Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.
It is in this vital national national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.
-Donald Trump, April 6, 2017
Short version of this post: is he right?
Long version: Defining our “vital national security interests” is hard, mostly because I don’t think everyone in the country can agree upon what they are. We’ve fought some extremely questionable wars and quite a few downright stupid ones that split public opinion because so many Americans disagreed that the thing we were going to war over was the sort of thing we should have been fighting for.
For example, Americans living in the west might have thought the War of 1812 was a great idea in the face of perceived British arming and agitating the Indian tribes, but it wasn’t such a good idea to New Englanders who felt that the war would be needless and disastrous for the maritime trade that was vital to their economic well-being. The low level of public support made waging that war very difficult. Still, there were grievances that the US had against the British Empire at the time and those were ultimately resolved by the time the war ended.
Sometimes, the reason for going to war is a good one, but war isn’t necessarily the best option. Consider the Iraq War. I think most people did agree that preventing nuclear weapons proliferation was a vital national security interest, but those who disagreed questioned whether war was the most desirable option to attain that particular goal. We’re still dealing with the consequences of that war and will be for a long time to come. We seem to have created a vital national security interest worse than the one that existed under the old regime.
Then you get operations like Libya, in which there wasn’t any discernible vital national security interest nor was war a good option. Same as Iraq, we may have created a threat to our vital national security interests where one didn’t exist before.
In Syria, I’m not sure what the vital national security interest is for seeking the removal of the Assad regime or even attacking it. We are bound by no treaties to involve ourselves in that war. Syria is not a threat to us. We have no major economic interests there either.
Maybe the issue is that Assad has killed his own people. If so, why single out that one country? Lots of countries do it. Is it that he used chemical weapons? If so, what does it matter to us if he uses them within his own borders?
What’s needed is a discussion about what the vital national security interests of the United States are and when it is appropriate to use military force to serve them.
This is a Discourses post. Don’t waste time trying to prove right or wrong or use any personal attacks. This isn’t the place for it. It’s a “safe space” as the college kids say these days. The goal is to sound out all ideas without anyone being shouted down, to learn, and to get a greater understanding of the issue. You don’t get that when you bitch at each other.
Here are a few questions to serve as conversation starters. You don’t have to answer any of them to join the discussion, but some people may find it helpful to have a jumping-off point.
- What are the vital national security interests of the United States anyway? What would you consider to be some of the primary economic, political, and military interests worth fighting about?
- When is war the best option and if we do choose war, how far should we take it in instances in which our vital national security interests are threatened? Regime change, total war, limited retaliatory strikes, or what?
- Who should the President of the USA need to obtain approval from before launching an attack against another country that has threatened our vital national security interests, if anybody? The UN? Congress? In what circumstances does he need no no approval from anyone?
I’m really wondering about this. It doesn’t seem to me that anything going on in Syria is a vital interest to us or that Trump’s unilateral response was appropriate, but I want to know what you guys think.