The sharks are circling, as it were. Or perhaps it is more appropriate to say that the war hawks are getting restless. As civil war rages in Syria, a bi-partisan cast of war hawks, which includes a couple of former presidential candidates – Senators John Kerry and John McCain — are salivating at the chance to “democratize” another failed state in the Middle East. If our country’s war hawks are as well intentioned and benevolent as we might hope, then bombing Syria is only a means to the end of assisting the innocent Syrian people. There’s no doubt that Assad is a barbaric villain and a throwback to that portion of history which spanned from Gilgamesh to Adolf Hitler. However, in this case – as in nearly all other cases – violence is not the best way to help them. The most humanitarian solution, the one that would ease the suffering of the most Syrians, would be to ensure that our (America’s) borders are open to Syrian refugees.
So often, when confronted with a Middle Eastern dictator, our government’s instinctive response is to counter with violence or some show of aggression. This is a quite antiquated approach; indeed, our cavemen ancestors would often club one each other on the head if they perceived the other caveman as being aggressive. Man’s crowning achievement is that he moved past the need to fight fire with fire, but instead learned to solve problems through peaceful means like: debate, discourse, cooperation, commerce, etc. Unfortunately, government is one of the last few institutions in which violence is still a normal – and under certain conditions, acceptable – practice.
Bombing Syria is a course of action that would likely result in more trouble than it’s worth. Most obviously, innocent civilians will die. This is an unavoidable consequence of bombing a country. Unfortunately, many proponents of the bombings believe that this is a worthwhile cost that will lead to a net preservation of civilian lives in the long-run. But even if we accept the premise that civilian casualties are a necessary consequence to bring about a greater good, it’s not at all clear that the bombings will actually lead to better days in the future. Many of the civil wars and revolutions in the Middle East are fought by opposing sides in which it’s uncertain that either side will govern efficiently and compassionately. The recent turmoil in Egypt shows that the revolution might be just as despotic as the dictator. In all of these conflicts, we run the risk of assisting the greater of two evils.
There’s only one sure-fire way to ensure that the lot of Syrian citizens is improved: allow as many Syrians as possible to seek refuge in the United States. The U.N. reports that there are currently seven million displaced Syrians. Only two million have been able to flee to different countries. We could easily improve the welfare of Syrian refugees by allowing refugees to enter the United States, as well as urging other Western nations to allow Syrian refugees. The refugees would come to a country that is wealthy and already has strong democratic institutions. Already, neighboring countries like Jordan have taken in refugees, but as numbers increase, they may be unable to support more refugees. Unlike a bombing, this is a policy that would have a decent chance of helping every single Syrian affected. Even the worst-off in America tend to have a better life than the average Syrian.
Only a conclusion to the civil war and the introduction of better institutions – like respect for the rule of law and freedom of the press – will lead to a better livelihood for Syrians. We need to recognize the limits of violence as a means for solving problems. The American government can’t resolve the civil war. However, America can, at this moment, try to provide Syrians better institutions by allowing the refugees to immigrate to the States and encouraging other Western nations to take in Syrians.