As defined by Wikipedia, "a 'false flag' (or black flag) describes covert military or paramilitary operations designed to deceive in such a way that the operations appear as though they are being carried out by other entities, groups, or nations than those who actually planned and executed them." Throughout world history, though most commonly associated with naval warfare, false flag attacks have also occurred on land in many instances to influence political events or to initiate or escalate military adventurism. I will leave it to the reader to research the proximate causes to the following conflicts or the actual incidents themselves, namely: the sinking of the USS Maine in 1898, leading to the Spanish-American War, the "Mukden Incident" in 1931 as reason for the Japanese to invade China, the still disputed 1933 arson attack on the Reichtag Building in Berlin leading to Nazi accusations against the Communists, the subsequent suspension of civil liberties, and Hitler's rise to power, and finally the controversial "Gulf of Tonkin incident" where the fact of a naval engagement with North Vietnamese gun boats resulting in no casualties aboard an American destroyer, and an imaginary encounter (from false radar intercepts in heavy weather) two days later led to a long ,costly, and fruitless war.
With estimates of civilian and combatant deaths in Syria since March of 2011, ranging from 80,000 to 110,000, it is interesting that possible poison gas caused deaths amounting to possibly 1,300. Though this is horrible by the standards of Jus in Bello (justice in war) under Just War Theory, I wonder if this is a sufficient condition for American involvement.
With each passing day more evidence has emerged from UN investigator interviews with both casualties and medical workers, that the poison gas attacks may have been initiated by "rebel forces" in a false flag attempt to pin responsibility on the Assad regime and thus force the intervention of outside military forces on the side of the rebels. This possibility has been floated in not so widely circulated press reports from embedded media and freelance sources both in the U.S. and international media. For anyone willing to search the web this alternative to the conventional narrative is not hard to find.
This raises several questions about an area of the world that has been beset by ruthless kings, dictators, invaders, and colonialists, since the days of the Old Testament, some 7,000 years ago. These states have been in various degrees of internal strife from competing tribes or religious sects, or in hot wars between one another with short intermissions for cold-war re-arming for nearly as long. Many of these countries in North Africa, the Arabian peninsula, and the horn of Africa were former colonies of the British, Belgians, French, Germans, Italians, and Portuguese. America's more recent interest in the area has of course been primarily focused on the free flow of oil, less to benefit our interests of late, than to assure the former colonial powers an uninterrupted supply. Why is that our concern in an environment of ever more domestic and North American sources of supply?
For the purposes of this treatise my aim is to get the reader to consider whether any vital strategic American interest is served thru an intervention in what the main stream media calls a "civil war," but may really be a jihadist overthrow of the Assad regime cloaked in "Arab Spring" camouflage, and which may be a convenient distraction of the American public from pressing issues at home where both the Executive and Legislative Branches may benefit by avoiding investigations, debate, and difficult choices.
Recent polls of the American public suggest that after nearly sixty three years of both hot and cold war beginning with Korea in 1950, we are not so much "war-weary," but perhaps becoming more anti-interventionalist, rather than isolationist. Further, the confidence level in all branches of American government and associated agencies and bureaucracies is at the lowest ebb in generations. A few in congress appear to subscribe to the notion articulated by Thomas Jefferson in a 1799 letter to Elbridge Gerry, a signer to the Declaration of Independence and later Vice-President in the James Madison administration: "I am for free commerce with all nations, political connection with none, and little or no diplomatic establishment. And I am not for linking ourselves by new treaties with the quarrels of Europe, entering that field of slaughter to preserve their balance or joining in the confederacy of Kings to war against the principles of liberty." In an earlier 1792 letter to Gouverneur Morris, a former Pennsylvania delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Jefferson wrote: "We surely cannot deny to any nation that right wherein our own government is founded, that every one may govern itself according to whatever form it pleases and change those forms at its own will, and that it may transact its business with foreign nations through whatever organ it thinks proper, whether king, convention, assembly, committee, president, or anything else it may choose. The will of the nation is the only thing essential to be regarded."
If we follow Jefferson's reasoning and warnings on foreign entanglements, it may be argued that he is a Realist with regard to the three primary traditions of thought regarding the ethics of war and peace. The other two schools of thought are Just War and Pacifism (the latter, to be discussed later).
For most of American history our leaders (and more recently our involvement with UN or NATO sanctioned actions) have engaged in foreign adventures by a reasoning whose basis is the philosophy of Aristotle, Cicero, and Augustine: namely: Just War Theory. "Many of the rules developed by this tradition have since been codified into contemporary international laws governing armed conflict, such as the United Nations Charter, The Hague [conventions of 1899 and 1907], and the Geneva Convention [of 1925 which specifically deals with the issue of the use of poison gas (in the aftermath of the wholesale slaughter and suffering caused by it during WWI)]."1
Given this, it is hard to argue against the Declarations of War against the Axis powers in WWI and WWII. However, the application Just War Theory to American involvements where no emphatic constitutionally mandated "declarations" have occurred since December of 1941, begs the question of why Congress has abdicated its authority under Article 1, Section 8, and by its failure to accept its responsibility has created a de facto "imperial Executive?"
Before answering that question, let's once again digress to two additional writings by Jefferson subsequent to both his presidency from 1801 - 1809, and the War of 1812. These letters, both to James Munroe in 1816 and 1823, both reveal that Jefferson continued to ponder the issues of not only the morality of war but whether all warfare is ultimately about governance, or as Carl von Clausewitz famously suggested, that war "is the continuation of policy by other means." Jefferson wrote: " Countries...have a right to be free, and we have a right to aid them, as a strong man has a right to assist a weak one assailed by a robber or murderer." The 1823 letter elaborates with: "Although we have no right to intermeddle with the form of government of other nations, yet it is lawful to wish to see no emperors nor kings in our hemisphere."
