Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Syria: No Better Angels


In my last post on Syria, I commented that “Short of widespread popular unrest, on issues like this, the will of the people counts for nothing against the exigencies of imperialism and Zionism, as understood by the American political elite,” that “there would be no challenging debate in the US Congress like that in the British Parliament,” and that “a combination of domestic political pressure that, along with international reluctance, [which would] create an effective pushback against Obama’s momentum towards war” was “not likely.” I was 100% certain of, and would have bet heavily on, a strike on Syria within a few days.

I am surprised and happy to see that I would have lost that bet. Indeed, there is substantially more than a glimmer of pushback on a number of fronts.  The British parliament’s rejection of a military attack on Syria turned out to be a wedge blow that opened crucial cracks in the hitherto seemingly-impervious American imperial edifice. It pushed Obama into going to Congress for a vote, which bought time in which the American people could think about the case and not just follow the leader, and in which the media would have to open the window of information and analysis at least a bit more than usual.
  

The New York Times has had to publish a story and a picture (not the worst by far) about the brutality of Syrian rebels, and a blog account from the frontlines describing their fanaticism. McClatchy published a story pointing out that there were “too many holes in the American case against Assad as the chemical weapons villain. The Atlantic, via James Fallows, ran a thorough and devastating must-read analysis by William Polk (a totally establishment guy, former State Department Policy Planning Council,  privy to all US Government information on poison gas, as well as telecommunications interception and code breaking).1

Crucial reports and analyses like these are now quickly and ubiquitously disseminated, in a way that was just not possible before the Iraq war in 2003 – through the internet, social media, blogs, tweets, popping up on people’s phones every ten minutes. There’s so much information, so widely available, that, after a week, it will inevitably undermine John Kerry’s absolute certainty about Assad’s devilry and what-me-worry nonchalance about the Syrian “rebels” – revealing it for the mendacious, hypocritical, and incoherent fairytale that it is.  Even some at MSNBC have had to recognize, this time, that Obama’s war drive is FUBAR, with Chris Hayes coming out explicitly against it. 

Most importantly, through these openings there rushed a flood of overwhelming popular opposition, tinged with such rage and disgust as indeed to approach “unrest.” One congressman says that “I literally cannot walk across the parking lot without being stopped to talk about this issue…To say it’s 99 percent against would be overstating the support.”  Overstating, indeed: only 3 out of 1000 or so calls and e-mails he has received supported any kind of response. And "two-thirds of the correspondents had never reached out to him before.”2 [my emphasis]

This, in turn, has stiffened political resistance within Congress itself, making possible the kind of alliance between principled (what Greg Sargent calls “non-hackish”) anti-war liberals and libertarians that coalesced to nearly de-fund the NSA’s bulk telephone surveillance in July (as discussed in an earlier post), John Conyers-Justin Amash then, Alan Grayson-Ron Paul now.3 Preliminary whip counts now show that Obama is going to have a very hard time getting a Declaration of War on Syria -- that’s what it is! – through both houses of Congress. A coalition like that which voted down TARP the first time is possible, and could reject this in Congress.

Philip Weiss remarks on this:
The coming political question is a cultural one: whether the rightwing national interest types, caricatured as isolationists, can build a coalition with the leftwing antiwar types. Both sides are corrupted, the Dems by neoliberalism and doctrinal attachment to liberal Zionism, the right by the Tea Party and a legacy of racism.4
The popular pressure here has rebounded back to Europe, where the formerly gung-ho French President, now seconded by the European Union, has been pushed to await the UN inspectors’ report, not due before September 15th.

All of this already has accomplished something important: Any American attack on Syria is now clearly marked as against the will of the American people and the real “international community.” There is a decent chance that it will be rejected by the US Congress, and a smaller chance that such a rejection, combined with international isolation, will lead it to be cancelled outright for the immediate future. It has become very difficult to hide that such an attack would be an act of imperialist aggression, and making that too visible is itself politically damaging. Things have changed, in a good direction.

Let’s not get carried away with optimism, however. What was 100% last week is now maybe 95%.  If we have to recognize that there has been real political movement, we must also recognize the enormous political, ideological, and financial forces still committed to this war, and how far we are from winning this fight against them. The balance of power is still very much against the antiwar camp.

