War vs. Humanity: The Liberal Conflict Over Our Possible Involvement in Syria

syria-civil-warWhen it comes to the possibility of U.S. military involvement in the bloody civil war going on in Syria, there seems to be an endless stream of opinions.  From Republicans the popular response was, “Watch, the “unconstitutional” President Obama will bypass Congress and do whatever he wants!”

Well, that was until yesterday when President Obama made public his desire to use our military in Syria, but only  with Congressional approval.

So much for that attempted right-wing attack on the President.  Though don’t kid yourself, they’ll find some other way to complain about whatever he decides to do.

But for liberals the issue seems much more complicated.  See, many liberals are typically two things:

  • Against war
  • Advocates for helping the poor, sick, helpless and the needy

Well, the problems in Syria present a unique and complicated situation.  It’s a war which has slaughtered thousands of poor, sick, helpless and needy people.

Over 120,000 have died and thousands more will continue to die as this war escalates.  Over the last several months there have been multiple reports of chemical weapons being used by Bashar al-Assad and countless images of mutilated women and children strewn out in the streets.

So what we have is the liberal struggle between opposing war, yet being appalled at the horrific events that continue to unfold in Syria.

And to be honest, I’m still unsure of what actions I support our country taking.

But I’m not someone who blindly opposes war.  While many liberals are against almost all invasive military actions, I tend to lean more towards understanding that while war is tragic, it’s sometimes needed.

I’m also not keen on the idea that the United States should act as the “world’s police.”  That said, I do understand as the world’s leading military power, we’re often the nation many look to when they need help.  Fair or unfair, that’s just the burden we face as a world power.

However, when I see the atrocities in Syria, I’m torn.  As are many liberals, it seems.  Because at the end of the day what do we value most — our general aversion to war, or our stance to defend life?  As much as liberals might harp on about our military and the innocents we kill when we get involved in war, the truth is life doesn’t cease to be taken simply because we’re not involved.

So does death become less of a tragedy because it wasn’t our weapons that caused it?  And what’s worse — sitting back and allowing thousands to be slaughtered, or doing what we can to try and expedite an end to the civil war?

Whether or not we get involved, innocent people are going to die.  So it just doesn’t make any sense to me when people seem to act as if the only way innocent lives are lost is when we’re involved in war.

The debate (as far as the loss of life goes) breaks down to one question — will our involvement help reduce the number of innocent lives that are lost?

Another issue liberals bring up, and rightfully so, are our own problems.  In our own country we have countless issues, a massive debt and millions of people starving.  So shouldn’t we worry about our own people first?

Well, is that the attitude liberals really want to have?  Aren’t we the party that lives on the premise of helping the helpless, defending the defenseless and giving aid to those who need it?  Are we just going to turn a blind eye to images showing the bodies of thousands of dead or mutilated children that have come as a result of a nearly 3-year-long civil war?

Are we not the party which constantly rallies on the issue of human rights for all?

Is our defense for humanity now restricted to only Americans?  Because looking at these images, knowing some of the facts, I sit here and think history will look back at a time when thousands of people needed help—and the world did nothing.

How can I say I stand for human rights, then say we “shouldn’t get involved” when evidence shows a nation is using sarin gas to commit genocide?

But at the end of the day, I still don’t have the answers.  In fact, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer to the situation in Syria.

No matter what we do, or don’t do, we’ll be both right and wrong.

Wrong because we’re not the world’s police and it isn’t our responsibility to intervene in the problems of another nation.  Wrong because we’re a nation that’s trillions of dollars in debt and has millions of Americans which desperately need help.

Right because the genocide going on in Syria is horrific and something needs to be done.  Right because we’re a great nation and as such we shouldn’t sit idly by while thousands of innocents are murdered with sarin gas.

One thing I do know is that President Obama’s choice to seek Congressional approval for any sort of military intervention is the right thing to do.

The tragedies going on in Syria have presented not just liberals — but all Americans — a whole host of questions that really have no right or wrong answers.

Because at the end of the day, I really believe that no matter what we do it’ll be both right and wrong for very important and deeply poignant reasons.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


Facebook comments

  • Shanca

    To be honest I was against war too but you make a good point and I agree and feel torn too. The thought of innocent people especially children being killed tears me up. Something needs to be done. One thing I don’t understand is where is the United Nations

    • Pipercat

      They’re over at Joe’s deli eating bagels and gefilte fish; enjoying the fact they’re in New York and getting paid for it…

    • Titula

      The United Nations was founded in 1945 after World War II to stop wars between countries, and to provide a platform for dialogue. So the UN is there. Unfortunately, however, the UN doesn’t have the power to do much because of the politics involved. Member countries representatives are appointed by member governments and given mandates to follow from their own governments. In this case, I imagine that during the deliberations, the US Representative to the UN is more likely than not arguing that military action needs to be taken against Syria (the mandate that the US Government gave her to follow), while, say, the Russian and Chinese representatives were probably mandated to refuse any military action to be taken against Syria.

