Obama dishonors MLK with threat of war in Syria

President Obama should honor international law and stay out of Syria. Photo: Obama's warlike stance on Syria betrays the idealism and non-violent philosophy of MLK. (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON, August 28, 2013 — Like so many professional politicians, President Obama enjoys channeling the late Martin Luther King, Jr. in defense of his agendas. Both Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius suggested this week that the late civil rights champion would have supported the highly controversial Affordable Care Act. Perhaps he might have, but the question Obama has clearly failed to ask is how would Dr. King feel about starting a war with Syria?

In recent days the Obama Administration and its media surrogates have been scrambling to invent legal and philosophical justification for attacking Syria. But if Obama truly esteems the legacy of Dr. King, he ought to consider what that bold preacher said at a Christmas service at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in 1957:

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“Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says ‘love your enemies’ he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies or else? The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

President Obama is walking a hypocritical moral path if he believes that Dr. King would advocate the Affordable Care Act yet somehow remain silent about starting a war in Syria, even when the United Nations has not yet fully completed an investigation of all the facts.

Furthermore, one must wonder where all the legal expertise and political science training of our erudite Commander-in-Chief has gone. Obama’s high profile team of legal experts and Ivy League intelligentsia are flummoxed at the task of explaining why the United States has a right to attack Syria, but even a freshman undergraduate political science student would know the precedent in Nicaragua v. United States forbids our involvement in Assad’s affairs.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1986 that “the United States of America, by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua, has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State.”

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Nicaragua, which is in the Western Hemisphere, was of clear national security interest to the United States. Soviet influence in Central America could have had potential strategic nuclear implications for both the United States and the entire hemisphere; yet in spite of this the ICJ sided with Nicaragua and the long held tradition of Westphalian sovereignty.

If it was illegal to intervene in the internal affairs of Nicaragua, which was so close to the United States’ sphere of geographic concern, how much less justification does Obama have to attack Syria?

President Obama should also consider the precedent of the 1927 S.S. Lotus case of France v. Turkey, in which the Permanent Court of International Justice determined “the first and foremost restriction imposed by international law upon a State is that … it may not exercise its power in any form in the territory of another State.”

Were Obama to attack Syria simply because of the alleged use of chemical weapons in a civil war, the entire system of sovereignty and international structure would come crashing down. What would happen if Russia were to duplicate the Obama precedent on U.S. allies that abuse their populations or suppress internal uprisings? Is it now acceptable for military action to occur anytime, anywhere simply because a head of state does not like what happens in another state?

President Obama, the constitutional law professor that he once was, the adroit grassroots champion of social justice and supposed admirer of Dr. Martin Luther King was given a Nobel Peace Prize simply on the possibility that his leadership would bring peace to the world. Instead, the world has been betrayed by a man who speaks peace yet plots war.

The only “law” that justifies starting war in Syria is the law of the jungle. If Obama wishes to retain the moral authority of being the leader of the free world, he should step back from the brink and obey the ideological principles he claims to extol. 

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Danny de Gracia

Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist and a former senior adviser to the Human Services and International Affairs committees at the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2011-2013 he served as an elected municipal board member in Waipahu. As an expert in international relations theory, military policy, political psychology and economics, Danny has advised numerous policymakers and elected officials and his opinions have been featured worldwide. Now working on his first novel, Danny resides on the island of Oahu.

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