Zakaria: World has problem with U.S. as prosecutor, judge, jury and hangman
September 11th, 2013
12:52 PM ET

Zakaria: World has problem with U.S. as prosecutor, judge, jury and hangman

CNN speaks with Fareed about President Obama’s speech Tuesday night on Syria, Russia’s proposal on the country’s chemical weapons, and why the international community is skeptical of military action. These remarks have been edited for length.

Do you think the president needed to go ahead and make his speech last night? This was clearly a speech scheduled before, when military action seemed to be imminent.

I think he wanted to make it because clearly he needed to shore up his position – the position that this was serious, this was a threat to international security, this was a threat to American security.

I think at the end of the day, though, it has made his case much more difficult. And even though he made a very eloquent and intelligent speech, as he often does, I think it would be difficult for me to believe that three or four weeks from now if we are haggling with the Russians over the wording of a U.N. resolution, and the Russians say we don't want this phrase because it might imply the threat of force and the United States says, no, no, no, we must have that phrase because that is precisely what gives teeth to this resolution – and those talks collapse – the president can go to the world and the American people and say, let's go and use force.

You're saying he cannot?

I think it would be tough. There is now the possibility of a diplomatic path. It may be it will take weeks and months, and I think it will be quite difficult, because remember the Iraq inspections, UNSCOM. Those guys were going in there…[and] and the country was not at civil war. So all I'm saying is two or three weeks from now can you say ‘Remember that case I was making for war? Let's come back to that.’

I think that it may be true initially that people don't change their minds, because the moral case I think is one Americans understand. They feel Assad is a terrible person. What is happening is gruesome and barbaric. But of course he's killed people in an equally gruesome manner with conventional weapons.

More from GPS: Don't let Syria distract from Iran

What I think changed, what was very persuasive to me as somebody who's been cautious about getting engaged in a very complicated civil war, was the president's very disciplined way in which he said, this is not going to be Iraq, it's not going to be Afghanistan, it's not even going to be Libya.  In other words, this is going to be a very limited, curtailed strike that is meant to deter Assad from ever using these weapons again, because it would be a sign that he would invoke the wrath of the United States and strikes from the United States. So he was very clear about saying, we're not going to get involved in this war. We're not going to escalate. This is not open-ended. That would be I think quite unsatisfying...

What do you make of the Russian offer?

The most difficult piece of this could be whether the Russians and the Syrians will create so many roadblocks and obstacles in the negotiation…Won't the Syrians hide stuff? Won't they be unwilling to allow the kind of free rein across the whole territory and landscape that you had in Iraq?

You can make the case that this is a win-win for Putin. Assad stays in power. He has to provide access. He's the conduit for all this. And the weapons get taken away. And the Russians have always worried that these weapons could fall into the hands of jihadist Sunni militias, which would then use them in Chechnya, Dagestan, in Russia. Remember, this is the part of the world where the Tsarnaev brothers come from.

More from GPS: Syrians seem to be playing clever game

If the Russians are really serious that they would like to see Syria free of these chemical weapons because that removes the possibility of some kind of spillover, then they might actually cooperate. And they can press the Syrians and they can say you have got to get real inspectors. But I don't know if the Russians are serious.

The problem I think that he [Obama] faced is, and he faced it, and this was a tension in his speech, is he's trying to make the case that this is an absolute urgent necessity to do something. But what he's proposing is, what he keeps saying is a very limited military strike. Something that his secretary of state called unbelievably small.

And I think that tension, where you're trying to drum up a great deal of support, I think a lot of Americans look at it and say, yes, it's a terrible thing. Yes, chemical weapons are bad; Assad is bad. Is this in our national interests? The first principle of international law, as I understand it, is that you do not take military action except in self-defense, unless it is authorized by the U.N. Security Council.

So the problem which a lot of people around the world have is not with the cause, but the idea that the United States is prosecutor, judge, jury and hangman. And that is the problem. And I'm not saying this with any skepticism about the case. I think Assad did use weapons. I think that he is a terrible person. But this is the issue for me – how is it that the United States, when everybody else says no, they say yes? There is, to use John Kerry's phrase when he was running for president, there is a question – can we put this to a global test? And right now, that's the problem.

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Topics: Syria

soundoff (54 Responses)
  1. anyl

    John Kerry is a LAIR.

