Syrian Views on Obama's Red Line: The Ethical Case for Strikes against Assad

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2 Scopus citations


Much ink has been spilled on the pros and cons of U.S. president Barack Obama's decision not to strike the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad after that regime launched a deadly chemical weapons attack in 2013. Often missing from those debates, however, are the perspectives of Syrians themselves. While not all Syrians oppose Assad, and not all opponents endorsed intervention, many Syrian oppositionists resolutely called for Obama to uphold his red line militarily. As part of the roundtable The Ethics of Limited Strikes, this essay analyzes diverse expressions of such opinion and finds that they highlight three dimensions of the ethical case for limited strikes against Assad. First, they remind us that the ethical context of the red line question was many Syrians' sense of abandonment by the international community. Second, they emphasize the ethical stakes of the limited strikes; namely an opportunity to hold the Syrian regime accountable, weaken it from within, and thus change the equation of the war. Third, they make sense of the ethical consequences of the nonintervention outcome, and especially its effect in deepening civilians' despair, accelerating extremism, and convincing Assad and his allies that they could kill with impunity. These views controvert both legalistic arguments precluding military intervention and assumptions that U.S. intervention is always imperialist and warmongering. In this case, consideration of the case for military intervention from the viewpoint of those on whose behalf the intervention would have taken place challenges us to think deeply about circumstances in which limited strikes might be not only ethically justified but also imperative.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-200
Number of pages12
JournalEthics and International Affairs
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • Barack Obama
  • Bashar al-Assad
  • chemical weapons
  • humanitarian intervention
  • limited strikes
  • Middle East
  • military intervention
  • red line
  • Russia
  • Syria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Political Science and International Relations

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