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Choose Diplomacy, Not War


It’s crazy, the gleam in the eye and zeal that the powerful have in sending everyday people into harm’s way.

Few outside Washington seem eager for another war.

U.S. public opinion is strongly against intervening in Syria’s civil war involving dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Sunni rebels and others tied to al-Qaida, and Shiite groups. At least 60 percent of the country opposes U.S. military action there, according to a Reuters/Ipso poll out Aug. 25.

Maybe we’re inching closer to what Illinois poet/journalist Carl Sandburg saw when he wrote, “Sometime they'll give a war and nobody will come.”

But President Obama apparently is getting ready to punish Syria for the chemical attack on civilians on Aug. 21 near Damascus, where hundreds of civilians were killed, an abhorrent, illegal act.

The U.S. military attacking Syria also would be illegal.

The use of chemical weapons is a war crime. But U.S. military strikes would violate international law, too. The United Nations Charter requires nations to settle their disputes peacefully. Article 2 (4) makes it illegal for one country to use force or threaten to use force against another country; Article 2 (7) forbids intervention in an internal or domestic dispute in a foreign country.

Despite politicians’ spin, using armed forces also isn’t approved for “humanitarian intervention” by international law. After all, common sense tells us that noncombatants would inevitably be killed in such a misadventure.

And the high horse U.S. leaders sit on stands on piles of horse crap. The U.S. military used the Agent Orange defoliant in Vietnam, depleted uranium in Iraq and phosphorous gas in Afghanistan. And, in a Foreign Policy magazine article published Aug. 26, journalists showed how U.S. forces helped Iraq strongman Saddam Hussein use chemical weapons against Iran in 1983.

Where’s Congress in this? The U.S. Constitution Article 1 (8) clearly states that Congress has the power to declare war, so Obama says he’s seeking Congress’ approval.

(After all, in 2007, U.S. Senator and soon-to-be presidential candidate Barack Obama said, “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat.”)

Still, Obama seems ready to once more cave in to perpetual-war elements.

Globally, Britain’s Prime Minster David Cameron, the Arab League, Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul and French President Francois Hollande are rattling (U.S.) sabers, joining the always-eager Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in going to war. Domestically, the usual suspects also are trying to exploit the chemical atrocity to transform punishment to invasion. In a letter sent Aug. 27, neoconservatives including Bill Kristol and Karl Rove said taking no military action would make a previous administration warning an “empty threat” and urged entering the civil war on the side of unnamed “moderates.”

However, the Syrian military is formidable, U.S. intelligence agencies say, and they’re allied with Russia on the one hand and Hezbollah on the other.

One needn’t be naive to see that military intervention, however “modest” or “targeted” one pictures it, could too easily escalate into full-scale regional conflict.

Meanwhile, diplomacy hasn’t failed. It’s barely been tried.

On Aug. 25, Secretary of State John Kerry pressured the UN to withdraw its inspectors from Syria despite more than a little doubt about the culprit behind the chemical attack, conceded State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. When the UN refused to cancel its probe, Kerry sought to discredit the investigation by saying too much time had passed and evidence had been destroyed by Syrian shelling.

Maybe some sort of measured response – by the world – would not be unreasonable.

What is unreasonable is looking at the situation – a ruthless authoritarian leader who may have used weapons of mass destruction against his own citizens angering a U.S. President who considers a military response, and media becoming excited at the prospect of such dramatic action – and expecting the outcome to be much different than before.

That’s more than unreasonable. That’s insanity.  

Bill Knight’s newspaper columns are archived at

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.