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Professors discuss options in Syria

Kiera Johnsen | Thursday, September 19, 2013

 

Three Saint Mary’s professors debated potential alternative routes of action in the Syrian conflict during a panel discussion titled, “What is an Ethical Response to the Crisis in Syria?” in the Vender Vennet Theatre on Wednesday. The event was sponsored by the Center of Spirituality, the Department of Religious Studies and the Department of Political Science. 

Joseph Incandela, Aquinas chair and professor of religious studies, said when he was first invited to be a part of this panel two weeks ago, he believed a military strike was imminent. However, a military strike against Syria does not guarantee peace because of the uncertainty surrounding the conflict, he said.

“So even if this works quote on quote, do we trot out our mission accomplished banner and say our work is done here because all of this other killing could go on, but as long as we got the ones from chemical weapons and those are in the closet stay in the closet than we have succeeded?” Incandela said. “That seems an odd stance to take.”

Sonalini Sapra, associate professor of political science and gender and women’s studies, said leaders do not explore other alternatives to military intervention enough. 

“There are other ways the U.S. could intervene that could use multilateral institutions like the U.N.,” Sapra said. “They could use their diplomatic means to get the Syrian parties on the ground to agree to a cease-fire and then start a negotiation process that way. I think the diplomatic route has been relatively unexplored until last week. There are other ways to intervene without a military intervention.”

Marc Belanger, chair of the political science department, in contrast to Sapra and Incandela, said violence can build as well as destroy and occasionally accomplishes some goals. 

“In the last 20 years, three genocides or three situations I consider genocide were stopped not by diplomacy but by violence: I refer to Bosnia, Cambodia and Rwanda,” Belanger said. “Where in every case a far from perfect actor intervened: Vietnam in Cambodia, Rwandan forces in Rwanda and the United States and NATO in Bosnia, to bring to at least a halt for the time being extraordinary levels of destruction. On the other hand, I can certainly list other conflicts where violence did very little but destroy.”

Incandela said the best way to stop violence is to prevent it from escalating in the first place, and if it does get to that point, world leaders should consider non-violent and diplomatic options. 

“Sometimes violence is like fast food,” he said. “It is eaten in haste and not very fulfilling.”