The United States has reached a pivotal moment in its tense engagement with the Syrian Civil War, a moment that will not only define this crisis, but that will also have larger ramifications for both foreign and domestic policy. Although the situation is rapidly changing, students ought to pay particular attention to this conflict. Many of us have spent half of our lives in a time of war, and, even though we lack foreign policy expertise, it is important for us to weigh in when our government once again considers military engagement.
We recognize the considerable complexities of this case and the difficulties in resolving such a multifaceted problem. The situation compels us to reflect on our humanitarian values: our belief in the sanctity of life, the inherent dignity of humanity and the evil of harming innocents.
We must also consider political questions. What is the role of the United States in the international community? What effects will our action or inaction have on the fragile balance of power in the world? These questions vex our nation and our individual consciences. As articulated by President Barack Obama on Tuesday night, intervention appears to be a Catch-22. The United States feels compelled to uphold international law banning the use of chemical weapons, and yet, if it does so, it may risk undermining the very body of law it seeks to protect.
As citizens, we should remain wary of committing our nation to military action. Because it requires sacrificing human lives, waging war demands the very highest level of justification. At this point, we do not believe Obama has presented a sufficiently compelling case to the American people for military action.
Obama has neither outlined a long-term strategy for engagement with Syria nor offered criteria by which we could measure the success of intervention. The President stated in his address that “the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.” We find this vague commitment to a “political solution” troubling, insufficient and indicative of Obama's lack of leadership in addressing this crisis.
We understand that the President faces a difficult choice—perhaps the most important one in his second term. The failure of the United States to intercede in past humanitarian disasters such as Rwanda must weigh heavily upon his mind, and Obama’s political ambitions may tempt him to cast himself as a president strong on national security. We caution against hasty action, though. The United States should pursue all diplomatic options before considering anything else.
Recently, a proposal brokered by Russia has offered a potential non-military solution. The President should faithfully explore this option even if he risks losing a modicum of American global prestige. To do otherwise would be folly for him and our nation.