To have and to uphold (international law)

Reuters

US President Barack Obama addresses the nation about the situation in Syria from the East Room at the White House in Washington, September 10, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • There are no provisions in the Chemical Weapons Convention that require anyone to "retaliate" against WMDs.

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  • Syria isn't a signatory to the convention, so the notion of international obligation is irrelevant.

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  • The real question is whether a president who draws a red line can punt instead of strike at the heart of Assad.

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  • The message that Obama’s inaction will send is: the US is no longer a player on the global stage

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The following piece is Danielle Pletka's answer to The Weekly Wonk's question: "If the United States and its allies do not take military action against Syria in retaliation for the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own citizens, what will be the precedent set for the future, both in terms of deterring the use of such weapons and upholding international laws prohibiting them?”

It’s important to start with the understanding that there are no provisions in the Chemical Weapons Convention that require anyone, least of all the United States, to “retaliate” against those who violate its terms. And as Syria isn’t a signatory to the convention, the notion of an international obligation is irrelevant. The more important question is whether the President of the United States, particularly one who demanded Assad step aside and laid down a “red line” on the use of chemical weapons, can simply punt rather than strike at the heart of Assad’s ability to deliver CW. As a matter of precedent, there is ample precedent for doing nothing; the Anfal campaign against Iraq’s Kurds saw chemical weapons used against innocent civilians without international reprisal.

Assad himself has used these weapons 14 times according to reports. Obama administration officials tell us this time is different, that weapons of mass destruction could fall into terrorist hands; that Assad could use them again, as could others. All the more odd, therefore, that the President now seems loath to prosecute a Syrian strike. The real message that Obama’s inaction will send is that the United States is no longer a player on the global stage, no longer an enforcer of international norms; no longer a power to be reckoned with. Forget Assad for a moment. How will the Islamic Republic of Iran read Obama’s decision?

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