One of the most memorable lines to emerge from the Vietnam War was provided in an article by the great war correspondent Peter Arnett: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” Now we have the requirement to violate international norms in order to defend them.
In his press conference closing out the G-20 Summit, President Obama argued that Syria’s use of chemical weapons on the scale of the August 21 incident posed a threat to world peace and security. Then he declared that “more broadly, it threatens to unravel the international norm against chemical weapons embraced by 189 nations, and those nations represent 98 percent of the world’s people.” Hence, the need to act, including to unilaterally strike Syria if that becomes necessary, in order to defend this norm.
The Obama Administration is attempting to make the case that it is necessary to violate one set of norms in order to defend another. It is throwing the United Nations and international conventions under the bus on the legal use of force in order to justify a strike on Syria. In response to the demand from many U.S. lawmakers and a large percentage of the U.S. public that at a minimum it go to the United Nation’s Security Council for a resolution supporting its proposed action, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the U.N. process was “broken.” The U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power was equally blunt: “The international system that was founded in 1945 — a system we designed specifically to respond to the kinds of horrors we saw play out in World War II — has not lived up to its promise or its responsibilities in the case of Syria.” These spokespersons made a similar argument about the impossibility of using the International Criminal Court to initiate legal proceedings against President Assad for crimes against humanity — without mentioning even once that the United States hasn’t ratified the relevant treaty empowering that same body.
The President asserted the need to violate international norms in order to defend them: “. . . when there’s a breech this brazen of a norm this important, and the international community is paralyzed and frozen and doesn’t act, then that norm begins to unravel.” Rather bizarrely, he then went on to warn of the danger that if one norm is allowed to unravel it threatens the stability of other norms. The administration basically has taken a position that the President’s Syrian counterpart, fighting for the survival of his regime and possibly his own life, would certainly appreciate since essentially Assad is using a similar argument to justify a barbaric assault on his own people.
How about the norm of not using children as foils for your political agenda? The President and administration spokespersons have repeatedly invoked the suffering of the 400 odd children allegedly killed in the August 21 chemical attack. Yet, simple demographic calculations suggest that the death toll after two years of war among Syria’s children, those under 18, must have exceeded 10,000. Without question, many of them died horribly. Yet, in response to that moral outrage, that tragedy, the United States continued to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Syrian civil war. So please, Mr. President, stop trying to build your case on the bodies of this group of children.
Find Archived Articles: