When asking whether a particular war is justified, the answer is usually a matter of perspective. For most of those Syrian citizens who’ve faced violent oppression from forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad for the past two years, that answer has become a resounding “yes.”
From Assad’s perspective, the war is justified too. After all, these people in 2011 had dared to speak out against his rule. When Assad’s father, Hafez, faced similar dissent while running the country in the early 1980s, a bloody, merciless crackdown usually did the trick.
For the Alawite minority in Syria, who comprise barely 10 percent of Syria’s population and follow the same offshoot of Shia Islam as the Assads, the war is justified as well – as a matter of survival. The Assad family, like the post-World War I French colonial government, used the Alawites as a wedge to divide and control the country. The bitterness and animosity built up over the decades between Syria’s Alawites and the rest of its population makes the threat of post-Assad ethnic cleansing a looming concern. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see present-day Latakia Province, comprising much of what was called the “Alawite State” by the French colonial regime, make a push to secede from a post-Assad Syria.
From President Barack Obama’s point of view, some sort of military action is justified. His critics like to compare Obama’s efforts to intervene in Syria with the events of 2003, when President George W. Bush attacked Iraq. But Obama isn’t talking about starting a war; Syria is already at war. Nor does Obama appear interested in anything similar to the 200,000-strong force Bush sent to occupy Iraq in a long, nation-building campaign that most today would agree was mishandled.