One Former Marine Corps Officer’s Take on Syria

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Got questions about life? Love? Parenting? Work? Write to Whit’s End, a new advice column by local husband, father, teacher, coach, former executive and former Marine Corps officer Al Whitaker.  Each week Al will address readers’ questions about anything ranging from school issues, coaching problems, relationship quandaries and more!  His experience is vast, and he holds a degree in psychology, too. To submit a question, email [email protected]

Dear Whit:

In your bio, you are described as a former Marine Corps officer. With that background, how to you feel about the U.S. taking military action in Syria?

For me as a former Marine Corps officer who has commanded young men and women, any military action we take risks lives like theirs, and, therefore, any troops that we commit to battle have a vivid, human face.  And because I believe that risking the lives of other people’s loved ones should be a last resort and undertaken only if it protects American lives and has a high probability of success, I am against an attack upon Syria by the United States.

In this particular case, I do not believe that the invasion or “missile strike” that has been proposed by the administration and others has a high probability of success; in fact, I think that it has a low probability of success. By success, I believe that proponents mean punishing Assad for using chemical weapons on his citizens and preventing him from doing it again in such a way that allows our quick withdrawal.

This strategy has a low probability of success for several reasons: first, punitive measures against a tyrant have rarely stopped him or driven him from power; second, a strike of this nature cannot be reliably circumscribed and can cause unintended “collateral damage”; third, the reaction of other terrorist groups and supporters of Syria (e.g., Russia) cannot be predicted; fourth, despite myriad assurances from administrations going back to Vietnam, we have never been able to quickly get in and get out; and finally, and most important, even if Assad is deposed, we don’t know who or what will replace him.

By learning from our mistakes, we can create a new mind-set or paradigm shift, as some policy makers like to say. To make this shift, consider the countries that have the most to gain from stability in Syria: Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, all of which are absorbing hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria. If we support these countries and other countries in the region in their efforts to remove Assad and create stability, we would have a much higher probability of success, with the added benefit of not antagonizing those countries that already view us as an interventionist bully.

Maybe it’s time to stop leading the charge into the abyss of wasted resources and lost lives and get behind those who better know the lay of the land. And maybe they can help insure a higher probability of our success in both remembering the human face of war and avoiding the traps and pitfalls that have made us stumble and fall so many times before.

Semper Fidelis.


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  1. Makes sense–great piece. It really surprised me. I assumed it would be “if not you, who?,” if not now, when?,” as it comes from an old leatherneck.

  2. So glad to read this post. I do want to add two observations: 1) the Obama administration’s “red lines” were ultimately empty bluster–and the thugocracies in the Middle East realized that 2) As frustrating as it is, the United States doesn’t have to choose between the current dictator and his jihadist opponents. The bottom line is the administration squandered its opportunity for appropriate, moral action. Let’s not deploy young Americans to bleed for Obama’s ego-bluster!

  3. So what are we supposed to do when children are getting gasses – look the other way? what if it was your kids – Whay did Burke say about evil flourishing and good men looking the other way?

  4. You want to allow them to keep using chemicals? Shall I send a link to the faces of the children who have permantly scarred by your looking the other way?

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