Posts Tagged Syria
Wrapped in some benign sounding words about prosperity, peace, and “shifting from a perpetual war footing,” the core of Barack Obama’s message to the United Nations yesterday made clear that if the U.N. doesn’t pass a resolution the U.S. wants against Syria, he still could execute a strike.
Here’s the take-home:
The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region. We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War.
We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world. Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends on the region’s energy supply and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.
Jeremy Scahill reacted somewhat as I did on hearing it yesterday:
You have this democratic president who won the Nobel Peace Prize who then goes and stands in front of the United Nations and basically stakes out a neo-con vision of American foreign policy and owns it and kind of wraps it in this cloak of democratic legitimacy. I think when we look back at Obama’s legacy, this is going to have been a very significant period in U.S. history where the ideals of very sort of radical right wing forces were solidified and continued under Mr. Constitutional Law Professor, Nobel Peace Prize Winner. It is really kind of devastating what is going on right now and I think if you take the long view of it or you step back and look at it and don’t just see the trees but look at the forest, President Obama has been a forceful, fierce defending of empire and I think that is going to be the enduring legacy of his presidency is that he was an empire president.
Scahill’s film Dirty Wars comes out on DVD October 15.
The report from the United Nations seems to indicate a large amount of deadly gas was aimed at Syrian civilians on August 21. The U.S. has already concluded the gas came from the Assad government, and not the rebels. If that is true, by what authority does the U.S. claim the right to bomb Syrian civilians in the name of stopping chemical weapons? Or keep arming rebels in Syria or the military in Egypt?
Larry Everest says this crisis is not really about chemical weapons, but about global aims of the U.S. in the region in Syria: Diplomacy… and Ongoing Danger of a U.S. Attack
The tyrannical, murderous regime of a small, oppressed country is being forced under threat of bombardment to partially disarm by reactionary powers with far, far, far greater arsenals of death and destruction—including nuclear weapons that are qualitatively more savage and dangerous than chemical weapons—precisely in order to preserve their monopoly over these weapons of cataclysmic death and destruction…The Obama team may be calculating that because it lacks any good or easy options in Syria, striking this deal can be to its advantage, including because by appearing to “give peace a chance” it can build greater support for a possible military assault later if that is deemed necessary.
Everest does not say that any one course has already been determined, is inevitable, or without grave risk for the U.S. war planners. It’s very worth watching Everest speak last week, just before Obama’s speech and the announcement of “negotiations.”
Dennis Loo, in a 2 part series, looks at what scenarios the U.S. may be considering re Syria and Iran in Syria: Jubilation is Unwarranted:
Obama has not suddenly found his Nobel Peace Prize persona and people should not jettison their hard won disillusionment for what he has done since being elected president in 2008.
This is the same Obama who proposed bombing Syria irrespective of Congress, irrespective of international law, the Nuremberg Tribunal, and the UN Charter..
Negotiations and “peace” agreements are all part of the arsenal of weapons that Empires use to get what they want. And what the U.S. Empire wants is not really the disarming of Assad’s chemical weapons but the removal of Assad from office. As reactionary as Assad is (very), he has become an obstacle to (especially) U.S. and Israel’s plans for the region.
In part 2, Dennis quotes Zbigniew Brezezinsky (who was National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter and “author of the U.S. policy of backing the Afghan mujahedeen against the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan from 1979-1989. This policy gave birth to al-Qaeda whose revenge for having the rug pulled out from under them after the U.S. got what it wanted with the Russian withdrawal is most spectacularly known as 9/11.”):
I think the problem with Syria is its potentially destabilizing and contagious effect—namely, the vulnerability of Jordan, of Lebanon, the possibility that Iraq will really become part of a larger Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict, and that there could be a grand collision between us and the Iranians. I think the stakes are larger and the situation is far less predictable and certainly not very susceptible to effective containment just to Syria by American power.
It’s imperative we step back from assumptions that this crisis is about chemical weapons, just about Syria or regime change there, or… that it’s over.
When I asked this week “When did it become appropriate to hold a vote about whether or not we should commit the “supreme international crime”? I received a comment that
The people who have received your message are probably already convinced of the illegality (or at least immorality) of a US attack on Syria, but efforts to persuade those not yet convinced would be aided by being able to refer to some internationally recognized legal document in which wars of aggression are so characterized and the characterization is explained (because all other war crimes flow from wars of aggression).
