The Merits of Non-Intervention in Syria
The British Utilitarian John Stuart Mill once argued in his work “A Few Words On Non-Intervention” that if citizens of a state desire freedom, it is first and foremost their own responsibility to achieve such freedom.
Freedom cannot be imposed from the outside by a foreign power. It is now more necessary than ever that the United States follow this mode of thinking and reject more foreign escapades such as the recent missile launches against Syria.
If the US does not, we only place ourselves in greater danger. The consequences of such a course of action threaten to reverberate across other parts of our foreign and domestic policy.
Although I, like most people, condemn the use of chemical weapons against civilians, I also must object to the way that the Trump administration has handled the situation. Beyond the problem that the United States has not declared war on Syria but has still attacked it, the situation on the ground is an extremely delicate and complex one.
This is due to the fact that many groups, many of whom seek to harm the United States as much as they want to topple the Assad regime, are fighting for control of the country. There is also the problem of an increasingly aggressive Russia, which has its own geopolitical interests in the region that cannot be ignored. Further violence would only exacerbate the situation and trigger the creation of more refugees, which one country or another will have to deal with.
Furthermore, there is a strong link in scholarly literature between governments that are toppled by violence and further instability. For example, a research paper written by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan argues that “nonviolent campaigns of change are far more likely to result in democratic institutions than are violent insurgencies and are 15% less likely to relapse into civil war” (Chenoweth and Stefan 2008).
By launching missiles against Syria, the United States continues to reduce the possibility that the country, and even the region, will ever be stable again. This means that by intervening, the United States government is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. This is the very definition of insanity. Such a warped philosophy is no way to “make America great again.”
It is also important to remember that Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential campaign on a platform that proposed non-intervention in Syria and that promised to put American domestic policy first.
The affairs of other nations would henceforth play a secondary role. Since he won the election, it is hardly inconceivable that such a stance is what the American people wanted. If he were to further intervene in Syria, when he explicitly said many times that he would not and even criticized the previous administration on Twitter for doing so, would only create an image amongst the public that the president has no ideology at all. This feeling of betrayal in the mind of the public will not only hurt his own credibility but will also very likely damage the credibility of the Republican Party during the 2018 midterm elections.
I am not arguing, however, that what is happening in Syria is a not a problem. What I am insisting on is that it is far better to allow the UN and other international organizations to address the problem by making and enforcing “the red line” that was first laid down during the Obama administration but was not adequately enforced at that time.
It is also important that these international organizations carry out an investigation to see if Assad really did use chemical weapons against his own people. There have been times in the past where agents with their own agenda have published lurid accounts of atrocities that were later proven to be false, with dangerous consequences for the intervening country.
For instance, during the First World War, the Allied press published vivid accounts of German atrocities in Belgium and in France. While some were eventually discovered to be true, many more were exposed as false. During the Second World War, new reports of atrocities began to emerge but they were dismissed by many in the Allied command.
Although the “boy who cried wolf” aspects of the WWI tales was not the only reason why this action was undertaken, it certainly played a role in impelling it. The American public is no longer interested in foreign adventures or nation-building. Rather, they would like to see American interests being addressed before those of foreign nations. It would be wise for certain individuals to heed those thoughts.
In conclusion, it is important to remember Hippocrates’s injunction that we should “help, or at least, do no harm” through our actions.
This means that the United States should avoid harming itself through its choices, something that would certainly come to pass if Trump responds to the war in Syria with more violence. Such unthinking actions not only continue the destabilization of a country but also displace more people that either the United States or Europe will have to deal with and threaten to throw US-Russia relations into further jeopardy.