    September 11, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Reply
    • ✠RZ✠

      Never quite heard it Putin that manner, but ok.

      September 12, 2013 at 7:35 am | Reply
      • Blake

        Don't worry, that's just how he Kerrys himself.

        September 12, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
    • Realist

      What's a "LAIR"? Is that an Arabic term?

      September 12, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Reply
      • Jon

        From google, a lair is "a wild animal's resting place, esp. one that is well hidden."

        September 12, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
      • ✠RZ✠

        Maybe a place where you could find a bear lying about.

        September 12, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
      • In God we Trust

        @ RZ – Don't you mean "where a bear could be 'lion' about? Sorry – that wasn't so good!

        September 13, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
    • albert J. Wilson

      John Kerrey has led the US delegation to Geneva and achieved a working agreement with his Russian counterpart. It provided needed time and an organized effort to gather and count these gas weapons for ultimate destruction. It also provided the leaders in the neighboring countries an opportunity to reassess.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Reply
  2. Albert Mbanfu

    The answer to your question"But this is the issue for me – how is it that the United States, when everybody else says no, they say yes?" Because the World look up to the U.S to lead. The rest may say no, because they dont want to do the heavy lifting, but know that the right answer is yes. Inasmuch as the U.S first place position has challenges, the pluses are more. Because of U.S leadership in the World, the United Nations has not gone down the League of Nations route. Because of U.S eadership, there is no communism.Because of U.S leadership, the gold standard is gone, the $ is universal, the U.S has more markets for its goods especially with many wealthy nations in Europe. Because of U.S leadership, it became the strongest economically. Think of the advantages of the MArshall plan. Of course, America has to be careful not to sound too arogant, and that is the tight rope Obama is threading on.

    September 11, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Reply
    • brianjaniczek

      The world doesn't look to us to lead them. More than half the world resents us for our meddling. That's an ignorant statement. When other countries say no, that's because they don't believe that it's the best action to take.

      No means no.

      September 13, 2013 at 8:13 am | Reply
      • In God we Trust

        That's a fair assessment brian. Thank you.

        September 13, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
  3. Sherry Garner

    What did everybody say about the Jews being gassed in German prison camps?

    September 11, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Reply
    • greg

      no need to say anything. They went in and kicked the nazi's a$$ and have went after any of the old
      guys left that did the gassing. What else is there?

      September 12, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Reply
      • Jon

        No one invaded Germany to stop the holocaust, but waited for Germany to invade other countries. So, yes, we did kick their a$$ but only after they invaded other countries and it could be justified as self-defense.

        September 12, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
      • brianjaniczek

        You mean after we (America) turned away boatloads of Jewish refugees and sent them back to Germany? We didn't care about the plight of the Jews, we cared about German expansion.

        September 13, 2013 at 8:15 am |
  4. rightospeak

    With the media being in the hands of people that want wars, as well as the US government, the propaganda just fuels the insanity. Most of our media is propaganda which hurts the US security and the American people. There is no more free press in the US. The money spent on endless wars could have provided most Americans with excellent healthcare and a better future. What I see is downright disregard for what benefits the American people.
    Personally , I am very discouraged observing censorship and what the news in the US has become- a garbage dump and a screwy entertainment. It was different even 40 years ago. The future for us looks very bleak.

    September 11, 2013 at 4:23 pm | Reply
    • In God we Trust

      I couldn't agree more!

      September 13, 2013 at 9:39 pm | Reply
    • Mac Qurashi

      There is no money in peace. President Eisenhower warned about the military industrial complex. That complex is here and is running the world. We have the mightiest military in the world, but our infrastructure is crumbling and our schools are failing. Poverty is on the rise and the income disparity is widening. Minimum wage could not support a family. The list of our societal ills are unending. Our innovating spirit is exceptional but the other parts of our nation is at the bottom of the industrialist world indexes.

      September 15, 2013 at 7:51 pm | Reply
    • ahmed

      very true.

      September 16, 2013 at 6:12 am | Reply
  5. JAL

    Very good article.

    September 11, 2013 at 5:19 pm | Reply
    • JAL

      Time for a history lesson on inquisition.