Not enough people know the disparity between internationally recognized legal principles and the term “international norms” made up by John Kerry to justify a military strike on a country which has not attacked the U.S. So, let’s break it down.
The phrase “supreme international crime” comes from a quote from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. Richard Falk, speaking 60 years later at the World Tribunal on Iraq, gave the history of what the United States had agreed to and enforced as the victor:
The criminal trial of German and Japanese leaders after World War II, the Nuremberg Judgment issued in 1945 was a milestone in this process. The Judgment declared: “To initiate a war of aggression… is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole,” and although Nuremberg was flawed by being an example of “victors’ justice,” the American prosecutor, Justice Robert Jackson, made what has been described as the Nuremberg Promise in his closing statement: “If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”
The internationally recognized document that defines war crimes is the Nuremberg Principles. Aggressive war is listed first in the crimes against peace:
“The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:
(a) Crimes against peace:
(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;
(ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i)
Richard Falk brings the sharp difference up to 2013, when he wrote on September 6 against a U.S. military strike on Syria:
There are four important independent reasons for Congress to withhold authorization in this instance:
–a use of force that can neither be justified as self-defense, nor is authorized by the UN, is contrary to the UN Charter, which is an obligatory treaty, as well as being the most serious type of violation of international law in a post-Nuremburg world; the Nuremberg precedent with regard to crimes against peace (as the ‘crime of crimes’) should be respected, especially by the United States, which continues to serve for better and worse, as the main normative architect of world order;
–the Kosovo precedent of ‘illegal, but legitimate’ is not applicable as a military attack is not likely to achieve either its political goals of ending the civil war and of causing the collapse of the Assad regime, nor its moral goals of stopping the slaughter and displacement of the Syrian people, and the devastation of their cities and country;
–even if the political and moral goals could be achieved, Congress, as well as the president, lacks the authority to authorized foreign policy uses of force that are incompatible with the UN Charter and international law;
–Congress should defer to domestic and world public opinion that clearly is opposed to a proposed military attack in the absence of an exceptional demonstration can be made as to the positive political and moral benefits of such an attack; for reasons mentioned, no such demonstration can be made in this instance; even the European Union has withheld support for a military attack on Syria at the September meeting of the G-20 in St. Petersburg; only France among America’s traditional allies supported Obama’s insistence on reliance on a punitive military strike, supposedly for the sake of enforcing international law, bizarre reasoning because the rationale reduces to the following proposition: in view of the political realities, it is necessary to violate international law so as to be able to enforce it.
As we know, what is “legal” is not necessarily moral, and vice versa. In this case, the U.S. has no international law to rely on, thus resorts, as Kerry does, to the relative term “international norms,” i.e. whatever those running the Untied States prefer at any particular moment to embrace.
Most importantly, in the face of illegitimate — and illegal — unjust, immoral plans by the U.S. government to attack Syria, it is up to us to create political conditions where they cannot. I agree with Mario Venegas, the human rights leader and survivor of the U.S./CIA sponsored coup against the government of Chile 40 years ago, who said Wednesday, that “we are the force that can stop this war.”
It is a good thing that thousands of people protested and many more voiced their opposition to a U.S. strike on Syria. But it’s not good that some are relaxing, much less celebrating, in the delusional idea that somehow diplomacy has “worked” to prevent the Obama administration from going forward with this attack. It would be very bad if people recede into passivity and acceptance, thinking that the danger of war is lessened, when it could well be higher, as Obama works the world for support.
Wednesday’s New York Times headline, accurate in this case, said “Obama Delays Syria Strike to Focus on Russian Plan,” while reporting that Obama argued harder than ever for a strike to punish Syria, and didn’t give any timetable for how long he would wait to act, or go back to Congress. This is not “no war” from Obama. It’s “let us work on this harder.”
Larry Everest, speaking Monday pre-empted Obama’s assertion that “the world’s a better place” because for “nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security by going into the historical precedent of the plan Bush & Cheney pursued in 2002/03, playing at diplomacy, while ever tightening the vice on Iraq; promising a 90 day war that would end with cheering Iraqis. It is that disaster which is making a lot of people in this country at least hesitate to say “yes” to Obama.
