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An Open Letter to Our Representatives on Syria

(On Violence believes that one of the things which makes America great is the ability to hold elective representatives accountable. With an impending vote in Congress on President Obama’s desire to use military force in Syria--which we both oppose--we emailed our elected representatives to voice our opposition.)

To Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Barbara Boxer, Representative Brad Sherman and Representative Karen Bass,

We are writing to urge you to vote against the use of military force in Syria or the surrounding countries because of the ongoing civil war and Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s possible use of chemical weapons.

Before we explain why, we would like to commend both the Congress and President Obama for seeking legislative approval of this action. Though we wish this discussion had started sooner, we appreciate that the legislative branch is debating the issue.

That said, you should adamantly oppose U.S. military action in Syria. First, the U.S. cannot hold up international norms--the ostensible reason for war--without gaining broad international support. Ideally, this means getting the United Nations, NATO or the Arab League on board, as President George H.W. Bush did before the Persian Gulf War. To maintain America’s leadership in the world means not just having the military power to attack other countries, but building, maintaining and then using our diplomatic power to build coalitions.

Second, the U.S. has not exhausted all other options. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry should initiate talks between all interested parties, including Turkey, Russia, China and Iran, before the U.S. goes to war. If the U.S. truly cares about protecting the people and children of Syria, then it should let in Syrian refugees, increase funding to aid groups in Syria and pledge to financially and logistically support any peacekeeping forces the U.N. might send if a cease fire can be reached. It should not launch cruise missiles before taking these actions. Dropping bombs and firing missiles could kill many more people than Bashar al Assad killed with chemical weapons.

Third, a war in Syria has a small but not statistically insignificant chance of spiralling out of control. With multiple parties involved, including Iran, Turkey, Lebanon and Israel, starting an air war could easily escalate.

Finally, the use of cruise missile strikes has very little chance of succeeding at any of its goals. Academic research shows that the intervention of outside nations--except under terms of a ceasefire or peace keeping arrangement--tend to prolong civil wars.  It won’t signal anything to Iran or North Korea. And it will do little to ease the suffering in Syria.

Taken together, we urge you to vote no on authorizing military force in Syria.


Michael Cummings

Former Captain in the US Army and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan

Eric Cummings

four comments

Before he knew we wrote this, our dad sent a letter to his representatives. so cool.


I wrote letters to Senators Christoper ‘Chris’ Scott Murphy, anti-intervention, and Richard Blumenthal, pro-intervention. Both (or their miserable interns) responded with factual, respectable arguments.

Your argument again lacks facts. Mentioning ‘Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s [sic] possible use of chemical weapons’ is just insensitive, namely possible. Hundreds of Syrians, including many friends, died from that ‘possible’ attack. You also use the First Gulf War as an example of ‘diplomatic power to build coalitions’ through ‘gaining broad international support.’ The War and Afghanistan and Iraq War, both of which you argued against on On Violence, had ‘coalitions’ with ‘broad international support.’ The Syrian Arab Republic also supported the United States of America during the Gulf War, so your example seems counterintuitive.

If ‘the US cannot uphold international norms’ with or without international support, who can: France? Britain and France offered diplomatic and even military backing to the American strike. So did the Arab League and the North-Atlantic Treaty Organization, both of which you mention as essential.

You claimed the alternative to this strike, already with international support, as ‘talks between interested parties, including Turkey, Russia, China, and Iran.’ First, I have no idea why you picked those four countries. Second, I have no idea how America can work with ‘Russia, China, and Iran’ for ‘protecting the people and children of Syria’ when those countries not only help Syria kill its people and children but kill their own people and children.

To give you an idea of America’s priorities in Syria, the government has given millions of dollars to the Free Syrian Army but over a billion to Syrian refugees.

You make two claims without proof. How do you know that ‘dropping bombs and firing missiles [from the most-accurate aircraft in the world] could kill many more people than Bashar al Assad [sic] killed with chemical weapons,’ and what ‘academic research shows that the intervention of outside nations—except under teams of ceasefire or peace keeping arrangement—tend to prolong civil wars’? I would love to read this academic research and show you mine.

@Austin-So a couple quick responses: – I used “possible” because the intelligence surrounding the use of chemical weapons is horrifically vague. Recent reporting indicates that Matthew Shepard may have been killed because he was involved in dealing meth, not because of his sexual identity. That was one of the most widely covered murders in American history…and the media might have completely missed it! So yes, we reserve skpeticism on a lot of issues. – You also mention that “the Syrian Arab Republic also supported the USA during the gulf war, so your example seems counter-intutive”. My foreign policy positions tend to be US-self-interest agnostic. I believe that the more the U.S. aligns its foreign policy with liberalism, the better the world will be. The conduct of individuals nations with respect to the US will change over time, expecially from 20 years ago. – I believe that the support for a strike is not internationally supported. There is no UN resolution, no NATO agreement (Germany refused to support a plan), no G-20 support and no Arab League resolutions. – I picked China, Russia and America, because they are the three most powerful countries in the world. They all need to be at the table to enforce in peace settlement. I choose Turkey, Iran and would throw in Saudi Arabia and Iraq because they are all regional powers.

The main difference Austin, I think between you and I, is that you want the US to actively support the Free Syrian Army. That idea has even less support in America than launching cruise missiles. Frankly, as you openly admit, supporting the rebels requires distinguishing between al Qaeda linked groups and non-al Qaeda linked groups, a proposition I don’t trust US Special Ops with, or intelligence folks with. A look at covert US efforts shows the folly of this approach.