Breaking international law in order to defend it

Remember the popular uprising that began in Iraq in 2001? Remember the peaceful protests and the ruthlessness with which Saddam crushed his opponents? Remember the Free Iraq Army fighting against the Republican Guard and the many cities that were turned to ruble during the two years that preceded the U.S. intervention into what had by then become a civil war? Remember the chemical weapons attack in which hundreds died and the shocking videos that Colin Powell showed at the UN Security Council? Remember how there was atrocity after atrocity and George Bush’s only response was to say he was gravely concerned?

Remember all of that?

Me neither.

So let’s see Syria for what it is and not like broken record players insist that 2013 is a rerun of 2003.

After all, the search for parallels tends to be an exercise in magical thinking. We say this is like that, as though on the basis of a tenuous symmetry we will then be able to predict the future.

The most significant parallel between 2003 and 2013 is one that applies to virtually all armed conflicts: it’s very difficult to predict how they will end.

So, when President Obama and other U.S. officials begin their earnest sales campaign on the necessity and value of launching some kind of attack on Syria, the thing to view with greatest skepticism is any kind of prediction about the outcome of this intervention.

This operation will send a strong signal to President Assad that he cannot use chemical weapons with impunity.

The implication being that he will be deterred from using CW again. But will that be the outcome? We don’t know. Maybe he’ll use them more often but on a much more limited scale. Maybe there will become an even greater incentive for others to seize and use CW in the hope that the U.S. can be dragged even deeper into the conflict.

This operation will send a signal to tyrants around the world that the international community is willing to take any necessary action in the defense of international law.

The problem is, international law — as far as I’m aware — doesn’t include provisions for punitive military strikes without the authorization of the UNSC. All the U.S. will be demonstrating is that it retains its long-standing view of itself as the world’s policeman. That won’t defend international law — it will merely show that America’s imperialistic tendencies have yet to diminish.

But perhaps even more disturbing than any prediction, Obama may attempt to sell his chosen course of action on the basis of necessity — that even if no one has any idea where this might lead, the President of the United States found himself with no choice but to launch an attack.

We had no choice is always a lie and a cop out. It represents an effort on the part of decision-makers to conceal the manner in which they make their choices. And it represents a refusal to accept responsibility for the consequences of those choices.

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2 thoughts on “Breaking international law in order to defend it

  1. Norman

    Is this Breaking international law in order to save it, the excuse that will be used if Iran is bombed with Nuclear W.M.D.’s? Isn’t this where it’s all leading up too? If that happens, then will Pakistan & India use them on each other? Will China use them on India, Japan? Where has sanity gone too, is it on vacation? All the Western leaders belong in padded cells, along with the radical Islamist blowhards. Oh, also the NeoCons & their money suppliers.

  2. Patrick

    Syria is one of seven states that is not a party to the convention on chemical weapons. (The others are Angola, Burma, Egypt, Israel, North Korea and South Sudan.)

    So if the government of Syria did order the use of chemical weapons, then did it then break international law?

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