Thursday, September 5, 2013

War and Peace: Obama's other options

President Obama has proposed taking military action to punish Bashar Al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people. Obama argues that permitting this use to pass unpunished would make it easier for other nations or terrorist groups to use chemical weapons against us and our allies.

I applaud Obama for his demonstration of humanity and compassion. Clinton and G.W. Bush used to speak about compassion, but they did so to justify inhumane acts, such as persecuting welfare recipients or starting wars in distant countries. Obama evidently believes in the rule of law. He believes that those who break the law must be punished in order for justice to be done.

Obama's heart is in the right place. But he is wrong about how to punish the Assad regime. Dropping bombs on Syria will only harm the Syrian people, not the dictator who is killing them. It will also continue the cycle of vengeance that laws were invented to prevent.

The cycle of vengeance is familiar to every student of history. If you attack me, or my friend, I will attack you, harder if possible. Then you will have to attack me to retain your self-respect. There is no end to this cycle.

The cycle of vengeance drives politics in the Middle East. Some Americans urge action against Assad because our enemies will not respect (or fear) us if we do nothing. People who say this believe that the cycle of vengeance can be ended by one more violent action, ours. They are obviously wrong. Our enemies take actions against us every day. Far from being deterred by our posturing, they are emboldened by it. Our acts of war convince people that we are a violent, lawless nation. The people of the world are more—not less—likely to oppose us because of violent actions we have taken and those we may make in the future.

Obama finds himself president of the strongest military power in the world. He also has a strong empathy for the people suffering in Syria. He believes he is the only one in the world who can aid the Syrians. We should applaud his motives, but not his intentions.

Obama can take many actions to further world peace without dropping bombs on anyone.

The United States should rejoin the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The US helped to set up these courts to handle international cases, but in recent years the US has become more isolated in the world, refusing to participate in world justice organizations because rulings have gone against us or our allies. When Assad finishes his reign of terror in Syria, the ICC will try him for crimes against humanity. Most likely he will be found guilty and punished for his crimes. That trial and punishment will be an example to other rulers that their crimes will not go unnoticed by the rest of the world.

The United States should call on all nations to stop providing aid and weapons to the Assad regime or to the opposition forces. The US should use its other great power, its wealth, to enforce this boycott. The US should call for all nations and corporations to divest themselves of economic instruments that support corporations engaged in warfare around the world.

Weapons do not magically come into existence. Corporations produce them and profit from their sales. The US should call on all corporations to stop providing such weapons to countries that abuse them. Corporations that fail to cooperate should be taxed to ensure that they do not profit from exporting misery.

Just as the US should convert to a green economy, it should also convert to a peace economy. In a peace economy, every economic decision that promotes peace is rewarded. Every economic action that promotes war is punished, not by bombs, but by economic disincentives.

The so-called war on terror has proven that the vast strength of our military is useless against a tiny, ragged band of committed soldiers. Our only safety comes from convincing people that they have nothing to gain from violence and everything to lose.

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