Is the U.S. the World’s Moral Authority as Obama Thinks?

Regarding Syria, Bill O’Reilly raised one of the central issues. He said “There’s got to be some moral authority in this world, and if you allow this kind of attack…” (He was interrupted at that point.) Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the Syrian government or some component of it made a chemical weapons attack. He then argues that the U.S. should punish Syria for this. His reasoning is (A) that the world needs a moral authority, (B) that authority should enforce moral behavior, (C) the U.S. government can tell what is moral behavior and what is not, (D) the U.S. government knows how to administer force so as to bring about moral behavior, and (E) the U.S. is that moral authority and enforcer that the world needs. (He’s also arguing that when such immoral behavior as designated by the U.S. goes unpunished, that then there is a slippery slope in which such behavior spreads. In other words, unless the U.S. is the moral authority and enforcer, the world will go to rack and ruin. This side argument fallaciously assumes that there are no other factors causing moral behavior than U.S. force.)

Every part of his argument, which is also the Obama-Kerry argument, is either fallacious or questionable. The world does not need a single moral authority. Whenever a body of men claims a monopoly on morality and then attempts to enforce its single code on others, the result is usually warfare. A common complaint about jihadists or simply a government like the Taliban’s in Afghanistan is that they attempt to apply their moral code to any and all people under their control. This complaint applies equally to the U.S. government on a wide range of domestic social and economic issues. And it applies to the U.S. in its foreign relations with Syria if it attempts unilaterally to punish the use of chemical weapons.

When the world’s states want a single moral authority on some matter, they inch toward it by attempting to hammer out voluntary agreements among the states that now comprise the system. This system currently condemns any single state that dictates to others and that applies force to enforce its diktats. Accordingly, a U.S. bombing of Syria is an aggression because it cannot be justified by claiming defense or national interests. The U.S. cannot claim that it is acting for the world or the world’s good, surely not when it is being warned outright by other nations that the results may well be catastrophic. The U.S. cannot claim it is enforcing a treaty because Syria has not agreed to a chemical weapons treaty. Furthermore, the existing agreement among states did not include a provision that declares non-signers as outlaws and then authorizes the U.S. to be the policeman. The U.S. is acting unilaterally and outside the bounds of international law.

Even if the U.S. has accurately identified a world moral condemnation of a Syrian gas attack, it does not follow that bombing Syria is itself a moral method of altering Syrian behavior. It lacks any sort of attempt at due process. It is a rush to judgment. It is a rush to punishment without consideration of any alternative means of influencing the Syrian government.


7:14 pm on August 30, 2013