POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 4, 2013:
Seven Questions About Syria
Obama makes Bush's "rush to war" look methodical
Ten years ago, George W. Bush and his henchmen were beginning their war against Iraq. They wanted to invade hours after 9/11. But conning Congress and the public into invading a country that posed no threat to us delayed the invasion until March 2003.
This week, as the media celebrates the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King's iconic speech, it is shock- and awe-inspiring to see how far America has come. Where it took a white president a year and a half to pour on enough lies of omission, contextual lapses and leaps of logic to gin up a stupid, illegal war in the Middle East, our black president did it in a week.
Here we go again. A Baathist autocrat is in American crosshairs. The justification: WMDs. Also, he "kills his own people." Which we haven't cared about before. But: WMDs.
Ten years ago, the Baathist tyrant of Iraq denied the WMD accusations and invited UN weapons inspectors to verify his claim. Which they did. Because he was telling the truth. But the Bushies didn't want to wait. No time! Had to invade right away!
And again: "At this juncture, the belated decision by the regime to grant access to the UN team is too late to be credible," an Obama official said five days after Syrian troops allegedly fired poison gas into a neighborhood on the outskirts of Damascus, killing over 1000 people.
"Too late"? Really? Assad's government okayed the inspection less than 48 hours after the UN asked. On a weekend. I have editors who don't get back to me that quickly. Doesn't seem like a slow response from a government that doesn't have diplomatic relations with the U.S. Also, they're kinda busy fighting a civil war.
Now is a good time to think about some things the American mainstream media is omitting from their coverage -- concerns strikingly similar to issues that never got discussed back in 2002 and 2003.
1. "Chemical weapons were used in Syria," Secretary of State John Kerry says. Probably. But by whom? Maybe the Syrian army, maybe the rebels. Experts tell NPR: "The Free Syrian Army has the experience and perhaps even the launching systems to perpetrate such an attack." Maybe we should ease off on the cruise missiles before we know which side is guilty.
2. Assuming the attack was launched by the Syrian army, who gave the order to fire? Maybe it's Assad or his top generals. Assad denies this, calling the West's accusations "nonsense" and "an insult to common sense." Which, when you think about it, is true. As Barbara Walters and others who have met the Syrian dictator have found, Assad is not an idiot or a madman. He is a well-educated, intelligent man. Why would he brush off Obama's "red line" about the use of chemical weapons last year? His nation borders Iraq, so it's not like he needs reminders of what happens when you attract unwanted attention from the U.S.
Why would Assad take that chance? His forces are doing well. If the attack came from Assad's forces, maybe it originated on the initiative of a lower-level officer. Should the U.S. go to war over the possible actions of a mid-ranked army officer who went rogue?
3. "The options that we are considering are not about regime change," says the White House PR flack. So why is Obama "days away" from a military strike? To "send a message," in Beltway parlance. But the air war that the attack on Syria is reportedly being modeled after (Clinton's campaign against Serbia during the 1990s) caused the collapse of the Serbian government. Regional players think, and some hope, that degrading Assad's military infrastructure could turn the war in favor of the Syrian rebels. If toppling Assad isn't Obama's goal, why chance it?
4. When you bomb one side in a civil war -- a side that, by the way, might be innocent of the chemical attack -- you help their enemies. Assad is bad, but as we saw in post-Saddam Iraq, what follows a dictator can be worse. Syria's rebel forces include radical Islamists who aren't very nice guys. They've installed Taliban-style Sharia law in the areas they control, issuing bizarre edicts (they've outlawed croissants) and carrying out floggings and executions, including the recent whipping and fatal shooting of a 14-year-old boy for making an offhand remark about Mohammed. Obama is already sending them arms and cash. Should we fight their war for them too?
5. Why are chemical weapons considered especially bad? Because the U.S. has moved on to other, more advanced ways to kill people. And because we claim to be exceptional. Paul Waldman of The American Prospect notes: "We want to define our means of warfare as ordinary and any other means as outside the bounds of humane behavior, less for practical advantage than to convince ourselves that our actions are moral and justified." And, as Dominic Tierney argued in The Atlantic, "Powerful countries like the United States cultivate a taboo against using WMD partly because they have a vast advantage in conventional arms." If 100,000 people have died in Syria during the last two years, why are these 1,000 deaths different?
6. White phosphorus is a chemical weapon that kills people with slow, agonizing efficiency, melting their bodies down to their bones. The U.S. dropped white phosphorus in Iraq, notably in the battle of Fallujah. The U.S. uses depleted uranium bombs in Afghanistan. Those are basically chemical weapons. The U.S. uses non-chemical weapons that shock the world's conscience, such as cluster bombs that leave brightly colored canisters designed to attract playful children. Assuming the Assad regime is guilty as charged of the horrors in Damascus, why does the U.S. have the moral standing to act as jury and executioner?
7. Why us? Assuming that military action is appropriate in Syria, why is the United States constantly arguing that we should carry it out? Why not France, which has a colonial history there? Or Turkey, which is right next door? Or, for that matter, Papua New Guinea? Why is it always us?
Because our political culture has succumbed to militarism, which has made us so nuts that we've gone from zero to war in a week. Which brings up a quote from the "forgotten MLK," from 1967: "I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government."
Some things never change.
(Ted Rall's website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted's cartoons and columns by email.)
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