Reporting Heather Brown
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The U.S. is taking steps to strike Syria after officials say the Syrian government used chemical weapons on its own people last week. Bashar al-Assad’s government denies the claim, but the U.S. says they’ve crossed the “red line” President Barack Obama talked about last year.
Over the past two years, more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria. Now, the U.S. believes it’s time to do something about it.
“There is no doubt that as essential international norm has been violated,” Vice President Joe Biden said on Monday.
According to University of Minnesota law professor Oren Gross, it’s in the interest of the global community to send a strong message to Assad that chemical weapons cannot be tolerated.
“Directly targeting civilians is a prohibited activity under international law,” Gross said. “Doing so, using prohibited weapons — neurotoxins, chemical weapons, if you will — makes it, as a matter of speech, even worse.”
Gross says there is an argument to be made killing tens of thousands of people with conventional weapons is not all that different from using chemical weapons.
“What I think is the game-changer here is that chemical weapons are prohibited under international law,” he said. “There’s a notion in international law of using weapons that do not cause unnecessary suffering.”
A Reuters/Ipsos poll found only 25 percent of Americans support intervention into Syria if weapons were found to be used. Forty-six percent would not.
“Las Vegas rules don’t apply here,” said Gross. “It’s not what happens in Syria stays in Syria. What happens in Syria spills over throughout the Middle East, whether it’s flows of refugees, whether it is the involvement of al-Qaeda or other Islamist groups.”
And, then, there’s the moral issue. Gross believes the U.S. is in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. Not intervening might invoke a Rwanda or Holocaust-like situation that has people wondering why the U.S. didn’t intervene. At the same time, intervening might have people asking why risk American lives.
“There are certain things no nation should tolerate,” he said. “The fact that the U.S. is the most powerful and the one that can actually do something about this, maybe seen as fortunate, unfortunate, but it is a fact.”