Does the U.S. government have a right to bomb Syria? It’s painfully obvious that it has no such right. It’s painful because it looks like it’s going to bomb anyway.
Not one of the arguments that attempts to show that the U.S. has a right to bomb Syria holds up upon examination. The preemptive or preventive idea has reappeared. This idea is that if there is a threat to U.S. national security (or interests), the U.S. has a right to remove that threat before it becomes a reality. That argument is an argument for self-defense. It is valid only if the threat is tangible and imminent. In this case, there is no tangible or imminent threat that the Syria government can or will unleash chemical weapons on America, American embassies or American forces. There is no intelligence to that effect. Moreover, the Syrian government has made no such threats.
The pro-bombing advocates argue that they do not want chemical weapons to fall into the hands of anti-American forces other than Syrians. There is also no direct, tangible and imminent threat of an attack from this source. This possibility is a threat of a threat. Only if the weapons first fell into hostile hands might they then possibly become a threat. This argument is twice-removed from being an actual threat and being an actual candidate for a rightful self-defense.
An argument is being made that the credibility of the U.S. government is at stake, and that it needs to follow through on the red line threats issued by the government. But if the U.S. has been so foolish as to make threats that might diminish its credibility and harm its capacity for self-defense, it does not follow that it has now gained the privilege or right of making good on its threats. One’s mistakes or threats do not generate rights and privileges. If man U threatens to kill man S if man S flirts with man U’s wife, man U doesn’t gain the right to kill man S if man S calls man U’s bluff and winks at man U’s wife.