Response to “Syrian bombings accomplish nothing”

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Opinions, Mental Health
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The opinion article titled “Syrian Bombings accomplish nothing” was reductive and contradictory. I am writing this response article to refute the author’s two main conclusions: 1.) that militaristic responses to Assad were unwarranted, and 2.) that the U.S.’s, Britain’s, and France’s recent military strikes were inferior to President Obama negotiations with Syria in 2013.

The first conclusion -- that military responses do not “change behavior or deter conduct by state officials” -- is a very general and unsupported statement, and it does not address the main reason for the airstrike: to remind the other would-be dictators that chemical weapons were, are, and always will be intolerable. Will these airstrikes actually convince Assad to be humane? Maybe, maybe not -- but given that Assad is now a war criminal responsible for gassing nearly 2,000 of his own people, military deterrent is warranted nonetheless. Furthermore, our obligations to our allies in the Middle East, as well as to our American soldiers in Syria, necessitated a U.S. response, especially because Assad has gotten away with too much in the past: the U.S. (under the Obama administration) attempted to convince Syria to rid itself of chemical weapons in 2013, but recent events clearly show that those negotiations did not work. Case and point, Assad was creating and storing more chemical weapons in the sites that were recently shelled. Knowing all this, what would you have the U.S. do? Remain passive while Assad kills another civilian population the size of DePauw’s student body?

This brings me to the article’s second conclusion: the author claims that President Obama’s negotiations with Syria in 2013 were more effective than the recent airstrikes; I disagree. Although President Obama’s negotiations with Syria were commendable in their own right, they clearly did nothing to reduce Syria’s cache of chemical weapons nor did they prevent further chemical attacks from happening (obviously). The author cited the fact that, following Obama’s negotiations, Syria removed “hundreds of chemical weapons” and that “no such weapons were used for three years after the fact.” Yes, it is true that Syria physically removed a number of chemical weapons after the 2013 negotiations, but in that same span of time, Assad was evidently hoarding (and possibly creating) a number of other chemical weapons. Clearly, Assad has not been following the demands agreed upon in the 2013 negotiations. If, in the author’s words, “the very conduct we wish to prevent continues to happen,” then we can conclude President Obama’s efforts failed. Am I arguing that Obama’s 2013 negotiations were completely useless? No, not on every front; but in terms of detering Assad, they evidently fell short of everything Obama was hoping for. At this point -- that is, at this point when we know that Syria has been lying to the world about its number of chemical weapons, possibly creating more chemical weapons, and committing its second chemical attack in the past 5 years -- a military response is favorable to yet another attempt at negotiations.

And finally: As much as the author wants to spin the airstrikes into a matter of American politics, the airstrike was a international initiative that prompted worldwide negative response. Britain’s and France’s involvement in the airstrike proves that the U.S. was not alone in its decision to respond aggressively to Assad’s attack. The airstrike was not an example of the U.S. being the world-police. Rather, it was an example of the U.S. collaborating with other countries to discourage the indiscriminate gassing of civilians. The author ended the article with a jab at Mike Pence’s “moral” justification of the airstrikes. I agree that Pence is largely hypocritical and disgraceful, but I found this reduction of the Syrian people’s tragedy to a quip about Pence’s moral hypocrisy to be in extremely poor taste. Not everything has to be about American politics, especially when war crimes are being committed, and especially when articles titled “Syrian Bombings Accomplish Nothing” are oversimplifying those war crimes to ten sentences.