Sunday, September 01, 2013

Editorial: Wag The Kennel

The United Nations announced that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke today with the head of the UN mission to investigate the allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, Dr. Ake Sellstrom, about the mission.  The takeaway is this, "Samples will begin to be transferred to laboratories tomorrow."  As many, including IPS analyst Phyllis Bennis, noted last week, the inspectors were not tasked with determining who might have used chemical weapons, only if they were used.  Should the team conclude that chemical weapons were used, this will not conclude that they were used -- though you can be sure US President Barack Obama will attempt to spin it as such.

wag the kennel

Forget the dog, as Isaiah pointed out last Sunday, the administration is wagging the whole kennel.

Last week, Veterans Today's Gordon Duff reminded Press TV, "On June 27th this year he promised that he would not engage in any military activity without consulting Congress first. He is violating that promise."  With the most recent poll showing 79% of Americans want Congressional approval for any military action on Syria, Barack declared in the Rose Garden yesterday that he would seek Congressional approval (while whining that he didn't have to -- yes, the law says he does have to seek approval).  US Senator Saxby Chambliss responded to that announcement:

I believe the evidence is clear that the president's red-line was crossed long ago, and the United States must respond. However, while I appreciate the president seeking congressional approval, he should have already presented Congress with a strategy and objectives for military action, including what impact this will have on our allies and enemies alike in the region. Leadership is about reacting to a crisis, and quickly making the hard and tough decisions. The president should have demanded Congress return immediately and debate this most serious issue.

A greenlight from the US Congress is not a sure thing.  Last week, for example, Iraq War veteran and US House Rep. Tammy Duckworth announced she would not support an attack.  She's not alone.  Liz Halloran (NPR) reported yesterday:

President Obama's contemplation of a military strike in Syria over its suspected use of chemical weapons has roused at least 170 members of Congress to question the constitutionality of such action, and others to urge caution informed by the quagmire of recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Few congressional voices, however, may be more resonant than those of the more than 100 military veterans in the House and Senate — particularly the 16 who served in the post-Sept. 11 conflicts in the Middle East, in both combat and non-combat roles.

Senator Rand Paul has called out an attack since it was first floated weeks ago by the White House.  Alex Pappas (Daily Caller) notes that Paul has argued an attack on Syria is without any US "national security" rationale.  In the time since, other members of Congress have also began offering objections.  Rebecca Shabad (The Hill) reported mid-week, "More than 100 lawmakers, including 18 Democrats, have signed a letter that says President Obama would violate the Constitution by striking Syria without first getting authorization from Congress.  A total of 116 lawmakers had signed the letter as of 6 p.m. Wednesday, highlighting bipartisan interest and growing momentum in ensuring a role for Congress in any decision to use force in Syria."  In addition, US House Rep. Barbara Lee penned a letter 53 other Democratic members of the House signed on to.  The Progressive [PDF format warning] posts the letter here.  It's a rather weak letter but Lee's actions have been week from the moment Barack was sworn in as president.  Paul Kane and Ed O'Keefe (Washington Post via St. Louis Post-Dispatch) explain that "already, an unlikely alliance between tea party conservatives and veteran liberal doves, as well as the memory of the Iraq war debate, has cast doubt on whether the president can mobilize enough support in the country and in Congress to persuade lawmakers to approve even a limited attack in Syria."  Joe Sobczyk and Roxana Tiron (Bloomberg News) report today, "The Obama administration today opened what will be at least a week-long campaign to persuade U.S. lawmakers that a military strike against Syria is justified and will deter further use of chemical weapons by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "

Barack may or may not be able to get Congressional support.

However, as Phyllis Bennis pointed out to Peter Hart on FAIR's CounterSpin this week, the only legal approval for a strike on Syria can come from the United Nations Security Council -- per international law.  The US Congress is needed, per the US Constitution.  But that only covers the US domestic aspect.

In England, Prime Minister David Cameron was flapping his gums about being on board with Barack in attacking Syria; however, that changed last week.   As Great Britain's Socialist Worker observed:

David Cameron was humiliated last night, Thursday, when he suffered a historic Commons defeat on plans to bomb Syria.
He asked MPs to back military action but in an unprecedented blow, they voted by 285 to 272 against air strikes.
The vote reflects the overwhelming anti-war feeling among people in Britain – and the fear that missile strikes against Syria would be the start of yet another failed attempt by the West to control the Middle East.
Cameron, who had made a passionate plea for support for his proposals to launch attacks on Damascus after a chemical weapons attack last week, was forced to issue an embarrassing climbdown.

