It’s rather hilarious to hear both conservative and liberal politicians and pundits in the United States say that if Congress doesn’t vote to “punish” Assad for using chemical weapons, it will be “catastrophic” for US credibility. No, invading Iraq on the pretence of WMD was catastrophic for US credibility, not to mention starting a ‘global war on terror.’
It’s also absurd on the face of it that the US Congress should be the deliberative body for the world regarding the use of chemical weapons. Even the Russians are falling for the America-is-the-center-of-the-world mentality by proposing to send a delegation to lobby Congress.
Despite the deception and overreach of the Libyan intervention, the heinous use of chemical weapons on civilians in Syria should be debated in the UN Security Council, as flagrantly flawed an instrument as it is. Putin today made that the only reasonable course of action, by not ruling out humanitarian intervention if it can be proven in the UN Security Council that the Assad regime used chemical weapons.
That’s unlikely of course, since President Obama has already declared that he speaks and Congress decides for the world. Only when the United States is confident it can get a rubber stamp on its military adventures does it go to the United Nations.
Like his predecessor in a cruder way, Barack Obama seems hell-bent on shredding whatever’s left of the ever-ephemeral ‘international community.’ Parodying his own vacillation at a news conference in Stockholm on a stopover to a G-20 conference in St. Petersburg, Mr. Obama said: “I didn’t set a red line, the world set a red line.” That’s simply false.
The basic distinction between humanitarian intervention and armed aggression, much less war, must be made, as difficult as it is to maintain in practice. However, humanitarian intervention is not what nation-states do, with very rare exceptions, despite their “Responsibility to Protect” agreements.
If that distinction had been made from the beginning, rather than the US mulishly insisting on Assad’s ouster, the region wouldn’t be in this mess, and a lot more Syrians would be alive. Even so, the distinction can and must still be made.
As it is however, Barack Obama, all pragmatism and no principle, is still trying to have things both ways, agreeing with warmongers McCain and Graham that the US should “degrade Assad and upgrade the rebels,” while at the same time insisting the US is acting on a moral imperative.
This isn’t about ‘American interests and values.’ And the bromide, ‘U.S. authority is tied to its moral stature as a state of laws committed to freedom’ rings dangerously hollow. It’s about minimal international norms, which means, does humanity have any bottom? President Obama rightly said as much, just before he bellowed, “WE ARE THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”
Ridiculously, Obama thus implied that the United States of America determines what the international norms and standards for humanity are, and when they are to be followed and when they are to be flouted. That’s a mentality that even makes present generations wince, and could make us wretch.
Rather than put forth a principle in this cowardly new world, and use a portion of his presidential capital to actualize it, Obama has acted like just another calculating political mediocrity. And worse now, since he’s trying to preserve what has already been lost: American moral authority and credibility, and the last shreds of the post-World War II international order that was built in Washington and based on American shores.
Now is the moment, the urgent moment, to think about what comes after the imminent collapse of the old order. Because it may well be that before this slow motion horror show is over, someone is going to use a nuclear weapon, and it won’t be stateless terrorists.
In short, the last strut of the post-World War II order is about to be kicked out by a POTUS ostensibly intent on keeping it propped up. The present world order (sounds ridiculous to use that word for it) will end not with a whimper but a bang, as all world orders have. Therefore the foundation for an imperfect, genuinely global order has to begin to be poured now, before the old order collapses, or it could be rubble for as far as anyone can see into the future.
Besides, global governance has become too important an issue to be left to national governments and their international institutions. In this digital age, global citizens can step into the vacuum left by the collapse of America, and the nation-state itself.
Nation-states have become like local governments—hell, they ARE local governments—necessary for certain things, but worse than useless for others (such as global security).
The peoples of the world need nation-states to provide domestic services, not to protect ‘national interests.’ Indeed, fragmenting nation-states, with their competing national interests, have become the greatest threats to peace in a global society.
What needs to be done? First, cease identifying existentially with any nation. Our identity as human beings is no longer determined by or derived from any particular group.
Second, realize that if international laws and norms are to mean anything, the United Nations has to be radically reformed, and given a limited but independent ability, without veto power by the old ‘great powers,’ to act in crises such as the one the world is presently facing.
Third, the new global reality requires a new political expression—a non-power-holding global body, possessing moral authority and suasion, philosophically superseding and pragmatically adding a new dimension the crumbling international order. Such a body would have the power to recommend courses of action with respect to the global commons, and would have the capacity to hold nations and international institutions accountable to the human prospect.
It could be located in East Africa, the evolutionary birthplace of both ancient and modern humans, signifying a new start and direction for humankind. Or perhaps Costa Rica, the little country at the crossroads of two continents that had the courage many decades ago to de-militarize.
The international order is increasingly unworkable, and will soon collapse from its own dead weight. And whether Congress approves military action against Syria or not, the USA has neither the moral or legal authority to launch its cruise missiles acting alone or with a few allies.
The best thing that could happen for humanity is for Congress to reject Obama’s intervention/aggression resolution. But that’s unlikely. And the USA may well touch off a much wider war, and with it the end of the old order.
However creation can go with destruction…if some portion of the peoples of the world awaken and raise their voices together.