Written by: KB
While the majority of the United States is still talking about Miley Cyrus and her interesting VMA performance, the rest of the world is discussing a much more important issue: the possible military intervention of the Unites States in Syria. With the recent use of chemical weapons against citizens, suspected of being carried out under the order of Syrian President Bashad Assad, an international limelight has been thrown on the Middle Eastern nation of 22 million. In responses to the unfortunate events that have recently occurred in Syria (currently engaged in a violent civil war), the Obama Administration has been actively pushing for Congressional approval to strike Syria, despite being warned by constitutional scholars, anti-war activists, attorneys, foreign-policy experts, and economists of the unintended consequences that would follow such an attack.
Syria and its history are quite complicated, but it is important to have a basic understanding of the last three years as a foundational background for the current situation. The early 2011 revolutions and anti-government movements that were sparked in Egypt and Tunisia inspired peaceful protests in Syria against the dictator leadership and the tyrannical authority. When the people began protesting, violence was the governmental response, which turned the people to violently act back in defense, and ultimately turned into a civil war.
Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI) has been a leading voice urging the President and Congress to stay away from Syria. Turning to social media, Amash has publicly declared that a strike on Syria without full congressional approval would be “unquestionably unconstitutional and illegal,” and he has moved to unite republicans and democrats in the House to raise their voices in opposition to a possible new war, and a unique bipartisan coalition has been created. Despite the unified efforts against war, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have all publicly backed the Obama Administration in regards to the Syrian attack.
Regardless of US intervention, it is predicted the violence in Syria will continue for several years to come. But the question that has been raised by American leadership relates back to the horrors of World War I, which caused most countries to sign the 1925 Geneva Protocol, banning the use of biological and chemical weapons in war. Regardless of who is behind the recent chemical weapon attacks, either Assad or the rebels, the technology itself is against international law, and potentially poses a threat to future wars, setting a dangerous precedent that such technology is acceptable.
While the hawkish leadership in Washington, D.C. embrace the Orwellian notion that war is peace, when one steps back and views the situation from an outside perspective on US intervention, it becomes clearer of the negative implications of intervention in Syria. Increased international tension with China and Russia, increased US military casualties, collateral damage impacting civilians and foreigners, international law violations, decreased credibility for the Obama Administration, UN disapproval, and increased negative impacts on the US economy with the increased spending on military activity will all be inevitable consequences of war with Syria.
From a strictly economic perspective on the matter, some Keynesian economists would try to argue that a new war would be just what the US needed to help the economy, with the illusion that war creates jobs and stimulates the market. This increased production and employment associated with war often causes individuals to believe “war is good for society.” This could not be further from the truth, as Frédéric Bastiat explains in his Parable of the Broken Window, demonstrates how opportunity costs, as well as the law of unintended consequences, affect economic activity in ways that are "unseen" or ignored. Henry Hazlit later expanded the Broken Window Fallacy in Economics in One Lesson, “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.” The economic stimulus to one nation's defense sector is offset not only by immediate opportunity costs, but also by the costs of the damage and devastation of war to the country it attacks. War destroys property and lives, and an increase in wealth or peace will never arise out of destruction.
In addition to economic disinterest in war, military opposition to Syria is also present. US military leadership has spoken out against the involvement in Syria. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, has warned Congress, "We have learned from the past 10 years ... that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state. We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action. Should the regime's institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control." Militaristic knowledge of the situation may be beyond the scope of the general public, but when the individuals who would carry out the strike actively explain why it should be closely re-evaluated, perhaps their opinion should not be taken lightly.
The overwhelming opposition to the Syrian intervention by the represented citizens of the United States ideally would be an indicator of how the strikes should not occur, but unfortunately for the anti-war and non-intervention minded citizens in a democracy, this is not always the case. The United States does not possess globally accepted moral high grounds to play world police, nor does the nation of Syria actually pose a direct threat on America. The constituents of the Unites States overwhelmingly do not support a war with Syria, other nations do not support US intervention, and US military leaders/foreign policy experts have expressed their concerns against the Syrian strikes. Only time will tell what Congress and the Obama Administration decide to do, and if it comes to war, their decision will have an inevitable impact on the United States domestically. The US is walking on thin ice towards Syria, and as Norman Soloman has said, “War becomes perpetual when it is used as a rationale for peace.”
But what does this possible war mean for students? How can we possibly make a difference in such a complicated international question? You can call your representatives and voice your opinion on the subject and you can continue to pay attention to how the situation unfolds, keeping yourself informed. Don’t let your voice go unheard and don't be afraid to speak up. At the University of Texas, we all know "what starts here changes the world," and in this current time, it really can.