Monday, September 9, 2013

7 Arguments Against Violent U.S. Intervention in Syria

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it--always.

It might seem naïve to press for peace in a world where there is so much violence. But the belief that a few bombing missions and a quick exit could make a positive difference is in fact the naïve view.
Sarah Van Gelder

As President Obama aggressively courts members of Congress and prepares to address the nation on Tuesday night, let us count the reasons why his proposed "limited, proportional attack" on the Assad Regime in Syria is both immoral and bad policy:

1. War takes away vital resources that could be utilized elsewhere

Perhaps no one has ever said it better and clearer than Martin Luther King, exactly one year before his assassination, in a speech in New York officially coming out against the Vietnam War:

A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor -- both black and white -- through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

It takes more than $2 billion in taxpayer dollars per day to keep the U.S. military (and her 800+ military bases) kicking ass and keeping us safe all over the globe. Can you imagine the children we could educate, the homeless we could shelter, the uninsured sick we could care for and starving families we could feed with some of that money...if we pledged ourselves to a more sustainable vision of national defense?

In addition, Congress comes back from their summer break today to debate Syrian intervention...instead of dealing with pressing matters like immigration reform, the insanity of NSA surveillance & health care implementation. We are staring into a September that may be completely confiscated by talk of bombing Syria and the bogus debt ceiling debate. The Onion nailed it with this.

2. Alternative paths to peace have not been exhausted

If you've been misinformed about the presence of nonviolent movements within Syria, then check out this beautiful graphic from Amnesty international. Thanks to Sarah Van Gelder of Yes! Magazine for uncovering all sorts of creative experiments in peace that ought to be watered and nourished so as to continue being the leaven and mustard seeds that they are designed to be. As my friend Andrea, from Peace Mennonite in Lawrence, KS, posted recently:

The choice on Syria is not between bombing and "doing nothing." There are a lot of options in between, and most of them take a lot more moral courage than killing more innocent civilians to avenge the deaths of innocent civilians. God help us. What we decide to do will say a lot more about us than about "them."

What if the U.S. led a coalition committed to aiding these nonviolent movements that have been organizing the past two years? Or what if the U.S. led a coalition of countries demanding an international court bringing the suspected chemical warriors to trial? Or what if the U.S. led a group of self-interested nations (including the Assad regime, representatives from Syrian rebel groups, Iran, Turkey, Russia and Israel) in organizing a peace conference? Or what if the U.S. called for an arms embargo to Syria?

These options are viable but, of course, some of them would indict the U.S. itself (the #1 weapons supplier in the world & a violator of international accords in her "War on Terror"--see recent history of drones, Guantanamo, various black sites; see earlier history of atomic bombs, Agent Orange).

3. We know from history: violence begets more violence

Violence is never really a solution to any problem. It just feeds the cycle of inevitable revenge, paranoia and/or fear-mongering. The President draws a red line in the sand, the Assad regime allegedly crosses it, the U.S. military responds with targeted bombing raids, the Assad regime uses more drastic means to stay in power, the Assad regime eventually loses power to "the rebels," the various rebel groups fight each other to seize power and then uses drastic measures to stay in power (or some scenario very much like this). Violence escalates and confuses matters greatly.

4. It is sketchy to assume that a post-Assad Syria will be a more humane situation than the status quo

Remember when the U.S. was propping up Sadaam Hussein and aiding Osama bin Laden back in the 80s? And remember when the U.S. military invaded Iraq in 2003 on bogus intelligence? Iraq became (and currently is) far more destabilized than it was in 2003 while Hussein reigned (despite he awful use of chemical weapons). We ought not get caught in a naive spell longing for the rebels to defeat the evil Assad regime. Which rebels will ultimately win out? These rebels?

5. It violates the "just war" litmus test

For followers of Jesus, there have been and are only two choices when it comes to advocating/justifying violence in any conflict: pacifism (or better, "non-violent peacemaking") or the just war theory. Decisions made by Christian leaders, and Christian constituents within "democratic" nations, ought to always be about abiding by the rules of either of these guidelines for fighting.

Personally, I've been a committed (but certainly not perfect) nonviolent peacemaker interpersonally and politically for the past 6 years. Syria is a no-brainer. The real work is the cultivation of creativity and courage to fight injustice and evil The Jesus Way: through subversive story-telling, street theater and, ultimately, building a movement that overwhelms the perpetrators with the invasiveness of a mustard seed.

For Christians who pride themselves, first and foremost, on political pragmatism, the just war theory serves as a fence, keeping leaders with quick trigger fingers accountable to a more noble, dignified way of dealing with evil through violent means.

Dr. Frank Kirkpatrick, an Episcopalian professor of religion, analyzed the just war theory's compatability with Obama's proposed strikes on Syria in HuffPost article this week. Some highlights:

Traditional just war thinking, which has a particular Eurocentric flavor set in the context of Judeo-Christian ideas, has required that, for a military action to be considered moral, it must be a proportional response to a direct attack on one's own nation or on another nation with which one's nation has a treaty obligation of protection. It must also be a last resort, it must be authorized by a legitimate authority; it must intend peace, and it must be winnable...

...In the current situation in Syria, the U.S. has no treaty obligations with the citizens of that country no matter how badly they are being treated by their own government. The U.S. has not been the victim of an attack nor is it likely to be. Even if that issue could be waived it's not clear that going to war against the legitimate government of Syria is at this point a last resort. Diplomacy, economic sanctions, UN involvement, and bringing Assad before the World Court are still live non-violent options short of military intervention. Third, it is not clear that using limited military strikes against Syria would produce an outcome that would be considered a 'win' in the fight against Assad's chemical weapons, even assuming one knew what winnability meant in this context. It is true that if the president binds himself to the authority of the Congress in this matter the military action he contemplates would have met the criterion of being duly authorized

Again, these are the only two choices for Christians, including, of course, President Obama, who (as my good friend Rev. Dale Fredrickson reminded me this week) once cited Reinhold Niebuhr as one of the philosophers who has most influenced his thinking. Niebuhr was the 20th century's most formidable just war theorist. If Christians don't like these two choices or think they are outdated, they should work tirelessly towards coming up with a new litmus test. But we can't just make things up as we go.

6. War benefits the corporate-sponsored military-industrial-complex with Obama as their spokesman

As long as the U.S. military takes on the role of global policeman, the companies that makes the bombs and the planes and everything else that sustains our soldiers will benefit greatly. They have gigantic lobbies in Washington D.C. and their campaign contributions consistently push government leaders towards the brink of war. This is a pathetic reality that needs to be screamed from the mountain tops in a "democracy" where The People should have the final say. Always.

7. It gives just one more reason for the U.S. to be hated on

A violent intervention in Syria just adds to the case against U.S. arrogance, triumphalism and war-mongering. The U.S. government does not even come close to having any moral standing in the world to make this call. The waterboarding and drone strikes and black sites and NSA eavesdropping (on Brazil, Mexico...and more), not to mention the untruths that led to a massive invasion of Iraq 10 years ago, have sunk our government further into the abyss of hypocrisy (as if atomic bombs, Agent Orange, CIA coups and assassinations of the 40s through 90s weren't bad enough). What was it that Jesus said about dislodging the plank out of our own eye before removing the speck of dust out of our brother's?
May these seven humble convictions be a prayer and a hopeful promise that President Obama and Congress will turn from breathing murderous threats on the Assad regime and "beat swords into plowshares" through creatively engaged diplomacy, embargos, boycotts, support of already established Syrian nonviolent movements and humanitarian aid.