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September 8, 2013

Column: The case for taking punitive action against Syria

It’s not just President Barack Obama’s “red line” that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has crossed. Civilized people have long set limits on armed conflicts. Using chemical weapons — that’s been a war crime since 1925. Targeting innocent women and children — that’s been taboo since at least the Middle Ages. Are we now giving up these efforts, saying: “What the hell. Boys will be boys. Barbarians will be barbarians. And it’s none of our business anyway?”

That’s not an unreasonable interpretation of what the British Parliament said last week. A majority voted not to support — not even in principle — a military strike against the Assad regime as punishment for its use of chemical weapons, gassing babies, girls, boys, old men and women by the hundreds. The Brits now join U.N. Security Council members Russia and China — leading members of the so-called “international community” — in favoring cost-free state terrorism. That’s tantamount to licensing it. The rulers of Iran and North Korea are among those taking notice.

Obama, by contrast, says he wants to hold Assad accountable. He has asked Congress to authorize him to take military action. Should Congress refuse, it will confirm an ominous trend. At the conclusion of World War II, the West said “never again” to genocide. Yet genocides have been carried out in Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur.

There also was Saddam Hussein’s genocidal Al-Anfal Campaign against Iraq’s Kurds, and the gassing of thousands of Kurdish civilians in Halabja. I would argue that it was a mistake not to hold Saddam accountable at the time, the late 1980s. Today, however, many people believe it was wrong ever to hold Saddam accountable for anything.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. No one in Tehran has paid a price for the assassination of four Iranian Kurds in Berlin in 1992, for the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association bombing in Argentina two years later, for the failed plots to blow up jet-fuel supply tanks and pipelines at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in 2007, and to bomb a restaurant in Washington, D.C., in 2011.

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