And while these attacks would be launched with the stated goal of upholding international norms, isn't there an inherent contradiction in upholding international law by breaking international law? As Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, pointed out last week, "the measures that the United States are contemplating for remedying the absence of compliance with one norm [are] being considered at the expense of other norms of international law that is not only equally important but sometimes with greater consequences." International law defines the circumstances under which one country can attack another: in immediate self-defense or with the sanction of the U.N. Security Council. Wouldn't bombing Syria more or less unilaterally undermine the broader system of international laws and norms? Wouldn't bombing Syria outside of that international system and on the grounds that we're nipping a potential national security threat in the bud signal that President Obama has adopted the Bush doctrine of preventive war as his own?
The president was right when he said that he didn't draw the "red line" regarding the use of chemical weapons, the world did. But given that, isn't it up to more than the United States to enforce that collective judgment?