A Yes Vote of Conscience for the World's Red Line

Posted by John Kerry
September 6, 2013
Secretary Kerry Gestures During a Statement

I'm sometimes asked how, as someone who testified 42 years ago against the Vietnam War in which I had fought, I could testify in favor of action to hold the Assad regime accountable today.  The answer is, I spoke my conscience in 1971 and I'm speaking my conscience now in 2013.  Secretary Hagel and I support limited military action against Syrian regime targets not because we've forgotten the lessons and horrors of war -- but because we remember them.  Make no mistake: If another Vietnam or another Iraq were on the table in the Situation Room, I wouldn't be sitting at the witness table before Congress advocating for action.

I spent two years of my life working to stop the war in Vietnam, and made enemies and lost friends because of my decision to speak my mind.  So I don't come to my view on the use of military force anywhere without real reflection. I do so with an eye towards facts and reason.  I am informed by Vietnam, not imprisoned by it. And I am informed by Iraq, not imprisoned by it, either.  The faulty intelligence of the Iraq War was a legacy burned into all of us who present the case for action in Syria to the Congress: It has made us press with extra urgency to know that we are highly confident of what we speak now.  For me and for Chuck Hagel, who voted once before on an intelligence case that turned out not to be true -- and regretted it deeply -- we would never put any Member of Congress in that same position today, period.  I understand the temptation to remember Vietnam and Iraq and reflexively paint any subsequent possible military action with the same brush.  But to do so ignores what Syria is, and what it isn't.  There will be no boots on the ground in Syria. There will be no open-ended commitment. There will be no assuming responsibility for another country's civil war.  These and other differences with Iraq are the exact reasons why many members of Congress who opposed that war and voted against it are supporting this action against Syria today.

So what is Syria? It would be a tailored action to make clear that the world will not stand by and allow the international norm against the use of chemical weapons to be violated with impunity by a brutal dictator willing to gas hundreds of children to death while they sleep. Our action would be a limited and targeted military action, against military targets in Syria, designed to deter Syria's use of chemical weapons and degrade the Assad regime's capabilities to use or transfer such weapons in the future.  So what's at stake here that caused the President to come to the Congress and ask Congress to authorize action? Those of us who believe in the international order and believe in efforts to ensure that certain international norms against chemical weapons are respected -- we have much at stake in this debate.  For nearly 100 years, the world has stood up for an international norm against the use of chemical weapons.

There's a reason why the United States joined the Geneva Conventions. There's a reason why the United States and 98 percent of the world are signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention. The reason is this: our nation is safer when these norms are strong. Our interests are protected when these weapons cease to exist. Our allies and partners are protected when these threats are reduced.  The world agrees with us: chemical weapons were used in east Damascus on August 21st. Dozens of countries or organizations around the world acknowledge the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and of those, many have said so publicly. Many countries or organizations have also stated in public or in private that the Assad regime is responsible. And we continue building support around the world every day.

As part of that effort, this weekend I will meet with European Foreign Ministers in Vilnius, Lithuania, where I will continue to lay out the evidence we have collected and seek to broaden support for a limited military response to deter the Assad regime from launching another chemical weapons attack.  Let me be clear: I have no doubt that Assad will use chemical weapons again and again unless we take action.  I have no doubt that we will never get to the negotiating table for the peace talks we have pushed for if Assad believes he can gas his way out of his predicament, just as we'd never have gotten to the peace talks that lead to the Dayton Accords if military action hadn't been part of the equation.  I have no doubt that if we look the other way, we risk not only Assad's repeated use of chemical weapons within Syria, but downstream consequences for our allies and friends in the region including Israel, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq.

When I hear firsthand about panicked parents in Israel rushing to buy gas masks for their children, I am reminded of so many who live so close to Assad's reign of terror.  And I have no doubt that for anyone who wants to see a diplomatic solution to two of the world's most pressing proliferation challenges -- Iran and North Korea -- ask yourselves: Are these two countries more or less likely to plunge ahead with proliferation and provocation if they see Assad's actions go unanswered? I would argue that we all know the answer to this question: They are more likely to do so.

The costs of inaction here are much greater than the costs of action.  Some people have asked why we would consider acting without the backing of the United Nations Security Council.  It's the same reason that President Clinton in Kosovo did not bind his conscience to a Russian or Chinese veto in New York: In Kosovo, without a single American combat casualty, countries of conscience acted and the world is a better place because we did.  It was the right thing to do then, and it is the right thing to do now.  We already know who used chemical weapons. We know when they were used and how they were used. We wish the United Nations today were in a position to defend these norms rather than being blocked from acting by Russian and Chinese obstruction -- because we believe in the institution.

