The ethics of war standards

Before striking Syria, the U.S. should consider its own use of chemical and controversial weapons.

by Ronald Dixon

As the nation continues to debate the implications of a potential strike in Syria, the U.S. should re-evaluate its own standards of war before decrying the use of chemical weapons.

In an Aug. 31 speech, President Barack Obama called on Congress to approve U.S. intervention in Syria to prevent the future use of chemical weapons.

Obama is planning to further push for public support Monday, visiting six media outlets in the process. Secretary of State John Kerry is continuing to express his approval for the strike, including a recent condemnation of the act after viewing video footage of dead victims.

In Minnesota, we’ve seen anti-war protests, as well as constituents telling their Congressmen, including Rep. Tim Walz of the first Congressional district, that they are weary of war.

Congress does not appear to be willing to back Obama’s objective; there are only 25 senators and 40 representatives that have expressed support for the strike, whereas 18 senators and a whopping 153 representatives are opposed.

Moreover, the public support for this potential act of military intervention is the lowest in 20 years, compared to similar lead-ups to military actions. Only 36 percent of Americans support the strike, while 51 percent are opposed and 13 percent are undecided, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Despite the general disapproval of a limited strike, I fully support military intervention for the purpose of preventing future chemical weapons strikes on the Syrian people.

There are several reasons for my approval, including the fact that this situation differs to that of Iraq, where we are not establishing a new regime or trying to oust a current government; the fact that we appear to have definitive proof that chemical weapons were used; the fact that the U.S. has the capacity to stop these acts; and most importantly, to enforce war standards.

To elaborate on the latter point, most of the world has agreed against certain practices during times of war. One of these practices includes the use of chemical weapons, especially on innocent civilians. Because strong evidence suggests Syria violated this almost universally accepted norm, they should be stopped.

However, before we intervene to champion war standards, the U.S. needs to look to its own military through the same critical lens.

For example, the U.S. used white phosphorus in Iraq during the 2000s. This is a chemical weapon that burns through human flesh and bones. White phosphorus has been defended by Gen. Peter Pace as a “legitimate tool of the military.” Furthermore, the U.S. military allegedly used napalm, a controversial chemical weapon, in Iraq in 2003.

Moreover, the Obama administration needs to do a better job of ensuring that military drones, a tool that I supported in a past column for their efficiency and relative safety, do not harm civilians, as they have done in the past.

Finally, the Obama administration should not perform the attack if Congress does not act, unless they can prove that there is an imminent threat to the U.S, for they would be in violation of the Constitution.

Responsibility should follow power. The Obama administration should address concerns with their own military while they consider striking Syria.