President Barack Obama has been insistent that his planned military actions in Syria will not result in regime change there, at least in any direct fashion.
Indeed, as an anonymous official told The Los Angeles Times, Obama is seeking a response that is "just muscular enough not to get mocked" while also not drawing Assad allies Russia and Iran into direct action. Even most of the Obama's supporters concede that the strike is really about the president maintaining credibility after issuing an ill-conceived and apparently ad-libbed comment about "red lines."
Unless you are a member of the president's inner circle or a fanatical devotee of Obama, that is a grim and deeply disturbing calculus deserving of all the scorn heaped upon it. "Launching cruise missiles or airstrikes simply to 'show resolve' or 'send a message' cannot be justified," writes R.R. Reno of First Things. "At the end of the day, these rationales authorize symbolic killing, which is fundamentally immoral." Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) says simply, "The U.S. should not fight a war to save face."
These are powerful objections to intervening in Syria and they help to explain why the public is squarely against any U.S. action in what is properly understood as a civil war (as with all such struggles, it is taking place in a larger geo-political context, but it is fundamentally not an international conflict).
But is military intervention the only way that the United States—or the world community—can or should engage with Syria? What are the alternatives to military intervention?
Here are some ideas floated by various people.
1. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.): A war crimes tribunal to investigate crimes committed by the Assad regime and rebel groups.
"I plan on introducing a resolution when Congress reconvenes to authorize the President to establish a specialized Court—the Syrian War Crimes Tribunal—to help hold accountable, all those on either side, including Assad, who had slaughtered and raped in Syria," Smith said. "We have learned lessons from the Special Court in Sierra Leone, we have learned lessons from the Rwandan Court, and certainly learned lessons from the Court in Yugoslavia. Establishment of such a court has to be immediate, and I think it could be a rallying point."
2. Sarah van Gelder: "Syria: Six Alternatives to Military Strikes."
Writing in Yes! magazine, van Gelder argues that "many of the legal and diplomatic processes that led to peace in other times of conflict haven't even been tried yet in Syria." Her suggestions are heavy on U.N. participation, including calling for international embargos on weapons and "forcing the hand" of Russia and China on the security council, and supporting non-violent movements in Syria.
3. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.): Provide humanitarian aid, arm rebels, rather than fixate on "sending a message."
We could do all sorts of things to relieve the humanitarian suffering of the two million refugees in neighboring countries. We could conceivably arm the rebels. In fact, the president said he would arm the rebels three months ago. So far, not a single gun has been delivered. Not a single weapon of any kind has been delivered to the rebels, despite the fact the president said it three months ago. There's all sorts of other alternatives that don't involve sending missiles and bombs on a so-called humanitarian war.
In an interview with PBS, Grayson says that the U.S. should refrain from being the world's policeman with some exceptions such as cases of genocide:
Yes, genocide. And in that case, there would be enormous international reaction and enormous international support.
You notice how, with 196 countries in the world, no one else wants to touch this problem.
Do any of these strike you as preferable either to the air strikes (and whatever else follows) favored by the Obama administration or a complete turning-away from the Syrian civil war, which has claimed over 100,000 lives? Even assuming the U.S. shouldn't be globo-cop, are there actions we can and should take to reduce misery in war zones and other hell holes around the world?
Discuss below in the comments.