The society convened for the second time this semester to debate precisely what much of the world is debating at this very moment: the crisis in Syria. Affirming Resolved: The United States should conduct limited and targeted military action in Syria was Mr. Agree Ahmed (SFS ’15) of Maryland. Keynoting for the negation was Mr. Chris DiMisa (COL ’15) of Maryland.
Mr. Ahmed opened his keynote with two pillars of argument: that limited and targeted military action is the action best suited to the Syrian situation, and that we should take action. To back up the former, Mr. Ahmed pointed to our resources in the area, including Israeli intelligence, neighboring allies, and an Air Force base thirty minutes from the Syrian border, both of which would enable us to carry out effective strikes targeting military assets and avoiding civilian casualties. US credibility is at stake, but more poignantly, so are thousands of lives. Being that a struggle for power is inevitable after Assad’s own inevitable fall from power, we can only do our part in limiting the bloodshed until that power vacuum opens up. Mr. DiMisa made appeals to both pacifists and war hawks alike, arguing that either pursuing diplomacy and focusing on the millions of Syrian refugees now scattered across the region or going full-force into Syria and instating our own proxy government there are better options than “limited and targeted military action.” Mr. DiMisa cautioned against giving Al Qaeda the opportunity to take power. If Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, we must not shortcut justice by retaliating with anything less than our full might.
Ms. Anna Hernick (SFS ’16) argued that neither diplomacy nor creating a puppet government in Syria is realistic or logical, and only limited and targeted strikes match the situation and our capabilities. Mr. Jacob Arber (SFS ’14) questioned the logic of picking a side to favor before we are sure which side will better bring stability to Syria. Ms. Julia Christensen (COL ’15) responded that limited and targeted action would both punish Assad for his atrocities and do minimal damage elsewhere. Mr. Daniel Kendrick (COL ’15) insisted that Obama’s promise that chemical weapon use would warrant American intervention is, on its own, poor justification for military strikes. Mr. Christopher Stromeyer (SFS ’14) argued that Obama alone did not set the “red line” against chemical weapons, but the international community did. Mr. Gavin Bade (SFS ’14) argued that our inconsistency in enforcing “international norms” has undermined our credibility to begin with, so we ought not worry about upholding the “red line” threat. Ms. Abigail Grace (SFS ’16) contested this complacence with our country’s history of being inconsistent, urging the Society that our reputation for picking and choosing when to decry human rights violations ought to, if anything, persuade us to, this time, make the right decision. Ms. Amanda Wynter (COL’ 14) argued that any internal conflict can only be resolved from within. Mr. Sam Kleinman (COL’ 15) questioned when we would stop a murderous, illegitimate leader from slaughtering his own people. Ms. Shalina Chatlani pointed out that credibility is not just a matter of upholding promises but also thinking before acting, and urged aiding refugees as an alternate and safer course of humanitarian action. Mr. Derek Buyan (SFS ’14) reminded us that either action or inaction on behalf of the United States will send the world a message, and thus to take care what that message is. Mr. Buyan implored the Society to name any act more egregious than a government indiscriminately killing its own people. Jacob Angel (Stanford ’13) urged against attacking Syria, a sovereign nation, without the United Nations’ support. Mr. Warren Wilson (SFS ’15) argued that the Syrian civil war is, above being a political issue, a humanitarian issue, and we must act accordingly. Ms. Colleen Wood (SFS ’14) argued that the negation was hiding a belief in American exceptionalism underneath a pretense of caring about the Syrian people. Ms. Wood pointed out that rebel factions have access to chemical weapons and that the issue is more complex than it appears. Mr. Spagnuolo (SFS ’14) stated that, regrettably, the only compelling reason to conduct military action in Syria is that of an earlier promise. “We backed ourselves into a corner, and must uphold our standard.” Mr. Greg Miller (SFS ’14) argued that popular will must be on par with political will and military will for any action to be effective, and popular will is currently against American intervention. Mr. Michael Mouch (SFS ’15) made an appeal to the Society’s consciences, reminding us of how harrowing the deaths of thousands of innocent people are. President Peter Prindiville (SFS ’14) contended that the United States set our own norm of intervening in other countries’ affairs, and we may not actually be as obliged to act as we think. He urged the Society to give diplomacy a chance. Ms. Madeleine Ringwald (COL ’16) argued that there will be countries upset with the U.S. no matter which course of action or inaction we take, and we ought to prioritize minimizing bloodshed until the inevitable power struggle after Assad’s fall. Mr. Jesse Whitfield (COL ’14) spoke on behalf of total intervention in Syria as being the only way to ensure regional stability. Mr. Alden Fletcher (SFS ’17) argued that since threat of force got Assad to admit that he had chemical weapons to begin with, only pursuit of a strike would open up more diplomatic channels.
Upon return to the keynoters, Mr. DiMisa began his closing remarks by contesting the idea that America would somehow lose its credibility though not acting in Syria, arguing that the U.S. has no credibility to begin with. He refuted Mr. Fletcher’s point, instead declaring diplomacy and military strikes to be mutually exclusive. Attacking Bashar al-Assad’s resources would provoke him to commit more atrocities, would make the rebels seem weak, and is not financially feasible to begin with. Mr. Ahmed vehemently reinforced that our action will not be responsible for whatever group takes power in Syria. Limited and targeted military action will not harm civilians and will open up channels for peace talks that Assad has up until now resisted. Mr. Ahmed closed his speech with a harrowing call to consider the millions upon millions of lives that have been saved throughout history owing to foreign intervention in the face of genocide and government killings. “Realize that when you vote on the negation, you look 6 million Kurds in the eye who were saved by a no fly zone in 1991, and tell them they weren’t worth it. Those countries that intervened knew which side to choose. They looked those people in the eye and they chose humanity”
The society voted 27 – 2 – 37 to negate, deciding that the United States ought not intervene militarily in Syria.
Madeleine M. Ringwald