Defining Appropriate Action in Syria
by Robert F. Dodge, MD
The horrific use of chemical weapons in Syria is a crime against humanity and demands an international response. President Obama states that the United States must take appropriate action vs. doing nothing. This is absolutely true. The problem comes in defining appropriate action. There are at least two options, military vs. non-military, the latter with a host of options.
Framing that action in military terms guarantees the loss of additional innocent lives. Choosing a military option further fuels the sectarian strife spreading across the Middle East. This will encourage the growth of anti-American sentiment rife in the region. Our trillion dollar war in Iraq has demonstrated that war is not the answer. Iraq is on the verge of falling into the worst chaos since the beginning of that conflict.
This crisis does demand action ― non-military action. Doing nothing is cowardly and not in keeping with the credibility or morals of the United States or any other country that professes to support the rule of international law and morality. This includes Russia, Iran and China.
An international response is demanded. After 9/11 there was a brief period and opportunity when the world came together with a sentiment that the “whole world was American.” That feeling was quickly lost as the U.S. opted for bombing nation after nation, including a unilateral “pre-emptive” war against Iraq, a nation that had nothing to do with 9/11. We have paid and will pay the price of that war for generations.
Today, in a similar vein, the entire world identifies with and is sickened and horrified by the images of children and innocent victims of these cowardly gas attacks. But 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.
Our leaders need to show courage against the tide of war. The perpetrators of these crimes must be brought to justice. There is an international arena for these crimes against humanity to be addressed. The International Criminal Court’s mission is to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression. The International Court of Justice’s mission is to prosecute Nations that have committed crimes against humanity. These are just two methods by which perpetrators of these crimes can be held accountable. The United States has the opportunity to lead the way in empowering and supporting these international institutions in performing the role that they were established to do.
This will take courage, strength, determination, vision and true international leadership―not bombs. This is the role that the United States can and must pursue if we hope to see an end to sectarian violence in this region and the world over. We must call upon all nations and our own elected leaders complacent with arming the various sides in these conflicts to endorse and support this international peace keeping effort. This will demonstrate their true commitment to peace, international law and humanity.
We must follow our moral compass. The United States and other world leaders should intensify their efforts to find a peaceful, political solution to end the bloodshed, not add more violence to a tragic civil war. The president needs to hear from us and be supported for his courage and willingness to pause and hear from the nation as we pursue the best hope for the ordinary men, women, and children of Syria.
Dr. Robert Dodge of Ventura is a family practice physician and a board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility. He frequently speaks and writes on issues related to global sustainability and nuclear security.