Considering this reasoning, and in light of the history of carnage caused on by both Democide2 and Genocide in the twentieth century, and the cost to America both in blood and money, one wonders whether the former "colonial powers" have a greater stake in Syria, as well as the rest of North Africa, and the Middle East, than we do. In a warning to Lafayette in 1915, Jefferson wrote: "Instead of that liberty which takes root and growth in the progress of reason, if recovered by more force or accident, it becomes with an unprepared people a tyranny still of the many, the few, or the one." And what about the twenty-two member Arab League founded in 1945? Is this not their neighborhood to pacify?
Here then is the crux of the decision the American people need to make through their representatives in Washington. Is the premise of the intervention correct? Is there irrefutable proof of who used the chemical weapons, and why? Does it even make sense for an Assad regime already under intense scrutiny by allies and mid-east rival states alike to bring down the wrath and condemnation of the world when they have arguably been pushing back successfully against the jihadists now allied with the Free Syrian Army? Why would Assad want to snatch defeat at the hands of a broader coalition from victory over the rebel forces? Does America wish to become Al Queda's air force in Syria?
Either way, what is America's vital strategic interest in the outcome? Are we just once again doing the work of cleaning the leftover dirty laundry from the former colonial powers we have allowed ourselves to become overly entangled with since the end of WWII? The cost of this, be it the colossal failure to rescue the former French colony of Vietnam from the march of communism in the 1960's or the Soviet's cost in men, and material, from their nine year expansionism in Afghanistan in the late '70's and '80's, has been horrendous. Have we not learned from our prior experiences not to step into the middle of a circular firing squad when there is much to lose and little to gain? Perhaps a little cynicism can inform reason. Would entering this muddled fray of factional fighting in Syria to back up a four month old presidential improvisation about "red lines" be adequate justification under Just War Theory? In light of Jefferson's apparent alignment with Realism, I think not!
For the purposes of this essay, I have greatly oversimplified the definitions of the three traditions underlying the ethics of war and peace, and the reader is invited to research them for himself, yet it would be fairly easy to categorize nearly every American president since Theodore Roosevelt in the camp of the Just War Theorists, be they "neo-cons" or "progressives." There always seems to have been some moral underpinning as rationalization for war. I contend, that some have been more rooted in fact, while others may have eventuated from "false flag" attacks as initially discussed. America needs to be very careful in Syria, or we once again may fall prey to temptations born of fallacies. Perhaps the recent vote in the British Parliament against intervention was indicative of these concerns.
Some principled politicians on both side of the aisle in Washington are Realists, like Jefferson, or Pacifists, believing that no war and the associated killing is ever justified, and further, that diplomacy can always avoid it. Given human nature since the days of Cain and Abel, however, this view may be overly Pollyannaish.
In conclusion, it is important to note that the last constitutionally declared war was WWII. It is also the last war which resulted in the "unconditional surrender" by the losing side. No conflict since has been begun under strict accordance with Article 1, Section 8. It is further noteworthy that no armed overseas action has since ended with a wholly satisfactory outcome or unintended consequences. In fact, even WWII resulted in the four way partition of Berlin. Korea ended in stalemate, and officially the entire peninsula remains in a state of war sixty years after the 1953 ceasefire. Neither was there particularly good and permanent peaceful regional outcomes after Bosnia, the one hundred hours of Gulf War I, Iraq (still embroiled in sectarian violence, post American withdrawal), or Afghanistan, which is ongoing.
If America had strictly adhered to the Just war theory, we would have gone to war with Stalin in the early 1930's when seven million Ukrainians were starved in their own land, or in subsequent purges which left possibly 30 to 40 million dead, or with Mao in China where between 40 and 80 million were starved or executed during his "great leap forward," and later the "cultural revolution." Thus, is America is going to carefully pick the battles it wishes to fight? I would at least suggest some level of consistency. And rather one born NOT of Just War Theory, but of Realism.
There is plenty here for the reader to consider: not the least of which is the final point on Syria as a convenient distraction of the American public from more pressing domestic issues on which both we and our representatives ought to be focused. I ask the following questions and so should the thoughtful reader who is invited to pose his own: With the obvious reluctance of the public to act militarily in Syria, is the leadership on BOTH sides of the aisle out of touch with their constituents? With the approval numbers for both the Executive and Legislative branches at new lows for failing to deal with economic, fiscal, immigration, health insurance, administration scandals, regulatory overreach, etc., is it just easier for Washington to change the subject knowing that the people historically rally around the flag during times of war? Is it easier to fire cruise missiles than to discuss and debate the debt limit or "continuing resolutions?" With distrust of the government bureaucracies at such high levels after revelations about the DOJ, IRS, and NSA, is it any wonder regular folks have become somewhat cynical of their leaders? Where, by the way is the "anti-war left?"
I implore you over the next week to do your own research on these issues. Undoubtedly, you will generate more and better questions of your own. Then, armed with all you have learned and considered, call or write your Representative and Senators and express your views to those who are representing you. If they do not know where you stand they will as they always have, vote party before country. For the sake of our men and women in uniform, and those of you who are their parents; and the citizens in whose name any conflict may be undertaken, it is incumbent on you to participate in this decision being mindful of one last missive from Jefferson in 1793: "Our desire is to pursue ourselves the path of peace as the only one leading surely to prosperity."
 "War," Journal article first published Feb. 2000; substantive revision in Jul. 2005 in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
 "Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900," By R.J. Rummel, Charlottesville, Virginia: Center for National Security Law, School of Law, University of Virginia, 1997; and Transaction Publishers, Rutgers University.