Saturday, August 31, 2013


President Obama is presenting Congress and the American people with a false choice: either approve a US military strike against Syria or “do nothing” and “turn a blind eye” to the murderous use of chemical weapons.   

Have we really reached the end of the road on political efforts to deal with dangerous problems? Do we give up on determined efforts to advance international cooperation despite differing interests? Do we conclude that the UN can be bypassed with impunity?

There is a lot of talk about “credibility”, the bad precedent that would be set by not following through on a “red line”. There is a far more dangerous message if the US military does go through with the assault on Syria: that international law can be enforced by violating it, and that the US will act as supreme judge and enforcer. That will never be acceptable. It would be “a shot across the bow” at efforts for international cooperation. Extremely difficult problems and crises abound that require seeking levels of consent among nations despite the interests that separate them.

If there is conclusive evidence on responsibility for the chemical weapons attack, why not bring it before the United Nations? Willingness to bomb Syria should not be the litmus test for the world’s readiness to condemn chemical warfare and hold perpetrators of war crimes accountable. Despite serious political complications, there is no reason to think that Russians, Chinese and the British are more willing than Americans to accept a world in which chemical warfare is permissible.

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