September 3, 2013

In making a case for not intervening militarily in Syria, Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite’s Aug. 31 On Faith online excerpt, “Syria and the ‘moral obscenity’ of war,” discussed a host of moral obscenities, including the use of chemical weapons, and referred to a report that asserted that military interventions normally make things worse for civilians. But there was no discussion of whether it is ever a moral obscenity to stand aside while others are carrying out a moral obscenity.

Consider Rwanda and the lead-up to World War II (where the world stood aside) compared to Kosovo (where NATO intervened and stopped the slaughter). To claim that war is always a moral obscenity is to say that the American colonists should not have revolted militarily against the British and, further, that France should not have come to their aid; how different we would be today. It is to say that the world should not have ultimately gone to war against Hitler’s forces. Would that have been better for Europe’s civilian population?

It’s a tough choice to make, balancing one undesirable action against another in specific situations. But just claiming that “a political settlement is what has to happen” — that “the war has to end” — doesn’t make it happen. Saying that Syria should not use chemical weapons against its civilians hasn’t stopped their use. In Syria, inaction could be the moral obscenity.

Edward Diener, Vienna

In his Sept. 2 letter [“Mr. Obama’s response to Syria”], Ron Carver claimed that the Constitution requires “that Congress, not the president, decides whether we go to war.” This is incorrect, although it is frequently repeated by politicians and television commentators. What the Constitution says is that only Congress can “declare” war. The president can certainly “make” war on his own, as the Federalist Papers make abundantly clear. We have had many undeclared wars in our history, the most famous being the Civil War.

Donald Rotunda, Washington

President Obama (whom I voted for twice) has no authority to attack Syria even with congressional approval. We are a lawless nation unless we follow international law and strike only after U.N. Security Council approval, as stated so clearly by Yale Law professors Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro [“Hold to the rule of law,” op-ed, Aug. 29]. An airstrike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces might well escalate the violence in Syria. There is much we can do to pressure China and Russia to stop supporting that dictator, and the United States could pressure its allies in the Middle East to assure Alawites (Mr. Assad’s ethnic group) that they would not face slaughter from their Sunni compatriots and neighbors. Let’s stay out of this foreign, civil war.

Steven Sellers Lapham, Gaithersburg

Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro, while eloquently arguing against U.S. military intervention in Syria without U.N. Security Council authorization, asked, “If the United States may intervene in Syria without Security Council authorization for humanitarian purposes, why couldn’t Russia intervene in Georgia?” But as we all know, Russia did just that. Their question seems more legitimate when turned around to ask, “If Russia intervened in Georgia without Security Council authorization, why can’t the United States do so in Syria?”

Lenny Rudow, Edgewater

Instead of attacking Syria, wouldn’t the United States’ best response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons be to do more to help the 2 million refugees (half of whom are children) who have suffered under this regime? Let the United States be a force for peace and not war. 

Maggie Spak, Rockville