      September 12, 2013 at 8:29 am | Reply
  6. sand

    there could have been so many better solutions for syria then this like the shias of Syria could have gone to Iraq and the sunnis from Iraq could have gone to Syria but USA and Britain wanted this the like to see dead children on youtube and dead body’s these people are monsters just like Frankenstein. they built Al Qaeda and destroyed Afghanistan the only thing usa and Britain are interested in is reaffirming there own prejudice.

    September 11, 2013 at 7:22 pm | Reply
  7. ✠RZ✠

    Rather than a military war, the Sino-Russian agenda has all along been for a financial war to further devalue the once almighty US dollar. The arrogance and greed of corporate America, in being permitted to offshore so much of its manufacturing and workforce that perhaps the US economy itself might now hinge too heavily on the military industrial complex (MIC).In short, America made war its biggest business. And with the world at peace it has no viable market left, not to mention that it has left the taxpayers on the hook for $16+ trillion dollars with no means of ever paying it back. The tactic by Russia and China to further starve the MIC by avoiding wars could eventually bankrupt America. So don't be entirely surprised to see diplomatic solutions start popping up in Syria, North Korea, Iran, and so on. Alternatively, don't be surprised to see the White House become increasingly trigger happy. The cardboard sign hanging on its fence now reads "WAR OR BUST".

    September 11, 2013 at 10:25 pm | Reply
    • rightospeak

      Excellent comments , RZ. This is what our Congress needs to hear that sold out the American people.

      September 12, 2013 at 6:51 am | Reply
    • In God we Trust

      Wow! What a great comment! Thank you – I hope someone in the White House Cabal reads posts like yours, they might learn something.

      September 13, 2013 at 9:42 pm | Reply
  8. PBUH

    Pakistan is also stock-piling Chemical weapons. US is closing eyes, till Al Qyda attack here.

    September 12, 2013 at 9:29 am | Reply
    • Blake

      Uh... no it isn't? Those are just conspiracy theories with a complete lack of any credible source backing them.

      Chemical weapons are very, very limited in the world, and most countries (Pakistan included) have signed the Chemical Weapons Convention.

      September 12, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Reply
  9. j. von hettlingen

    It's quite likely that Putin enjoys irritating Obama. He got along much better with GW Bush and didn't mind him with his Texas swagger. Obama is more an intellectual and perhaps too self-righteous in an ethical sense, that might have got on Putin's nerves, who felt hurt by Obama's condescending remark, calling him "a bored kid". Putin couldn't be a "kid", he portrays himself as a superman.

    September 12, 2013 at 10:41 am | Reply
    • In God we Trust

      Oh purleeze ! Give us a break Von H...................Obama – Intellectual?
      [1] He thought he was the leader of the 57 States of America
      [2] Recommended building trans-CONTINENTAL roads
      [3] Greeted the people of Kentucky with "hi, it's great to be here in Texas!"
      [4] If you built a business, you didn't build it, someone else did...........................I could go on!

      He reads a good autocue. Without it he's like an 8th Grader with a stammer.
      ....

      September 13, 2013 at 9:46 pm | Reply
  10. 100 % ETHIO

    Only One ethnic group/jew manage to cause problems among Christians and vs Muslims.

    September 12, 2013 at 10:45 am | Reply
    • In God we Trust

      Grow up bigot!

      September 13, 2013 at 9:47 pm | Reply
  11. Rachel Mary Benjamin

    I do hope there will be an awakening and a return to more wholesome living in the USA and actually a safer environment without oppression.....but.....I did not know that the USA was exceptional...nor humble....and there have been a few people that have mentioned the lack of humility over the years in their sermons....I wonder if Pres. Assad is just trying to keep out an intifada that ruined the economy in 1987 in Israel and hurt the economic well being of all the various people there! They accuse Mr. Putin of silencing rivals....but ....I find it very difficult to share opinions in the USA unless it says that everything is okay....and that one agrees with the system..... I had a dream once and the God of truth and justice was telling me in the dream that 'they' did not want me to talk to people....but He did. Only wanted to talk of the truth ....like problem solving....talk issues of reality and not fantasy (equilibrium, brave new world)...and then decide what to do..... it matters....it's my life and your life.....and what kind of environment we live in. I appreciate what Pres. George Washington and those guys tried to do years ago...but speaking of vomit....I think they might be a bit disgusted of what has happened since then in their name and in the name of the Creator God.... So is their still free speech and the right to an opinion....look at all the demonstrations in the 60's etc....and it also made it on the news. I visited the G. Washington monument once and the most important display they chose to have there was an article about the important of free press...ideas etc.......and a press from long a go. Must go. Hope to meet some of you one day...appreciate your prayers..... Sincerely Rachel Mary...Benjamin

    September 12, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Reply
    • In God we Trust

      Nicely said Rachel. God bless you, friend.

