No Good War

Thoughts on Syria

Even Barack Obama’s guiding principles for weighing the wisdom of military action, so cautious in comparison with those of his neoconservative predecessors, betrayed an eagerness to look away from what war does to those caught in its path. “I don’t oppose all wars,” he said in a 2002 speech. “What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war.” He lived up to this self-description, with a few exceptions, during his eight years as President. Except for his “red line” comments, his decisions regarding Syria were thoughtful and deliberate, and none of them have permanently damaged America’s international standing. But opposing dumb wars isn’t enough. Smart wars should be opposed and avoided too, until the last moment and at all possible costs, because they are wars. All military conflict rips apart the social fabric in irreparable ways, and all the US and Russia have done with their careful, self-interested maneuverings is intensify and accelerate the process by which a dictator has reduced his unfree but still stable society to rubble.

There has been very little commentary on the situation in Syria since last week that hasn’t made the commentator sound like an idiot interested only in advancing his own agenda, but this, even if you disagree with it, will not make you ball your fists in anger and think, “Why should I listen to this idiot,” because its case is compellingly made. It’s a long one, so save it for when you have time.