President Barack Obama has said that failing to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons would endanger America and its allies and embolden other despots to use chemical weapons. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry both said punishing Assad is a moral imperative.
One expert thinks there is a precedent for their reasoning. The situation in Syria is comparable to the 1992–1995 genocide in Kosovo, and the world should react.
“International law is created by precedent,” said Michael P. Scharf, associate dean of Global Legal Studies at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law.
Assad will escalate the killings just as Serbs in Kosovo began by burning down villages and ultimately killing hundreds of thousands, said Scharf.
“Assad is going to kill 10,000 next, then 100,000,” unless the world stops him, said Scharf.
To Scharf, Obama’s red line was far more than the rhetorical misstep some of his opponents in Congress describe it as. Obama was hoping his strong words would stop Assad.
Scharf said that it’s interesting that no one is talking about referring this case to the International Criminal Court, as was done with Darfur and Libya.
Scharf and other international law experts have been working with opposition groups to assemble a draft to use to prosecute Assad if he falls. The rebels want to demonstrate a commitment to the rule of law, he said, they are not just out for revenge.
“Don’t just fight them, indict them,” Scharf said.
Scharf also thinks that those who oppose the war are mistaken to equate Syria with Iraq. While Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, evidence that Assad attacked civilians with Sarin gas is convincing, he said.
In House and Senate hearings this week designed to seek congressional approval to strike Assad’s government—probably with cruise missiles but not with ground troops—top administration officials pleaded with skeptical lawmakers to consider the risks of doing nothing.
“Iran is hoping you look the other way,” Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Our inaction would surely give them a permission slip for them to at least misinterpret our intention, if not to put it to the test. Hezbollah is hoping that isolationism will prevail. North Korea is hoping that ambivalence carries the day.”
“They are all listening for our silence,” Kerry said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also raised the possibility that Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile, considered one of the world’s largest, could be seized by his allies, including the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah.
“We cannot afford for Hezbollah or any terrorist groups determined to strike the United States to have incentives to acquire or use these chemical weapons,” Hagel told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Associated Press contributed to this report