World Can’t Wait gathered voices of conscience Bob Bossie, Ted Jennings, Kathy Kelly and Mario Venegas to speak out Wednesday morning in Chicago. I appreciate Kathy’s comment that “anyone who goes along with the idea of a ‘surgical strike’ needs a second opinion.” Ted & Mario spoke of their support for Obama on some matters, but absolute opposition to aggression against Syria. The speakers, with experience all over the world on U.S. diplomacy and duplicity accurately assessed that the danger of a US attack is not over.
It would be one thing if the speech was anything but a war-mongering attempt to justify what Obama has planned. But what a bunch of lies! Revolution in More Lies for War from the Liar-in-Chief described “libraries full of books, decades of documentaries, and the testimony of hundreds of millions of victims of what the U.S. has brought to the world would hardly begin to reveal the extent to which these are all LIES.” After citing some of those decades of U.S. actions, it continued
Speaking to a world population that is much more aware than are people in the U.S. of the legacy of U.S. violent crimes around the world, and speaking to (and embracing) the “hawks” in the ruling class and good ole boys watching on TV, Obama put on his stern face, looked into the cameras, and made this ominous declaration and threat:
“Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.”
U.S. diplomacy rests on violence and threats of violence, and is aimed at the same ends as violence of enforcing exploitation and oppression, fending off rivals, and keeping people enslaved. If Tony Soprano establishes the freedom to set up and run drug dealing, prostitution, and extortion in a district by threatening to strangle someone (a threat that only means something because everyone knows he actually strangles people), how is that something to celebrate?
Hearing this should make us all more determined to stop this illegitimate strike on Syria, covered by diplomacy, or not.
While protesting in Times Square Saturday, we listened amid the noise to Obama’s speech of mostly stick, and a little carrot. Some of the protesters took his “largesse” at offering Congress the chance to endorse his plan to attack Syria (the carrot) as a concession by Obama. They say we should seize the moment and “let Congress know” how many people are against this strike and potential regional war.
Congress knows, as they read the public opinion polls too, and there could be an actual political fight in Congress over Obama’s plan, leading to a political damage for his agenda. But, as John Kerry, the former anti-war veteran turned Secretary of ruling class warmongering said,
“We don’t contemplate that the Congress is going to vote no,” Kerry said, but he stressed the president had the right to take action “no matter what Congress does.”
That was the stick of Obama’s message, backed up by his assertion that as Commander in Chief, his military is ready today, tomorrow, or in the near future to strike.
It is true Obama is having difficulty selling the plan of Tomahawk missile strikes narrowly targeted at the Assad regime’s air power, as war-planners, other governments and political observers alike are questioning the inherent unpredictability and dangers Obama’s plan poses. But is his move toward Congress actually motivated by his respect for the “constitutional democracy” which is how he described the United States?
Larry Everest says in Lies to Justify an Immoral War:
What is going on here IS an exercise in democracy—but it is an exercise in capitalist-imperialist democracy, which is in essence the dictatorship of the imperialist ruling class. The Obama team felt it had the freedom, but also the NECESSITY, given the widespread public cynicism about yet another case of “slam dunk” evidence, yet another U.S. military adventure, and unresolved concerns in the ruling class over where an attack on Syria would lead, to give this speech and launch this process he calls for, along with a need to make a case to an international audience and push allies into line and deal with a complex international alignment of forces.
Dennis Loo describes Obama’s approach in O-bomb-a Syria as an exercise for public consumption:
When governments such as the U.S. decide to go to war, by the time that they announce publicly that they are seriously considering whether or not to launch the missiles and send the ships, etc., they have already behind closed doors decided to commence hostilities. Modern warfare requires months of painstaking, protracted, and laborious military planning and placing equipment and personnel in place. These logistical matters dictate that no government planning to launch aggressive war as the U.S. is doing is doing so only now because all of a sudden they have “discovered” that chemical weapons have been used. They have been placing assets in place for weeks and months ahead of time and drawing up attack plans for similarly long periods of time.
The public show of debating, discussing, and rattling the sabers are a PR exercise designed specifically to win over the public to supporting what the rulers have behind closed doors already determined is in their best interests to do.
