That evidence in the satellite images is a key piece of any diplomatic argument, especially one with such critical moral implications. And there are certainly profound moral implications as the President alluded to the use of gas weapons by many nations during World War I with horrifying results and the use of gas to enable the holocaust by the Nazi regime during World War II. Because of the shocking, malevolent, barbaric, and evil spectacle of these weapons in World War I, most nations easily agreed to a complete ban on the use of these weapons during “normal” military operations. The evil Nazi holocaust of World War II, largely made possible by the use of toxins to poison millions of Jews in the death camps, gave the world yet a second reminder of the horror of chemical weapons. As the President noted in the 10 September speech, “Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant, the civilized world has spent a century working to ban them. And in 1997, the United States Senate overwhelmingly approved an international agreement prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, now joined by 189 governments that represent 98 percent of humanity.”
In addition, the evidence that chemical weapons were used by the Syrian regime on August 21st is overwhelming and irrefutable. As President Obama noted, “No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria. The world saw thousands of videos, cell phone pictures, and social media accounts from the attack, and humanitarian organizations told stories of hospitals packed with people who had symptoms of poison gas.” Furthermore, we know the culprit without a shadow of a doubt: “[W]e know the Assad regime was responsible. In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gasmasks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighborhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces. Shortly after those rockets landed, the gas spread, and hospitals filled with the dying and the wounded. We know senior figures in Assad’s military machine reviewed the results of the attack, and the regime increased their shelling of the same neighborhoods in the days that followed. We’ve also studied samples of blood and hair from people at the site that tested positive for sarin.”
Of course, even when we have proof of a “crime against humanity” and know who the perpetrator is, we would still need moral justification to act, a rational “chain of responsibility” that connects the act to some cogent obligation that we have or role that we must fulfill. National leaders must carefully weigh their options, and, once they have decided to act, must present their people with a compelling, rational, and moral explanation for the need to use military force in these circumstances since no military action can be successful without the force of the political will of the majority of the population.
Already the political pundits, diplomatic and strategic experts, and “talking heads” are lining up either for or against this possible intervention in Syria. Many who seem to be grounded in a secular, naturalistic, atheistic, liberal, progressive, or socialistic world view have automatically staked out their position that the moral obligation or right to act can only come from the consensus of the global community. This is not to say that all in that camp have consensus on the issue, but for the sake of argument, based on the overwhelming percentage of articles that I am pulling up in research on my college’s ProQuest (and other databases), suffice it to say that most of those who self-identify as the political or social left are not too happy with what they quickly broad brush in their straw-man articles as hegemony or colonial adventures.
Everyone’s got a right to their own opinion. It’s a free country as they say. But if we had let this idea of “community consensus” be the unbending, irrefutable, guiding principle for moral action in the past two hundred years of our country’s history, then many of our countless global efforts on behalf of the suffering and the downtrodden would never have taken place. Such efforts would have died quickly in infancy, choked off by the unresponsive, unwieldy bureaucratic processes and maneuvers that typically occur at the international level. Moreover, the Lord only knows how many such atrocities and humanitarian disasters throughout history went by without question or comment while other groups or nations stood by apathetically watching, perhaps thinking it was someone else’s responsibility or even asking the sarcastically defiant question of Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:9).
What are our moral obligations as a nation? More on this tomorrow. May you have a peaceful, blessed day