America – and Obama – Must Be Ready to Act Alone


Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of history and education at New York University. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory” (Yale University Press).

In the late 1980s, Saddam Hussein’s cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid explained how he was going to put down a Kurdish rebellion in northern Iraq. “I will kill all of them with chemical weapons,” boasted “Chemical Ali,” as he was later called. “Who is going to say anything? The international community?”

Between 2,000 and 5,000 Kurds died in chemical attacks in 1988, and – as Chemical Ali predicted – “the international community” did nothing to punish Iraq. And that’s precisely why it needs to move quickly against Bashar al-Assad, who has, according to a US assessment, deployed chemical weapons against his own people in Syria. For almost a century, the world has maintained a steadfast taboo against using such weapons. We can’t let up now.

I'm glad that President Obama decided to seek congressional approval before proceeding with a strike against Syria, which would give any such action more legitimacy at home. And I also admire his efforts to get the rest of the world behind a strike. But if that doesn't work, the US – and Mr. Obama, as commander in chief – might have to go it alone....

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