Obama Offers False Choice on Syria


President Obama's "either/or framing makes inaction appear both immoral and so permissive that it opens the door to more evil," Parham says. (Photo: Pete Souza/White House)
President Obama has set forth a false choice: Do nothing about Syria's use of chemical weapons or bomb Syria.

The president said, "I do have to ask people, well, if, in fact, you're outraged by the slaughter of innocent people, what are you doing about it?"

He answered, "[E]ither we resign ourselves to saying, there's nothing we can do ... or we make decisions."

For him, making a decision means bombing Syria.

Claiming that the credibility of Congress and the international community was on the line, Obama said that if "we" don't militarily strike Syria, then Syria and other nations will be emboldened to use chemical weapons in the future against civilians.

Without reinforcing international norms against chemical weapons, then "international norms begin to erode and other despots and authoritarian regimes can start looking and saying that's something we can get away with," said the president in a press conference in Stockholm.

The either/or framing makes inaction appear both immoral and so permissive that it opens the door to more evil.

The either/or framing makes military action appear righteous.

But is such framing realistic? Is military action the only real option?

If, as Obama said, there is no rush for an immediate strike, then would it not be more prudent for the United States to invest energetically with the international community to find other solutions, rather than to act in isolation from the global community with only a military solution?

And why act with a military solution when the unknown consequences are so great about which opposition faction would replace the Syrian regime?

The administration claims a growing "moderate" opposition to the Syrian regime – contrary to intelligence sources. But the administration simply doesn't know for sure about the extent and strength of the opposition. Media reports have disclosed a butchery among some opposition forces.

What is clear is that global Christian leaders have spoken against a military strike. From Pope Francis to Archbishop Welby, from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to Middle East church leaders, from mainline Protestants to evangelicals, the overwhelming message has been opposition to military intervention.

What is clear from almost every moral theologian is that the proposed strike fails to pass the time-honored rules of "Just War." EthicsDaily.com, National Catholic Report and The Christian Post have all posted such pieces.

What is also clear is that American public opinion is opposed to military intervention in Syria. An ABC News/Washington Post poll last week found that 59 percent of those surveyed were against unilateral U.S. strikes, compared to 36 percent who favored them.

A Pew Research poll found that 48 percent of Americans opposed airstrikes on Syria, compared to 29 percent in support of such an attack.

According to a poll by the National Association of Evangelicals, 62.5 percent of its members oppose a Syrian strike.

Pope Francis has called the solution of a military strike "futile."

In a letter to G-20 leaders, he called on them "to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution." He urged them "to seek ... a peaceful solution through dialogue and negotiation of the parties, unanimously supported by the international community."

President Obama is scheduled to address the nation on Tuesday, Sept. 10, to persuade the country to support his solution.

Will we take the more difficult and less travelled road? Or the road to war?

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

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