After all, if popular antiwar conviction were to stop in advance a military attack fervently sought, and proclaimed as crucial to our national interest, by an American President, it would be a big, very big, deal – unprecedented, as far as I can see, in American history. It would be a turning point, if not tipping point, in the effectivity of imperialist leadership, and the imperialist leadership will fight tooth and nail to make sure this does not happen. The largest wave of antiwar demonstrations in the history of the world could not stop the American attack on Iraq ten years ago. Yes, there are a lot of new factors working in our favor -- the distance from 9/11, the post-Iraq-Afghanistan cynicism and exhaustion, the economic crisis, the tide of the last week – but we’re far from overcoming the determination of the imperial apparatus.  The “credibility” at stake here is precisely the credibility of the emperor’s prerogative to act against the popular will.  For that, they have barely begun to fight.

Let’s look, for example, at the theater of congressional decision. I know that Obama has asserted, with utter disdain for clear constitutional law, that he has the authority to attack Syria even if the Congress votes against it.  So a congressional rejection will not necessarily prevent a strike. (I do not think it will.) But it’s important to recognize the definite truth of the obverse: a congressional vote to authorize a strike on Syria will guarantee that it will happen. 

In this case, then, the congressional vote is an important and really contested theater, which is why, despite everything -- can you say Chuck Schumer -- I have sent a letter to my representatives.5

In regard to this vote, however, it’s also necessary to remember what we all know about electoral politics, which goes equally for legislative politics. There are two parallel and different conversations going on here: the conversation with the voters on the one hand, and the conversation with the donors and Serious People  (often conflated) on the other. The voice of the voters is loud and clear, a "NO!" so emphatic as to be the end of it, if the conversation with the voters were determinant. But, as we all (should) know, it’s the conversation with the donors and Serious People that usually wins the day. To the voters, the congressfolk say whatever they think the public wants to hear. To the donors, they make serious commitments that they keep. American politicians assume, usually with good reason, that, with enough money to buy enough ads in the next election cycle, they’ll be able to get away with just about anything with the public.

Who, you might ask, would be trying to play the sleazy, business-as-usual buy-the-vote game on this issue? This is war, after all, and the American public is so clearly sick and tired of bloody and expensive wars with ludicrous and hypocritical justifications.  There’s certainly the famous military-industrial complex, and, yes, Raytheon stock jumped 50% on news that the cruise missiles it makes will have to be restocked.6

But there is another group, which has contributed more ($11.1 million more in 2012, according to Bloomberg) to federal election campaigns than the defense industry: the “pro-Israel community,” as Bloomberg calls it. This is the 800-pound gorilla of the Israeli lobby, which usually does not fret about blatantly lobbying – even for the United States to go to war in the interests of another country -- because it usually conducts its lobbying rampages under a magical politico-media cloak of invisibility. This time, as MJ Rosenberg and Philip Weiss  and Haaretz report, AIPAC and “the American Jewish establishment” are now in “full court press” mode in support of a military attack on Syria.7

The New York Times reported about AIPAC’s involvement, before they didn’t. The paper changed an article to scrub mention of how AIPAC was busily “at work pressing for military action,” and was referred to by “one administration official” as “the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”  The Times’ public editor assures us that the references to AIPAC were not disappeared by a quick unfurling of the invisibility cloak. Take a look at the links and decide what you think.8

Let’s be clear about the kind of weight this beast can throw around. AIPAC is a group whose cadres boast: “You see this napkin? In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.” Bloomberg points out that Obama’s newest ally in the push for a military strike is none other than Sheldon Adelson, “the Republican billionaire who spent about $70 million trying to defeat him last year.” These are the biggest of the big money and influence guns, mobilizing to support this war offensive. As Rosenberg remarks: “The support Obama is getting from pro-Israel groups in the U.S. is important because of their history of political influence.”  Indeed, he says: “It should be a good moment for AIPAC to make its case. Members of Congress are now in intense fund raising mode for the 2014 primaries and general election.” And he describes concretely how this influence works:
I called a friend on Capitol Hill to refresh my memory about what the AIPAC push is going to look like: 
First come the phone calls from constituents who are AIPAC members. They know the Congressman and are nice and friendly and just tell him, or whichever staffer the constituent knows, just how important this vote is to him and his friends back in the district.
Then the donors call. The folks who have hosted fundraisers. They are usually not only from the district but from New York or LA or Chicago. They repeat the message: this vote is very important.
Contrary to what you might expect, they do not mention campaign money. They don’t have to. Because these callers are people who only know the
Congressman through their checks, the threat not to write any more of them is implicit. Like the constituents, the donors are using AIPAC talking points which are simple and forceful. You can argue with them but they keep going back to the script. Did I mention the rabbis? We only have a few in our district but we get calls from all of them and from other rabbis from around the state.
Then there are the AIPAC lobbyists, the professional staffers. They come in, with or without appointments. If the Congressman is in, they expect to see him immediately. If not, they will see a staffer. If they don’t like what they hear, they will keep coming back. They are very aggressive, no other lobby comes close, They expect to see the Member, not mere staff.
Then there are the emails driven by the AIPAC website, the editorials in the one Jewish newspaper we have in our state. And then the “Dear Colleague” letters from Jewish House members saying how important the vote is for Israel and America. They also will buttonhole the Members on the House floor. Because my boss is not Jewish, he tends to defer to his Jewish colleagues. It is like they are the experts on this. And, truth be told, all the senior Jewish Members of the House are tight with AIPAC. Also, the two biggest AIPAC enforcers, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and his Democatic counterpart, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, are fierce AIPAC partisans, and they make sure to seek out Members on the floor to tell them how they must vote. On anything related to Israel, they speak in one voice: AIPAC’s.9
Pretty intimidating, no?   
As Rosenberg also points out: “Obviously no one on the peace side has resources like this.” So it would be a grave error to rely on the idea that an overwhelming tide of public opinion will drown this monster of a juggernaut.  The good news is, as Weiss emphasizes: “The only good thing about the campaign for the attack on Syria is that it has exposed the Israel lobby as the one political constituency that is pushing hard for an attack.”  The bad news is, as Weiss also remarks: “Israel wants a war and the American people don’t – still, American leadership is pressing ahead.”  Between the American people and the Zionist lobby – well, as I said, about 95%.

