Some humanitarians implement their ideas through charity, love, and intellectual means. Other humanitarians do so at gunpoint. We often apply the term “government” to the latter group. Throughout modern history, we see government embarking on missions of humanity and aid. The United States government has done so in many parts of the world, and it now stands to do the same in Syria. A guise of humanity cannot cloak the ever-present gun. Government’s “humanitarian” interventions present a dubious moral and practical problem.

On Wednesday, the media reported that roughly two hundred died when the Syrian government attacked a section of Damascus with chemical weapons. The BBC notes that the Syrian rebels claimed over a thousand dead. Beyond that, the attack appears quite odd, considering that United Nations inspectors are present in Syria. (The situation appears even murkier, considering instances where chemical attacks supposedly happened, but there is no answer if Syrian rebels or government forces hold responsibility.) Regardless of the precise number, the BBC further notes that the attack’s scale and casualties make it a grave conundrum to the American government. President Obama proclaimed that use of chemical weapons equated to a “red line” for intervening in the conflict. Now, with such a serious, clear chemical attack, the United States government again finds itself pondering military intervention. And, in this case, the humanitarian element plays greatly into such a decision. Truly analyzing this situation from a perspective of liberty requires several things: empathy and principles.

The Syrian situation shows many tragedies humanity experiences. Among these are war, bloody and painful deaths, destroyed families, and wrought destruction armed conflict only brings. The sorrows exist just as all the others in World War II’s Europe, Armenia, Rwanda, and every age of mankind’s existence. While I listed empathy as important in thinking about the situation, we must caution ourselves to prevent sympathy and emotion from taking hold and guiding our answers. When one does so, the gun’s muzzle appears like more of a solution.

The frank, philosophical truth of the matter relates more to the problem of intervening at a governmental level than the morality of the scenario. It is already, essentially, universally agreed that the horrors of Syria’s conflict are wrong and horrendous. This aspect of Syrian conflict requires no further discussion. But too often we fall into a mode of thinking that foreign governments’ force and violence serve as a real solution to these sorts of problems. In such a case with absence of attack against the American government, intervention is clearly a form of aggression against a party unrelated and separate from the United States. Accepting this governmental use of force as valid and just causes even more implications. If it’s acceptable for the United States to send its military to step into a foreign conflict, then what are the parameters of future interventions? When thinking in these terms, we inevitably find our concerns of philosophy and morality replaced by pragmatism and practicality.

Politicians, thinkers, and those in the media often use the term “American interests” in regards to foreign policy. Many seek policies not within the confines of philosophic truth but what they see as producing the “best” outcome. They concern themselves wholly with practical matters and reject the necessity of discussing the ideas and principles. But let’s give the situation the attention and critical analysis it truly deserves.

If the vague, fuzzy “American interests” serve as the guiding principle, then intervention in Syria looks more absurd than other American interventions. The same sort of Islamists radicals fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other fronts of the War on Terror constitute the Syrian rebels. As I previously noted, Al Qaeda-associated militants and Islamists found important roles within the rebel movement. And recently, the Telegraph reported that Islamic fighters “captured a Syrian regime helicopter base,” making their potential power greater. Is it really in “American interests” to continue battling our enemies in one corner of the world and aid them in another? The facts force viewing the War on Terror and a subsequent aid action in Syria as either incredibly imbecilic or an utter farce.

An issue we haven’t yet discussed is the real substance of the humanitarian interests. While the interests might be sincere on the part of many, pondering the matter one likely finds that most governments paint their wars of intervention as inherently humanitarian. For, it appears absurd that a government would attack another nation without there being some perceived benefit to both the invaders and the inhabitants. Therefore, we may view nearly all wars of this sort as humanitarian missions in varying degrees. Intervention’s results dot the globe. In Vietnam, Somalia, Afghanistan, and other nations, American military intervention couldn’t bring true humanitarian results. The primary reason relates to where originates the means to achieve actual, humane results. Though entities may always send aid (i.e. charity), the “true” solutions can come only from free markets. Across the world, it was free markets that brought innumerable numbers of people from deplorable conditions. Although non-governmental charity naturally possesses a place in humanitarian endeavors, it cannot replace the market’s power. Thus, no matter how improbable or impractical, the only real and complete solution to these humanitarian crises is the free market.

We find, then, the truth uncomfortable for too many. Interventions in the name of humanity ultimately equate to pointing a gun. This is not diminishing the horrors Syrian rebel and government forces commit, but these conclusions result from thinking at a deeper level. Often, one jumps to solutions carrying weight that drags them into difficult and muddled implications. Our world isn’t one where simplistic answers exist as solutions. It is also frequent that one encounters difficulty in even coming to rational conclusions or one finds solutions that barely seem to exist. The answer in humanitarian crises (i.e. the free market) for both those aiding and needing resides in this seemingly alien and lonely place. Many, admittedly, find this rather unsettling, but it is the case. Changing the world presents a separate question. Though many find the free market solution to humanitarian problems undesirable, history and reason agree with it. It does not attempt to circumvent what is and force into reality what isn’t.


Christian Lopac | Wabash College | @CLopac