Once again our nation is contemplating an act of war, entering into one of the most solemn debates a society can have. It's worth restating some fundamental principles as that debate begins, especially for those of us who support economic justice, progressive ideals, and the reinvigoration of American democracy.
The first principle is respect for the Constitution.
Whatever your opinions about the President's national security policy, he unquestionably did the right thing this week when he affirmed Congress' role in matters of war. That's a clear break from the practices of the recent past, and he deserves praise for it.
The second principle is nonpartisanship.
"Nonpartisanship" describes ideas and ideals which aren't limited to any political party. That distinguishes it from "bipartisanship," a word derived from "two-party" which typically describes an insular consensus of Washington D.C. insiders. Nonpartisan ideals include a respect for the security of all Americans and the goal of a just and stable world.
Questions of war and peace should be debated in a nonpartisan manner. Nobody should support military action out of party loyalty toward those who propose it, or oppose it because of animosity toward the party or the leader calling for it.
The third principle is mutual respect.
It would be tragic if the upcoming debate became yet another opportunity for Americans in general, and US progressives in particular, to become more divided. People who are inclined to support military intervention aren't necessarily tools of the military-industrial complex. Those of us who oppose it, or are asking hard questions, aren't indifferent to the suffering of the Syrian people.
Progressives can and should serve as a model for the rest of the country by showing that it's possible to disagree on issues of life and death without resorting to ad hominem attacks and that we can argue the case on its merits instead.
Fourth comes the "oxygen-mask" principle.
Flight attendants always say something like this: "If you are traveling with a child or other passenger in need of assistance, please secure your own mask before helping others." This little speech based on a simple truth: You can't help someone else if you're weakened. Self-care helps you care for others.
A United States that's struggling with economic crises at home is less capable doing good around the world. At a time of rising poverty, prolonged unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, and economic stagnation, we need to ask how the costs of a Syrian intervention -- whether expressed in dollars, lives, or national focus -- would affect us here at home.
Would they strengthen or weaken us? Would we become a better partner for peace around the world -- or a weaker, more divided one?
The fifth principle is respect for international law and authorities.
The progressive movement has always respected international law and authority. If there is conclusive evidence that the Assad government used chemical warfare on its own people, that terrible crime must be addressed. But we must act within international law, with respect for the institutions and authorities which it has created.
That means going to those authorities with our evidence, not acting unilaterally.