The lessons from last weekend’s strike on Syria by the United States of America and two of its allies do not bode well for the future of democracy or the future of peace, says Inder Comar.
By Inder Comar
But they must be confronted, and dealt with, in order to create a better future.
Here are four lessons to take from the Syria strike:
Lesson One: Dictatorial Power
The Syria strike underscores that the powers of the Presidency, in matters of foreign affairs, are now those of a dictator.
President Trump, like his forebears, swept aside tepid concern that Congress had to weigh in on the legitimacy of any strike against a foreign power.
Instead, and like his predecessors, the President has taken a broad, Caesar-like view of his powers, marshaling American military might as a unitary actor, without any scrutiny.
The most that a few senators and members of Congress could do in the run up to the attack was raise tepid, half-hearted questions over Twitter about the need for Congress to authorize an act of war, as the Constitution says.
That members of the most powerful legislative body in the world could do nothing other than tweet in the face of missile strikes speaks for itself.
As noted in “the Saleh v. Bush case”, the Judiciary will not scrutinize executive conduct, either, because the President is presumed as acting in the best interests of the nation — even when committing heinous international crimes.
The Legislative and the Judicial branches have walked away from their constitutional roles, and are declining any mandate to oversee the Executive branch in matters of war.
Checks and balances are swept away. And the strike now sets further precedent for unilateral executive authority to attack or invade another country based. It is one person, and one person alone, who commands American military might, without scrutiny or later accountability.
Lesson Two: Death of Collective Security
The U.N. suffered a critical blow to its legitimacy in 2003 because of the U.S. invasion of Iraq without Security Council authorization or evidence that the U.S. acted in self-defense under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.
But the Syria strike further advances the perception that the U.N. has lost its role as a neutral, honest broker.
Smaller countries are realizing they are nakedly at the whim of the great powers. Bolivian president Evo Morales, in perhaps the strongest critique of the strikes to date (other than from Russia), warned that the United States is now the greatest threat to democracy in the world today.
It seems that like the League of Nations, the U.N. can only stand by as the storms of war gather.
The world is one attack away from a destructive, global war that could spread far beyond the borders of Syria or the Middle East.
Lesson Three: Bi-Partisan Perpetual War
Media outlets, concentrated by a handful of corporate owners, understand and exploit the perverse incentives that make war profitable, and they cheer on a war because it sells viewers to advertisers.
The revolving door in Washington D.C. means that government officials go on to lucrative consulting and think-tank jobs, where they research and advise the next generation of government leaders on how to promote imperialism abroad.
Tellingly, the voices questioning the Syria strike came from a minority wing of both parties. Perpetual war is the bipartisan consensus.
Lesson Four: Spiritual Crisis
There is a grave political, cultural and spiritual crisis in the United States today.
War has eaten at the country’s soul and left Americans deprived of a consistent sense of ethics.
In any other country, an attack on another country would be a matter of grave concern, with protests threatening a ruling party in a parliamentary system.
But in the United States, where attacks are common in a presidential system, another bout of militarism is absorbed with the morning coffee.
Hannah Arendt spoke of the banality of evil; she would write today about the banality of militarism, and the neutering of American public conscience.
The U.S. could be a tremendous source of good if it could change its ways and act as a real leader in building meaningful peace, environmental sustainability, and economic opportunity.
But there are almost no prominent voices advocating a peacetime economy and an end to imperialism. There are few influential voices with the imagination to think of something other than empire.
Inder Comar is the executive director of Just Atonement Inc., a legal non-profit dedicated to building peace and sustainability, and Managing Partner of Comar LLP, a private law firm working in technology. He is a recognized expert on the crime of aggression, the legality of the Iraq War, and international human rights. He holds a law degree from the New York University School of Law, and a B.A. and Master of Arts degree from Stanford University.