International Law Matters (Except When It Doesn’t)

(It was my intention to post another lost poem of Rudyard Kipling, but the administration’s blathering and dithering over Syria requires a few words.)

Among the plethora of generally vague reasons offered by the administration as justification for some sort of attack on Syria far and away the most hypocritical is Assad’s violation of international law by deploying chemical weapons. The President, along with members of his administration, specifically cited this abuse of international covenants as a reason to go to war – or at least quasi-war. A spokesman for the President stated at a press conference that international laws are “important” and that it was “not appropriate to flout them with impunity.”

The hypocrisy is staggering. We constantly violate or fail to enforce traditional international behavior and covenants we have pledged to honor; in the case of Israel we refuse even to talk about blatant transgressions of international agreements we are legally bound to uphold. We have invaded the airspace and sovereignty of other countries with “impunity,” and we have engaged in torture, which is specifically outlawed by several major conventions. And now, thanks to the “traitor” Snowdon, we discover that we are violating agreements with and the domestic laws of close allies, whose concerns are dismissed with incredible arrogance.

We are of course right in condemning Assad’s use of poison gas, which not even Hitler was tempted to use. It is an indiscriminate killer, hard to control, and unlike artillery shelling, which also kills many innocents, it is virtually impossible to escape. That chemical weapons kill innocents as well as combatants is the major reason they are banned, and correctly so. But we are killing innocents on a regular basis with our drone strikes, and while the civilian casualties from each attack are limited, at least compared to what is happening in Syria, the numbers are steadily growing.

Humanitarian outrage is rarely the primary reason behind foreign policy decisions (Kosovo was an exception, but of course that happened in Europe), and more than two thirds of Americans oppose intervention, regardless of any outrage. Naturally, the administration pays little attention to public opinion unless it relates to elections, and consequently the President has brought out the heavy weapon of “national security,” since this trumps the opinion of the public. In addition to the usual list of security reasons – Middle East stability, security of Israel, terrorism – we were actually told these chemical weapons could be a threat to the United States – not United States interests but the United States itself. When questioned about this ludicrous assertion, the spokesman simply avoided answering.

But what about American credibility? Well, if losing face is a problem, then it is solely the fault of President Obama and his non-existent policy in the region. In any case, who cares? One would think a country with a $600 billion military and eleven carrier groups had plenty of credibility. It is the administration’s credibility that is at risk, not America’s, and for that reason we will lash out.

So once again America is about to commit an act of war against a country that has done absolutely nothing to injure us, an act that would result in massive retaliation were it done against us, which in fact is what happened in December 1941. (At this very moment on the TV behind me John Kerry is telling us that even though we are weary of war we cannot ignore our responsibilities. Responsibility for what exactly in this instance?) And we will be doing it without Congressional authorization and (with the likely exception of France) apparently alone; even faithful little Britain has opted out, since Parliament still decides on war and peace there. This is to say, we are once again about to violate international law, which is supposedly a major reason why we are about to go to war.

One does not need a military expert to understand that firing even hundreds of missiles at Syria will have little to no impact on the general situation. But it will make Obama feel better and save the credibility that most would suggest he no longer has.  Meanwhile, more Syrians will die, this time killed by our government, mostly in the service of domestic politics.  What has happened to us?

should be hanging from a lamp post

should be hanging from a lamp post

under alien mind control?

under alien mind control?

sarin gas

sarin gas





One comment on “International Law Matters (Except When It Doesn’t)

  1. Jules says:

    The time to violate international law would have been Feb. 2012 when Russia and China first used their veto power in the Security Counsel for financial and political gain. Back when Assad began killing his own people and the resistance was fought by those defecting from Assad’s military. Now, it’s a mess. We need intervention but NOT the kind Obama is proposing. It’s another Iraq and I’m shocked he’s even proposing this as a solution.

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