Hopeful for peace, one non-war at a time

We are very hopeful about a possible deal brokered by Russia for Syria to give up its chemical weapons and sign the international chemical weapons convention, if the U.S. backs away from airstrikes.

Negotiations are tense, and even if it works out, there’s no sign that the civil war between the Syrian government and rebel groups will stop. Still, it would stop two things that would escalate this conflict: chemical weaponry and U.S. intervention.

If Syria and the divided member nations of the United Nations Security Council can agree on this much, maybe then they can hammer out a compromise to end the bloodshed entirely. It’s a goal worth striving for, one step at a time.

According to polls, most Americans are against U.S. military strikes in Syria, and that goes for Enterprise readers, too. In our unscientific Web poll last week – “Is it appropriate for the U.S. to use military force in Syria in response to alleged chemical weapons attacks?” – 68 percent voted no. When you take out the 10 percent who voted “undecided,” the nos outweighed the yeses more than 3 to 1.

The Obama administration understandably wants to stop Syrian President Bashar Assad from using more chemical weapons to kill people, but the proposed solution – for us to kill more Syrians with conventional weapons – would only add to the body count.

The administration’s claim that U.S. intervention would be “limited” rather than open-ended is hard to believe. If our attacks do not completely shut down Assad, won’t he dig in to fight with no holds barred against both the rebels and the U.S., drawing us in further? And if the U.S. kills Assad and cripples his army, wouldn’t the ensuing power vacuum create chaos similar to that in Iraq in 2003, which the U.S. would be held responsible for – again, drawing us in further?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called this a “Munich moment,” referencing Western nations’ hesitation to stop Nazi Germany in the 1930s. That comparison doesn’t fly. Foreign affairs journalist Fareed Zakaria put it well in his most recent Time magazine column: “Adolf Hitler was in charge of the world’s largest army and one of its richest countries and was seeking conquest of Europe and perhaps the world. Assad, by contrast, runs one of the world’s poorest countries and is struggling desperately to remain in control of it.”

Rather, what about a comparison to 1914, when an Austro-Hungarian archduke’s assassination in Sarajevo sparked a world war? What if Syria rallies Russia and Iran to its side against the U.S. and its allies?

Beyond strategic logic, there’s conscience to consider. Ideally, in a nation with so much Judeo-Christian heritage, most people would reject war simply because killing people is intrinsically wrong, as made clear in the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus.

From a utilitarian point of view, warfare generally does more harm than good for humanity as a whole; those who benefit from it do so at others’ expense. U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, a retired Army colonel who used to represent part of the Adirondacks, put it plainly to us in 2012 that in his 24-year military career, what he saw happen in war was “killing people and breaking things.

“You’ve got to recognize that it’s a very serious decision, one that should only be undertaken after a long discussion, the American people’s involvement and a vote in Congress,” he said.

That’s exactly what’s happening now. It’s messy and erases any surprise attack on Assad, but it’s wiser than the alternative.

Of course, humans have been marching to war since before history. All we can do to stop that is to prevent one conflict at a time. For now, let’s work on this one in Syria.