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Craven: International Justice

Pollsters tell us that Americans are fatigued, regarding war. As well we should be. For more than a decade we’ve been mired in Iraq and Afghanistan , escalated drone strikes into Pakistan and Yemen , orchestrated air attacks against Libyan dictator Quadafi, and backed Egypt ’s military that recently overthrew the elected government.

President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry are now working with the Russians to neutralize Syria ’s chemical weapons stockpile - after Syrian President Assad used poison gas against his people. Good.

But what about the 100,000 people killed in Syria before the gas attacks? And Assad’s recent use of napalm? To me, the chemical weapons diplomacy will be truly significant only if it can lead to a conclusive peace agreement. Otherwise, it could divert our attention from the brutal war that rages on.

I’ve been thinking recently about militarism itself - how much suffering it causes and how it has come to replace diplomacy in too many international relations. To say nothing of how it saps resources. Consider the nations with hugely destructive military capacity - that fail to adequately feed and educate their people - even in the oil-rich Middle East where poverty and illiteracy create instability.

Maybe the enemy we face around the world isn’t really Assad, Saddam Hussein, Quadafi, the bloody militias in Africa , or the perpetrators of the recent Nairobi Mall standoff. Maybe it’s militarism itself.

The Syrian crisis offers us the hint of diplomacy as a welcomed alterative to wholesale slaughter of innocent people. But we need to go further.

Since 2003, 114 nations have authorized the International Criminal Court as a desperately needed force against war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. But the U.S. has refused to join this international body, preferring to act unilaterally, and fearing that as an active military power, our soldiers and leaders could be held accountable under its jurisdiction.

But maybe it’s time for the U.S. to reconsider - and add its considerable weight in specialized training, intelligence, and judicial skill to the Court’s mandate - to help it become a truly effective body against the likes of Assad and others who ravage their own populations.

Secretary of State John Kerry recently spoke of Assad’s chemical attacks, saying “History would judge us harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of (these) weapons of mass destruction.” But clearly other weapons create mass destruction as well.

If we succeed in ridding Syria of chemical weapons by using diplomacy instead of more war, history will judge us well for it. But with the Syrian conflict still raging and more than 80 million people killed during the wars of the past century - we should ask how history might judge a nation that leads the world even further than the chemical agreement now being sought - and moves us away from militarism and war without end - toward an international system of justice that makes crystal clear the consequences to those who commit illegal aggression, genocide, and crimes against humanity.

Jay Craven is a filmmaker who teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and directs Kingdom County Productions
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