PORTLAND – The situation in Syria is chilling and heartbreaking. It is impossible to see the pictures of children dead from poison gas and not be moved. The challenge is to be moved in ways that reflect well on who we are as a people.

Peace Action Maine believes that the challenge, to quote President Carter quoting Martin Luther King, is how to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence.

President Obama is seeking authorization for military action against Syria to avenge children who are already dead and prevent future deaths. Though this is emotionally tempting, it is wrong.

Secretary of State John Kerry has told us that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is directly implicated in the attacks. This is not the first time that our government has insisted that evidence of another country’s barbarism is clear.

That Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was described by then-CIA Director George Tenet as a “slam dunk.” In fact, there were no weapons and there had been no evidence.

According to Mint News, an independent American agency, interviews in Syria point to rebels as responsible for the poison discharge. Truthout reporter Garrett Porter writes that careful analysis of official U.S. government statements and the identified intelligence suggests that al-Assad’s involvement is not certain.

In the name of national security, our government is refusing to disclose all that it knows about Syria and how it knows it.

Americans know that private interests often influence policy, and veils of secrecy are often erected to hide those interests. And so we should question the true motives for judging Syria. What and who are the powers operating behind the scenes? Are we just feeding a war or corporate economy?

The U.S. cannot make the most serious of accusations against a sovereign nation when the basis for that accusation and the full range of players involved are intentionally hidden.

Whether Syria is guilty should not be decided by one country alone. The guilt of a nation is an international matter and should be weighed by an international tribunal. That may be the United Nations as a whole, the U.N. Security Council, the World Court or an informal summit of nations. America cannot be the sole judge.

Even if Syria is guilty, what the United States is proposing will not painlessly make weapons and disagreement go away. What the U.S. is proposing is war. Any time missiles are launched, it is an act of war. We need to be clear about what this means.

The American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have both lasted for years. Thousands of Americans have died in the field and committed suicide. By conservative estimates, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have been killed, many of them children.

Our economy has been devastated and will not easily recover. Their economies and infrastructures have been devastated and will not easily recover.

None of this has made us safer or better-liked in the region or the world. Our military actions have enriched weapons manufacturers, the mercenaries on our payroll and the corporations that gain resources and inexpensive labor, but they have not made America or the world better.

War is not a solution. Possible responses to Syria are not limited to bombing or doing nothing. Dialogue; sanctions; boycotts; the end of arms sales and military aid — these are techniques likely to end crimes against humanity without committing new ones.

A foreign nation that is not directly threatening our safety should be dealt with internationally, in accordance with the sovereignty of nations. The United States should be trying to open negotiations with Russia, China and others — those that may be allies and those not — to craft a way to respond to dead children that will not create more dead children.

And if we really care about dead children, then we should be devoting our resources to helping the millions of Syrians who have been displaced from their homes by violence that began before the gas attacks. Providing food, clothing, building materials and the like is less expensive than weapons or troops. And food makes friends more effectively than missiles.

There are many things the United States could do in response to atrocities in Syria. Authorizing a war, by whatever name, is arguably the worst. We do not overcome oppression and violence by engaging in oppression and violence.

Peace Action Maine urges readers to let their senators and congressional representatives and the media know they oppose war.

Seth Berner is the chair of Peace Action Maine, a Portland-based statewide organization dedicated to bringing peace to Maine and to the world.


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