I appreciated Glenn Greenwald’s wry take in Obama, Congress and Syria, too, although he doesn’t have the same critique of democracy:
It’s a potent sign of how low the American political bar is set that gratitude is expressed because a US president says he will ask Congress to vote before he starts bombing another country that is not attacking or threatening the US. That the US will not become involved in foreign wars of choice without the consent of the American people through their representatives Congress is a central mandate of the US Constitution, not some enlightened, progressive innovation of the 21st century.
David Swanson goes to an essential, systemic problem, in Caveman Credibility and its Costs, that whatever Congress does, it can’t establish legitimacy for US military action through a mere vote.
If Congress were to say yes, the war would remain illegal under both the U.N. Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact. And if Congress were to say no, President Obama has indicated that he might just launch the war anyway.
If you look at the resolution that Obama has proposed that Congress pass, it doesn’t grant permission for a specific limited missile strike on a particular country at a particular time, but for limitless warfare, as long as some connection can be made to weapons of mass destruction in the Syrian conflict. The White House has made clear that it believes this will add exactly nothing to its powers, as it already possesses open-ended authorizations for war in the never-repealed Afghanistan and Iraq authorizations, which themselves added exactly nothing to White House war powers, because the president is given total war power through the Constitution in invisible ink that only the White House can see.
The dangers here are obvious in the Obama strike, most especially to those under fire directly. I don’t agree with putting all our efforts — much less hopes — in Congress. The main factor in what the US empire is forced to do — whether it’s the talk shop of Congress, or the Commander in Chief — starts with what people living in this country think, and then do, in response to these outrageous war moves.
World Can’t Wait is posting key articles on the U.S. intervention against Syria. We call on everyone to join in mass protest.
The counter-attack of city authorities to clear the “Occupy” movement has now led to a serious injury, leaving protester Scott Olsen critically injured by an injury to his brain from a police projectile. Oakland police attacked a peaceful encampment on Tuesday at 5:00 am, after massing 500 police, for hours. Within minutes, hundreds were driven away, and police destroyed everything.
Tuesday evening, over 1,000 people gathered again in downtown Oakland to protest the eviction, and they were attacked viciously with tear gas canisters shot into the crowd, concussion grenades, and reports of rubber bullets.
While New York Mayor Bloomberg was not able to carry through on his eviction plan of Occupy Wall Street on October 14, because thousands of people answered a call to defend it, we continue to hear rumors and threats, as the New York Post, Fox News and other reactionary media outlets argue for more police repression.
Last night, hundreds from Occupy Wall Street marched uptown to protest the police attack on Oakland, and have adopted the slogan “We are All Scott Olsen.” I’ve been on the phone all afternoon with a young woman arrested last night in the march who received a puncture wound in the leg from being beaten up by police. She’s still awaiting arraignment, and may be there until Friday.
The authorities cannot tolerate such gatherings in public space. Huge numbers of police are surrounding the encampments, and any marches proceeding from them. Is there anyone that thinks, if there were just more police, that would solve any of the underlying problems causing people to take to the streets in a mix of desperation, anger, and hope?
Kristin Gwynne writes today on Alternet about Scott Olsen:
The videos of his injury (below) are heartbreaking. The victim is lying in the street, bleeding from the face. Demonstrators run to help him, and a cop tosses a canister at the crowd gathering around the injured vet. It explodes. Carried out by a group of organizers, Olsen emerges from a cloud of smoke, bleeding from the head, his eyes in a daze. His body is limp, with his arms dangling above his face. When they scream “what’s your name?” he can’t respond. His hand moves, but his eyes stare straight ahead. The crew screams in horror “MEDIC!! MEDIC!!!”
Jon Stewart was shocked by the Oakland police attack.
“They were concerned about a public safety threat, so they did this? [cue footage of tear gas clouds and exploding stun grenades].”
There’s no evidence yet that the police attacks are deterring people from their righteous occupations in the U.S., as the much, much, more violent state repression against the spring uprisings beginning in Tunisia did not, and has not stopped, the people, who continue in Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen to battle the authorities.
Occupy Oakland is back, bigger than ever, and for the time being, the city has backed off with the heavy police presence, at least for now. Occupy Wall Street is sending them $20,000 and new tents.
We need our own version of mass support for the occupations. If you can’t get to one right now, get into print, get online, get on the phone, and weigh in:
“Hands off Occupy!”