But that is a move in the right direction. Weiss posits this as “a defining moment in the history of the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel,” and Rosenberg thinks “AIPAC is taking an incredible risk by going all-out for war resolution in Congress,” because “If it doesn’t [pass] and if the Members of Congress who voted 'no' are re-elected anyway, then the #1 tool AIPAC has going for it will be broken.”  Weiss even thinks that the “groundswell of American opposition has fostered a willingness on the part of the American media to broach the issue of blind American support for Israel.”10

I’m not so sanguine. It’s because it’s so unpopular that the Israeli lobby has to, and will, make extraordinary efforts to get the result it wants. The media?  It’s been a small opening, but see below.  The Congress and the political class?  It’s clear that the only way this Declaration of War is going to get through Congress is by Nancy Pelosi whipping up the votes of liberal democrats.  Let’s see where progressive, invisibly- Zionist, darlings like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren end up when push comes to vote.11 

Anyway, if Obama thinks he will lose the vote in Congress, he will likely just withdraw the resolution and attack anyway.  He will have spared ostensibly antiwar liberal Democrats the embarrassment, but will have fatally embarrassed himself, the Israeli lobby, and the entire American political class before the American people.  This war that Israel wants and the American people don’t will only go forward if either the Democrats in Congress provide the decisive votes for it, or the Democratic president ignores the Congress and the Constitution.  As I said, about 95%.

I do hope it demonstrates, once and for all, to progressives who proclaim their antiwar sentiments, that they can no longer ignore the connection between even silent support of Israel and assent to aggressive American militarism, and no longer maintain their studied silence on, and implicit embrace of, Zionism. The bad news is that any resolution other than defeat of the war resolution in Congress (by vote or withdrawal) and cancellation of the military strike will be a defeat for the American people and the rule of constitutional law. It would be a stunning confirmation of the pernicious power of the Israeli lobby and of the utter bankruptcy of the Democratic party for “antiwar” purposes, a confirmation so clear that – this would also be the good news – even the most obtuse, well-intentioned and wishful-thinking progressives might get the picture.

As bad as this picture is, perhaps the strongest reason I’m not giving more than a 5% chance of victory for the forces of international sanity right now is the horrible state of the “debate” in this county, the complete acceptance, even by those who ostensibly oppose a military strike, of the ideological framework set forth by the Obama administration.

Patrick L. Smith has an excellent piece on this in Salon, pointing out that “The case for aggression in Syria as we now have it is flimsy to the point of insult.” He emphasizes that “We know nothing yet about what happened in Syria. Know as in know, nothing as in nothing.” And yet, “No one in the American press will even glance at the idea that the Assad regime may not be responsible for the chemical deployments.”12

The “debate” within Congress and within the press from Fox to MSNBC has been firmly fixed within the Obama-Kerry framework.  Here’s what they all agree on: Assad is certainly guilty of using chemical weapons against his own people; this is a horrible breach of “international norms,” which we haven’t seen for a hundred years, except of course with Hitler and Saddam; the US is a benevolent world power that understandably feels it “must do something” to reinforce “international norms” and help the Syrian people; any US strike is intended to be “limited” to those purposes. 

Here are the permissible questions for “debate”:  Will an American strike actually prevent Assad from using chemical weapons again?  That is, will it be effective in its announced purposes of enforcing the “international norm” and helping the Syrian people? Can a military strike be “limited” to those purposes, as it is intended to be?  Should a military strike be “limited,” as the Administration intends?

