Today has been a most interesting and strange day regarding Syria. We’ve gone from an imminent U.S.-allied attack on Syria to a complete disruption of this plan. Earlier this week, one media report even said to expect an attack today.
But a strange thing happened on the way to Damascus: today, David Cameron’s Tory government suffered a devastating defeat in Parliament, when it put forward a resolution supporting a military attack on Syria. Cameron couldn’t even carry all of his own Conservative members for the vote, let alone a majority. Now, the prime minister’s future stands in doubt and British participation in any attack is off the table.
This means that Obama will have to go it alone should he decide the U.S. must attack. France and Germany have already expressed their reluctance to participate. The Security Council is stymied by a Russian veto. We’ll have to rely on ourselves to do this. This article seems to show that Obama’s put on his blinders and will ignore the caution lights flaring up all around him.
One of the ways in which Obama tried to distinguish himself from the previous Bush administration policy was to proclaim his unwillingness to act unilaterally. This was a welcome change for many Americans who’d grown tired of the Bush-Cheney march to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. If the president now turns his back on a multilateralism and reverts to the neocon go-it-alone approach, it will be yet another betrayal of his former liberal credentials. We’ve already seen them eroded regarding national security, surveillance and counter-terror policy. Making war appears to be the next reversion. There’s little left of his prior values, I’m afraid.
Polls show that the U.S. public isn’t in favor of a military strike. Nor are U.S. officers apparently. If Obama goes into battle he’ll be going virtually alone.
To be clear, I believe that Pres. Assad gassed his people last week (the rebels may have chemical weapons too, this I’m not sure of). I believe he is a butcher and deserves to be overthrown. Contrary to the views of mendacious neocons like Michael Weiss, who claims that Pres. Obama has supported regime change in Syria since 2011, I don’t believe it’s our job to overthrow him. That is something Syrians and neighbors must work out among themselves. Further, without a credible alternative to Assad (and the rebel forces are currently not), his overthrow is not currently in the cards.
Here’s an example of an only slightly less-deluded interventionist who believes that Assad’s use of chemical weapons creates an opening to pry Iran away from its Syrian ally.
I wouldn’t be opposed to an attack on Assad’s forces if I could see a clear mission with a certainty that it could be fulfilled. But I’m afraid that a “shot across the bow,” as Obama described what he planned, will do little if anything to curb the dictator. It will inflict a certain level of damage. But it will rally his supporters. It will not threaten his power in any substantial way. While it may also rally the opposition, its forces are so lacking in cohesion and leadership, that any benefit is unknown.
All that being said, a U.S. attack on Syria will do little except showing the flag. Remember, Lebanon? Remember the USS New Jersey shelling Beirut? Remember the U.S. Marines landing to ‘restore order?’ Remember what followed?
Remember the U.S. serviceman killed in a Libyan-inspired attack in Germany in the 1980s? Remember Reagan’s retaliatory strike that almost caught Qaddafi in his desert tent? What followed? The downing of PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbie by a Libyan bomber. How did our ‘shots across the bow’ in these circumstances do anything significant to restore order, and can we have any hope of that happening in Syria?
Finally, as we inch closer to hostilities, it becomes even more critical to monitor media coverage for falsehoods, errors and mistakes. NPR has offered two egregious examples over the past two days. As Syria’s most powerful ally in the region, many are worried about how Iran will respond to an attack on Syria. The neocon foreign policy mandarins have gone into overdrive spinning a narrative of an ominous, threatening Iran taking revenge for any offensive action against Assad.
Mara Liasson yesterday told her audience that Iran was “developing weapons of mass destruction.” By almost all serious accounts, this is utterly false. No credible analyst or oversight agency (IAEA) has made such a blatant claim. At most, there are those who fear Iran may be pursuing such a path. But no one has pointed to clear evidence of Iran actually developing WMD. Given that Liasson is also a reporter for FoxNews, her ideological biases are evident (it’s hard for me to believe that she and I worked in the same KPFA Pacifica newsroom in the early 1980s). But it’s astonishing her NPR editors allowed her to make such a statement unchallenged.
Today, John Ydstie added to NPR’s reign of error by claiming that Iran had threatened to retaliate against any power that attacked Syria. To be fair, he was interviewing a WINEP analyst who appears to have made this claim, though he isn’t quoted in the interview saying this. Ydstie merely paraphrases the claim without even making clear who is making it. But even if that false statement comes from the interviewee, it should have been qualified and sourced.
In fact, there is only one Iranian official who makes any claim whatsoever that accords with Ydstie’s report. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard chief said that if Syria is attacked “Israel will erupt in flames.” That is an incendiary statement for sure. But there is no agency stated and so no legitimacy in claiming he threatened an Iranian attack. In fact, if you compare such a statement with the far more explicit threats voiced by Obama and Cameron of military attack, Iran’s statement is downright mild in comparison. Nor has Pres. Rouhani or the Supreme Ayatollah weighed in on the subject, and their word counts for far more than that of the IRG in the political hierarchy.
Further, and this is one of my pet peeves, any reporter who quotes any WINEP analyst without making clear its anti-Iran/pro-Israel bias (it was originally founded as part of Aipac), does a disservice to his or her audience. WINEP is not a dispassionate source. It is somewhat more credible than MEMRI or Aipac, but it is NOT an independent or non-partisan think tank.
All this points out the critical responsibility the media has to report carefully and accurately. If they’re sloppy, if they accept the claims of ideologically biased analysts from WINEP and the like, they will fuel the flames of war.
Another political leader has joined the ranks of the deluded and liars regarding Syria: Bibi Netanyahu. He’s rightly concerned that if Syria is attacked it or Iran might turn against Israel in retaliation. In typically bellicose fashion he warns both that he will let loose the wrath of Zion if his country is attacked. But this statement is truly beyond the pale:
We are not part of the civil war in Syria…
Israel has attacked Assad’s forces five times in the past half-year. In one attack it even killed the IRG commander in Syria. In addition, IDF commandos regularly infiltrate Syrian territory in the Golan to liaise with their Druze allies among the rebels. Of course Israel is part of the civil war. The more it is seen to be siding with one side or the other (and it has clearly sided with the rebels), the worse that party will appear to the Syrian people and Arab world. For Netanyahu not to understand this is disingenuous in the extreme.