      The people who work for the United Nations are always there and ready, but it’s the politicians who sometimes get in the way of diplomatic solutions. Who knows? Had the UN been given more decisive power and more authority when it was created, perhaps many wars could have been avoided.

  • N Abboushi

    To be against war and a humanitarian is not opposing each other. An attack will kill more people and will throw gas in the flames. If you care, you would pressure the President to work with Russians to bring the factions together with no preconditions. The rebels are controlled by Saudi and Turkey and the regime is influenced by Russia. These powers have to use real diplomatic means and stop arming there puppets. Stop killing the poor Syrians caught in the middle of power struggle.

  • Annie

    And, here I thought that I was the only one torn between the implications of war vs. allowing humanitarian atrocities to continue. I was beginning to question my sanity… ;-o

  • mcquestion5000

    If America is going to be the world’s police, then they better start acting like it and not just involving themselves in skirmishes they think they can win, not to mention you will be continually and constantly at war with a whole hell of a lot of countries across the globe. Human rights atrocities take place every day in every corner of the globe.

    Who has it worse than North Korea? Why does the U.S. do nothing? I’ll tell you why, because the U.S. won’t pick a fight with the North Korean army, which would most certainly bring China into the conflict. So, apparently, America’s distaste for human rights violations apparently only goes so far when they might end up facing one of the largest armies in the world.

    You’re either all in or you’re all out but I can tell you this, if you want to police the world, prepare to lose a lot of your own lives and spend yourselves into bankruptcy, because it’s an impossible task. You only get involved when it suits you and when there isn’t the possibility of your armed forces facing another huge force of like size, training and weaponry. It reeks of moral cowardice.

    All in or all out, America.

    • Pipercat

      Political posturing, even on the global scale, is not even policing; moreover, I thing Iran and the Saudis ought to do the same. Either finish this 7th century blood feud once and for all, or end this…

      • mcquestion5000

        Political posturing is just as bad, it’s puffing up your chest and acting like you’re G.I. Joe when you’re just a weak ass politician.

        One day, I’m sure, these blood feuds based on religion and tribal differences will be settled. They’ll find a way to annihilate each other.

      • Pipercat

        Well, 40 million in Europe the last time around sure ended the, “war every 20 years” or so…

      • mcquestion5000

        Now it’s just continual war.

        The military industrial complex will continue to ensure that there is always a next war. They need it for their money… and the Republicans who are in their pocket (And wish they were G.I. Joe will continue to back them.) while most of the democrats will continue to pussy out.

      • Pipercat

        There are plenty of donkeys in their pocket, too.

      • mcquestion5000

        Without a doubt.

  • Pipercat

    I’m not torn, it’s a lose/lose proposition. There are no benefits without consequences. We’ve spent all our righteous capital in the last 10 years and going it alone is just plain dumb. Whatever we do will achieve nothing exept ill will and condemnation. It’s 4th and 36, time to punt!

  • NBG

    To repeat the same behavior expecting a different result is a sign of insanity- I agree we should not sit back and do nothing- we should try to set up peace negotiations between Syria, Russia, the rebels,Turkey and try to calm down the situation not fan the flames- bombing will only accelerate and inflame the situation while intensifying the hatred toward US.

  • zedinbc

    The issue as framed by Obama is not about going to “war”. It is about whether or not the civilized world sits idly by, doing nothing, while Assad gasses Syrians. As I understand it, Obama is talking about a punishing response to gassing civilians (or anyone under any circumstances).

    To be frank, the entire civilized world should unhesitatingly act together on this issue. Sitting around chattering and dithering while lamenting losses misses the point, and sends a message that gas attacks and biological weapons will be tolerated. Tyrants and terrorists will rightly conclude that it is now open season for the use of these especially horrific weapons.

  • Amber

    I don’t blindly oppose war, but America is struggling right now and we don’t have the funds to get in to a war like this right now… We can barely feed and shelter our own needy, sick, and hungry. We can’t spend massive military funds on this when we can barely take care of our own.

