Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Law is Sometimes a Pain in the Ass

The Law is Sometimes a Pain in the Ass
©2017  Ross Williams

As military operations go, the one staged last week against Bashar al-Assad’s airbase which began the gas attack on the Syrian city of Homs was small potatoes.  It was smaller than small potatoes.  It was tater tots.  But you can’t convince some people of that.  They’re too busy with the cigarette lighter and gasoline trying to set their hair on fire.

To recap: Syria dropped sarin bombs on their own people in Homs, because the city is crawling with ISIS.  ISIS is busy trying to topple Bashar al-Assad’s government because the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr, wants all the land in the region for himself.  After all, the land is the ancestral home of Bakr’s tribe, and apart from Syria includes most of Iraq, parts of Jordan and slivers of Turkey, Saudi and Israel.  Two days after the chemical attack on Homs, the US launched an even 5 dozen cruise missiles at the airbase from which the Syrian bombers took off − one missile malfunctioned and fell into the sea. Since then, every ignorant screaming meemie in the world has been screeching their particular ignorance.

Those whose comprehension of world politics begins and ends with denouncing “neocons” are declaring that Trump is a crypto-neocon − just like they always knew he was, even [presumably] when he was a New York democrat.  This attack on Syria signals, to them, the new US intention of commandeering yet another nation in the Middle East for its oil, of which Syria has almost none.

On the flip side of this fantasy are the cheers of elation from a large group of Syrians who desperately hope it’s true.  There’s a reason Syria is stuck in the middle of a six-year civil war: Bashar al-Assad is a junior-grade megalomaniac and expert-level machiavellian asshole.  Syrians have been trying to get out of Syria for six years, and go somewhere, anywhere else − perhaps you’ve heard.  It’s not because Assad’s Syria is a paradise, even without a civil war romantically illuminating the night sky.

Happily for those who see neocons in every closet, and sadly for the Syrian outliers, Trump’s attack on the Syrian airbase was a direct response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons; nothing more and nothing less.  It doesn’t signal anything except that Syria violated International Law by using chemical weapons − again − and don’t do it any more.  The US attack is what Barry Hussein implied would happen almost four years ago, the first time Syria used chemical weapons.

The world’s sympathy junkies, on the other hand, those who see all the atrocities committed by megalomaniacal, machiavellian assholes and bawl, “somebody needs to do somethi-hi-hi-hingggg” have gotten exactly what they have perpetually demanded …  and they don’t like it, nosir, not one little bit.  Personally, I plan to be surprised by their unsurprisingly inarticulate geopolitical hypocrisy when I have more time in my schedule; March of 2075 appears open.

Not to be outdone, at least one group of pseudo-libertarians posted a thoroughly moronic internet meme advertising that this group of libertarian is completely unaware of what is commonly considered the central theme of libertarianism.  They once again renounced the holy “non-aggression principle”.  The non-aggression principle − or NAP as it is usually short-handed in libertarian circles − is very simple in its theme: never, ever initiate force; the only legitimate use of force is in self-defense, or in the defense of others.

The pseudo-libertarian meme equivocated the US attack on the Syrian airbase − in defense of Syrian civilians from chemical weapons − to Clinton’s siege of the Branch Davidians in Waco Texas.  It then suggested that Argentina would arbitrarily have been justified in attacking the US because of it.  One of my most consistent criticisms of libertarianism as it is smugly practiced by far too many is the libertarian willingness to cite the holy NAP right up until its principles would be acted on.  This has become utterly predictable and cliché, and serves only to support the claim that libertarians are poorly closeted pacifists unwilling to put their jealously protected Second Amendment where their big fat mouths are.

Either the non-aggression principle says what it means and means what it says, or it does not. If it does, then the only philosophically consistent libertarian position is that Trump was justified in attacking Syria for using chemical weapons against [mostly] defenseless Syrian civilians merely because ISIS forces were nearby.  Please note, being justified is not the same as being wise.  There are many valid arguments for the US attack being unwise.  The only problem for libertarians is that before one can make those arguments, one must first have a fairly solid grounding in International Law, foreign policy practicum, and military doctrine − all traits that are vanishingly rare among the pacifist, isolationist libertarians whose main talent seems to be quoting theory from the safe-space confines of their own navels.

On the other hand, if the non-aggression principle does not say what it means and means what it says, then it’s as useful as week-old fart gas, and should be dispensed with immediately.  I often suggest this option, considering how frequently and thoroughly the principle is abandoned by its pseudo-libertarian proponents when push comes to shove.

The one, unifying characteristic of all the flame-pated mopes surrounding this event, though, is the nearly complete non-comprehension of International Law.  Those parts of International Law which actually are understood are nearly universally misapplied. 

International Law, for those who do not know − which is, as I say, virtually everyone in my audience − does not consist of a library full of leather-bound law books stuffed with internationally-concocted statute from the wise statesmen embodying an international legislature.  There is no such legislature.  There are no such statutes.