But we also believe in the principle that we cannot turn our backs and say there's nothing we can do. We cannot allow these weapons to be used to slaughter innocents with impunity.  This is a vote of conscience. And I know that the same reasons that compelled me to join the United States Navy and serve, and the same reasons that compelled me to speak out against the war in which I'd fought, tell me now that the cause of conscience and conviction is the cause for action in Syria.

About the Author: John Kerry serves as the 68th Secretary of State of the United States.

Editor's Note: This entry appeared first on The Huffington Post

Comments

Comments

Mike B.
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California, USA
September 6, 2013
President Putin is right. Secretary Kerry is lying, and he knows it, and it's sad.
Sam A.
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Missouri, USA
September 6, 2013
Thank you Mr. Kerry, well said!
Wisam M.
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Ohio, USA
September 7, 2013
Thank you secretary Kerry for your honesty and courage in the Syrian issue. We should all be informed, but not imprisoned, by the Iraq war. I believe you. Syria isn't going to be Iraq. God bless you.
Jessica S.
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Sweden
September 7, 2013
Have you shared the evidence you found with the U.N? If no, why not? Are there any exact knowledge as to where the chemical weapons are kept? If the goal is limited to striking military goals to destroy the chemical weapons, I would say go ahead. Just as the promises are kept - no boots on the ground and no unending war.
Patrick M.
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Kentucky, USA
September 7, 2013
Removing Mister Assad and his mates who put Syria into jeopardy has to be a Sigma Six Operation. Halting ternary is vital to the safety of people and industries. Hopefully the targeted bad guys will pay the price for all this tyranny and the innocent citizens and soldiery will be spared from friendly fire and the abuses of Assad's iron fist to remain empowered. John Kerry is the same man he was when he opposed the abuse of war. Sec of State John Kerry abhors the almost unpatriotic selfishness of special interest groups. John speaks his conscience with a deep commitment to the discovery of truth, When diplomacy and civilized reason fails life; John Kerry and the strategists will feel compelled to force a resolution to the psychotic sickness of antisocial behaviorism of the heartless evil and malevolence. Kosovo and Bosnia weighed heavily upon the crown of Bill Clinton. When JFK was a Senator he consulted General Mac Arthur and Mac Arthur told Senator John Kennedy Vietnam was a quagmire not to do it. President Obama is looking at the big picture the now and the later overall impact as well as all the risks. The backing of Congress is part of a formal channel consultation and a yea or nay approval process. i pray the innocent citizens and the pro West pro Peace factions of Syria are not to suffer a blow back of pain death and retaliation from Mister Assad.
Herb S.
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California, USA
September 7, 2013
Since it is likely that it was the US- and British-sponsored foreign mercenaries that used the chemical weapons, how does Secretary Kerry propose to "tailor" an "action" accordingly? Or if Secretary Kerry does indeed possess evidence that the Assad government used chemical weapons, presumably to alienate the UN inspectors which it had invited to visit that very day, what is preventing Secretary Kerry from making that evidence public? You mention the Geneva Conventions. I'd like to remind you that U.S. is also a party to the Nuremburg Principles, which defined Crimes against Peace, in Principle VI, specifically Principle VI(a), submitted to the United Nations General Assembly, as:[10][11] (i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; (ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i). President Obama and Secretary Kerry have proclaimed their intention to commit Crimes Against Peace. Let's also remember that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was also a "tailored action" with "no boots on the ground."
Matti F.
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Georgia, USA
September 7, 2013
Why is the administration not making the intelligence it has public, especially if it is so compelling? I believe that we can pursue charges of crimes against humanity, and if we go about it with the same intensity and resources as the administration is ready to apply militarily, we shall get justice.
cheryl m.
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Tennessee, USA
September 7, 2013
Syria is not about human rights. Its about Liquid Natural Gas and whether Iran or Qatar gets to run their pipeline across Syria. Mr. Kerry, your take on this situation is incorrect. The president is making a grave error. Please step back and reconsider your position on this matter. Look at the big picture. The pipeline and what it means to those countries. Do not be fooled by the president's concern for the Syrian people. It is a ploy. The US is poised to begin export of LNG very soon. The pipeline going through Syria will have an effect on the price of LNG. It is all about money Mr Kerry. You should kniw that. I am now ashamed to say that I voted for you. Stand down Mr. Kerry. Stand diwn
Anne K.
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Texas, USA
September 7, 2013
We need to stop acting like the world's police nation. The people over there hate us, and even if we did go in, after all was said and done, they would all just turn against us. We need to bring all our troops back from Iraq and Afghanistan (2 lost wars) and concentrate on improving domestic matters. Let's not sacrifice anymore American lives. Let the Arabs take care of their own.
SPEAK T.
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Delaware, USA
September 7, 2013
UN not sure it was sarin...but a pesticide! Associated Press...google it. Prince Bardar of Saudia Arabia delivered chemicals to rebels. Rebels destroyed 1000 yr old churchs in the Only COMMUNITY IN THE WORLD, that still speaks Aramaic the language of Jesus Christ. These are the radical nuts who want all Christians out of Syria along with all non muslims. THESE are the people who eat the hearts of their victims...these are the crazies the US is now arming and supporting. John McCain had photos taken with them and didn't know they were alciaeda? We are being LIED to by both parties who are Zionists, Israelie Firsters, and supporters of Saudia Arabia....why do you think SA is prepared to PAY the debt for this war. This is SUNNI vs SHIA and the US is being led to slaughter by the Zionists and Saudia Arabia. Syria and Iran are two independent countries who have Russian defense systems. No this is not Iraq or Afganistan...this is the beginning of WW3...bend over America as the govt starts taking away all our social programs, and no jobs or infrastructure...this will be OUR DEMISE. BROUGHT TO US BY TWO CORRUPT CORPORATE PARTIES. THE BLAME BELONGS TO DEMORATS AND REPUKES.
Carlos G.
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Spain
