No on Syrian Strike: Norms and Consequences

We should not strike Syria in response for their use of chemical weapons on their own people for two reasons: norms are not laws and consequences were never identified before the weapons were used.

First, President Obama was very careful to say that Syria violated international “norms”, not international law, for using chemical weapons that observers say killed more than 1400 Syrian citizens on August 21st. As a point of reference, more than 100,ooo people have been killed by conventional weapons to date in the 2-year civil war. Norms, no matter their humanitarian value, are not a valid reason for unilateral military action by one sovereign nation on another, especially when there is no international support for that action.

Secondly, though our president declared months ago that Syrian leaders would cross a “red line” if they used chemical weapons on anyone, he never stated how we – along with a majority consensus of the international community – would respond if that “red line” were crossed.

Now, it’s clear that our president borrowed the “red line” idea from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, though he never used the word “strike” in his September, 2012 UN speech, left no doubt in anyone’s mind that Israel would attack Iranian nuclear sites if the Iranians became capable of producing weapons-grade nuclear material.

Iran is close to that capability right now, and Netanyahu’s threat has a precedent.

In 1981, Israel launched the first-ever attack on a nuclear facility when it destroyed the Osirak nuclear plant 18 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq. Just like Iran, Iraq is an avowed enemy of Israel. Israel did what it did claiming self-defense from what it believed would’ve been eventual Iraqi nuclear weapons pointed at Israel. Self-defense, even as defined arguably in the 1981 attack, is permissible by international law. What we now have in mind for Syria is not.

 

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