, Newburyport, MA


September 11, 2013

We support punitive action against Syria

To the editor:

Very few of us now alive remember that in 1935-6, Italy attacked and overran Ethiopia. Italian Air Force planes sprayed poison gas on the unprepared and unprotected population. Ethiopia’s ruler, Haile Selassie, appeared at the League of Nations in 1936 to plead for help. The member nations wrung their collective hands, passed some ineffectual resolutions scolding Italy — nothing more. Ethiopia became a trophy of the fascist Italian Empire. We will never know what the course of history would have been had the League or its individual members taken a stand. We do know what happened following the failure to do so: remilitarization of the Rhineland and the Saar, Hitler’s takeover of both Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938, and the invasion of Poland and formal beginning of World War II in 1939.

We assume that there is sufficient evidence — although most of it has not been made public — for the executive branch and the Congress to conclude that the Assad government is responsible for the use of poison gas against Syrian civilians.

Those opposing a punitive, limited attack on Syrian military assets argue correctly that limited action is unlikely to affect the ultimate outcome of the Syrian civil war. But that is not the purpose of punitive action. The purpose is to demonstrate, not only to Assad but to all others, including Assad’s allies and his enemies, that the use of chemical weapons will be punished. We believe that the United States should take punitive action.

We are not at all convinced that we should otherwise intervene in the Syrian civil war. Whether and how and for what purpose to intervene in the Syrian civil war are completely different questions, calling for different analysis and answers. It is not clear what sort of outcome would be most favorable for the stability of the region or for the international community, including the United States. The Arab League has conspicuously failed to approve armed intervention. We should limit our response to Assad’s use of gas to punitive action only.

Peter and Margaret Albrecht


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