Exit Cameron, enter efforts to sell France as the great US ally.  Laura Smith-Spark (CNN) reported yesterday:

Mon Dieu, how things change! A decade ago, France's opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq caused such disdain that restaurants across the United States began calling French fries "freedom fries."
Some Americans bandied around the term "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," coined by TV show "The Simpsons," for their Gallic cousins, while then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair became George W. Bush's BFF.

Yet on Friday, as the United States tried to rally support for military intervention in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry had only fond words for the French, calling them "our oldest ally."

Will that attempt work?

Nothing else seems to have so far.  Barack's proposed military strike, for example, isn't enough to garner support from some conservatives.  The National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru reflects on Barack's proposed plan in a column for Bloomberg News:

First, there’s no clear objective. At least in Iraq, we knew what our initial goal was: overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime. This time, our government is disavowing any such concrete purpose. We’re instead going to be “punishing” Bashar al-Assad’s regime or “sending a message” to it. It’s the armed forces as Western Union. How we will know when the regime has been punished enough, or the message made unmistakable, is anyone’s guess.
Second, the national-security rationale for intervention is weaker in Syria. In Iraq, of course, the national-security claims turned out to be vastly overstated; the regime didn’t have the nuclear capacities that Western intelligence agencies suggested. This time, though, not much of a national-security argument is even being made. It has been pointed out that the Syrian regime is an ally of Iran, but that’s hardly a reason for an intervention that is not designed to replace the regime with one friendlier to us. President Barack Obama has tried claiming that Syria’s chemical weapons could be turned against us, but it’s not clear he has even persuaded himself to worry about that. 

Then there's Martin LeFevre (Costa Rican Times) who believes the Syrian government was behind the attacks and offers a blistering critique of Barack's proposals:

Suddenly, following this latest, massive chemical attack, the slumbering moral conscience of the Obama Administration has been awakened, rising to its full one-meter height. The President of the World declares: “When the world says these weapons of mass destruction should not be used, we mean it.”
Just who is ‘we?’ Desperately conflating “the national security interests of the United States” with “international norms,” our illogically thinking president is dragging out an ill-considered punitive strike by the most bloated military in the world.

Barack attempted to present an argument on so-called moral grounds in the Rose Garden yesterday.  "This attack is an assault on human dignity," is only one of the lines he delivered while gesticulating wildly.  It was the White House salute to Jazz Hands.  And very disconcerting to watch his hands flail around as he tried to talk tough, "But if we really do want to turn away from taking appropriate action in the face of such an unspeakable outrage, then we must acknowledge the costs of doing nothing."

We don't make 'moral' arguments, we make ethical ones.  So maybe we aren't the best judge of Barack's 'moral' grounds?  Fine.  Gideon Levy (Ha'aretz) offers:

Neither can anyone seriously think that the United States is a “moral superpower,” as Ari Shavit defined it in these pages (August 29). The country responsible for the most bloodshed since World War II – some say as many as 8 million dead at its hands – in Southeast Asia, South America, Afghanistan and Iraq – cannot be considered a “moral power.” Neither can the country in which a quarter of the world’s prisoners are incarcerated; where the percentage of prisoners is greater than in China and Russia; and where 1,342 people have been executed since 1976. Even Shavit’s statement “The new international order in the wake of World War II was meant to ensure that … the horrific scenario of death by gassing would not be repeated,” is disconnected from reality. In Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Rwanda and Congo, as in Syria, this baseless claim can only arouse a bitter smile. 

Also doubting the existence of 'moral' ground is Eric S. Margolis (Khaleej Times):

During the long, bloody Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), the US, Britain, Italy and Germany exported chemical weapons plants and raw material to Iraq that produced Sarin nerve gas and burning mustard gas. Many thousands of Iranian soldiers were killed, horribly burned or blinded by these Western-supplied weapons.
So a little less Western moral outrage, please, particularly from the Brits whose own Winston Churchill authorised the use of poison gas against rebellious Iraqi and Afghan tribesmen.

Let’s also recall how North Vietnam was drenched with the toxic Agent ‘Orange’, how the resisting Iraq city of Fallujah was showered by white phosphorous, how Iraq was permanently contaminated by radioactive depleted uranium. These foul weapons also kill babies. 

Barack is a drama queen.  That's long been known.  The question is how weary and aware is everyone of his theatrics?  Tired enough to prevent him from attacking Syria?

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