Syria Shift?

September 11, 2013

Although a U.S. attack on Syria felt nearly inevitable the last few weeks, this week already brought some promising muting to the beating of the war drums. The best evidence that President Barack Obama's misguided plan is falling apart came last night with his primetime address on the topic. His speech brought no new facts and arguments as he instead merely rehashed his tired claims already being rejected by a skeptical public and Congress. His speech likely accomplished nothing - other than canceling some TV reruns - as it seems doubtful it persuaded anyone not already backing his plan for illegal and immoral military strikes. Obama gave his war speech from the blood-red East Wing, the room where he announced the killing of Osama bin Laden (see post here). That likely is no coincidence as he hopes the public will once again like his foreign policy efforts.

Once he started speaking, Obama made the same illogical claim that we must either use military force or not act at all. He continues to misstate the facts since there are non-military options that would still constitute a meaningful response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Ironically, Russian leader Vladimir Putin - whose record on key democratic values remains problematic - showed Obama how diplomacy could actually be the solution to this case. Obama is handling this situation so poorly that he may help Putin gain a reputation as a reasonable peacemaker! In Obama's speech last night, he also again failed to explain how he can promote international norms (of not using chemical weapons) by violating international norms (acting outside the United Nations). Maybe it was just my TV's audio feed not coming in well, but when I closed my eyes it sure sounded like a speech from former President George W. Bush! So much for the change we can believe in. Obama's close to his speech particularly irked me as he declared:

God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.
I know that every president since Ronald Reagan routinely throws out the "God bless" statements at the end of speeches without any real meaning. However, it still felt particularly wrong to so casually use the phrase at the end of a speech promoting war. If Obama really meant the ending, then he likely negated the rest of his speech.

Although Obama has faith in his war plans, most faith leaders do not. Christian leaders have been practically unanimous in speaking out against the proposed military strikes. A few of the many speaking out against Obama's war plans have been: Pope Francis, Leith Anderson (head of the National Association of Evangelicals), Mennonite Central Committee, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the leaders of more than three dozen religious groups (including Christian Church, Church of the Brethren, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, and other Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups). Even Southern Baptist leaders have criticized Obama's plans, which is a pleasant surprise since they were so for the Iraq war that they were even called by some the "war church." I co-authored a study examining Southern Baptist rhetoric surrounding the Iraq war, which included problematic arguments (a summary of the study can be found here). With Syria, however, some of the same Southern Baptist leaders have spoken out in opposition. Some of the opposition might be because they generally oppose anything from Obama, but at least they are coming out against war. Perhaps we should credit Obama for finally turning Southern Baptists against war! Other Baptist leaders have consistently spoken out against unjust military intervention. For instance, Robert Parham of Ethics Daily rightly rebuked Bush on Iraq and Obama on Syria with essentially the same moral framework utilized in both cases. Such moral consistency is especially needed in times when our nation's leaders try to talk the nation into war. Hopefully Obama will listen to the strong anti-war voice of the nation's faith leaders.