No, Let’s Not Go to War in Syria

The use of chemical weapons crossed President Obama's "red line." Here's why we should stay out, for now.

Well, we’re a little closer to war with Syria than we were 24 hours ago.

Why? Because the United States has determined that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against the rebels in that country’s awful, grinding, ongoing civil war. And because President Obama once promised that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” that would demand greater U.S. involvement in that war, on the side of the rebels. Maybe we’ll just furnish them with more lethal weapons; perhaps we’ll start enforcing a no-fly zone.

Do the math, either way, and it would seem we’re slowly sliding into yet another Middle Eastern war. But we shouldn’t.

Three quick reasons why not:

Yes, WMDs were used. But they weren’t used … massively. The use of chemical weapons seems to have constituted a “red line” marker because such weapons fall under the “weapons of mass destruction” heading that we hate so much: Chemical weapons conjure visions of World War I soldiers choking to death without gas masks, or (more recently) Saddam Hussein’s attack on Kurdish civilians in the 1980s. In both those cases, though, thousands of people could be wiped out in a matter of moments.

In Syria, though, reportedly 100 to 150 people have died from chemical attacks. That’s out of 90,000 deaths so far across the country during the entire war. It doesn’t make sense, at that small level of casualties, for chemical weapons to be the unquestioned “red line.”

If you want to prevent genocide, the overall number of deaths already may justify your desire to intervene in Syria. As things stand now, though, there’s no reason to think that dying from the random chemical attack is worse than being shot or bombed. Wait until entire cities are gassed. That’s where the real red line should be marked.

There are no obvious good guys to back. America got bogged down in Iraq because nobody really planned how to run the country after Saddam’s fall. That lack of foresight caused thousands of needless deaths over the course of nearly a decade.

In Syria, we know that President Bashar al-Assad is a horrible man. On the other hand, we’ve received reports this week that rebels executed a 14-year-old boy for insulting Islam. Which side do you want to be on?

Because, well, Iran. Syria has chemical weapons. Iran, on the other hand, is trying to get nukes. Iran loved it when we got bogged down in Iraq; Iran will love it if America gets bogged down in Syria. I’m not a fan of going to war in Iran, incidentally, but let’s be honest here: We’ll be in far worse shape to do so if we expend much in the way of blood or treasure in Syria. Let’s just keep  our eye on the ball for once, how about?

The violence in Syria is heart-breaking. But the United States is not equipped to end evil everywhere in the world, and certainly not to do so without regard to its own interests. The last decade has shown us that war is hard, and that we ought not choose it lightly. For now, at least, staying out of Syria is the best choice that American leaders can make for America.