Recentl,y Michael Doran and Max Boot wrote an op-ed in the New York Times entitled “5 Reasons to Intervene in Syria Now.” While their reasons may make sense in a purely geo-political sense, they seem to reflect none of the wisdom in the Just War Theory. The just war theory is essentially a roadmap to avoid initiating or entering a war that will get a country mired into conflict with very little chance of either winning or advancing the cause of human rights.
The theory has evolved over time with considerable input from Saints Augustine and Aquinas. Much of the Just War Theory is summarized in the following points:
A war is not legitimate or illegitimate simply based on its original motivation: it must comply with a series of additional requirements:
It is necessary that the response be commensurate to the evil; use of more violence than is strictly necessary would constitute an unjust war.
Governing authorities declare war, but their decision is not sufficient cause to begin a war. If the people oppose a war, then it is illegitimate. The people have a right to depose a government that is waging, or is about to wage, an unjust war.
Once war has begun, there remain moral limits to action. For example, one may not attack innocents or kill hostages.
It is obligatory to take advantage of all options for dialogue and negotiations before undertaking a war; war is only legitimate as a last resort.
Another important point that has been added is that the war must be winnable. This certainly posed a problem for the United States in Vietnam, and currently is doing so in Afghanistan. A military foray into Syria would probably also not meet the standards of being winnable.
The arguments in favor of invading Syria that Doran and Boot make are:
First, American intervention would diminish Iran’s influence in the Arab world. Iran has showered aid on Syria and even sent advisers from its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to assist Mr. Assad. Iran knows that if his regime fell, it would lose its most important base in the Arab world and a supply line to pro-Iranian Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.
Second, a more muscular American policy could keep the conflict from spreading. Syria’s civil war has already exacerbated sectarian strife in Lebanon and Iraq — and the Turkish government has accused Mr. Assad of supporting Kurdish militants in order to inflame tensions between the Kurds and Turkey.
Third, by training and equipping reliable partners within Syria’s internal opposition, America could create a bulwark against extremist groups like Al Qaeda, which are present and are seeking safe havens in ungoverned corners of Syria.
Fourth, American leadership on Syria could improve relations with key allies like Turkey and Qatar. Both the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his Qatari counterpart have criticized the United States for offering only nonlethal support to the rebellion. Both favor establishing a no-fly zone and “safe zones” for civilians in Syrian territory.
Finally, American action could end a terrible human-rights disaster within Syria and stop the exodus of refugees, which is creating a burden on neighboring states. Mr. Obama pledged earlier this year to strengthen the government’s ability “to foresee, prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities.” Now he has an opportunity to do so. And by putting allies in the lead, Mr. Obama could act without sliding down the slippery slope toward a ground war.
The problem with the five points made by Doran and Boot is that each of them is plagued by the “IF” factor. They are wishful thinking that could come true, but there are strong chances that they would not. IF the intervention was not successful, then there could be a cascade of both intended and unintended consequences that could be very harmful to the United States, as well as other countries such as Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Qatar, Turkey and possibly more.
The just war theory was created to void such consequences. The world was replete with wars that lead to such consequences dating back to the earliest of human history. Nowhere do Doran and Boot say that their ideas make sense only if American intervention would be successful. Nowhere do they say that the people of America must support the action, and if they don’t then our leaders should not embark on intervention. Virtually every component of the just war theory is ignored by Doran and Boot.
The pressure to intervene in Syria can quickly grow, as the internal genocide becomes more cataclysmic. The temptation will exist to do something about it. Diplomacy might help, but most likely only in limited ways.
On some days, it appears that the U.S.“lead from behind” strategy, along with European “lead from the front” strategy worked in Libya. On other days, it seems to have been a serious failure. We seem to know less about the rebels in Syria than we did about them in Libya. It is most painful to watch genocide and just stand by. However, in the long run, we may do more good for the world by following the principles of the Just War Theory, which means that, unless conditions change, the United States and other countries would be well advised to not directly intervene in Syria.