Thursday, October 3, 2013

Punishment and Crime

As some good news emerges from Syria re destruction of their chemical arsenal, a moment pondering the fate of just war theory in the age of relativity with its post-modernist twist(s) ...

"Throughout reactions and deliberations to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons, the question of punishment has arisen on multiple occasions. Yet the importance of punishment—even its meaning and goals—has become contested and miserably confused. At some level, we still think that punishment matters in international politics. But we don’t understand why.

In the end, though, when Obama threw the punishment card into the discard pile, he folded his other cards as well—morally speaking anyway."

The whole of John D Carlson's First Things article is here (H/T a friendly commenter on ADU).


Andrei said...

Some points

(1) Who says that Barack Obama with the force of the USA behind him should be the "Judge, Jury and Executioner" for the entire World?

(2) Many are not convinced of Assad's guilt anyway - whether he is or is not guilty matters not a whit when it comes to the perception of the wider world. If the USA was to use its military might to "punish" him the perception in many quarters would not be that of justice being served but that of a bully imposing his will through military might (recall that 40% of the worlds military spending goes to the US armed forces).

(3) And of course "punishing" Assad aids and comforts his enemies who are in many cases far worse than he is and in fact the very people the USA has been at war with for the past 12 years or more.

All in all this whole affair has been one of the worst foreign policy debacles of all times

Bryden Black said...

Given the murkiness of any civil war - and bearing in mind I too have been through such a war, with friends and associates on all sides - I hear and agree with part, but only part, of Andrei’s comment.

For what is perhaps helpful to ponder are the parallels between Syria and ex Yugoslavia - at least, as far as the response and/or lack of response of the watching world is concerned, and therefore of the frightful plight of those citizens (an important word) caught in the cross-fire. While there are surely other Arab states who too have their own historical agendas to run, just as does Russia as a cold-war-vestige, in the end, as proven by the Balkans tragedy of the 1990s, in the end any strong man needs a stronger man to bind them. Otherwise blood will continue to flow and to flow and to flow. And who will be the more guilty ...? In the end?

carl jacobs said...

Ah, Just War Doctrine. The perfect philosopher's playground. It has nothing ... and I mean nothing ... to do with the real world. (Try disobeying a lawful order to fight on the grounds that the fighting in question does not meet Just War criteria, and see where it gets you.) But people love to talk about it like it has some purchase on national behavior somewhere.

The concept of 'punishment of a state' presupposes some temporal law to which the nations are accountable. Law presupposes an authority to make and enforce law. Neither exist. The US could not have punished Syria under any concept of law, because could never become an agent of law empowered by any legitimate authority. It could have punished Syria for doing something the US gov't felt threatened its interests. But that isn't retribution for wrongful behavior.

Self-interest is in fact the true context of this subject. President Obama was not trying to exact retribution for the deaths incurred. He was hoping to curb future usage of CW as contrary to American interests. If Assad had killed 100,000 people by more conventional means, the US would not have even suggested acting. This puts paid to the whole idea of retribution. It was never about exacting justice for people who had been murdered by the Syrian Gov't. It was about raising the barrier for usage of CW. Killing people with CW is not inherently more evil than killing people with bullets or machetes.

If you actually wanted to do something effective about this problem, then you should consider assassination of the leaders responsible for the decision. Like Reagan tried in 1986 in Libya. "If you use these weapons, we won't bomb a factory. We will bomb your house. Or your car. Or your government office." Then follow through. That would work. The risk of personal death would be a significant deterrent. It would also have the moral advantage of killing the right people. But I wonder what Just War Doctrine says about political assassinations?


Anonymous said...

In answer to Andrie's points.

1: God says we should defend the weak against tyrants. So, as the US AND the West have that ability in military power they also have that God given responsibility.

2. Most people know Assad's regime is responsible. Who else in Syria has chemical weapons? Nobody. Of course Assad is responsible.

3. Only a minority of the Syrian resistance are terrorists. The majority, and those who will replace Assad, are not.

Punishing Assad gives aid and comfort to the victims of the Assad regime.

Father Ron Smith said...

"(2) Many are not convinced of Assad's guilt anyway - whether he is or is not guilty matters not a whit when it comes to the perception of the wider world." - Andrei -

It may not matter to you, Andrei, but it does matter to me, and to many people who were appalled at the rank inhumanity that the chemical weapons attack evidenced. If Assad was at all guilty of using this horrendous means of subjugating innocent people, he is just as guilty of crimes against humanity as the next dictator.

If not, then why would he agree to having Syria subjected to the inspection of the U.N.?

Andrei said...

Shawn my point in (2) was not whether or not Assad did it, I personally don't think he did, but rather that it is a widely held belief that he is not guilty. Perceptions Shawn perceptions

We could go round and round in circles for years arguing the toss over this and if Syria does escalate into a major conflict maybe we will.

At this point in human history, I am afraid, Shawn, the West is actually bankrupt, financially, MORALLY and SPIRITUALLY and most certainly does not have the God given authority to impose its will on anybody.

And just as well given the degraded state into which we have fallen, the foul sewer in which we dwell but we have become so accustomed to the stench we no longer notice.

Obama can sit in the White house and kill people by remote control with cruise missiles and drones but they just good for killing people and don't actually win wars. (In case you've missed it after 10 years in Iraq the place is descending into civil war and after Twelve in Afghanistan it is about to be handed back to the Taliban).

Don't worry Shawn, whoever is really responsible for that Chemical attack will face his judgement on the day of judgement and justice will be served by someone with far greater wisdom by far than Barack Obama.

Anonymous said...

Hi Andrie,

I agree about the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of the West. All the more reason to encourage the West to act with courage and honor, regardless of perceptions.

You focus on Obama and the US, but the US was not leading the charge on this, France and Britain were.

In case you missed it Saddam Hussein is dead and his regime gone, most of Al Qaedas leadership are dead, many of them to drone strikes, Osama bin Laden is dead, and the Taliban have publically admitted they cannot win and the "moderate" wing is taking over the organization.

Military action, including drone strikes, can certainly win wars.