Democratic and Republican hawks and their media allies will answer “No" to the last two questions, and demand a punishing strike as the only way to effectively achieve the proclaimed purposes. Democratic and Republican doves and their media allies will, on the other hand, answer “Yes“ to the last two questions, and maybe try to craft a resolution with enough innocuous-ish phraseology to sell as not-really-a-war to their constituents, and maybe even their self-deluded selves.  In the meantime, John Kerry, in various scenes of flailing incoherence, says both things at once, and refuses to be pinned down to either.

The fundamental problem here is twofold: 1) Every one of the agreed-upon assumptions here is a lie.  And, therefore, the entire set of questions here is a crock; 2) There is an overall strategy at work, but it cannot be spoken. Its real purposes have nothing to do with the fake ones the Administration is proclaiming, and can never be honestly enunciated, so its spokespersons cannot but be incoherent.

I’ll just recap the main lies:

1) There is no proof that the Assad regime was responsible for the chemical attack, and abundant evidence that the rebels were.  (I set forth a bunch of evidence on this in my previous post.  For more, see here, here, here, here, and a few thousand other reports you can Google.)  The Obama administration’s insistence on certainty about this is, indeed, “flimsy to the point of insult” and must be questioned.13

Unless you forcefully challenge the Obama regime on this point, the fundament of their argument, you are not seriously trying to stop this war. “Antiwar” pundits who don’t challenge this have given up half the game, and they know it. They have given it up, and accepted a weak position, because they know "blame Assad" is the common-wisdom liberal-conservative consensus, and their prime directive – whether issued by management or their own well-trained ideological reflex – is to demonstrate their submission thereto.

2) Chemical weapons have been only been used by Hitler and Saddam in the past hundred years.  Not true. They have been used a number of times. Furthermore, they have been used by America’s allies with America’s active complicity, and there is strong evidence that they have been used by the United States itself – against civilians and its own soldiers.  To hear that lie from John Kerry without challenging it, to repeat that lie without examining the evidence or because it’s the just-must-be-true conventional wisdom of America’s innocence, is to forgo any claim to be seriously trying to stop this war. This lie is a slap in the face, an insult to the moral as well as intellectual intelligence of anyone who actually cares about such things, and anybody who cares about such things should respond appropriately.

Perhaps we shouldn't linger on little things like the twenty million gallons of chemical poisons the United States slathered over Vietnam, including the burning chemical, napalm, and the infamous “Agent Orange,” which led to the starvation, poisoning and maiming of innocent civilians – 400,000 killed or maimed, 500,000 babies born with birth defects, and 2 million plagued with cancer or other illnesses, according to Vietnam.  Oh, who believes the Vietnamese about something that happened forty years ago?  In 2012, the Red Cross estimated that one million Vietnamese still have disabilities or disease related to Agent Orange, and even the US “pitched in for the first time to clean up part of the toxic legacy.” Big of them. Forty years later. Cold comfort to the children of these Vietnamese victims, as well as of the American soldiers who deployed the chemicals, who are born with horrific deformities to this day. But these children, remember, are not the victims of “a blatant use of chemical weapons.” Because Americans, remember, are not the kind of people who do such things:14









We’ll also pass over the not-really-chemical-weapons chemicals, like white phosphorous and depleted uranium, which the United States and Israel throw around at will, and move on to the “real” chemical weapon du jour, which are only used by the real bad guys.

In this regard, Kerry’s invocation of Saddam’s use of poison gas is particularly precious.  On the same day that Kerry was raging against this once-in-a-century crime, Foreign Policy reported that CIA files prove the United States helped Saddam use sarin, mustard gas, and, hey, whatever “helped to tilt the war in Iraq's favor.” Helped, as in directly participated, by providing satellite imagery and other intelligence for “a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years.” To hear Kerry talking about Saddam’s use of chemical weapons without challenging him on this is to be his tool.15

Let’s remember, too, that there is strong evidence that, in 1970, during Operation Tailwind, the US army killed 100 or so people in a Laotian village using sarin gas – in order to kill US soldiers who had defected from the criminal enterprise that was the US war on Vietnam.  There were separate allegations that the even nastier VX gas was used against North Vietnamese troops in Cambodia. The common thread in the interviews with servicemen was that these nerve agents were risky weapons, used only when there was overwhelming concentration of North Vietnamese forces that could not be overcome in any other way, forces that were not where they were supposed to be, and so were “unlikely to come to the United Nations and complain about the weapon."

