Social Commentary

An Iowa View of Syria

War is Not the Answer(UPDATE: Sept. 4, 2013, 3:30 p.m. CDT: A new report from Russia, including a 100-page United Nations report on the chemical attack at Aleppo, Syria, indicates non-standard Syrian chemical weapons used in attack. Russian analysis suggests Syrian rebels may have launched a chemical attack, rather than the Syrian government. Click here to read more).

The horrific use of chemical weapons in Syria is a violation of international law and a crime against humanity. President Obama was right when he said, “in a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted.” Where he was wrong was when he said, “the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets.”

A couple of things don’t matter about the American response to Syria’s use of chemical warfare against its citizens.

The commentary from the right is the usual anti-Obama anything parade of made up crap. Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton said to FOX News, “the White House candy store is open,” meaning the Syria vote agreed by Democratic and Republican leadership in the U.S. house and senate will become yet another round of congressional political swaps of votes for pork. Some on the fringe even say Obama is using Syria to distract from fake scandals in his administration. The whining voice of the right and its fringe don’t matter because the public is tuning in.

President Obama differentiates between an aerial bombardment and boots on the ground. Only the most cynical or naive among us don’t understand these are two aspects of the same thing. He said, “our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope.” All wars are, and this one would be no different in that regard.

What matters, that isn’t being said much, is as my colleague at Physicians for Social Responsibility, Dr. Robert Dodge, wrote in the Huntington, W.V. News, “the military intervention being debated is not intended to end the violent conflict that has killed more than 100,000 Syrians. It won’t help the nearly two million Syrian refugees return home or get the more than 6.8 million people in need access to humanitarian aid.” These are real people with real needs, and little assurance that an American air strike will benefit them in tangible ways. Our recent and costly invasion of Iraq stands as an example of how U.S. military adventurism does little for people outside a small group of war profiteers.

It must be tempting to think U.S. intelligence knows where Syrian weapons of mass destruction are located, enabling the targeting and destruction of their government’s capabilities. But things go wrong, more often that we would like.

Individuals in the Syrian government committed a crime when they used chemical weapons against a group of Syrian citizens that included children. We have courts to prosecute such criminals, beginning with the International Court of Justice. The International Court of Justice is where this crime should be confronted.

An invasion of Syria, and that is what a target air strike would be, would perpetrate more violence in an already war torn country. Iowans may be able to tune out the world for a while, but we must resist what our government does in our name. For my part, I join with the Quakers who wrote, as one of 25 non-governmental organizations, this open letter to President Obama reiterating the notion that war is not the answer:

August 28, 2013

Dear President Obama,

We, the undersigned organizations, are writing to express our grave concerns with your reported plans to intervene militarily in Syria. While we unequivocally condemn any use of chemical weapons along with continued indiscriminate killing of civilians and other violations of international humanitarian law, military strikes are not the answer. Rather than bringing an end to the violence that has already cost more than 100,000 lives, they threaten to widen the vicious civil war in Syria and undermine prospects to de-escalate the conflict and eventually reach a negotiated settlement.

In the course of more than 2 years of war, much of Syria has been destroyed and nearly 2 million people- half of them children- have been forced to flee to neighboring countries. We thank you for the generous humanitarian assistance the US has provided to support the nearly 1 in 3 Syrians- 8 million people- in need of aid. But such assistance is not enough.

As the U.S. government itself has recognized, there is no solution to the crisis other than a political one. Instead of pursuing military strikes and arming parties to the conflict, we urge your administration to intensify diplomatic efforts to stop the bloodshed, before Syria is destroyed and the region further destabilized.


Friends Committee on National Legislation
American Friends Service Committee
Church of the Brethren
Code Pink
CREDO Action
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Historians Against the War
Institute for Policy Studies
Just Foreign Policy
Oxfam America
Peace Action
Peace Education Fund
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Presbyterian Church, USA
Progressive Democrats of America
Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Veterans for Peace
Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Women’s Action for New Directions