International law is the accumulated body of treaties between nations, supposedly guiding how those nations interact with each other.  An action that is described as a “violation of International Law” is an action that abrogates one or more conditions of a treaty to which that nation is signatory.  Some treaties are private contracts between a small number of nations; other treaties are required to be joined by any nation wishing membership in the Old Boys Club of nation-statehood.  One such treaty is the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits − among other things − the use of chemical weapons on anyone, anywhere, at any time, for any reason.

Without going into the long and tedious history of the evolution and migration of International Law from its Treaty of Westphalia origins to yesterday afternoon, a short course on International Law relevant to this incident would be:
1] a civil war is no other nation’s business apart from the nation which is fighting it and its treaty partners;
2] killing civilians is only prohibited if done knowingly, deliberately, and with no pretense of having a military target; accidental or “collateral” civilian casualties are permitted;
3] the use of chemical weapons is always prohibited;
4] …I’ll get to number four after a few paragraphs.

For better or worse, the US is considered a treaty partner with Syria in fighting off the ISIS rebels in Syria’s civil war.  Our most recent ex-president finally realized he could not convert Syria’s two-sided civil war into a ménage a trios, and stopped attempting to create a group of “good rebels” to arm and fund.  All arms and funds the US had previously provided to the nonexistent “good rebels” went to the ISIS organization.  The US has a few thousand soldiers currently in Syria undertaking special operations against ISIS rebels.

The Russians, for what it’s worth, are also Syria’s treaty partner; Syria is and has been for generations, Russia’s client-state in the Middle East.

A current tactic of the ISIS rebels is to place a sniper on the roof of a Syrian apartment building, school, hospital [etc] and randomly shoot whoever is in range. The hamfisted Syrian and Russian military response to this has been to obliterate the entire building − typically full of Syrian civilians who don’t want to leave it for fear of being shot by the ISIS sniper.  The Syrians and Russians kill a lot of Syrian civilians this way.  This is rude and barbaric, but not a violation of International Law.  The US typically complains about it, but does nothing else.

Last week, the Syrians used chemical weapon bombs in place of conventional bombs against a similar target in the city of Homs.  The US complained about it and very broadly hinted that it would do something about it.  Two days later, it did.  It fired 60 cruise missiles at the airbase that housed the aircraft which staged the chemical attack.

Just like there is no international legislature which debates and legislates international law, there are no international cops with a sworn duty to run around the world arresting heads of state who give orders, field commanders who parcel out orders, and soldiers who carry out orders that violate International Law.  There are no international enforcers of International Law.

At this point, those willing to advertise their complete ignorance of international affairs are going to say, “Yabbut… yabbut … what about the UN?  What is the UN doing about this?”

The answer is: exactly what the UN was designed for.  Bickering.  The UN was created specifically and deliberately to be a “deliberative body”.  The UN was created specifically and deliberately to have no enforcement mechanism or power.  The UN is for debate … argument … lecturing … posturing … preaching … pontificating … whining … wetting one’s panties on a world stage … demonstrating the quality craftsmanship of Russian shoemakers … but not being able to do one damned thing about any of it.

Yet many people want International Law to be enforced, and violators of International Law to be punished.  Without enforcement and punishment, what good is it?

Indeed.  That is a very good question.  It is answered by point number four of International Law relevant to this matter that I skipped earlier:
4] violation of a treaty provision is considered by International Law to be an Act of War against all other signatories to that treaty.

Enforcement of International Law and punishment for the violators is done, traditionally, by warfare.  An aggrieved nation uses its time, effort, money, international reputation, and the lives of its soldiers to compel other nations to abide by the terms of the treaties they share, and to militarily punish nations for breaking those terms.  If International Law is to be enforced, it will be done − ultimately − in exactly the way the US responded to Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

Violations of treaties do not oblige military action, it simply legitimizes it.  There are countless violations of treaties every single day which are not rejoined by military force.  There are even many violations of treaties to which the US is among the aggrieved nations to which the US does not respond with military force. …and look no further than the current situation with North Korea. …or Iran.

In the absence of any nation willing to enforce treaties and the International Law they foster, treaties guiding the conduct of nations are pointless, and International Law is null and void.

If we want treaties against the use of chemical weapons, then nations must be willing to use war to punish nations which use those weapons.  If a nation is willing but the people of that nation demand the nation cease its attempts to compel others to comply with the treaty because doing so is rude and “imperialistic”, or the action of a “neocon”, then the nation may as well remove itself from that treaty and become a pariah nation existing outside the law … that no one is willing to enforce.  If no nations are willing, then the treaty against chemical weapons is useless and should be − just like the perpetually renounced holy NAP − dispensed with.

International Law is a noble idealism, but it relies on base, crude violence to make it work.  How important is International Law to everyone?


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