These allegations are very controversial and have always been vehemently denied by the US government. Operation Tailwind was the subject of a controversial CNN-Time Magazine report in 1998, a report that was quickly retracted in the face of Pentagon pressure. You can make up your own mind about it from the links below.16

Here’s what is known, however: Starting with the Korean War, in 1950-53, and through the Vietnam war, until 1971, the United States amassed a stockpile of mustard gas, sarin, and VX on the island of Okinawa, a main staging area for air attacks , including B-52 sorties, on Vietnam and Laos. I’m talking a lot – about 1,900 metric tons of VX, for example, 1 kilogram of which can kill hundreds of thousands of people.  After the Wall Street Journal reported on a serious accident with these chemical weapons in 1969 (which the Pentagon had tried to hide), and in the midst of “international accusations that [the US’s] widespread use of CS gas and Agent Orange … amounted to … illegal chemical warfare,” the US scrambled to “remove its chemical weapons from Okinawa as soon as possible.”  It took 38 days, with a 150 drivers working 14-hour shifts, in 1,213 trailer-loads, to move 13,000 tons of chemical munitions.

Something to keep in mind, in considering how to take then Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird’s denial about Tailwind – namely that the US did have a “small amount'' of sarin in Vietnam in 1967, “but never used it.”17

So, sure, you may believe that the US moved 13,000 tons of chemical weapons halfway across the planet into a theater of two wars for almost twenty years, and never used them. But can you really work yourself into the belief that the US moved 13,000 tons of chemical weapons halfway across the planet into a theater of two wars for twenty years, with, scout’s honor, no intention of using them if the US army thought it was necessary? With the firm intention of strictly obeying the sacred international norm against their use, no matter what circumstance the US military faced?  Just to have them close by? Because U-Haul Okinawa had a special on storage units?  Because we Americans are not the kind of people who would ever use chemical weapons?

I’m not sure which is more nauseating: sarin gas, or Kerry and Obama’s hypocritical moralizing about it. Or the media correspondents' and interviewers' refusal, to a person, to challenge their hypocrisy.

One thing is certain: The United States has no legal, moral or political authority to pass judgement, impose deadlines, or execute sentence on anyone with regard to chemical weapons.


3) A “limited” action.

Really?

In July, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, who sat cringing beside Kerry at the Senate hearing, wrote to Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, cautioning about an attack on Syria. "It is no less than an act of war," he said. He emphasized that preventing the use and proliferation of chemical weapons would require a no-fly zone, as well as "air and missile strikes involving hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines." He made clear that: "Thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces would be needed to assault and secure critical sites."18

The day before the August 21 Ghouta chemical incident, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report revealing that: “The Pentagon had estimated it would take ‘over 75,000 troops’ to secure Syria's chemical weapons,” and had known this since 2012.19

A few days ago, the NYT reported that “President Obama has directed the Pentagon to develop an expanded list of potential targets in Syria.” The administration is now “talking about using American and French aircraft,” including B-52s (not Iraq, Vietnam!), and is “for the first time,” making “a renewed push to get other NATO forces involved.”  These are measures “intended to inflict significant damage on the Syrian military,” and are “creeping closer to carrying out military action that also could help tip the balance on the ground, even as the administration argues that that is not the primary intent.” On little cat feet?20

The day after that article, the Times reported that the US is ordering nonessential personnel to leave Lebanon.21

Yesterday, John Kerry said that any US military action would be “unbelievably small.”

Because, they think, you’ll believe anything.

Kerry is practically babbling at this point, as he talks out of all sides of his contorted face, trying to tell each different audience exactly what it wants to hear.  He’s not as good at that as Obama.

The “limited” thing, then, is another pack of lies.  A fairytale for children.  They are treating us like children by repeating it.  Unfortunately for them, too many people see that, and are pissed off by it.

It would be better if they would just come out and say what they really want (which I’ve gone over in seven previous posts on Syria):
That they want to destroy the Syrian state as a coherent political and military force.

That the United States joins General Aviv Kochav, Israel’s chief of military intelligence, in thinking that “the chaos in the Arab world favours Israel and is something that he believes should continue,” and that, as Israels former consul in New York, Alon Pinkas, said, the objective for Syria, as for Iran, is to “Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death.”22
That they are carrying out the plans developed in Israel in 1982, and again in 1996, to weaken and divide the Arab and Muslim world, and we Americans better realize how important this is to our national security, and get on board.23
In 2007, Wesley Clark explained the  “seven countries in five years” strategy that the US has been carrying out since at least 2003:


“‘Oh, it’s worse than that,’ he said, holding up a memo on his desk. ‘Here’s the paper from the Office of the Secretary of Defense [then Donald Rumsfeld] outlining the strategy. We’re going to take out seven countries in five years.’ And he named them, starting with Iraq and Syria and ending with Iran.”

