The carnage in Syria is awful to watch. In the name of “fighting terrorism”, Assad seems perfectly happy to slaughter his citizens to hold onto control. Now he appears to have gassed about 1,500 people, crossing a publicly painted line President Obama laid down.
American military intervention, without a UN Security Council resolution, is illegal. The term we coined after World War II for illegal, military, state-to-state aggression is “war crime”.
This inconvenient fact is barely worth discussion in our mainstream media. Miles and miles of column inches have been devoted to Miley Cyrus’ twerking, but you hardly ever read that US military involvement in Syria would be a war crime. Does that matter anymore?
Does it matter if what we want to do is a war crime?
One of the first discussions of this issue I saw was in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs. David Kaye wrote “The Legal Consequences of Illegal Wars“. The article is far from an in-depth discussion, but it does at least plainly state that military action in Syria, without claims of self-defense and without a UN Security Council ruling, is illegal. You could watch network news all night without hearing a mention of this issue. Noam Chomsky (who should wear a superman’s suit & cape as far as I am concerned) came out today calling any US military intervention in Syria a war crime, but you can only find this quoted on Huffington Post.
During President Obama’s speech Saturday night (full transcript and recording are at the link), he handled the issue of the legality of any military strike in Syria by completely ignoring it. Rather, he simply stated “I’m comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that, so far, has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable.”
“Paralyzed” in this instance means not doing what Obama told us, just Saturday, that he wants to do. The Council was also apparently “paralyzed” when America funded Saddam Hussein before, during, and after his use of chemical weapons against the Kurdish people. It is amazing to me that we do not hear more about the fact we funded and supported the last middle eastern leader who gassed his own people. You can already see the historical white-washing. Do you think kids will learn from their textbooks in 25 years that America danced with the “Butcher of Baghdad” as we knew he dropped mustard gas on kurdish men, women, and children?
The general lack of international reaction to President Obama’s declaration that America is essentially just not subject to international law has been interesting. Madeline Albright apparently got the international community accustomed to America’s being beyond the pale of the law when she said of Iraq in 1994, as our UN Ambassador, “We recognize this area [Iraq] as vital to U.S. national interests, and we will behave, with others, multilaterally when we can and unilaterally when we must.”
Let’s assume that committing war crimes is not really a speed bump for America anymore. Can we work with another tool besides our military? It might seem old-fashioned, but does diplomacy still have a place in the world? Why are we not heading up talks now with Assad and the various factions of rebel forces? If we are not the party best suited for that role, and we are probably not, why are we not trying to assemble talks moderated by any mutually suitable nation? Diplomacy does not tend to kill people, collaterally or otherwise. Diplomacy is free. Diplomacy finally has the benefit of not making others want to kill you. In at least these respects, diplomacy is generally preferable to military action. Why are we failing to pursue serious diplomacy other than trying to get others to commit militarily with us?
Additionally, why are we not taking lead in easing the truly epic suffering of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt? The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates the Syrian civil war has caused over 2 million displaced persons and a projected funding gap of about a billion dollars.
Why are we not making headlines world-wide for building temporary but safe mosques, schools, hospitals, tent-cities for refugees? Would this not be an insanely cheap and effective way to change the violent, islamaphobic face of America? One F-35 costs around 150 million dollars. For the price of a handful, we could singlehandedly close the refugee funding gap and change the world for so many hundreds of thousands of refugees. We could also elevate our world standing in a volatile yet important region of the world.
What would meaningful humanitarian expenditures pay us in goodwill dividends over the next quarter century? What would yet another military quagmire cost us?
Why isn’t all of this low hanging fruit being gobbled up?