A Russian diplomatic initiative has forestalled U.S. military strikes against Syria. The U.S.-Russian-Syrian agreement would have Bashar al-Assad’s regime turn over its chemical-weapons to the UN Security Council so that they can be destroyed under international control.
The deal was proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made an apparently off-the-cuff remark suggesting that if Syria surrendered its chemical-weapons stock, military action could be avoided. Putin, anxious to play the role of peacekeeper and thereby increase his international standing, called Kerry’s bluff.
Whether this was a genuine gaffe on Kerry’s part or a maneuver by the Obama administration to wiggle out of an untenable political position is anyone’s guess. Congressional and public opposition to the White House’s war plans had been growing before Putin’s intervention. Whatever the case, the escalation of the Syrian civil war into a full-blown international conflict has been avoided for the time being.
The justification for military action was the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against civilians in a suburb of Damascus on August 21. When President Obama addressed the nation on September 10, he said a military strike was necessary “to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them, and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use.”
The Obama administration, however, has provided no evidence to support its charges, and some (including the Russian government) suspect the chemical attack of being a false-flag event staged by rebel forces in order to provide a pretext for overt foreign military intervention.
But let us assume for the sake of argument that the Assad regime is guilty of deploying chemical weapons against a seditious portion of the Syrian population. Would such an act be a casus belli for Washington?
No, it would not. The U.S. government has no legal or moral authority to intervene in Syria’s civil war. Indeed, had the Obama administration proceeded with its war plans, it would have been guilty of unprovoked military aggression — a “crime against peace” under the Nuremberg Principles.
Notwithstanding the illegality of the U.S. government’s war plans, its hypocrisy over the alleged chemical-weapons attack in Syria is nothing less than astounding. The U.S. military made extensive use of herbicides like Agent Orange in Vietnam, with no regard for the effect those chemicals had on soldiers and civilians on the ground. During the Iran-Iraq War, the United States exported precursor materials to Iraq with the full knowledge that they would be used to produce chemical weapons. More recently, the U.S. military used depleted uranium and white phosphorous–laced weaponry in its invasion and occupation of Iraq.
And ask yourself this question: What would the U.S. government’s response be to an armed rebellion within its own borders? Indeed, what has Washington done to those Americans who have had the temerity to challenge its authority? Consider the fate of the Branch Davidians in 1993, or the swath of destruction the Union Army cut through the American South in 1864–65.
Yes, governments often do nasty things to their own populations. The ugly truth is that the U.S. government is not exceptional in this regard.
One of the more interesting developments to come out of the Syrian crisis was Vladimir Putin’s challenge to the doctrine of “American exceptionalism” in a New York Times opinion piece. The final paragraph of Putin’s missive is worth quoting:
My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
While Putin’s words predictably ruffled the feathers of the chickenhawks in Washington, they resonated with libertarians, paleoconservatives, and other thoughtful Americans who have been horrified and ashamed of their government’s bellicose foreign policy.
Now, I hold no brief for Putin. The Russian president is a former KGB goon and, by most accounts, a corrupt politician with autocratic designs. But as the Russian head of state, Putin is a member of a power bloc that provides a check on the demented ambitions of the Anglo-American ruling elite. This is a balance on the international scene that has been sorely missing in the post-Cold War era.
Putin’s primary motives are undoubtedly geopolitical (Syria is Russia’s strategic anchor in the Mediterranean), but his words nevertheless appeal to those Americans who wish to see their country assume a more traditional, noninterventionist role in world affairs. While such “isolationist” views are held in contempt by the political elites inside the Beltway, they are undeniably popular among the general public, which has grown weary of Washington’s habitual warmongering.
But while the rush to an overt war against Syria has been stopped for now, Washington’s not-so-covert war to overthrow the Assad regime continues.
As the Washington Post reported on September 11,
The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, ending months of delay in lethal aid that had been promised by the Obama administration, according to U.S. officials and Syrian figures. The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war.
The U.S. government’s regime-change operation in Syria is itself an act of war and a clear violation of international law — but for the imperial schemers in Washington, it is just another day at the office.
The Syrian debate was never about poison gas or the deaths of innocent civilians. Indeed, if the U.S. government really wanted to reduce the suffering in that country, it could simply cease supporting the Islamist rebels, which would bring an end to the fighting very soon. Veteran journalist Eric Margolis recently provided a succinct explanation of what is really happening in Syria:
The Syrian conflict is a proxy war being waged against Iran by the United States, conservative Arab oil producers, and three former Mideast colonial powers, Britain, France and Turkey who are seeking to restore their domination in the region. Israel, hoping to isolate Hezbollah and cement its annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights, cheers from the sidelines. Syria and Hezbollah are Iran’s only Arab friends.
Perhaps this deplorable state of affairs is what John Quincy Adams was warning the country about when he addressed Congress on July 4, 1821,
She [the United States] well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.…
She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.
Rather than promoting peace in the Middle East, the U.S. government has sought to destabilize the region as part of an age-old imperial strategy of divide and conquer.