‘Lawlessness Is How a State Proves Itself Sovereign’
To argue about whether or not the US’s attack on Syria would be legal—and to bicker and argue about whether or not the use of chemical weapons is outlawed, or simply breaks an international “norm”—is to maintain the fiction that the world is governed by a system of voluntary contractual obligations, to pretend that—as Hobbes and Locke and contract theory more generally demand—the behavior of international actors is regulated and controlled by a sovereign set of rules and laws that we have all, at some primal originary moment, agreed to be regulated by.
To embody the sovereign will of the United States—to be the world’s only superpower, the world policeman—is to be bound by the logic of arbitrary power, to be forced to occupy and preserve the state of exception in which American exceptionalism is founded. Because the United States is powerful, it has the power to decide where and how and when and to whom the rules apply. If it does not have that power, it is not powerful; if it is not powerful, it is not the United States. The stakes for every American president, then, are existential. If Syria is allowed to cross the red line unpunished, it will threaten the very basis of American identity, the exceptionalism which makes America the solitary sovereign actor on the world stage. Punishing them for doing so—with a handful of inconsequential cruise missiles or even a more aggressive and disastrous bombing campaign—would accomplish no more than re-instating that narrative, that the United States is, still, the decider. But that’s all its meant to accomplish.
Bonus Syria Links, just to highlight the absurdity of all this:
* And this from Timothy Burke: It’s becoming clear that the Iraq War, contrary to the dearest wishes of its most lunatic devotees, was the Suez of the Pax Americana, that moment that comes in the life of most empires, however they’re configured, where they are goaded into a florid, expensive attempt to secure a distant frontier and end up proving only that the core no longer has and never will again have the resources or reputation to succeed in such attempts.