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What Syria’s Assad Teaches us about Rules and Law

September 20, 2013

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What Syria’s Assad Teaches Us about Rules and Law

As he is the father of two daughters, it defies belief that Barack Obama doesn’t know one of the most important rules of parenting: Never threaten what you aren’t ready and able to carry out. You don’t tell the two year old pitching a fit in the back seat of the car- “One more word out of you and I’ll stop this car” when you’re doing 70 mph on the highway and you’re an hour late for Thanksgiving dinner. I can understand new parents making this mistake and it’s quite possible that I’ve made this mistake with my kids, but as POTUS it’s not acceptable.

In case you don’t follow the news, here’s the situation: About two years ago many citizens of Arab states realized that much of the world lived with freedom and prosperity, but they lived with neither. So, across the Arab world, in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, these citizens decided to revolt against the tyrants that had ruled them for decades.

This was dubbed the Arab Spring by the media. But, it didn’t really work out that way (at least just yet), because the citizens that kicked out the tyrants weren’t really any more suitable to govern than the tyrants they kicked out.

Turning to Syria: Bashar Al-Assad has been ruling the country for 13 years, having taken over as tyrant from his father. Assad Sr. had a way with rebels- he crushed them, literally (and figuratively). The people of Syria witnessed the uprisings around the Arab world and thought they had a chance to rid themselves of the Assad dynasty.

So, they rebelled and they’ve been fighting a civil war for about two years. Assad Jr. has been equal to his father in cruelty and brutality, but not as equal in quashing the rebel surge. When this all started, US President Obama declined to commit to any US involvement in the conflict but reserved the right to intervene should Assad and his forces “cross any red lines”.

The number if Syrians dying has risen above 100,000, but no one really took notice. That was, until last month, when Assad’s forces used poison gas to kill several hundred people.

To understand why this is remarkable we have to go back to World War I and the international conventions that followed. In WW I both sides used poison gas extensively on the battlefield. Poison gas kills in a particularly horrible way and it doesn’t serve any military purpose other than killing people.

After the war, in the 1925 Geneva Convention, the nations of the World decided to outlaw poison gas as a weapon. These gases weren’t used in WW II (for the most part). Even the Nazis didn’t use them much against combatants. They did however use them to kill millions of Jews and other minorities in the gas chambers.

Poison Gas was used by Saddam Hussein against the Kurdish minority in his country and in the Iran-Iraq war. However, by and large, they haven’t been used in warfare.

A lot of people question why it makes sense to ban chemical weapons when they do what all weapons do: kill people. I guess you could say that banning chemical weapons is a half-measure that everyone can get behind.

The full measure would be to ban all weapons, but that wasn’t going to happen in 1925 and it probably isn’t a good idea anyway. But as a half measure, banning weapons that kill in a horrible way and whose military value is only in killing humans (as opposed other destroying weapons and other infrastructure) makes sense.

So when Assad uses these weapons and kills hundreds he’s crossing a red line in anyone’s estimation. So Obama has to act, right?

For the rest of the analysis- see Part 2 (coming)

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From → Law, Uncategorized

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