Here we go again.
Polls suggest the American people are fed up after two full-bore wars and the killing of an ambassador in Benghazi following our escapade in Libya. Yet, the Obama administration seems poised to launch another war in Syria.
“We can’t do a third war in 12 years!”
This exasperated response was not from a lefty peace activist ready to do civil disobedience; it was from Colonel David Hunt on the Bill O’Reilly Show. Like many Americans, Hunt is not sure who let loose chemical weapons in a section of Damascus. He knows that canisters of chemical weapons can be delivered to a place in any number of ways from any number of sources. He says we need to ask, “Who benefits” from such an attack?
This is, of course, a very good question, since the Assad regime is currently winning the civil war in Syria and, thus, would not seem to have much of an incentive to use chemical weapons so blatantly. And, of course, a chemical attack is a perfect bloody shirt to provide anyone inclined to wave it to promote an attack, since President Obama made chemical weapons a “red line.”
Hunt was joined on the O’Reilly Show by the usually bloodthirsty right-wing militarist Lt. Colonel Ralph Peters. He agreed with Hunt that an attack on Syria was a terrible idea. “In Syria now our enemies are killing each other,” he said. “We should let them continue.” Peters was referring to the Assad regime and the most powerful rebel elements linked with al Qaeda. Forces loyal to the United States and Israel are by far the weakest element in the rebel matrix.
What this means is the logic for a US military attack would be to bolster that losing, non al Qaeda element, and, we must presume, hope for the best as far as who might be able to take over once we prevail — or, more likely, leave with egg all over our faces and with US power and respect diminished even more.
Over on MSNBC, war correspondent Richard Engel gave a report heavily burdened with caution and doubt. He suggested the US wants to “send a message” but not get involved in the civil war. But, he said, “Once you drop bombs on Syria you are involved in the war.”
Joe Biden was sent out to work up a war fever with an impassioned speech citing the chemical weapon victims and assuring everyone that the monster Assad had to be “held accountable.” It was a fantastic, bellicose bloody-shirt speech.
In the end, Bill O’Reilly — a man who likes to tell his audience, “I’m a simple man” — cut to the chase and told the two ironically un-warlike retired colonels, “There’s got to be some moral authority in the world.” He cited “American Exceptionism” as that moral authority. We’re told an attack on Syria is planned for Thursday. This is Tuesday night. In two days, the US will likely engaged in another hot war in the Middle East.
I feel I’ve lived this movie too many times. I want to open my window and scream obscenities like Howard Beal in the film Network. I see the White House team of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, at best, as liberal fools tripping over their good intentions and, at worst, in cahoots with nefarious demands of the state of Israel.
As a nation — or empire — we’re beyond declaring war in any legal sense. That’s just too naïve to even consider. As in the past, US Law and International Law will be finessed. The only law that will apply to a military attack on Syria, whether or not the Obama White House wants to recognize it, is The Law of Unintended Consequences. That one we can count on.
I recall back in the days of Ronald Reagan when the US felt a need to retaliate against a state-sponsor-of-terrorism in the Middle East for a specific terrorist crime, it was often uncertain whether the source was Libya or Syria. So did the US do? It attacked Libya — since it was clear an attack on Syria was a very serious, risky matter. An attack on Muammar Gaddafi was a much less risky, but still satisfying, act of vengeance. Since it really didn’t matter if the right culprit was bombed — just so someone was bombed.
Now we’re planning to bomb Syria while the Middle East is in an unprecedented state of upheaval. We passed up the option of attacking the Egyptian military for willfully killing 1500 citizens, many of them teenagers. Instead, we insisted on keeping $1.5 billion in military aid in the pipeline — so we would not lose our influence with the Egyptian military.
Everything we do seems to be ratcheting up a larger war in the Middle East. Going into Syria with cruise missiles, jet bombers and god-knows what else blazing can only incite further killing and violence. That Law of Unintended Consequences could go very badly for the US. Especially since we don’t seem to have a clue what our intended consequences really are.
Iran, which is linked with Syria, just elected a new reformist president, Hassan Rouhani, who appointed as foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, an English-speaking moderate. These men are, of course, beholden to the ayatollahs, but they nevertheless are 180 degrees different that the volatile Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
It seems like the perfect moment to sit down with Iran, Russia, Turkey, Israel and others and hash this mess out. The point would be to get ahead of the game of war and negotiate some kind of real-politic power arrangement. Given the realities of an escalated civil war in Syria, that’s what will most likely happen in the end anyway — after a lot of horrific destruction and death.
Why not pass up on all the destruction and death and start with serious talks? Those too simple to understand why such talks will be frustrating before they are fruitful, will just have to be educated. The point is, use the good offices of the United States of America to ratchet down the violence instead of fueling more violence.
Unfortunately, we know the answer to such a question:
One, the US has spent too much international political capital making its intentions of regime change known to change course now without embarrassment. The US may be tragically doomed to follow through on its lofty, good-guy rhetoric.
And, two, sitting down to talk with Iran seriously would require too much humility for nations so self obsessed with their exceptionalism and chosen qualities.
By John Grant
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