09/07/2013 01:04 pm ET Updated Nov 07, 2013

How to Answer Violence With Justice in Syria

Good leadership means learning from past mistakes to avoid repeating them.

Yet just when American leadership could mean exactly that -- and bring the Syrian criminals to international justice, rather than answer violence with more violence -- President Obama and his team are dangerously obsessed with military action.

In attempting to strike an inglorious bargain with Congress, or go it alone, the President wants to miscast the United States once again as GI Joe, rather than as the leader for American justice at its best. True, justice is a harder road, as it means investigating, apprehending, and bringing to an international war crimes tribunal the actual perpetrators of the Syrian chemical weapon attack. Yet that precise due process would show how far we've come as world leaders since the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Instead, we have a "Crisis in Syria" tagline, and a ticking time bomb of wrongheaded "leadership," that threatens to blow up the entire region in our collective faces.

Speaking of Syria's neighborhood, we see Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and other fully capable nearby nations anxiously awaiting the US response to this. Why wait, guys? Yah, let the Americans do the dirty work on this one, and if it goes sideways, oh well, they're nothing if not a reliable scapegoat.

Further fueling the fire is the American media. We are hounded by the relentless talking heads wishing they could put up a countdown clock to U.S. Missile Launch (was CNN's Wolf Blitzer actually aroused as he went over for the umpteenth time the payload capabilities of Cruise Missiles?) all the while selling more Christian Mingle (irony omitted) and Lexii during the breaks in inaction.

From the President and some congressional leaders we hear flame-fanning comments suggesting a false dichotomy between doing nothing (thereby "comforting our enemies and disappointing our allies") and military action, with no shades of justice between the two.

They say U.S. inaction "sets a bad precedent," repeating it ad nauseam as a mantra for failing to attack, rather than, more accurately, as a description of our collective failure of intention to bring the perpetrators to justice.

While it was notable the Arab League made a resolution agreeing those responsible for the attack should face trial, as other "war criminals" have, it too has given air cover for military action with its statement encouraging the "international community" (i.e., not the Arab League, by the way, thank you) to "take the deterrent and necessary measures against the culprits of this crime that the Syrian regime bears responsibility for".

There is a broad range of options between doing nothing and firing missiles. If the desire to launch weapons is somehow rooted in the notion that Syria and like-minded nations will only respect an "eye-for-an-eye," then there is no end to it -- we all end up blind and dead. The violence will continue until some nation, preferably the US, has the courage to set new rules for such international injustices.

So let's be leaders -- innovators even -- and set a new "precedent" by answering violent crimes with justice, rather than more violence. That would indeed be evolution of international relations: making the world a safer, more peaceful place.

At this critical juncture, America has a great opportunity to change the repetition compulsion around violence begetting more violence. That's leadership we can live with -- to do the thing that's hard, but stands on the side of right.