forces of Islamic extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Bush did have the consent of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, both House and Senate for military actions and operations in both regions. Mr. Bush further complied with the War Powers Act of 1973, a law that has been widely debated by both legal and constitutional scholars as to if it is actually constitutional. Within the last few years, we have seen Mr. Obama ignore Congress and the requirements of the War Powers Act through a sustained air and cruise missile campaign in Libya. It was well known even at that time that the American public was unwilling to support even a limited military campaign against any foreign power where a direct threat to the United States is not clearly visible. With the current situation in Syria most Americans do see a human tragedy in the making, but it does not warrant the American public to see that tragedy as a direct threat to the United States.
Americans are hearing the same promises made about Syrian intervention as it has heard about other interventions that grew beyond a limited military action. Americans also were told that collateral damage would be avoided as much as possible to avoid civilian casualties. Although these are noble gestures, and lofty goals, there has never been a war in the history of the world that did not have some form of collateral damage. In a war between two nations or even two factions within a single nation, there will be collateral damage. There will be the death and destruction of innocents. General William Tecumseh Sherman (U.S.A.) said during the twilight of the Civil War that “war is hell.” It does not matter how many precision guided bombs you use, how many smart rockets you launch, there will always be collateral damage. There is always a possibility of escalation and broadening of the limited military action into a wider conflict. Limited military actions and conditional wars are never victories but almost always met with either nothing really being permanently changed or a worsening situation. The American public has learned this lesson all too well: The Philippine War, the Korean War, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and the deteriorating situation in Iraq.