The United States made clear on Friday that it would punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the "brutal and flagrant" chemical weapons attack that it says killed more than 1,400 people in Damascus last week.
A U.S. strike in Syria may have severe repercussions. It may get the United States enmeshed in an inter-ethnic Syrian conflict. It might spark an international crisis with anti-American superpowers Russia and China. It could cause Bashar Assad to act in an irrational manner against his pro-American neighbors. The chance of Israel being attacked is rather low, as is the chance of the Middle East bursting into flames, but when one chooses a violent course of action in a region full of nitroglycerin, one can never anticipate the outcome. One must be prepared for the unexpected.
There's no choice left for the US, because we are human beings, and as such we cannot stand by while other human beings are executed with poison gas. We cannot sit passively when we see the bleeding women and children of east Damascus. The new international order in the wake of World War II was meant to ensure that genocide would not happen again, and that the horrific scenario of death by gassing would not be repeated. But Syria did break this order. Any lack of action at this point in time, in the face of ghastly images, would signify a loss of basic humanity. As a moral superpower, the United States cannot refrain from acting against the mass murderer from Damascus.
After the end of the Cold War the world became a global village based on the assumption that we're all linked to the same economy, that we all share common values, that we are all subject to one basic set of principles. The international community and international law became the anchor of international order, enabling the international market to function in a manner that promoted growth and values of freedom throughout the globe. When Syria used chemical warheads in east Damascus, murdering its citizens, it also shattered international law and stripped the notion of an "international community” of any meaning.
Chemical weapons were introduced in the beginning of the 20th century, and nuclear arms were introduced in the middle of the 20th century. The greatest diplomatic success of the last few decades has been preventing the use of both. In the 21st century it will be very difficult to maintain this vital record of success. Therefore, in order to prevent the complete breakdown of the international system that has stabilized the world over the last 25 years, action is called for. What has happened in Syria can be followed by others tomorrow. It is imperative to prove to him and those of his ilk that the world will not tolerate this insanity and the world knows how to defend its core human values.