Analyzing the cost of attacking Syria

September 9, 2013

Members of Congress: I respectfully acknowledge that the decision regarding U.S. military action contemplated in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his people presents a moral dilemma of gigantic proportions. Thus, I as a professor of ethics for 26 years in Pennsylvania and now in retirement continuing to teach for the University of Delaware’s Osher Life Long Learning Institute in Lewes, I feel compelled to offer input for thought as you wrestle with your decisions regarding this volatile issue.

On the one hand we must do something to indicate the world does not condone the actions, but on the other I believe going to war, however limited it is intended, is not justified at this time. Since the days of St. Augustine ethical analysis of going to war has been addressed by Principles of Just War Theory. Much has changed in the world and some of the considerations of that theory are brought into question by changing circumstances of warfare today, but some have not. Those that have not are that military action be used only as a last resort when all other reasonable efforts have been exhausted.

As your colleague Sen. Tom Udall has pointed out…we do not even have the report of the U.N. weapon’s inspectors in hand. While evidence President Obama and Sec. Kerry have offered are convincing, why the rush to judgment when it is admitted by military strategists delay would not impact outcome?

I recognize that because of divisions on the Security Council efforts at the UN would not likely be productive, but it would if their inspectors confirm use by Assad provide the world with strong evidence of the need to act. But is our military strike the only alternative?

In addition to the UN, international law provides avenues for dealing effectively with war crimes. Other Arab countries that also feel threatened could be consulted and called upon to assist in dealing with Assad’s criminal behavior by organizing their allies in the area, several of which are suspect of American unilateral actions now. We have not been attacked by Assad and there is little threat to our national security to pursue alternative routes instead of near unilateral military attack. Just War actions require exhausting all the alternatives.

Another Just War principle is that actions be not only limited but likely to succeed in meeting objectives. You may have, but I have not even heard the objectives other than we drew a line in the sand, you crossed it, now you pay the consequences. This is not a sandlot squabble…it could be World War III if the cards line up in the wrong way. Given that we may have clear objectives we are not revealing for strategic reasons, the question then is how can “success” be achieved in 60 or 90 days. We have too much historical evidence that nearly every “limited” war once started cannot be stopped in the intended time frame.

Finally, not specifically from Just War theory although it could be argued as an alternative, why not bomb them with food, medical supplies and humanitarian aid to the people. My guess is that winning this battle is winning the hearts and minds of the Syrian people. Let's give it a try! At this point I do not support military action. Thank you for considering these moral issues. A fellow Democrat who worked for Obama’s campaign and want to see him succeed.

Richard F. Kauffman

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