Common Sense Says Don’t Bomb Syria
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough recently claimed, “The common-sense test says he (Syrian President Assad) is responsible” for the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria and “should be held to account” (http://www.sfgate.com/default/article/U-S-Common-sense-test-shows-Syria-used-gas-4797534.php). In fact, “common sense” would dictate just the opposite: That Assad would NOT attack with chemical weapons. He was already winning with conventional weapons, thus he had no military need to use anything else. He also knew that Obama had said that use of chemical weapons was a “red line,” so why would he invite American attack by using weapons he didn’t need to win? Assad has not lasted this long by being stupid. On the contrary, “common sense” would say that McDonough was covering up for the fact that by his own admission, the administration lacks “irrefutable, beyond-a-reasonable doubt evidence” that Assad used poison gas.
Not only does the White House lack proof that Assad is responsible for using chemical weapons, the White House also lacks a “common sense” argument that bombing Syria will improve the situation or protect American interests. It is much more likely that bombing Syria would escalate the conflict, perhaps widen the war to other nations, create more chaos, and kill more people. Opposing killing people by killing more people isn’t “common sense,” it’s closer to a common definition of insanity, “Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.” The Iraq war – also based on claims of WMD - strengthened the position of Iran, spread hatred of the U.S. across the Middle East, recruited more young men to jihad against us, cost us dearly in international respect and credibility, and gained us nothing. There is no reason to believe bombing Syria would have any better results, and many reasons to believe it may even have worse results. One should note the strong presence of Al-Qaeda and other fundamentalist groups – who are far worse than the Assad regime – in amongst the myriad rebel forces (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_opposition) we claim to support.
“Common sense,” dear McDonough, would say NO to bombing yet another Middle East nation, engulfing ourselves in yet another endless war, and supporting “evil terrorists” against an “evil dictator.”
Syria and the Liberal Democratic Hawks: A Response
This following is a slightly edited response to a blog post titled “Ten Reasons to Vote YES for the Syria Strike Resolution.” The blog post was written by Clifford Wilson, former Chairman of the Delaware County (Pennsylvania) Democratic Party on his blog Cliff’s Notes (http://wilsonsnotes.blogspot.com/2013/09/ten-reasons-to-vote-yes-for-syria.html?spref=fb). The date of his post is September 7, 2013; the response was written on September 8.
This is folly times 10. Folly as history, as logic, as politics, and as morality. Not one of these assertions (they’re not reasons) makes sense. The US did not blink when Saddam Hussein used gas against the Kurds and the Iranians; we had our eyes wide open and actively aided the Iraqi attack of the Iranian human wave army; we favored Iraq in its war against the Iranians before Saddam became the latest version of Hitler. The President has no authority under the “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction” to enforce the terms of the convention. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is the enforcement body, which acts through the UN. Our own record on chemical weapons if you consider Agent Orange and white phosphorous is anything but exemplary.
The US as a member of the UN has an obligation to stand by its requirement that a country can attack another country only if attacked by it or by authorization of the UN Security Council. Whatever agreement the US has with the French and the Turks (and the Saudis and the Qataris who are exporters of the worst forms of Sunni fundamentalism) is meaningless legally. We started an illegal war in Iraq in 2003, and warring against Syria, though different in degree is no different in kind. About the threat of American isolationism if we do not respond militarily: a country that has more than 700 overseas bases and whose Navy’s PR styles itself “A Global Force for Good” will not become overnight Fortress America by forgoing a missile attack on Damascus.
The “Ten Reasons” post assumes that the gas attack on Syrian civilians was carried out by government forces: this assertion has not been proved and is still being investigated. Secretary Kerry simply asserts that government forces (personified by the Hitler of the day, Bashar al-Assad) were responsible and backs it up with a 3-page statement by US intelligence. (We Vietnam era veterans have had a special place in our memories for John Kerry, a place that is now darkened by warmongering of the worst kind with his references to Hitler and Munich and global confrontation.)
As far as the assertion that American inaction will empower other “two-bit dictators” to use chemical weapons, it was well known that the Iraqis used chemical weapons against the Iranians and against Iraqi Kurds, but there was not an outbreak of mustard gas attacks after the Halabja gas attack in 1988.
The assertion that the attack on Libya was a success is ludicrous; ask the Libyan people if it were a success. In 2003 when the US undertook to remake the greater Middle East as part of President George W. Bush’s Freedom Agenda, there were four secular, functional mostly Arab states in North Africa and the Middle East: Egypt, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. All four countries were ruled by dictators (two of whom were likely psychopaths), but the countries were functional with good education and medical systems and with the potential to evolve into nondictatorial secular states. In 2013, Egypt is a post-Islamicist military dictatorship; Iraq is a Shia theocracy in a state of permanent civil war; Libya is simply a name on a map with no functional state; Syria is ready to fall. Meanwhile, much of the region is in a state of humanitarian disaster. The US is not responsible for all this, but we bear a lot of the responsibility.
That the mainstream of the Democratic Party is, with respect to US worldwide power projection through military force, no different from the worst of the neocons is a sad outcome. If as the “Ten Reasons” post asserts Churchill is right that the US does the right thing after it does everything else, maybe we should try to do the right thing now by restarting the talks in Geneva on Syria and while we’re at it inviting the Russians and the Iranians to take part. Forget the bombs; help the refugees.
Update September 16: Alas, the right thing was done by the good offices of a rather bad man: Vladimir Putin, President of Russia. The Syrian government has admitted to having chemical weapons and has agreed in principle to have them inventoried and destroyed. The US and Russia have agreed on a “framework agreement” to allow inspectors to enter Syria to begin the process. The UN has completed a study of the attack on the rebel-controlled area of Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. The UN study concluded that sarin gas was used in the attack, the largest chemical attack since 1988. The study did not determine which of the many sides in the conflict used the chemical weapons.