September 8, 2013
Only speak with other important countries implicated may lead to a solution .Never arms,only words. Rouhani,Putin,Barroso,Obama,..: they must to speak face to face and stop the war inmediatly!No more arms,no more answers to provocations...! Action yes but over the table!!!!
Chris H.
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France
September 8, 2013
Mr. Kerry is quick to denounce President Assad's crimes, yet his silence on the atrocities committed by his rebel friends is deafening. What about the violence against religious minorities including Christians? What about the gruesome executions and revenge on those who support the regime? What about the savagery committed in the historic town of Maaloula? More than 80% of this small town's population had to flee the horror and the rest (including nuns and clerics) are now taken hostage by Al Qaeda. Centuries-old monuments protected by UNESCO were also cruelly destroyed by those barbarians our governments want to help. Could you please explain why you so desperately want to support in Syria the same terrorists we have been fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan for more than a decade? The only way you could get support from international public opinion on this affair is if you first take down the Islamists and then negotiate peace with Assad. But taking down Assad and letting dangerous extremists extend their reign of terror over a country that has already suffered so much would be criminal and only add insult to injury.
Patrick W.
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Maryland, USA
September 8, 2013
Cooperation !Do the right thing for us all!
Andrea K.
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Germany
September 9, 2013
One more Question to Mr. Kerry about the Ultimate he set on Syria: How shall this handover work in practise?? How shall they hand this chemicals over?? By transporting them to the USA by ship or how?? Because Mr. Kerry seems not to have thought about the risks of such a transportation. For example: if you put these tonnes of chemicals on a freight-ship and it sails across the Atlantic Ocean and it gets into a storm and sinks, then the worldwide oceans will get poisoned by these chemicals and this poison gets into the food we eat!! (fish and shells) Or what, if this ship gets attacked during travelling through the Horn of Africa?? What if these chemicals fall into the hands of terrorists?? Or the third scenario: what if you put these chemicals onto a truck, travelling throug the country in direction to turkey and it gets attacked by terrorists from the Sinai-Island and these chemicals also fall into the hands of terrorists?? So Mr. Kerry and Mr. President Obama: tell the world, how this handing over of these chemical weapons shall work in practise??? I am waiting for an answer. Greetings Andrea
Rene X.
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Germany
September 9, 2013
Maybe your war is not right Mr. Kerry! Berlin: Syrian officers to findings by German intelligence services for months have insisted on the use of poison gas in the Civil War. The apparent from radio conversations that were intercepted by the fleet service boat "Oker" reported the newspaper "Bild am Sonntag", citing German security circles. The spy ship of the German navy crosses off the coast of Syria. Requested by the commanders of poison gas attacks were, however, always refused further reported the paper. The internationally outlawed poison gas use of 21 August was PROBABLY NOT approved by President Bashar al-Assad personally with hundreds of deaths.
Welt R.
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Germany
September 9, 2013
Dear Mr. Kerry, when you took offfice and went to Moscow in April I thought you'd bring change to the warmongering behaviour of your predecessor and I was really really pleased with the outcome at that time. (Geneva II Conference) Now I must admit that I was wrong and the US never changed. I honestly hope you will find a way to stop impending WWIII, which might be caused by your country and your very own acting in this tragedy. I always wondered and still wonder if you aswell as President Obama went blind to the truth due to manipulation and brainwashing or if you do your very best to stop the monster behind the scenes, which to be honest doesn't seem to be too effective (your efforts). Actually I guess most Americans and american politicians just live in a media made fairytale world today, which makes me quite sad. I know the US is in it's final death struggle (compare with e.g. the Roman Empire), which makes it quite dangerous with all it's military capabilites, and ppl push by all means to keep the US running a little bit longer, but I hereby appeal and plead to you to make sure you no longer harm the international community atleast militarily. Thank you, all the best to you, the US and the World.
sigy s.
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Indonesia
September 11, 2013
Nice speaking Mr Sec,what going to happen when we delay our Nations security? what happened next,do no making convictions..and assumptions.God bless you Mr sec
Ashim C.
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India
September 11, 2013
No action against delinquents is no solution. After admissions about intelligence failures in Iraq war, it is good to see that US government is being extremely careful. Syria is a very complex situation. While opposition/ rebellion against Assad is strong, the very fact that he is able to remain in power shows he has a good enough support base. Another worrisome aspect of the Syrian situation is links of Islamic fundamentalists with the rebels. Trusting them can potentially counterproductive. The challenge is to segregate the fundamentalists. For this the liberal section of the rebels ought to be taken into confidence for identification and their subsequent suppression in a democratic way. Russian proposal is good in as much as it creates opportunity for more diplomatic efforts and adopting measures to minimise collateral damages of war. Also what guarantees that he will hand over chemical weapons like a holy angel, which he will never be. Therefore, he must suffer the consequences of taking Geneva convention on chemical weapons lightly, possessing them and using them about which international community, including Russia, seems to be certain. Why would Russia make an offer to Assad to surrender all his chemical weapons, if it was fully convinced that Assad had not used chemical weapons? Anti war mood of American people is fully understandable. How one wishes a) the expansion of SC of UNO was a reality by now b) Reform of decision making in SC was replaced by a system of majority decision and end of veto of permanent members too was a reality c) creation of a strong military wing of UN, with voluntary contribution of UN members in the form of men ( minimum half a billion to be effective in conventional warare) and military hardware to take action wherever required. Why should US citizens alone sacrifice their lives in wars on foreign lands ?
Eric J.
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New Mexico, USA
September 20, 2013

