Texas Faith: How should the U.S. respond in Syria?

SMU Political Science Professor Matthew Wilson talks about the moral consequences -- and obligations -- to consider when contemplating an attack on Syria.

By Bill McKenzie
Editorial Columnist

We dealt with the Mideast last week, but now there is a pointed question before Congress. This question comes with all sorts of moral parameters, so I would like to hear your answers to it as religious clergy, laity and scholars:
“Should Congress authorize direct U.S. military intervention in Syria?”
On Monday, Russia presented a proposal that would require Syria to place its chemical weapons under the watch of the international community. But if that doesn’t work, we still are left with the question of whether to authorize force.
The National Association of Evangelicals put that question to its board of directors and 62.5 percent of its directors said no. . .

So, how should we respond to Syria? 

Assistant Professor of Political Science
Southern Methodist University

The decision about what do in response to the human rights atrocities in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons against civilians, is one of the most difficult moral questions in recent American foreign policy. On one hand, the argument against military action is clear. Bombings now will not save any lives, at least not directly, and indeed will likely cost some (certainly Syrian if not American). One of the classic Just War criteria—reasonable prospect of success—seems not to be satisfied in this case, if only because it is not at all clear what “success” would look like.

There is no international coalition to speak of, no “world community” striking against evil in a unified way, as only the French and perhaps the Turks appear to have the stomach for any meaningful action (John Kerry’s famous “global test” would appear quite clearly not to have been passed in this instance).

Finally, and perhaps most troublingly, any military action that does meaningful damage to the Assad regime would only help the truly unsavory elements of assorted thugs and jihadists that are arrayed against it, people by all accounts much more open to committing atrocities and to abetting religious persecution than Assad himself. Under these circumstances, many understandably recoil at the prospect of becoming, as Senator Ted Cruz has put it, “Al Qaeda’s air force.”

At the same time, however, there is a very real sense in which Syria is not just about Syria. For decades, as Secretary Kerry reminds us, the United States has played a powerful role in enforcing basic standards of civilization and human rights in the world. We have not done so perfectly, or with complete consistency, but when some dictator somewhere thought about gassing his own people, or committing genocide, or developing nuclear weapons, he knew that he had the moral outrage of America (and likely subsequent tangible action) to contend with.

This role has brought with it a significant cost in blood and treasure, and American efforts to help build democracy and civil society in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere have been thankless jobs. But if the United States does not strike and deter those who would use poison gas against children, then who will?

We all know that the answer is “no one.” Maybe we are tired of bearing the costs of global leadership. Maybe we’ve had enough of the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” choices that come with being a global superpower and having a conscience.

But if we turn a blind eye here, if we shrink from this hard choice, then the Pax Americana is over, and we become just one more big country (like Russia and China) that takes an amoral and utilitarian view of world affairs. Many, both at home and abroad, would likely welcome this American retreat from the world stage. They should be careful what they wish for.

Read the full blog.

Also see what other SMU experts say about the Syria situation.

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