Rumors Of Strikes Against Syria Are Seriously Exaggerated
MARK TWAIN'S EXAGGERATED RUMORS OF DEATH
In 1897, Mark Twain was forced to deny he was dead – persistent rumors claimed he was. President Obama's Syria policy, if it can be called that has died many times in recent weeks. Its last known version was a promise from John Kerry that any military strikes would be “unbelievably small”.
Vanishingly small, we might say.
The renowned Austrian geopolitical strategist and diplomat, von Metternich, was reported to have said on hearing rumors of the death of the Turkish ambassador: "I wonder what he meant by that?"
Feints and rumors are always a part of diplomats' shadow boxing, making it easy to understand why mass media, also called idiot-friendly media feels obliged to hand out quick false readouts of the “real meaning” behind the statements, gestures, rumors and propaganda ploys dealt by the actors to the Syrian crisis. In the past month, the president of the United States has treated the act of bombing Syria as a global portentous gesture – not just quick-and-dirty military action paid for by Saudi Arabia and intended by it to achieve a specific end – creating a Sunni dominated Islamic republic in Syria, a new caliphate colony of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf state friends.
How exactly this new Islamic Syria would earn its living was left for others to guess – possibly by acting as a pipeline conduit for Qatari gas sales in Europe. Possibly something else.
When president Obama threatened military action in retaliation for what he claimed was the use of chemical weapons by the al-Assad regime, also known (by the UN) as the Syrian government, he intended a limited strike - that would not destroy the weapons. Destroying them all, supposing they could be geolocated by spy satellites and ground-based spying, would require such widespread air and cruise missile attacks it would be unlikely that even generous Saudi Arabia and Qatar would pick up the tab – besides there would be a real risk of releasing the chemicals into the atmosphere. Anyway, the action intended by Obama and Hollande was not to destroy president Bashr al-Assad's regime.
Doing that would create a “power vacuum”, exactly what Saudi Arabia and its Gulf state allies want – but not what the US and France want. The net result was that Obama's war aims eroded and dwindled to the intention – followed by the inability - to signal to the Syrian government that the United States was displeased. As the faithful French poodle, president Hollande soon twittered that his own intentions to punish had also dwindled, to only being displeased.
War threat is only useful when the threat is real and significant. Starting off by saying the intended war, if it happened, would be “unbelievably small” brings us into the domain of pure farce – but president Obama sailed along like a seasoned basketball player, the King of the Little League. President Obama framed the threat such that it would be safe to disregard it. His kneejerk supporters and defenders instantly explained this as meaning that “in reality” their hero didn't want war.
Their line of rumor was that Obama, from the beginning, preferred drone wars in the Middle East – killing an estimated 2000-3000 civilians as well as a few Targeted Towelheads, to date – rather than take military action against Syria. Despite being a half-destroyed country it could or might hit back. Its rather powerful ally and weapons supplier – Russia – has no love or respect for the USA. In the UN Security Council, today, Russia and China will veto anything at all that Obama, his French poodle, or the flaky Brits who had a surprise parliamentary vote on Syrian war, can cobble up.
The rumors woven by Obama apologists do not stop at the above – Obama was not gutless, he was a peacenik from the start - they ooze outward and upward. They claim that president Obama has a New Doctrine. This says that he, personally, has raised the threshold for American military action much higher than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Desert Storm, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq and other “punitive interventions” - were an ongoing pattern in U.S. foreign policy. Since 2009 however, when he arrived in office, Obama understands that the US is overextended.
THE REALITY STANDARD
Apologists for Obama say the US will not only disengage from war, but will also play a lesser role in generally managing the international system. Obama, at most, is now part of the coalition of nations, no longer the leader, and certainly not the lone actor.
In reality, Obama had no choice at all. He was forced to see Syria as embroiled in a very complex civil war, making it impossible for the US to impose its will in this internal conflict – if the US knew what its will was. Also, the US had a clear choice of bad – or worse - company for this war which didn't happen. It could have sided with “the rebels”, at least 15 groups or factions heavily dominated by Islamic gangstah militias and thugs mouthing al Qaeda slogans. It could have sided with Turkey. It could have physically occupied the country in an operation at least as large – or bigger than – the Afghan invasion and occupation, a nakedly illegal war cooked up on the back of the 9 / 11 outrage in New York.
