Right now the USA is about to decide whether to intervene in Syria or not. As an Antiochian priest, what happens in Syria concerns me. It concerns me because our Patriarch is headquartered in Damascus, Syria. Thus, both the incredible slaughter and the possible intervention concerns me.
Today, the government of President Obama received an incredible blow. The House of Commons of the United Kingdom voted to forbid intervention in Britain. It appears that the Prime Minister is going to honor the vote and not try to find some way around it.
What about the USA? Well, most polls show that over 50% of all Americans favor intervention in Syria. It breaks down in the following way:
To date, every survey about a hypothetical strike on Syria after chemical weapons use shows Republicans more supportive than the general public, than Democrats, and with a majority of Republicans on board. The Washington Post and Pew Research asked about whether the US should intervene if the Syrian government used chemical weapons against civilians. According to Pew, 56 percent of Republicans were on board compared to 46 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of the population; The Washington Post has 67 percent of Republicans supporting an attack, compared to 55 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of all adults.
More generally, CNN asked whether chemical weapons use would justify strikes on Syria. Here again, Republicans were most supportive. 73 percent of Republicans thought strikes would be justified, compared to 64 percent of Democrats.
A couple of other polls are equivocal in their response. What none of these polls are asking is the moral question. Do we have the moral and ethical right to intervene in Syria? Oddly enough, here is where both Tea Party conservatives and leftist liberals agree. They both say, “NO.” From Sen. Rand Paul to Sen. Marco Rubio, those who tend toward libertarianism are clearly against intervention. In the same way, Sen. Carl Levin and Rep. Barbara Lee, who usually support peace, are fully against intervention.
But, this does not answer the moral question. Do we have the moral authority to intervene in Syria? And here is the problem. We are pulled between our emotional response and the historic position of Saint Augustine.
There is little doubt that Americans want to right wrongs. It is part of our culture. But, our view of righting wrongs is somewhat limited, if we are honest with ourselves. We know what we want to fix, but we do not know what to do once we have begun to fix it. Thus, we can win the war, but we have severe problems in winning the peace. And, when we go in based on false information, such as Iraq, we undermine our very moral underpinnings in addition to being mired in someone else’s culture trying to turn them into us.
It is no surprise that Saint Augustine argued that “princes” ought not to get involved in war unless they are directly attacked. The dangers of making a mistake are higher than the moral pain of watching a foreign “prince” kill his own subjects. It is most ironic to me that on this subject, both the Tea Party right and the progressive left are in united agreement. Anytime Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Carl Levin are in agreement, we need to pay attention.
[Note: Inevitably someone will bring up Germany and World War II. Let me remind you that even in that case, the USA was only partially involved in the war, and only by way of providing supplies to the Allies, until we were directly attacked. If we follow the example of World War II, then we need to wait.]