The Superpower Who Cried Wolf

The Superpower Who Cried Wolf

I wanted to quickly lay down my thoughts on Syria. I am strongly opposed to military intervention in this instance. Here’s why:

1. We have no money
We simply can’t afford it. A decade of war has drained our resources and now we can’t afford the luxuries of purported humanitarian interventions, even if it were justified on other grounds. We spent our life savings on the red Ferrari in Iraq, wrecked it, and now we have to pay the consequences of that decision. Our inability to act now is yet another casualty of our ill-advised wars of choice.

2. We have no moral authority
As the revolt in the House of Commons showed last night, the British public simply doesn’t trust the political and security establishment’s claims after Iraq. The hasty nature of the rush to intervention is yet another red flag for the citizens of the UK and US. Even if the claims of chemical weapons use are verified, we still have no moral high ground. Our own use of depleted uranium shells in Iraq, our well-known support of Saddam’s use of chemical weapons against Iran, our legacy of Agent Orange use in Vietnam – these all undercut the claim of our moral authority to act. Especially unilaterally and without the consent of the UN, Congress, or our closest ally. Furthermore we show plenty of support for other repressive regimes including Bahrain and Saudi and never lift a finger against them. Our moral standing here is deeply damaged.

3. We have no legal authority
The Constitution is quite clear. Either Congress must declare war, authorize military action, or the President may repel attack or invasion in the case of an imminent, direct threat to the United States. None of those are the case here. This would clearly qualify as a war of choice. Not only would such action do grave damage to our national institutions, but to international law as well. Flawed though it may be, the United Nations is the agreed upon framework for resolving such issues. Our constant breaking of international law gives a green light for others to do so as well. Assad may have broken international law with use of chemical weapons, but two wrong don’t make a right.

4. We have no credibility
There is a good reason why you don’t use an all-white police force in an all-minority neighborhood. There is a lack of trust and gives the appearance, if not the reality, of discrimination and even occupation. Say what you may, but people tend to listen to and respect the authority more of those they identify with as respected peers rather than “others” who may not share their values, goals, or interests. If there is to be a “world police force”, it should be composed of the whole world, not just one superpower with it’s own interests to defend.

After the Iraq debacle, we also clearly lack credibility in our capacity for strategic planning and post-conflict resolution. Our inability to foresee and react to the aftermath of Saddam’s deposition cost us dearly – and a conflict sold to the American public as a four-month “little war” ended up costing us a decade of blood, treasure, and opportunity cost. There is no evidence that we are any better at these things now than we were a decade ago.

5. We have no strategic interest
The first rule of saving a drowning man is this: Don’t do it if he’s going to pull you under as well. All you have then is two drowned men. Striking Syria now could easily escalate in wholly unpredictable ways into a much larger regional and perhaps global conflagration. Of course that is a worst-case scenario — but is any action with at least a credible possibility of such a spectacular meltdown worth the risk?

6. We have no guarantee it will be humanitarian
This brings me to my final point. Despite all of the above, were there a clear-cut and guaranteed humanitarian benefit to our actions, I could soften my assessment of the merits of intervention. Yet, the Gordian knot that is Syria ensures that any action will have more than 100 unintended and unpredictable ones, that could include the unleashing of forces far more deadly to civilians than the chemical attacks were. We simply can’t lob in a few missiles and hope that this will help things. It rarely (and perhaps never) has.

As a supporter of humanitarianism I feel that I should suggest at least a few alternative courses of action. I would suggest that given the above, we turn attack the problem with the full force and might of the United States. Not with our military, but by providing massive amounts of humanitarian relief, supplies, and bringing a full-court diplomatic press at the UN and elsewhere against Syria and the nations that politically harbor them: Russia, Iran, and China.

Let the world be shocked and awed at our ability to be a force for peace and not further opening the wounds of war. In the words of Martin Luther King let us love our enemies, and strengthen the bonds of peace through our practice of nonviolence. The opposite approach has already failed – why not give peace a chance?

Matthew Patterson



Madeleine Szabo

I agree with you wholeheartedly. We shouldn’t fight the slaughter of civilians by killing more people. It is not clearcut as to whose side we should support. It is a sectarian war that we should not enter.


Thank you Mr. Patterson. All of your points are expressed well, and well taken. Intervention in Syria may lead to the biggest disaster the USA has ever faced, and I don’t believe we have the political, economic, or spiritual strength as a nation to overcome such a disaster. I hope you keep writing and reach the right audiences. My heart is with you. SDB

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