      September 13, 2013 at 9:49 pm | Reply
  12. Rachel Mary Benjamin

    Hope to be free at last one day soon...and from the beast computer.....the matrix.....sincerely Rachel Mary Benjamin

    September 12, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Reply
  13. John

    Please try to understand just very recently, US leadership is getting exposed to the idea that it is of many countries in the World and not the World.......

    September 12, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Reply
  14. Benton Truman

    Israel has exacerbated this problem. Israeli use of phosphorus gas in 2006 in Lebanon and against Christian and Muslim communities under occupation has led the US to a completely untenable position: support Israeli chemical weapon use and use violence against Syrian chemical weapon use. This is precisely why the US cannot be the "judge, jury and hangman" in these instances. Moreover, Israel is openly pushing the US to use violence. Once again, US troops will be placed in jeopardy while Israeli soldiers view passively from a safe distance. The Russians helped us out of this problem and the Israelis are pushing us against our interests. We need to see the real adversary in this event.

    September 12, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Reply
    • ahmed

      that's the point. The western media including cnn did not highlight use of chemicals by some states as israel, on civilains. If this is wrong now, was it wrong when israel or any other country did it ? Or if Israel was right, then how come syria is wrong now by doing the same thing ?

      September 16, 2013 at 6:21 am | Reply
  15. joy

    With all due respect...

    If USA does not lead... world say "how come US is not doing any thing" if they do... : now US is the judge... jury.. and hangman? So let's talk about this.

    Being a Judge:
    WAs there a chemical Attack? Did US judge this or world. Is rest of the world blind> and deaf? most countries (except for Russia and Syria) know and agree there was a chemical attack US did not JUDGE.

    Being a Jury:
    Who is Guilty? Use the common sense....and you wil lknow... most people know.. NO ONE OTHER THAN Syrian government has capabilities to use chemical weapons.. tha they denied to have until two days ago...

    And a Hangman:
    US has not hanged any one.. it is a threat.. and credible threat... Obama.. has hesitated for more than two years to get involved... and rightly so... and the red LINE was not his red line it is World's civilized society's red line... that he crossed..

    SO far UN playing any role like Mr. Zakaria has mentioned.. he knows it and the world knows it UN in the company of China and Russia is USELESS... Their leader took the responsibility for NOT being able to save 100000 people killed so far in Syria,, What are all these Pandits suggesting Obama does? ACt– you are doomed.. do not act.. you are doomed.. hesitate (take time to act you are doomed.

    I would ask the same people the question... Was US leadership in Kosovo being "a judge, jury and hangman"? It saved,, 1000s of lives.. and muslims....

    Syria is a complex issue... and I think Obama has so far acted reasonably with restraint... he the one who opposed wars.. he is the last one to take us to war... A question to the world...

    Even without Obama's red line, do you think USA and the rest of the world should have ignored the Aug 21st chemical attack??

    September 12, 2013 at 10:28 pm | Reply
    • nikob13

      one smart person in here , all true.
      all this idiots here to much FOX NEWS

      September 14, 2013 at 4:34 am | Reply
    • Merciful Angel

      Since it is not clear who perpetrated chemical attack, I always ask myself who benefited from it? It looks to me that having an upper hand in the conflict for a while now, and treat of attack from US, he didn't have any reason to do it. If US wants to get involved in Syria, it should help Assad get rid of Islamic militants.

      September 14, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Reply
  16. Najeeb Khan

    I think this time around America has the case to get the Syrian dictator out of his hole.
    As it is evident that no one else is going to take the lead because we live in the world where beacon of light is still America with all its ills and wrongdoings. Not only this but let’s get serious about Iran too and even once it comes to weapons of mass destructions then we should not stop there and get rid of them from India and Pakistan as well!

    September 13, 2013 at 1:52 am | Reply
    • guest

      then why not from UK, USA, Russia and France?