I guess they can’t quite announce that program, even though – at least it’s a plan! – it might get them more support than the incoherent pack of lies they’re trying to sell.

Really, the mendacity and hypocrisy of Western-US/NATO discourse regarding the certain, unprecedented, horrific, once-in-a-century, crime of the devil-of-the-day are staggering. That discourse of mendacity and hypocrisy must be called out for what it is, challenged, and refuted by anyone who claims to be an aware citizen, let alone a responsible journalist.  Besides being challenged on their historic crimes and lies, administration flacks must be challenged to account for the growing evidence that their clients, the Syrian “rebels,” have chemical weapons, probably have used them, and have certainly expressed their intention to do so:
This video of Syrian rebels breaking into a chemical institute, mixing up some homemade sarin, killing two rabbits, and proclaiming that that’s what they are going to do to their enemies. 
This article and video of a Syrian “rebel” leader admitting having and using chemical weapons, and proclaiming his intention to use them on women and children.
This report from a former AP, NPR, and BBC correspondent and his Jordanian colleague, who interviewed “doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families” in Ghouta , many of whom “believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the... gas attack.”24
The failure to ask any of these hard and necessary questions, to pose any tough challenge to the basics of the US government narrative, is infuriating and irresponsible. I watched Gwen Ifill “interview” Obama tonight on PBS.  It was not an interview; it was a toss of softball questions to feed his Syrian stump speech. Not a single difficult question.  Not a single demand for evidence.

And then there was Charlie Rose….Words fail.

Has any interviewer asked Obama, who has pointedly said he is not bound to accept Congress’s decision, about his own stated position: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”  Or about his Vice-President’s emphatic exegesis: “It is precisely because the consequences of war – intended or otherwise – can be so profound and complicated that our Founding Fathers vested in Congress, not the President, the power to initiate war, except to repel an imminent attack on the United States or its citizens. … That’s why I want to be very clear: if the President takes us to war with Iran without Congressional approval, I will call for his impeachment.” By “President,” I, uh, meant “President Bush.”

I’ve watched Chris Hayes on MSNBC a few times. He’s had some serious opponents of military action on his show, but mostly staying within the “It’s not going to stop Assad from doing this again” framework. I saw the broadcast where he came out explicitly against a military strike on Syria. You might have caught that if you didn’t blink.  I found that most of the words and energy of his speech against the attack were devoted to emphasizing how much respect he had for all of the people and arguments in favor of the war, starting with his father. I saw his interview with Kerry the next night. Again, not an interview. A sponsored speech. Hayes did not pose one of the difficult and necessary questions or challenges mentioned above.  Despite throwing in a pro-forma “alleged” before “Assad’s use of chemical weapons,” his discourse is thoroughly saturated with the presumption of the truth and humanitarian concern of the American government’s case.  When he speaks against daddy’s Obama’s the US government’s position, he feels like he’s pulling his own teeth. When he presents the elements of the government’s case for an attack he bleeds respect and sympathy.  If Chris Hayes represents the strong journalistic opposition to attacking Syria, we're in pretty sad shape.

It’s not that hard, folks. Stop acting like credulous children. Here’s what a real debate on this looks like:




That's how it's done. This is the kind of discourse we don’t have and won’t see on the putatively liberal media, or in the Congress. The fundaments of the administration case for war, a transparent pack of lies, go unchallenged.

Next on the agenda will be the rollout of Obama’s full rhetorical power in an address to the people. Strong as he can be, at this point I do not think he’s going to turn things around with the public. The job Barack Obama was hired to do is getting harder. As Zbigniew Brzezinski is reported to have said: “corralling public opinion is proving more difficult.”  One of the wild cards for Obama in the present moment is the horrible socio-economic situation. The Alan Grayson-type pitch – “Americans don’t want this war. It’s not our fight. We can’t afford it.” – has tremendous traction with the public. People who lost, or are losing their jobs do not want another war. They’re asking themselves: “Who’s going to pay for it?” and they know very well the answer. Did I miss the paragraph in the resolution before Congress that levies a tax on the wealthiest .5% of the country to pay for this adventure? After all, the country is “unable to pay for attacks on Syria from current operating funds and must seek additional money from Congress.”  Oh, no, that’ll be one of those after-the-fact ”supplemental appropriations” that Obama promised to abjure.25  

I am more worried about his pitch to representatives and senators. He will tell them the credibility of the country is on the line.  He’ll remind them how important this is for Israel.  He’ll “work with” them on some resolution that sounds “incredibly small” so they can tell their constituents later, as they did with Iraq, “I didn’t realize I was voting for that!”  I don’t see how that’s going to work here, since the resolution, as changed by the Senate under pressure from Republican hawks, not only calls for the US military to “change the momentum” in favor of the rebels, it “could actually give [Obama] and future presidents sweeping new powers to intervene overseas.”26

I can easily imagine the following circular blackmail argument: I am going to attack Syria even if you vote against the authorization. That would destroy the image of the US as a “democratic” nation of laws. So, to preserve our country’s international claim to be a democracy, you have to do what I say and vote for the authorization. Goosed by the inducements and threats of the Israeli lobby, you bet these patriotic murmurrings of Obama are going to find a receptive ear. 

