aNewDomain.net — Ten years ago, George W. Bush and friends were just starting their war against Iraq. That was 2003. Two years before — just hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC — the Bushies wanted to invade Iraq but they couldn’t. First they had to trick Congress and the American people into believing that invading a country posing zero threat to the U.S. was a good idea. This past week, as I noticed the media celebrating the 50-year anniversary of Martin Luther King’s march on Washington and his I Have a Dream speech, I was filled with shock and awe at how far the United States has come. I mean it took a white President a year and a half to pour on enough weird logical leaps, contextual lapses and lies of omission to gin up a stupid, illegal Middle East war. Our black President managed to amp up such support in a week. Find our Ted Rall Syria commentary below.
Well, here it goes again. You’ve got a Baathist autocrat right in America’s cross hairs. And there’s the same justification: weapons of mass destruction — WMDs. Same chorus, too: “He kills his own people.”
Not that anyone ever cared much about that, sadly. But oh. The WMDs.
Saddam Hussein, that Baathist tyrant of Iraq, 10 years ago denied U.S. and UN allegations that Iraq had WMDs. He invited UN weapons inspectors to verify that. And they did, because in fact there were no WMDs. But the Bush gang didn’t want to wait for truth to come out. No time! Got to invade right away!
And now you’ve got an Obama spokesman telling The Wall Street Journal something eerily familiar: “At this juncture, the belated decision by the regime to grant access to the UN team is too late to be credible.”
The Obama spokesman said this five days after Syrian troops reportedy poured poison gas onto an outer Damascus neighborhood, killing more than 1,000 men, women and children.
But is it too late? Really? Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s government okay-ed the inspection fewer than 48 hours after the United Nations requested it. This was on a weekend. There are editors who don’t get back to me so quickly. It sure doesn’t seem like a slow response. Syria’s government has strained diplomatic relations with the U.S., and it’s pretty busy fighting a civil war.
Update: Sept. 1, 2013 — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry today said the U.S. had independently verified that the poison gas was the chemical nerve agent Sarin. The U.S. blames the Syrian government for the August 21 attack that killed more than 1,400 Syrian men, women and children.
That’s why now is the best time to consider some issues most of the U.S. media is leaving out of the coverage. These are strikingly similar to issues that no one ever really discussed back in 2002 and 2003, before the U.S. “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq.
1. Who used the chemical weapons in Syria? “Chemical weapons were used in Syria,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Note the passive case. He doesn’t say who used them. The Syrian Army? The rebels? Experts told NPR that “the Free Syrian Army has the experience and perhaps even the launching systems to perpetrate such an attack.” Perhaps a launching system? How about we back away from the cruise missiles until we know what side is the guilty one?
2. Assuming the Syrian army did launch the attack, who gave the order to fire? Maybe it was Assad — or maybe it was one of his top generals. Assad denies this. He calls the West’s accusations “nonsense” and “an insult to common sense.” That, when you think about it, carries water. ABC’s Barbara Walters found Assad, a London-trained ophthalmologist, to be quiet, reserved and mild-mannered. Before taking power, Assad’s only political role in Syria was head of the Internet Computer Society, which brought the Internet to Syrians in 2001. According to Walters and others who have met him, Assad is not an idiot or a madman. He is a well-educated guy who seems unlikely to brush off U.S. President Barack Obama’s so-called “red line” barring the use of chemical weapons last year. And his country borders Iraq. It’s not as if he needs a reminder of what happens when you attract unwanted attention from the U.S. Why would Assad take that chance? His forces are holding up. If the chemical attack did come from Assad’s forces, perhaps it originated on a lower-level officer’s initiative. Ask yourself whether you believe the U.S. should go to war over the actions of some rogue mid-rank army officer.
3. Is the U.S. really not pushing for a Syrian regime change? That’s what the White House PR flack insists. “The options that we are considering are not about regime change,” Jay Carney told the National Post. If this is so, why is Obama a whisper away from a military strike? In Beltway parlance, the point is send a message, of course. But recall that the air war that the U.S. is reportedly modeling its attack on Syria after — this would be Clinton’s 1990s-era Serbia campaign — collapsed the Serbian government. Regional players say, and some hope, that degrading Assad’s military infrastructure potentially could topple Assad in favor of the rebels. The U.S. is supporting some of the rebels with money and arms. So if toppling the Assad government is not Obama’s goal, why risk doing it?
4. If you attack one side in a civil war, you are helpings its enemies. Say you bomb Assad’s side — a side that might even be innocent of the chemical attack — then you’re just aiding rebels who are essentially unknowns. Assad should go, okay, go with that. But as we saw in post-Hussein Iraq, what follows a dictator is potentially worse. Consider: Syria’s rebel forces include radical Islamists — these are not nice guys. They’ve installed Taliban-style extreme Sharia law in areas they control. They’ve been issuing bizarre edicts — they outlawed CROISSANTS in at least one case — and they’ve been flogging and executing at will. Note the recent whipping and fatal shooting of a 14-year-old boy charged with making an offhand insult against the Islamic prophet Mohammed. Obama is already sending groups of Syrian rebels arms and cash. Should we fight the war for them, too? That would be a Libya redux.
5. If the point is chemical weapons, ask yourself why the U.S. makes this so. It’s because the U.S. has moved on and embraced other, far more-advanced ways to kill people. And it’s also because the U.S. is forever claiming to be above the fray. It considers itself to be exceptional. Paul Waldman of The American Prospect notes:
(United States officials) 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 (weapons of mass destruction) partly because they have a vast advantage in conventional arms.”
Look — 100,000 people died in Syria during the last two years. What makes these 1,400 deaths different?
6. Ever heard of white phosphorus? This is a chemical weapon, and it kills people with slow, agonizing efficiency. Essentially, it melts human bodies down to the bones. The U.S. dropped white phosphorus in Iraq. This was in the battle of Fallujah.
And the U.S. uses depleted uranium bombs in Afghanistan. Those are basically chemical weapons. And then there are the U.S.-employed non-chemical weapons that should and do shock the world’s conscience, like cluster bombs that leave brightly colored canisters. These attract playful children.
Assuming the Assad regime is guilty as charged of the horrors in Damascus, who appointed the U.S. jury and executioner?
7. Finally, ask yourself: Why does the U.S. have to take action — why not someone else? Just assuming that military action in fact makes sense in Syria, why is the U.S. always arguing that the U.S. is the one who should carry it out? Why the U.S? Why not France? From the end of World War I until the end of World War II, the French occupied Syria. So it has a colonial history in Syria. Or why not Turkey, which like France is opposed to the Assad regime and lives right next door? For that matter, why not Papua, New Guinea? Why does it always always have to be the U.S.?
Here’s why. It’s because our political culture embraces militarism. And that has made us so psychotic that the U.S. has gone from zero to war in just about a week.
And that makes me think about a Martin Luther King Jr. quote from 1967. Said Martin Luther King Jr:
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.
For aNewDomain.net, I’m Ted Rall.
Based in Boston, Ted Rall is a nationally-syndicated columnist, editorial cartoonist and war correspondent who specializes in Afghanistan and Central Asia. The author of 17 books, most-recently published The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt, Rall is twice the winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and is a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Follow him @TedRall, check out his Facebook fan page and definitely follow his Google+ stream here. Ted’s upcoming book After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan is due out in 2014.