Compromise in Crisis

In recent weeks, President Barack Obama has attempted to garner public support for a contained military strike in Syria. In March of 2013, the President expressed his views on the civil war in Syria by describing a metaphorical “red line” defining the acceptable lengths to which Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his administration could go in their attempts to quell Syria’s nationwide rebellion. This “red line” was designed specifically to discourage Assad from using chemical weapons against his own citizens, promising “enormous consequences” if he did. This strategy seemed to be effective until just weeks ago, when reports surfaced of Syrian men, women and children dying horrible deaths in gas attacks, electrifying the global political atmosphere and leaving President Obama with a terrible decision to make.

Assad’s use of chemical weapons directly violates both the Geneva Convention and the international policies on chemical weapons established by the United Nations, supplying the pro-intervention argument with a valid legislative basis in international humanitarianism. Other motivations for military action include the recent reports of a death toll surpassing 100,000, [according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon](, and the threat of the Syrian rebels turning to religious extremism if they feel abandoned by the West. One rebel pleaded, “If there is no action, everyone will be desperate. We already are desperate. We are dying. Many will join al-Qaeda. Even the educated will join them, because no one else is helping,” according to [“Jihadis Gain Ground in Syrian Rebel Movements as Moderates Grow Desperate” on NBC World News](

In addition to all of this, President Obama sees an American military strike as necessary not only to keep to his “red line” promise, but also to honor the widely held humanitarian belief that the Assad regime’s bloodshed needs to end as quickly as possible.

Nevertheless, the public response to the proposed strikes remains negative. Multiple religious and ethnic groups in Syria have joined to form the tense, sometimes unrelated rebel groups: this means that by supplying the Syrian rebels with military aid of any sort, America risks indirectly arming known terrorist organizations such as the Taliban. The U.S. also risks severely damaging their already strained relationship with Russia; a country allied with Syria and vehemently opposed to a military response. “Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force,” wrote Russian president Vladimir Putin in a [“New York Times” op-ed this Wednesday](

The United States’ supposed ethical obligation for invading Syria is also flawed, because the American government essentially ignored all prior massacring of Syrian civilians when they lacked chemical involvement. Our sudden willingness to defend the [Geneva Convention]( is questionable as well, as the American government violated the Geneva Convention multiple times under the Bush administration, and knowingly supported Iraq in the early 1980s despite the fact that they were using chemical weapons against Iran. Furthermore, the Assad regime’s blatant and oft-demonstrated disregard for the lives of innocents makes it highly likely that the Syrian president will not hesitate to use civilian “body shields,” deliberately keeping citizens in the line of fire in order to hinder America’s ability to attack.

A possible “least bad solution” emerged a few days ago from an unlikely source, when Russia offered a disarmament plan in which the Assad regime would hand all chemical weapons over to Russia for safekeeping. Putin presented this solution on the conditions that “the American side and those who support the U.S.A, in this sense, reject the use of force.” Although this option certainly seems preferable to prolonged inaction or a military strike, it remains imperfect. Moscow rejected U.S. and French demands for a binding United Nations resolution with consequences for non-compliance, indicating a fairly high likelihood that Russia is stalling in order to protect Assad. “We believe the regime is just buying more time, is just trying to fool the international community, is just trying to get out of this situation,” Loay al-Mikdad, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, said on Wednesday, according to NBC News.

Even on Andover’s campus of predominantly confident individuals, opinions regarding the current situation in Syria are conflicted and uncertain. While many of the students I spoke to expressed serious concern for the oppressed Syrian civilians and a desire to see them defended, very few seemed willing to risk the grave ramifications for engaging in a of military response. Rani Iyer, a three-year Upper from Indiana, observed, “I just don’t see how we can convince Assad to stop killing his people by killing more of his people.”

In a situation as difficult and multifaceted as this, there most likely will not be a “right answer.” All that we, as a nation, can make sure of now is that whatever decision we arrive at is formulated and executed with the appropriate priorities in mind—namely, the defense of civilian lives. If the U.S. allows itself to be drawn into a political power struggle with either Syria or Russia, or to repeat the misguided policies that resulted in the destabilization of Iraq, serious and lasting damage will be done to our country’s standings in foreign relations. Nevertheless, there is always a “least bad solution.” We just have to hope that President Obama and his allies in the United Nations will be able to identify and implement it.

_Grace Tully is a three-year upper from Reading, Mass. and an Associate Commentary Editor for_ The Phillipian _CXXXVI._