To the Democrats, he will make the powerful argument that a defeat of this authorization will fatally weaken him, and therefore them, politically for the rest of his term.  Do not be fooled by the preliminary whip count. Remember all the staunch “progressives” who signed statements and swore on their mamas’ graves that they would absolutely not vote for any healthcare bill that did not have a public option. There will be many Dennis Kucinich moments in Obama’s dealing with Congress on this resolution, most of which we will not see. Corralling the congesscattle still works.

So I’m still at 95%.

As I write, there’s talk of a deal for Syria to destroy its chemical weapons, or put them under some kind of international control, and some new resolution is being floated in the Senate that would pre-authorize an American strike if Assad does not do this before some deadline.  France seems to be putting forward something similar at the Security Council, under threat of Chapter 7 (military) enforcement.

Of course, it would be nice for Syria to destroy or sequester its chemical weapons in some verifiable way. It would also be nice if the country that was occupying Syrian land and has attacked Syria numerous times, the country with which Syria is in a state of war, would destroy or sequester its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.  And it is Syria, along with other countries in the region, who has been pushing for a full accounting and removal of all such weapons in the region, an arrangement that is being blocked by no one but the United States and Israel. 

Syria can agree to some kind of international sequester of its chemical weapons if it wants, but it is under no obligation to do so, and can legitimately resist any attempt to force it into some kind of disarmament agreement that is not reciprocated by Israel. At any rate, let the United Nations can take up the matter in its own time. There is no hurry, and nothing is being “delayed” except the planned American attack that Obama is chomping at the bit to execute.

In regard to any resolution in the US Congress, however, we must be crystal clear: the United States has absolutely no legal, political, or moral authority to impose any kind of deadline in this regard on anybody.  Some kind of resolution like this is exactly the kind of trick that we can expect. You see, we’re being reasonable.  We won’t attack for two weeks.  Do not fall for this. It’s a Declaration of War with a snooze button. An American military attack on Syria, today or two weeks or two months from now, will be an act of war the “supreme international crime.”27 

And they are chomping at the bit. I think the US and its allies had positioned assets in Syria to take advantage of a strike last week, and they are getting very itchy at the delay.  The momentum of popular sentiment has been the only thing holding them back.  But they want this done quickly, and they are going to find a way. There will be war. As Patrick L. Smith put it: “Any idea that the democratic mechanism is going to stop this bandwagon is what the French call ang√©lisme — a civics teacher’s ideal of how things work.”

So I’m sticking with my 95%. As unusual as it was the last time, I sincerely hope I will be proved wrong again.


Notes and Links:





5 As a constituent, I am writing to let you know that I oppose a military attack on Syria.

I do not believe the American government's narrative on chemical weapons.  I think the evidence shows it is more likely the rebels than the Syrian government who has used them. Understand that, in the face of American policies that continually support authoritarian regimes and vicious anti-popular actions, there are fewer and fewer Americans -- and nobody else in the world -- who believe that an American military attack on Syria will have anything to do with "WMDs," concern for the Syrian people, or for "international norms."   The hypocrisy here is too blatant.

An American attack on Syria would be nothing less than an act of war.  Any attack, however it is described as "limited," will be designed to cripple the Syrian armed forces as thoroughly as possible.  It will be an act of aggressive war, in violation of the first principle of international law, to which Syria will have the right to respond with force  If you vote for it, you will be fully responsible for all the consequences.  Which in this case, everybody knows, also means handing over much of Syria to al-Qaeda-affiliated takfiri fanatics.

Do not come back to the public. √† la Iraq,  claiming "That's not what I thought I was voting for."  Nobody will believe you.  If you dare to vote for this, you had better FIRST vote for the extra taxes from the top .5% of the country to pay for it.  Do not come back to the public claiming you had no idea it would be so costly. You will be rightly ridiculed.

If you vote for this, you are voting for the arms, blood, and treasure of the United States to be expended, as much as necessary, to destroy the Syrian state.  Own up to that, or have the courage to vote against this, despite what your donors want. 

