Under the U.N. Charter, it is illegal for member states to attack each other because they claim another state is violating international law unless they are acting in self-defense or unless they are authorized to do so by a Security Council resolution. There is no such resolution with respect to Syria. The whole point of the Charter is to keep (for example) Russia from attacking (for example) Israel because Russia claims that Israel is violating international law. What goes for Russia attacking Israel also goes for the United States attacking Syria.I point this out not because I think it is the most compelling reason to oppose Obama's Syria policy, but because it makes a mockery of the argument that we must support Obama's Syria policy in order to defend international norms. For example, E.J. Dionne writes today:
This story is being under-reported in the press. Imagine a New York Times headline that read:Obama seeks to violate United Nations Charter: Asks Congress's Blessing.But that is exactly what is happening. Obama may say that he is just trying to enforce international norms, but he is doing it by violating article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter. To invoke a metaphor from another war, he is destroying the village in order to save it.
With luck, Obama will get by this crisis while sending a strong message of American determination to uphold international norms.Which brings to fruition Balkin's line "destroying the village in order to save it."
These are simply not dispositive points in this debate in my opinion. I return to the 6 obvious questions regarding Obama's Syria policy:
More on the other side.
1. What objectives does the administration seek to achieve in Syria?
2. How does it anticipate that the use of force will lead to the fulfillment of those objectives?
3. What is the administration's theory of victory? That is, what are the assumptions that link the use of military force to the achievement of victory?
4. How does the administration believe that Syria will respond to the U.S. use of force?
5. What does the administration believe could go wrong? What unexpected things could happen?
6. And finally, how does the administration anticipate that this will end?
Discussion of international norms is a piece of this discussion, but not the biggest piece. And it begs the question of why diplomatic efforts have been discarded so quickly.
I agree with those commenters who say Syria is not Iraq. I think this is true because the president is not proposing nor will he undertake a blunder of such monumental proportions. But I do think there is some value to looking back at Iraq and asking ourselves why are we not giving diplomacy a chance, if for no other reason than to make a military action more efficacious. But the Iraq history I am thinking of does not involve George W. Bush, the 43. It involves George H.W. Bush, the 41. Consider the timeline of the runup to Desert Storm in January 1991:
A five month period passed between Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the commencement of Desert Storm.
August 2, 1990 The Persian Gulf War begins when Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait with armor and infantry, occupying strategic posts throughout the country, including the Emir's palace.
The UN Security Council passes Resolution 660, condemning Iraq's invasion and demanding a withdrawal of Iraqi troops.
August 6, 1990 - The UN Security Council passes Resolution 661, placing economic sanctions on Iraq.
August 8, 1990 - Iraq appoints puppet regime in Kuwait which declares a merger with Iraq.
November 29, 1990 - The UN Security Council passes Resolution 678, giving Iraq a withdrawal deadline of January 15, 1991, and authorizing member states "all necessary means to uphold and implement Resolution 660" if Iraq failed to withdraw by that deadline.
January 3, 1991 - President Bush proposes meeting between James Baker, Secretary of State, and Tariq Aziz, Iraqi foreign minister.
January 10, 1991 - Baker meets Aziz in Geneva. Talk fail.
January 12, 1991- The United States Congress passed a joint resolution to authorizing the use of military force to drive Iraq out of Kuwait.
January 17, 1991- A day after a deadline was passed set in Resolution 678, Coalition forces launch Operation Desert Storm with a massive air campaign against targets in Iraq and Kuwait.
By that time, the United States had formed a formidable coalition, complied with international law and then executed its military plan, meeting its objectives.
The end result was military action, but by exhausting diplomatic options, doing the hard work of forming an international coalition and abiding by international law, the efficacy and authority of that military action was greatly enhanced.
Nothing like this has happened or has been proposed by President Obama.
It's true that I doubt the efficacy of military action in the Syria situation, but the chances of its efficacy would be greatly enhanced if it is truly seen as a last resort.
The lack of thought by the likes of E.J. Dionne is emblematic of the Very Serious People discussion here. And it denotes a central fact, while the nation and some of our representatives are discussing the situation in a serious manner, too much of the discussion is, as Hunter puts it:
It has to be at least a little disconcerting to see, vividly, that even our conversations about which people to kill in which of various ways for which reasons are for the most part unserious, self-promoting, and rote.No one seems engaged in the business of the hard thinking and hard work that should entail the most momentous decision any country can take—the decision to go to war.