George Weigel: Time to Reset U.S. Policy on Syria

Defending an international norm with a limited strike? "Absent serious ends, there can be no serious consideration of means," Weigel argues.

In Naitonal Review today, George Weigel takes up the question of whether the proposed U.S. strike on Syria is justified according to just war criteria.

The problem with our public debate, he suggests, is that is has focused almost entirely on the "means" (military action v. diplomacy) while it has mostly ignored the "ends" (regime change v. punishment, etc) of U.S. policy on Syria. The reason for this skewed approach, he writes, is that the Obama administration has offered a sharply limited goal for its proposed military intervention in Syria--punish Assad and deter future use of chemical weapons. . For the moment, that plan is on hold while the Obama administration studies Putin's proposal to remove control of Syria's WMDs from Assad. Weigel writes that

what has been missing from the Obama administration’s Syria policy: a strategically and morally defensible definition of the end being sought. Now, the refusal to define the appropriate end — a Syria (in whatever form) safe for its people, posing no threat to its neighbors, and detached from the evil purposes of both the Iranian regime and various jihadists — has led to the absurd situation in which the goal of U.S. policy has been reduced to the defense of a “norm,” which in this instance is the up-market term for a taboo (albeit a useful taboo). Moreover, it is now proposed, the defense of that useful taboo will be achieved in de facto alliance with Putin’s Russia, long one of the chief international obstacles to getting traction on WMD-proliferation issues around the world.

The just war framework, he writes, emphasizes the need for the cause to be "just" and means the "ends" of any proposed military internvention must be thoroughly articulated.

 Means detached from ends are not serious, although they may be lethal. A measure of clarity about the morally and politically appropriate end being sought by those who legitimately bear responsibility for the common good — those who have what we might call moral competence de guerre — is thus the absolute prerequisite to considering appropriate means intelligently.