On Sept. 10, 2013, President Obama spoke to the American people about recent developments in the Syrian Civil War as well as his stance on the issues at hand. The following editorial contains excerpts from the Sept. 10 speech, followed by my own comments and reactions.
My fellow Americans, tonight I want to talk to you about Syria – why it matters, and where we go from here … I have resisted calls for military action because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In his opening words, the president identifies the primary objection to intervention in Syria: the last two times we tried to get involved in another Middle Eastern nation, it took us more than 10 years, thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars to realize that maybe it’s best to leave them alone. Considering the complexity and destructiveness of the Syrian conflict already, who’s to say this time would be any different?
The situation profoundly changed, though, on Aug. 21, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening: men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas. Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath. A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons, and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off-limits…
To be sure, the scene the president describes is horrible, and the use of chemical weapons in any context is unforgivable. However, at this point in the speech at least, these scenes are no more terrible than other scenes of civilians and combatants being killed by guns and bombs. The president is simply using an emotional argument rather than a logical one, ultimately failing to give a definitive reason as to why we should act because of the deaths of about 1000 people compared to the 100,000 that have already been killed.
If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them. Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield.
This is a slippery slope argument – a logical fallacy – and it makes no sense. The assertion is that if we don’t take military action now specifically to punish Bashar al Assad for his use of chemical weapons, then it is a certainty that American troops would face poison gas attacks in the future. It is not a compelling assertion.
And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran – which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path. This is not a world we should accept.
This is a similar slippery slope fallacy: if we don’t punish Assad’s use of chemical weapons, Iran will develop (and implicitly, use) nuclear weapons. This assumes both that Iran would like to be actively pursuing a nuclear weapon and that the threat of U.S. military action is the only factor deterring Iran’s acquisition of such technology. Neither of these assumptions are true.
So even though I possess the authority to order military strikes, I believed it was right, in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security, to take this debate to Congress … This is especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the President … while sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.
The fact that Obama acknowledges the increasing role of the commander-in-chief in military matters over the past 10 years is significant, but it is also disconcerting. The president’s ability to unilaterally authorize military strikes is greater than ever. Consequently, in a climate of increasing anti-war sentiment, the peoples’ voices are less significant than ever before. So, while Obama’s deferment to Congress here is noble (and, undoubtedly, politically-calculated), in a perfect world it would be compulsory.
I have a deeply held preference for peaceful solutions … Over the last few days, we’ve seen some encouraging signs. In part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action, as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin, the Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons and even said they’d join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits their use.
This is a huge deal. During a press conference on Sept. 9, Secretary of State John Kerry made an offhand comment that the only way the Assad regime could avert a direct military strike from the U.S. government was if they were to “turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week.” It was a ridiculous comment; a gaffe, some called it. How could anyone expect a dictator like Assad to do such a thing? And yet, it worked: Assad has offered to prohibit the use of chemical weapons in lieu of the U.S. military attacking him. He would allow the international community to disable his chemical capabilities – exactly the aim of Obama’s proposed limited military strikes but without the military strikes. If Secretary Kerry’s comment was a gaffe, then it was a brilliant gaffe.
I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin. I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies, France and the United Kingdom, and we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.
While still in their early stages, these talks appear to be promising, especially considering how quickly they materialized in response to the possibility of an option other than military intervention.
Furthermore, rather than unilateral action on the part of the US, this third option would include France, China, the United Kingdom and Russia. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what diplomacy looks like – and it appears to be working.
William Hupp is a College junior from Little Rock, Ark.
Cartoon by Katrina Worsham