What conceivable use would that be to the USA?
Even the vaunted and touted “US concern” about chemical weapons or other WMD (weapons of mass destruction) is distanced by reality in Syria – and worldwide. From the beginning of the Cold War until today, the fear of nuclear weapons has haunted the American psyche. One likely reason is that also until today, the US is the only country to have produced – and then used – nuclear weapons. From the Hiroshima A-bomb to US-USSR mutual assured destruction, the dread of a “nuclear Pearl Harbor” haunted US presidents. War would be unexpected and come at any moment. Being nuclear, this would mean the sudden annihilation of the United States.
Totally ignoring the reality of the world's 440 civil nuclear reactors, each with a radiological inventory as high as 100 Hiroshima A-bombs – because for some reason “nobody would attack them” - and totally ignoring the “dual use potential” of organophosphorus pesticides, like TEPP produced by Nazi Germany as a side product from sarin gas development, these real weapons capable of massive annihilation of populations were defined and thought of as “not military”. The US would remain the most militarily powerful country in the world, totally ignoring the definition of WMD by Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project, who defined them as any type or class of weapon able to cause destruction on the scale of Hiroshima and beyond.
Almost surely and certainly, Obama and his lookalike leaders have “woken up to reality”. The use and acquisition, or even possession of WMD by actors who previously did not have them, or access to them, means that the US like any other “major military power” is now threatened like it was during the Cold War – but there is no longer any one single predictable enemy.
In the Syrian crisis we can note, the threshold of mass destruction is no longer the significant measure, and instead the cause of death takes center stage. Possibly 100 000 persons have died in the Syrian civil war, compared with 150 000 in the 2003 Iraq war. But the only difference, prompting threats from Obama and Hollande was that chemical weapons had caused them. That “red line”, and the fact that the deaths in Iraq were caused by the US and therefore “clean” or “collateral”, were the sole factors which made US foreign policy change its strategy.
THE FEAR OF GENOCIDE
All American administrations think ideologically, and this means the fear of genocide - US military power must be used to prevent genocide. To be sure this ideological focus started in World War II and the Nazi German extermination program against Jews. The fear was able to be raised in Rwanda, not followed by military action, and in Kosovo, where it was used. Advocates of American intervention could say that even if they opposed military force in other circumstances, the US has a moral imperative to stop mass murder.
The combined fear of weapons of mass destruction and the ideology of humanitarian intervention became an irresistible force for Obama. The key to this process was that the definition of genocide- but not the definition of WMD - had shifted such that the death of 1000 people was now “genocide” Like the downsized economy and downsized citizen expectations, the definition of genocide was whittled down – to mean, when it suits, the death of 1000 persons. The threshold for morally obligatory war was therefore downsized, but the real threat of WMD of all classes and types has exploded. This is the quandary Obama and his lookalikes find themselves in, today. Staying with Obama's apologists, their parting sally is that their Nobel Peace prize winning hero wanted nothing to do with Syria but the ideology of WMB and humanitarian intervention forced him to shift course.
Obama found no way out of the quandary – because it doesn't exist. Even as recently as the 2011 war against Libya – a totally isolated regime without any kind or type of WMD – the US, France and Britain could play invulnerable avengers and vigilantes of white middle class morality. They could attack, strafe and kill and suffer almost zero casualties. The new types and classes of WMD mean that the mantle of arrogant fascistic power has slipped from their neo-imperial shoulders. Even a half-destroyed regime such as al-Assad's in Syria can hit them back.
Put another way – as Russia and China put it – reckless and arrogant unilateral military action is now much too dangerous. Even worse, the Syrian example – compared with Libya in 2011 and Iraq in 2003 – proves with no shadow of doubt that any regime which does possess WMD, is respected by the self-elected guardians of Western morality. Obama's Secretary of State John Kerry was forced to make a trip to the ultra-symbolic venue for Cold War bargaining between equals – Geneva – and sign a “Munich agreement” saying that by about mid-2014, we hope, Syria's stocks of WMD “will be destroyed”.
By Andrew McKillop
Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights
Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012
Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.