Syria: The Next US War?
Faced with a government which, purportedly on our behalf, repeatedly undertakes unilateral military attacks, it is not enough for us to merely express our revulsion at war. We need to understand the pattern to these aggressions, to make clear what drives them, and to see the underlying policy as part of a larger agenda which cares little more for us than it does for its overseas victims.
It’s becoming hard to keep up with all the military attacks and/or covert operations being carried out by the US government and its allies against countries or peoples of the Arab and Islamic worlds.
With the unending havoc created by US invasions of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), the government appears to have lost its taste for “boots on the ground.” But drone attacks have become commonplace (Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia); support of certain repressive regimes – as in Egypt, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia – has remained a constant; and in the case of Libya, as in the two cases of direct invasion, regime-change has definitely been an objective.
So it is now in the case of the Assad regime in Syria. Recent assurances that this would not be the purpose of a US attack must be seen in the context of many months of public declarations by high officials (including President Obama) that negotiations could not include Assad, and that he would have to go.
The US stance on Syria has its ironic dimension. As in the case of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, although Bashar al Assad has been intolerant of popular opposition, his regime is a secular one. In Assad’s Syria as in Hussein’s Iraq, there has been peaceful coexistence between populations of different religions or different sectarian identities within Islam, and a key part of the opposition has consisted of forces seeking a stricter application of Islamic practice. (The early involvement of Saudi and al Qaeda fighters in the anti-Assad uprising is a manifestation of this.)
But for all the US talk of favoring religious tolerance (and, with regard to Afghanistan, even defending women’s rights), what really drives US policy – allowing it to favor the fanatically sectarian and misogynistic Saudi regime – is economic and geopolitical interests. What matters to the US government about the Assad regime, therefore, is not its secular character, but rather its alliance with Iran and, in Lebanon, with Hezbollah (which in turn is regarded by Israel as a threat).
As on many past occasions, we hear (most recently from Secretary of State Kerry) appeals to high moral purpose – in this case, punishing a government for alleged abuses committed against “its own people.” But there are several problems with this rationale.
First, the particular charge that the Assad forces have engaged in chemical attacks is dubious. The opposition forces have been militarily dependent on foreign fighters. The regime has been gaining the upper hand in combat. It invited the UN inspectors in, and could have no interest in carrying out an attack for which they would then be able to establish its culpability. [Seehttp://shoebat.com/2013/08/27/evidence-syrian-rebels-used-chemical-weapo... andhttp://www.infowars.com/rebels-admit-responsibility-for-chemical-weapons... ] The opposition, being at a military disadvantage, could hope for success only by creating a scenario of chaos within which an all-out PR campaign blaming Assad could set the stage for external military intervention. The unseemly haste reflected in Obama’s call for an attack without waiting for the UN inspectors’ report is consistent with this interpretation.
Second, whatever the truth of the chemical-warfare charge, it is disingenuous for the US government to set itself up as an arbiter in such matters, given its own past complicity in chemical attacks (supplying Iraq with chemical weaponry in the 1980s; later using phosphorus against Iraq [Fallujah, 2004] and supporting Israel in its use of the same substance in the 2008-9 assault on Gaza). Evidently, whether or not chemical warfare should be condemned depends on who applies it. In other words, it can’t be the real reason for the planned US attack.
Third, independently of the rationale (i.e., even if the accusations against Assad were true), the idea that missile attacks on the country would constitute a remedy makes no sense. While they might indeed weaken the Assad regime and eventually make possible its overthrow (as happened with the Gaddafi regime in Libya), the outcome would be one of chaos and amplified suffering. Among the “victorious” opposition, the upper hand would go not to any democratic civilian organization but rather to whoever was best armed. This might suit US policymakers, but it makes a mockery of their proclaimed (democratic) values.
It is important that we try to persuade Congress to vote down Obama’s call for a military attack on Syria. [See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/norman-solomon/obama-will-launch-a-huge_b_... ] But our arguments will be stronger if we can at the same time demonstrate that the premises behind his proposal are false. Such understanding will also help prepare us to resist future plans of aggression. And in the meantime, it may win over to our position those who, although generally anti-war, have been swayed by the “moral” argument of the Obama administration and/or who take at face value its claim that the “limited” scope of its proposed attack sets it sharply apart from what George W. Bush did in 2003 in Iraq.
In short, if we are to effectively oppose war, we must be ready to explain why aggression – the most basic war crime, in the language of the Nuremberg Principles – has become a constant of US foreign policy.
Victor Wallis teaches in the Liberal Arts department at the Berklee College of Music and is managing editor of the journal Socialism and Democracy (http://sdonline.org).