In the face of tens of thousands of deaths in Syria, something must be done. This has been the mantra of those who push for US intervention in the country’s bloody civil war. Following what the Obama administration has called clear evidence that Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against civilians, these pro-interventionists say America has a moral obligation to get involved.
While understandable, this view is wrong for seven key reasons, both moral and pragmatic.
The call for intervention is surely trumped, even on humanitarian grounds, by the principle borrowed from medicine: first, do no harm – or, in this case, no greater harm than already done.
US air strikes on Damascus and Homs, with every risk of civilian casualties, would almost certainly provoke an enraged response by government forces. A conflict whose flames have already fanned into Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey could well sweep toward Israel (which constitutes the only strategic US interest in the region). An even broader and more perilous ripple effect would be felt if any Russians or Iranians were among the victims of an attack.
David C. Speedie is director of the US Global Engagement program at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.
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