    • I completely agree. I do feel for their plight in Syria. Why not go in and take care of Asaid like Bin Laden was taken care of? Why get into another war that we can ill afford while our own are suffering? We need to take care of Americans first. That is our first responsibility. We have starving children here, no jobs to support our own. We cant afford to amass the debt of another war and keep ignoring our own people! This is not our war! We need to stay out of it!!

    • strayaway

      Correct! Every billion dollars we spend blowing up things and people in Syria in a humanitarian manner is an additional billion dollars that will have to be sequestered from all sorts of federal programs. If the President and McCain want to have their humanitarian war, they should propose a war tax to offset and pay for it so the money won’t be coming out of education and meals on wheels.

  • Vernon E Cole

    I don’t see a conflict of interest at all. Even the innocent victims hate us. Let them sort it out for themselves.

  • Vernon E Cole

    Another thing. Genocide of the Montagnard people in Vietnam has been going on since 1975, but nobody in politics has cared at all. Both Kerry and McCain have looked the other way so their friends and families can make big money.

  • MyMonkey’sUncle

    It is THEIR civil war. Let them fight it. I seem to recall we had one of our own.

  • suburbancuurmudgeon

    The quandry: Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in Syria? I have no problem with war when there is a clear reason and a visible end. Iraq (and Vietnam) lacked the former and Afghanistan (and Vietnam) lacked the latter.

  • intothefuture

    Well written article. Thank you. My thought is that the USA should do something to respond to the chemical war on innocent children. But it should a military action that destroys infrastructure of war…not people. And gives warning for people to get out of harms way. Not meant to be a secret attack. But make it very open and clear what we will do. For example…after two days notice of exactly what we are going to do…. bomb the runways of all major airports, bomb sea port infrastructure where arms come in, weapon factories, etc. The idea here is not about starting or winning a war and not about killing people. Just a response to seeing another party (Syrian Regime) do something horrible to children and innocents. The concept is… if you do inhumane things to children like this…it will cause us to respond and you will incur serious debilitating damage to your infrastructure. Now… this may not be sexy and may not make revenge enthusiasts excited.. But it is a real response with real impact to those who breach the basic rules of humanity and our human duty to protect all children. I see this as akin to civil disobedience… where you take actions that are not meant to harm other people..but to destroy infrastructure and disrupt normal operations. If every time Syria did something like this…their runways and other infrastructure were destroyed… they would rethink their actions.

  • jeczaja

    You need to study some history. US supported Saddam in his war against Iran in which he used chemical weapons against Iranians. US knew this, as declassified documents reveal. They motivate us to war in two ways>”We’re all gonna die.” (smoking gun/mushroom cloud) and :We must rescue those poor people.” So far it has worked every time. Maybe not this time.

  • jalbertini

    We should only act as part of a LARGE coalition. Where is the Arab League? We arm the heck out of out “allies” and then they expect US to spend out tax dollars and put our service personnel at risk. If the rest of the world will not act then neither should we. When the rich go to war it is the poor who die. And our 1% are waging war right here at home on the 99%. Our country is crumbling, jobs are exported, the Earth is being defiled! When & how should we fight THAT war?!

  • Tbone

    One concern I have is that the majority of refugees, some 2 million plus, are children. I believe it was Anne Courie who reported that children are going back into Syria because they would rather fight than die of sickness in the camps (malnutrition and bad water).

    Another issue, the military service members who are speaking out against action in Syria. Some have asked their representatives to vote “no”. Some of the signs from the military whom wish to hide their identity, speak of not wanting to intervene in someone else’s civil war. And to add more to their side, some of them mentioned that they didn’t want to fight for AL Qaeda.

  • HeartforPeace

    Wow, Allen Clifton, you did it again….you put my thoughts to paper (more or less). My musings followed a similar, convoluted path. There are no elegant solutions….only difficult, heart-wrenching ones.

  • Just Wondering

    I don’t remember this moral conundrum getting much attention when it was Hutus and Tutsis in a genocidal conflict. How many died in that conflict? 500,000? 1,000,000? Where were we Liberals then? Why do Arabs merit our intervention when Africans did not?

  • Joe

    All other countries have opted out of military action except France. One should ask why would you move forward with an illegal attack when no one else in the world supports it. The reality of the situation is that no one knows who used the chemical weapons. There are so many factions fighting in Syria right now, no one knows what side to take. Why doesn’t the US concentrate on cleaning up the messes they have already made in Iraq and Afganistan before making a new mess in Syria. Neither of those countries are better after US military involvement.