      September 13, 2013 at 6:08 am | Reply
  17. Juan Espinosa

    The world sure has problem with the U.S. acting as prosecutor, judge, jury, and hangman. Specifically when such behavior only takes place when there is a particular interest of the U.S. in that country's assets.

    September 13, 2013 at 8:11 am | Reply
  18. brianjaniczek

    Forget the chemical weapons, over one hundred thousand people have died in this war. There are atrocities being committed every day by both sides of the conflict. Sure, Assad is a terrible person and shouldn't be in power. However, most of the rebels are not different and would act in the same way. Fighting against Assad is lending aid to equally horrific groups, many of which would prefer to see us lose soldiers and money as well.

    The United States has absolutely no stake in this conflict, and acting in defense of either side can and will harm us in the long run.

    Forget Syria, stay out of the fight.

    September 13, 2013 at 8:21 am | Reply
  19. eli orteza

    There appears to be three ways to look at the Syrian problem. 1. Look the other way and don't get involved; 2. Support the dictator, Assad (Putin's point of view); 3. Be PROSECUTOR, JUDGE, JURY AND HANGMAN. I personally prefer the third angle.

    September 13, 2013 at 10:48 am | Reply
    • brianjaniczek

      For option three, don't forget to kill the rebels too, since they also commit war crimes. Just kill them all, that'll certainly help America.

      September 13, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Reply
  20. Ed Bodi

    Kerry and Obama paint the U.S. as being lilly-white but conveniently fail to mention the use of the chemical weapon Agent Orange during the Vietnam war which killed and maimed over 500,000 innocent people, not to mention the Gulf of Tonkin affair which gave the U.S. the excuse to start the war in the first place.

    September 13, 2013 at 11:55 pm | Reply
  21. Marco Hsiao

    [The US government is doing big crime]

    The corrupt US government and immoral US media used lies and violence have murdered 100,000 innocent Iraqi people, and forced Iraq from Iran's enemy to become Iran's friendly and firm ally.

    Now again the corrupt US government and immoral US media want to kill 100,000 innocent Muslims in Syria for building a puppet regime. The immoral US have murdered 67000 sinless Syrian people. Syrian government has 61% supporting from whole Syrian people but the rebel only has 11% supporting. The rebel (supported by the corrupt US government) also uses chemical weapon to hurt Syrian people.

    Iraq should get an apology and compensation (US$ 10 trillion) from the US government, Syria should get an apology and compensation (US$ 6.7 trillion) from the US, too. Human right and democracy should be respected.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:32 am | Reply
  22. livid

    Your question- America as judge, jury and executioner is obviously its wrong . Without U.N. backing it breaks international law. I have a question for you. As Obama plots an attack on Syria, he is also working on a Palestinian– Israeli solution. My understanding is the Palestinians demand their own state. Do you feel his actions in Syria are a reflection of Israeli demands perhaps for a secure border and a " cutting off from the vine " of Hezbollah ? Before Israel grants a Palestinian state they must be assured it wont serve as a base to attack Israel. For the life of me, I have no other explanation for Obamas Syrian policy.

    September 14, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  23. lela

    I love that headline. One of the problems of the U.S. is that they judge first.

    September 15, 2013 at 12:15 am | Reply
  24. ALLAMERICAN

    Fareed Zakaria you forgot something here. How US being the Victim too. A victim who had been the attention of bad elements. Its not fair to say we are everything but victim.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  25. Tagoor

    100,000 Syrian people been killed. But don't forget 40,000 of them are from Assads tribe and 20,000 rebels and 10,000 foreign fighters.

    September 15, 2013 at 11:19 pm | Reply
  26. JusticeForAll

    Yes it is true. Fareeds Pakistani friend mentioned this to him. I will say that Pakistan who's intelligent service encouraged the killing of 160 in India Mumbai is not exactly one to follow by example.

    September 16, 2013 at 12:51 am | Reply
  27. C.G.

    The world has watched 100 000 Syrians die, mostly civilians. Nobody, including the Security council , the UN did anything to stop the massacre. The US was the only one to have the courage to try to defend them. To say the US is judge, jury and hangman is a stupid statement.If somebody goes on a rampage killing your neighbours, since THERE IS NO POLICE TO DEFEND THEM.. you can take your gun,go out and kill the murderer.What is wrong with that?

    September 16, 2013 at 3:55 am | Reply

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