Our View: Finding Inspiration in Syria

War and Peace


We are anguished by the loss of life as a result of a war that has been raging for three years in Syria. Equally, we are dismayed by the insincerity and ineptitude of the “international community” to broker a political resolution to a tragic situation. In response to the chemical weapons attack of August 21st, which took the lives hundreds of Syrians, the people of the United States appear to have finally become aware of the conflict. While the chemical weapons attack is horrific, we are fully aware that over 100,000 people have died since the beginning of the conflict, and that two million refugees have been forced to seek safety in neighboring Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. The political stalemate, which has resulted in unspeakable misery and carnage, must be broken.


The recent revelations of chemical weapons deployment in Syria represents a dreadful turn for the worst, but American and Western governments must not rush to retaliate.


The recent history of American (and British) leadership knowingly fabricating and promoting false information about so-called weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as a pretense for invasion not only destroyed the credibility of these two countries, it cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people and thousands of NATO soldiers, disrupted the lives of millions, costs trillions of dollars, and destroyed a country. We have been through this before; we are not condemned to repeat such history.


While it seems clear chemical weapons were used in Syria, the circumstances surrounding their deployment are murky. Certainly it is possible that the Syrian military—with approval by President Bashar al-Assad—used these deadly armaments. Nonetheless, recent revelations in The New York Times, for example, of brutalities caused by anti-Assad rebels cloud the credibility of the many opposition groups. Indeed, acting under the auspices of the Untied Nations, former Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte announced back in May that there were “strong, concrete suspicions” that rebel groups have already deployed nerve agents.


We are against a retributive military strike for this abhorrent action for many reasons. Among them:


President Barack Obama claims a military response to the use of chemical weapons is to uphold an international norm: the Chemical Weapons Convention. Unfortunately, Syria is not (yet) a party to this treaty. The history of American leaders abiding by one treaty and not another is fraught with hypocrisy—we know this. Should Obama want to set a precedent for enforcing treaties that a vast majority of the world supports, he should be ready to send American troops and political leaders to the International Criminal Court.Although Obama insists that any retributive attack in Syria will be narrow in scope, violence only begets more violence. More people—innocent and not—will be killed in any military action. More refugees will be created. Already some 5,000 people flee the country every day. It is expected that by the end of the year, there will be four million Syrian refugees.Besides this, “mission creep” is a real cause for concern. To obtain the support from Senator John McCain, Obama, for example, has already changed his tune—agreeing to expand the military action from limited strikes to degrading Assad’s military capabilities and changing the course of the war.A military strike is not a guarantee that chemical weapons will not be used again.A military strike will undoubtedly increase enmity against the aggressors, increasing global terrorism and wreaking havoc on a region already in turmoil. International diplomacy between Americans and European allies, Iran, Russia, and other states—already strained—will become even more fragile.


Unanswered questions abound, centering on the role of the United Nations, the concerns over unilateral action, and the weight U.S. (and global) public opinion should play in this intervention, to name a few more (to say nothing of Arab League states, Iran, Israel, and Russia, and non-state actors like al-Qaeda). Not to mention the role transnational corporations and financial institutions may have in helping to fan the flames of war, and the profits they are positioned to reap should things escalate.


The above represents only some of the many unanswered and fluctuating questions surrounding the war in Syria. Too many questions; not enough answers.


The harm that may come from any military strike—no matter how well intentioned—outweigh the positive. We cannot in good conscious support such folly. The world—and especially the Syrian people—deserve thoughtful and creative action that quickly brings to an end a very tragic situation.




We are encouraged by the actions of Syrians self-organizing to overthrow an authoritarian regime and replace it with a democratic and secular government. Within Syria, there exists a vast, interconnected network of citizens working on political projects, art, newspapers and other media outlets, human rights, and more, as this interactive infographic attests. These groups represent positive change, nonviolent direct action, and viable political and economic alternatives. We are in awe of their tenacity; they have our deepest respect. 


If only the American government could mobilize against issues that truly pose a threat to their people. The issues are many (education, health care, etc.). Climate change, for one, is an issue that transcends boundaries, negatively affecting the lives of millions, and was a key factor leading to the Arab Spring uprisings. Political and corporate obstinacy has effectively stalled any positive momentum on this issue, yet the danger is clear and present. If only American leadership could find the same kind of courage to be discovered in the Syrian Nonviolent Movement to act on matters of real and immediate consequence; if only American exceptionalism applied to matters beyond waging war...



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Arab Spring, Editorial, Peace, Syria, US Foreign Policy