Because everybody also knows that, as in the American electoral process, there are two conversations going on here: the one with the public, and the one with the donors.  It is almost always the latter who have the real influence, because you assume that, with enough money, you'll be able to get away with just about anything with the public.  But this is war, and the American public is sick of bloody and expensive wars with ludicrous and hypocritical justifications.  This has to end.

I urge you to work for an end to arms shipments and clandestine warfare that our government -- in cooperation with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Turkey, and Israel -- is carrying out right now.  No attack on Syria.












The Tailwind flap was also the basis the recent “Operation Genoa” story arc on “The Newsroom,” which spun a tale predictably consonant with Aaron Sorkin’s soft spot in for all things American military. See the trenchant analysis of Sorkin’s version, including his misrepresentation, to John Oliver on the Daily Show, of the military and media incident it was based on, at  Sorkin’s Simplistic Take on Operation Tailwind: Special Report on “The Newsroom.”

17Exclusive: Red Hat’s lethal Okinawa smokescreen | The Japan Times
 Cohen To Probe Nerve Gas Charges
See also: Jonathan Tucker, War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to Al-Qaeda.

Besides our frenemy, Saddam Hussein, our ally, Britain has been fond of using chemical weapons. In 1917, for example, in (where else?) Gaza, General Allenby used 10,000 cans of “asphyxiating gas.” But perhaps the twentieth century’s most eager enthusiast of chemical weapons is none other than the man who, as Chris Floyd aptly remarks, “has long been anointed a secular saint by the chewed cud of received wisdom, especially in America.” 

Yes, Winston Churchill, “Britain’s iconic wartime prime minister,” the man whose “values” the Obama and Romney camps competed to identify with because he’s a darling of American liberal-conservative media ideology, proudly boasted that he wasstrongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes." (Oh yes, a racist, to boot!)  For a month or so in 1919, the British dropped thousands of “M Devices” ("The most effective chemical weapon ever devised," according to Major General Charles Foulkes, who developed it.) on Bolshevik-held villages throughout Russia. That was in the context of American and British intervention on the Tsarist side in the Russian Civil War, one of those “limited” strikes that American liberals still pooh-pooh as no big deal.

Churchill also had a plan to “blanket Germany with 40,000 anthrax bombs” that was estimated to kill millions of people immediately "by inhalation," and millions later “through skin absorption of the poisons.” That plan was scotched by a somewhat more squeamish Franklin Roosevelt, who gave Winston the fire-bombing of German cities – using that not-chemical-weapon, napalm – as a consolation prize.  Red lines and all.











2 comments:

  1. If I may ask, what do you make of our not striking Syria? I suspect I was just as surprised as you when it became clear that the vote in congress would fail and we ended up not declaring war on yet another country.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You certainly may. I am, first of all, again happy to say I was wrong. I was very surprised at the turn of events. On the face of it, it seems quite a radical break. I don't know what it portends for ongoing US policy yet. I feel that I owe it to my readers and myself to write something on it, but, as you
    might have noticed, I’ve been distracted for the last two months (holidays and all), and I’ also finishing another long post on Obmamacare I hope to have up in the next few days. I also genuinely do not know where to go with it yet.

    It think the Syrian situation and the Iran situation are
    closely related, and the US willingness to talk to Iran is part of some kind of difference in approach. It’s surely pissing off the Israelis and their corner here, as well as the Saudis. I’m very doubtful that it’s going to result in a widespread radical change of policy, but I’d be very happy to see an American
    attack on Iran also go off the table.

    At this point, I would say a direct US military attack on
    Syria is in deep suspension. I do hope the US is waking up somewhat to the dangers of the strategy of using jihadis
    that I’ve talked about in all my Syria posts. The blowback to Iraq , especially, is of serious concern. But they may now try to present the war between the jihadi factions in Syria as one in which there’s a “moderate” faction that the US can support, with a victory of the “moderate” faction reviving the possibility
    of US intervention. I do not think they have given up on finding a way back to that.


    But it all now so obviously lacks any credibility, public support, or rationale in terms of risk. And Russia has come on very strong (and sensible in the context), which helps keep things in check. Iraq and Libya are just such obvious disasters. Keeping the public abhorrence for any intervention will be the most important thing.

    I cannot imagine what the Americans are going to do about
    Geneva. I can’t imagine at this point what Assad is going to do either.

    Short answer at the moment: It think the US and Saudis will
    probably try to play for permanent sectarian civil war in Syria, and a de facto partition. All they can really do is blow stuff up, arm sectarian fundamentalists, and keep the region boiling.

    ReplyDelete

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