This is an open-ended blog ranging from news about my latest gigs and publications
to ruminations about politics, world affairs, culture and whatever piques my interest—or ire.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

TELL IT TO THE JUDGE: why indicting Assad for war crimes is better than a military strike

A couple of days ago, I proposed an alternative to a risky military strike against the Syrian regime: charge President Bashar al-Assad with war crimes before the International Court of Justice in the Hague. I hadn't seen that idea mentioned anywhere else until today, when Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times wrote:  "Involving the International Criminal Court sounds wonderful but would make it more difficult to hammer out a peace deal in which President Bashar al-Assad steps down."

I won't flatter myself by suggesting that Kristof got the idea from my blog, but I will take issue with his assumption that war crimes charges would dissuade Assad from stepping down. The flaw with that reasoning is the notion that Assad would seriously negotiate himself out of power whether or not he faced the threat of a war crimes prosecution. As I argued in my earlier post on Syria, it is delusional to think that a hereditary dictator like Assad will negotiate a peace deal whose result would be to strip away his power. Like Gaddafi in Libya, he will fight on until he is defeated, captured, or killed.

The beauty of bringing charges before the ICJ is that they would hang permanently over Assad's head, designating him in the eyes of the world as an indicted war criminal, and providing the mechanism for imposing a severe but legal punishment (life imprisonment for example) if and when he is ousted from power. So why rush into a dangerous, possibly illegal, and probably ineffective military strike? Retribution deferred is still retribution. As Leo Tolstoy put it in the title of a famous short-story, "God sees the truth but waits."

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