The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 8, 2013

Syrian answer lies with global response

WHY IT MATTERS: The world community must be united in answer to the use of chemical weapons


The Mankato Free Press

---- — If all goes as planned, Congress will debate and decide soon on authorizing military strikes by the United States against Syria. Many lawmakers — including those in President Obama’s own party — are reluctant to give that authority.

As well they should unless certain questions are answered and until the world community comes together rather than sit idly by.

The president is arguing that a “limited” strike is needed to degrade President Bashar al-Assad’s military capabilities after Syria “crossed the line” in using chemical weapons against his people. Even GOP leaders Eric Cantor and John Boehner are throwing their support behind the president.

The United Nations says it cannot act without the agreement of its Security Council which allows Russia veto power. Russian president Vladimir Putin said he doesn’t believe the Assad regime is responsible for the attacks, instead placing blame on the rebels an argument some experts say is highly unlikely.

However, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said if chemical weapons had been used in Syria then the Security Council should unite and take action against what would be “an outrageous war crime.”

And frankly that’s really where this debate and solution resides — with the world community.

Many were puzzled at what seemed to be Obama’s backpedaling with his statement that the Assad regime “crossed the line” in using chemical weapons, a statement made by the president in August 2012.

Now he says “I didn’t set the line. The world set the line.” Technically this is true with the Chemical Weapons Convention that has been in force now for 15 years and 98 percent of the world’s population reside in territories in which this ban is the law.

Regardless of who said what, the red line was crossed and the world through its conventions needs to respond. In this case, the world could be the United Nations or even just the Arab League which frankly has a lot more to lose in regional instability.

But for us to go it alone makes no sense. It has been argued that we do not have a legitimate case when applying the War Powers Act since it is a stretch to say these actions will be in defense of the United States. We don’t exactly have a stellar history in finding rationale for U.S. military intervention.

The Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing United States’ entry into the Vietnam War was predicated on false information.

The “weapons of mass destruction” argument against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was shaky at best.

The argument though is the United States with its international might and long-reaching links with global partners is in the best position to be the world’s policeman.

But conditions in the region are not predicated on normal circumstances. The Mideast is reeling from revolution and tribal wars that are not secular in nature. That makes any Western solution hard to impose.

We need global not American might to respond. If Mideast neighbors to Syria want stability they need to step up themselves and join in this response.

Kerry said last week that “at least 10 countries have pledged to participate” in a military response including France. Britain however voted against joining.

It is clear any unilateral action taken by the United States will not be seen by many as proper and any limited response will have little lasting effect on the Assad regime.

All effort must be made to engage and include much of the world community in whatever response is made. If we cannot get that engagement, if the world in essence shrugs it off then the consequences will have to be borne by all of us and not just the United States.