Dear Sec. Kerry,

I'd like to cut through all the hubbub and media cannon fodder expresed in some of these comments, and just say thanks for making the best of a bad situation and I was just wondering since my granddad was a metalugist if there was going to be any metalurgical tests done on the weapons debri found with cryllic writing on it, and whether Mr. Lavrov would care to make a bet with me that the sample from the chem. weapons site found would be an exact metalurgical match to the same type weapon manufactured in Russia, since he apparently thinks they are not of Russian origin and that the Syrian Opposition managed to manufacture exact duplicates, smuggle them onto a Syrian base, fire them at their own positions, and get away without anyone knowing about it.

Have you explained to Mr. Lavrov that in all likelyhood, even seal team 6 would think that to be "mission impossible" to pull off succesfully....(not speaking for the team, but I'll bet you that they would most likely agree with my charactarization of the task)

I'm just waiting for the President's "Get real" speach at the UN...given that your doing a pretty good job setting the stage for it.

But what to do with the functionaly obtuse anyway? If the Russians can't "man up" about their contribution to crimes against humanity in selling the means, there's no way the American taxpayer should contribute a penny to help them disarm Assad of his chemical weapons, even if we were so inclined to otherwise.

Sounds to me like they absolutely refuse to take ownership of the reality they've helped create in Syria, nor the millions of people affected by the weapons Russia has supplied Assad's forces with.

While I think they recognize they have a problem (along with everyone else) while chem. weapons remain in Syria, and have leaned on Assad to obtain this agreement...

Untill they are brave enough to accept what is, and what will be if Russia doesn't disarm Assad of all his heavy weaponry and airforce, and publicy condemn Assad as unworthy to remain in Russia's "good graces" ....there's going to be guilt by association with mass murderers.

And that can't be in Russia's "national interest"...

Tell Mr. Lavrov for me please that if he wants to look like an idiot, or worse...to just keep it up. I think the old saying "that dog don't hunt" kind of sums up the worth of his nonsensical fantasmical wishful hypthisis that Assad is inocent of very grave war crimes.

I know Assad will need a good defense lawyer if he ever goes before the Hauge, but honestly I think he could do better than Mr. Lavrov.

Go Red Sox!

EJ

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