Pro/Con - Does use of chemical weapons warrant military intervention?

When the use of chemical weapons by foreign entities threatens America's national security interests, military intervention is warranted. President Obama said as much in August 2012, when he drew a “red line” against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's use or transfer of chemical weapons in Syria. However, Obama's failure to respond to Assad's subsequent use of chemical weapons was a mistake that has undermined our values and harmed U.S. interests in the Middle East and beyond.

Assad's repeated use of chemical weapons in 2013 was an open challenge to America's moral values and national security interests. The regime has slaughtered more than 1,500 people using chemical weapons in a conflict that has claimed more than 115,000 lives. He has employed death squads, missile strikes and chemical weapon attacks in his effort to terrorize the Syrian people into submission. These barbaric acts have helped facilitate the emergence of Islamist extremists in opposition-held territory, while Assad relies on Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force fighters to transform an uprising into a regional conflict. This caldron of terror, regional instability and weapons of mass destruction directly threatens such U.S. allies as Jordan, Turkey and Israel.

Obama's failure to adequately enforce his own “red line” on Assad's use of chemical weapons undermines U.S. credibility and has created a crisis of confidence in Washington's ability to deter aggression. Secretary of State John Kerry was right when he warned, “we will have lost credibility in the world … if we turn our backs today.”

Assad has gone unpunished for his crimes. The U.S.-Russian agreement on Assad's chemical weapons has not removed him from power and does not guarantee that he will surrender his chemical weapons. If anything, it gave him a green light to continue his indiscriminate violence against Syrian rebels and noncombatants, so long as he does not again use chemical weapons.

A U.S.-led military intervention in Syria would not have created Iraq 2.0. At a minimum, limited airstrikes to disable the Assad regime's chemical weapons delivery systems could have weakened its position. Indeed, since September 2007 Israel has launched various airborne campaigns against the regime's activities related to weapons of mass destruction or attempts to transfer advanced conventional weapons to Hezbollah. Without U.S. intervention, the killing continues, Assad remains in power and the growth of Islamist extremists is on the rise.

Senior Policy Analyst, Foreign Policy Initiative. Written for CQ Researcher, December 2013

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
Read More