We can't continue to be the world's policeman -- we can't afford the seemingly endless loss of American lives and wealth.
But, we can't just watch the media graphically record a despot use weapons that put entire communities to death and see the bodies of children lined up on the floor – not once but again and again. We might say "It's not our problem". But, the act of turning away and doing nothing will have an effect on how we value human life. Who knows what else we will come to accept here and abroad as "Not our problem".
Launching cruise missiles into Syria to shut down some runways, command centers and artillery so they can’t be used to deliver chemical weapons is not going to do any more than, at best, temporarily slow Assad’s efforts to remain in power.
What is happening in Syria is the result of the decision by Assad and his accomplices to crush the opposition with whatever means he has at his disposal. The indiscriminate killing of civilians on a mass scale (especially with chemical weapons) is a recognized crime by the International Criminal Court (ICC). For Obama to say that our aim is NOT to remove Assad as the leader of Syria, but simply to send him a message to stop using chemical weapons undercuts the legitimacy of whatever we do – especially if what we do results in the loss of innocent life.
The appropriate response would be to treat what Assad has done as a criminal act, seek an indictment in the International Criminal Court and focus the use of force on finding, arresting and bringing to trial Assad and his accomplices (if they survive the manhunt).
There are procedural problems with doing that in that the ICC doesn’t have universal jurisdiction and Syria has not ratified the Rome Statute that created it. (Neither has the US.) In addition, the UN is prevented from acting on what is obviously a war crime due to Russia’s veto power on the Security Council (unless the UN inspectors were to convince Russia to reverse its position). Meanwhile mass killing of civilians will go on and on.
People are seeing with all blinders removed that the international stage is one of lawless and ruthless exercise of power without regard for the cost in lives of ordinary people. There is a double-standard where national leaders (both political and financial) are allowed to violate laws or commit murder repeatedly in the full view of the world with little, no or long delayed accountability for their actions.
If the President of the United States in concert with the Congress are determined to act in the absence of effective action by the United Nations, then we ought to use the best suited resources of our government to do what the UN and ICC are unable to do – indict and hunt down Assad and his accomplices as individuals and arrest them for war crimes. Firing cruise missiles into Syria as an act of conventional war between Syria and the United States may not be the best way to do that.
If our national conscience compels us to act, then we and the rest of the responsible nations of the world need to admit that the current structure of the United Nations is fatally flawed as regards its ability to keep the peace and swiftly hold national leaders accountable for crimes against their citizens and humanity.
Failing that, the United States will continue to be the world's policeman – until we are utterly broken in spirit and wealth; because, we can’t continue to do it all by ourselves.