Monday, 17 June 2013

U.S. weakness exposed by Syria war

How can Sarah Palin stand up and discuss Syria with a straight face? Could she have found it on a map before the recent round of partisan criticism from McCain and other armchair warriors? But comedy acts aside, Obama’s announcement that the rebel groups are going to get U.S. weaponry provides a good moment to consider the sad mess.

Anyone not made of stone must be shocked by the ongoing suffering of that population. You live under a terrifying dictatorship for decades, and at your first attempt to complain publicly, the top guy’s thugs come out and fire into the crowds, not once but repeatedly over a period of months. You respond with Gandhian civil resistance, losing more and more civilians in each demonstration. Next, they move into your neighborhoods and slaughter dozens in their beds, snatch your children and torture them. Finally, after everything else fails, you take up arms, soldiers and officers defect, the regime looks shaky. But the Russians quickly supply the dictator with diplomatic cover and warplanes to bomb your cities into dust.

Minus the airplanes, it sounds like Ronald Reagan’s approach to Guatemala. But I digress.

What’s striking about the unfolding tragedy is that the U.S. has zero credibility among some of the key players, not to mention worldwide public opinion. It’s hard to take seriously any expressions of solidarity with the Syrian populace emitted by Washington when the unresolved Palestinian statelessness and refugee issues, for which the U.S. bears, a huge share of responsibility, belie any such claims. Iranian support for Assad’s murder campaign is appalling, but the Obama Administration has given the mullahs ample motive to see the rebellion as a threat to themselves. They might know that Assad is a tinpot nazi in their lucid moments, but why would they trust Obama’s motives in wanting him out?

The purported trigger for the decision to send arms is the regime’s possible use of chemical weapons. While the evidence is significant that this has in fact occurred, who can believe the Americans on the topic of weapons of mass destruction? When they (we) need to make shit up as a causus belli, they do so, and everyone knows it.

The goal of U.S. foreign policy in the region for decades has had little to do with the wellbeing of its inhabitants but with the protection and strengthening of Israel. I understand that states are not churches and that there may be compelling reasons for the geostrategists and the cynical guys who run the world for that. But now the outside players have turned the Syrian uprising into a proxy war for themselves, and the years of distrust and instability make a sensible political resolution unlikely if not impossible. Had the U.S. exercised real determination to find a lasting solution instead of enabling the most intransigent Israeli hard-liners, the starting point to fixing Syria would be far less bleak.

Finally, the idea of limited intervention by the western powers to stop the ongoing slaughter is undermined by the way they handled Libya. NATO’s airwar was originally sold as a limited intervention to stop the massacre at Benghazi that was clearly about to happen. But it soon morphed into an open military alliance with Khaddafy’s enemies, which pissed off the Russians who felt snookered.

Our foreign policy seems increasingly dictated by the security and warmaking apparatus (note the headlines about Obama’s decision and the ‘heavy pressure’ applied on him—need we ask by whom?), rather than cooler civilian heads who might have a more long-term vision of the country’s interests and less knee-jerk willingness to rely on guns. It’s another result of our allowing the military-industrial-espionage complex to explode into its current cancerous state and our now ingrained habit of bowing down before anything wearing a uniform since the events of 2001.

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