Like many of you I have been watching with deep concern the whole matter regarding Syria, the use of chemical weapons, whether or not America will respond militarily, and so forth. My mind and heart have been all over the map. One moment I have been all for blasting Syria into the stone age, and not just for the supposed use of chemical weapons but the butchery of nearly 100,000 people utterly apart from chemical weapons. At other moments I want stick my head in the sand and simply pretend there is no Syria. It is not my issue; not my war.
In my role as a pastor for a thriving church in the upper Midwest, I have gotten loads of questions about the dynamics in the Middle East. Many of the questions concern whether or not what we see happening reflects many of the prophecies in the Old Testament. I would not presume to speak with certainty on such things, but one must admit it is noteworthy that many of the nations seemingly allied with Syria are those about which Ezekiel spoke in Ezekiel 38, written approximately 2,500 years ago. It is uncanny, actually, and ought to at least cause us to offer a questioning glance heavenward.
But most of the questions I get are simply about what we should or should not be doing about Syria. After weeks of praying, thinking, crying, and observing, I have come to a rather firm conclusion.
Here it is: I do not think we should attack Syria. This is hard for me because I despise tyrants and think that tyrants who butcher people ought to be stopped. However, like is the case with many things within the framework of time and space, things are simply not that neat and tidy. Consider these particular reasons for my conclusion:
First, while Bashar al-Assad is a horrible bully, and I would generally love to see him gone, the alternatives are no better; perhaps even worse. Regardless of America’s statements against regime change, any military assault against Syria may have great potential to expedite some kind of regime change. Much of the sympathy stirred up because of the use of chemical weapons it being directed rightly toward the Syrian people, and many of them are supporting the rebels. But the core of the rebel leadership today is influenced by al-Qaeda, and as atrocious as al-Assad is, al-Qaeda, who we must remember is America’s mortal-enemy, would be far worse were it allowed a firm grip on Syria’s reigns. Some attack on Syria by the United States, and then whatever symmetrical or asymmetrical responses al-Assad would initiate, have potential for escalation to such a point that regime change is inevitable. With the alternatives being so bad, some constraint in this regard would be prudent.
Secondly, and very few people are talking about this, but there is actually a vibrant Christian community in Syria that appreciates the general favor al-Assad has granted them throughout the years. This community will be wiped out by an al-Qaeda oriented government. One look at how the Muslim Brotherhood has treated the Christian community in Egypt gives one some appreciation for this eventuality. Were the United States to attack Syria, perhaps bringing about some regime change, the odds are not going to be in the favor of the Christian community that exists there.
Thirdly, I am confident that a western strike against Syria will create no end of nightmarish scenarios for Israel as well as other regional friends like Jordan. Iran, Syria, their terrorists proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, and even Russia, are itching for some confrontation with Israel. Now, that said, I have to confess to having total confidence in Israel’s ability to take care of itself. It is the one nation in the entire conversation that I think has absolute resolve and readiness for whatever may come. And yet the blow-back would still be strong against Israel and other regional friends, pulling the United States further into the conflict and stimulating further escalation all the way around, and, perhaps more importantly, taking what is already a significant humanitarian crisis to a whole other level.
Fourthly, with these aforementioned items in mind, it appears there is no clear end-game in store should America strike. It is naïve to think that we will just punish al-Assad, as eager as we might be for him to be punished. Here is the vital point: he will not care. If he is willing to slaughter 100,000-plus of his own citizens, he will not care one wit about whatever so-called punishment we inflict upon him. To merely punish him, therefore, will just not be enough, which means escalation will likely happen. And—importantly—if punishment is designed to simply make western powers like America feel better, that is just not enough of a reason to wade into these things.
Fifthly, I have to confess that the waffling in Washington, D. C., leaves me greatly dismayed and lacking confidence in our nation’s leadership. Let me be clear: I have absolute confidence in our soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines. I, however, am deeply concerned by the squishiness of those in both our executive branch and legislative branch. In a statement: I do not think they know what they are doing. And that leaves me gravely concerned, what with so much at stake.
For these reasons, and some others that I have not mentioned, I cannot support a strike on Syria. The hawkish nature that is embedded within me wishes I could. Like I suggested above, I cannot stand tyranny, and one sad detail of history is that when tyranny goes unchecked terrible things happen. But in this case there are tyrants on each side, some that are still worse than what we see currently ruling from Damascus. Things just are not always so black and white.
Now, I do understand that if we do not do something it may embolden Iran and other terror-states. They will consider us to be weak and incapable. That may be true, but I tend to think they already believe that about the United States. I understand that President Obama insisted that a red-line not be crossed, and that if it were we would respond. While I appreciate that keeping our word is vital, I still believe that the consequences as outlined above far outweigh our felt desire to reinforce naïve rhetoric. Were Iran to test us as a nation, or an ally like Israel, then we can assess at that time just how to respond, and I would think respond we must. At the moment however, such a direct testing has not happened, neither from Iran or Syria. Other than sparing a bit of pride, I am not convinced we have a national-security stake in this fight, at least as it is right now. And—again—the consequences as outlined above must be considered.
So what must we do—particularly we who are followers of Christ? I think the most obvious answer of all is to pray. Pray that our national leaders would have great wisdom, courage and humility. Despite all the things I am writing here, I do not pretend to have all the answers, and I know I cannot imagine what our president and his team must be forced to look at and feel each and every day. We must pray for them. And we must pray for the Syrians. And we cannot forget to pray for the Syrian Christians that are caught right in the middle of the whole thing. Prayer that God would be merciful, that he would sovereignly move to wind down the civil war, raise up some moderating powers of influence from within Syria, and otherwise protect the surrounding nations like Israel and Jordan and Turkey, would be worthwhile.
Moreover, we should consider ways to meet the humanitarian needs that are so real right now. Identifying and supporting credible aid groups can be an important way to engage the entire crisis.
Lastly, should the inevitable happen, despite my own stated misgivings, and we attack and then things escalate, we need to prayerfully support our efforts with courage and determination. The reality is, if we are to engage it, for right or wrong, we need to then see it through to the end, and do so as reasonably well as is possible. There may be a lot of hedging and hand-wringing right now, but there cannot be such if, in fact, the missiles start to fly.