Monday, 26 August 2013


The futility of US foreign policy in Syria is that there is no winning strategy other than simply working with Russia, China and the UN, without excluding Iran, toward a political solution.  That the US wants to pursue a military solution in Syria is actually the norm of US foreign policy in the post-Cold War era when there is no Russian Communism as the arch enemy to antagonize.  In other words, the surprise is not that the US is anxiously pursuing all kinds of excuses for military intervention, but that it would actually seek a political solution on the basis of a multilateral foreign policy approach intended to stabilize instead of destabilizing the Middle East.  Anything short of a political solution along these lines with these powers having a role would result in a resounding failure, just as the US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in similar failures and the beneficiaries would not be the US and its NATO allies, but China economically and Iran geopolitically.

Although Syria has agreed to UN inspectors for the sights near the capital where chemical weapons were used, the White House has been projecting the military option as a first resort, instead of a last one; this before a UN investigation has even concluded its work, before any proof presented by the accusers. This is amazingly similar to what Bush did in Iraq, where the evidence for weapons of mass destruction had to be invented so the US could justify its military solution. Another similarity between Bush and Obama policy is that both want UN Security Council, NATO, and Arab League backing. What if they do not receive such support? Then there are the "peddlers of military solutions", everyone from "guns-for-hire" consultants to journalists arguing for a precision strike against Syria, so as to minimize the deaths and injuries of innocent people. These are of course the worst elements that prepare public opinion for military solution as the only option, even if it has to be precision strike - a sort of "kinder, gentler warfare". If Assad is guilty of such crimes against humanity, why resort to surgical strikes, why not an all-out war intended to bring him down?

Assumptions on the purpose for the US-led military strike against Syria:
US official goal is to deter future use of chemical weapons.
Critics charge that the US wants a military conflict because:
1. war distracts from the controversial debt ceiling issue and allows for congress to approve it;
2. war allows the US to keep the Russians and especially Chinese away from the energy-rich Middle East;
3. war means that Syria's gas reserves eventually fall under pro-West elements;
4. war keeps the Arabs divided and Israel strong;
5. war sends a strong message to Iran to be careful about expanding its influence;
6. war against Syria weakens Hezbollah, encourages Kurdish separatists to rebel against Iran;
7. war helps defense and energy companies make greater profits;
8. war keeps US allies in line;
9. war further unifies the American public against external enemies and keeps them docile;
10. war validates US military superpower status used as leverage to exert influence globally.

It is difficult to predict how the hawkish elements in Washington, Tel Aviv and Paris would react to global pressure to resist a military solution and opt for a political one. However, the military solution is an absolute predictable failure, while the political one can be adjusted along the way if it is not to the liking of the parties in question. Militarism has its own dynamic and besides defense contractors and consultants making money from military adventures, often there is just the raw irrational tendency to just act and think about the multiple consequences of military action later. This is exactly what the Bush administration did in the first decade of 2000 and the results were hardly surprising to those who warned about reckless policy.

After reports of alleged use of chemical agents (neuro-toxins) by Syria's Assad regime, the US along with its NATO partners immediately announced that a military solution was an option. This is even before UN and other inspectors had the opportunity to verify what chemical agents were used, how they were used and above all who actually used them. That Israel was the main source of the accusations on the issue is unsettling, given that Israel has a history of constantly proposing US and NATO military action again Muslim countries, especially against its neighbors with whom it does not have cordial relations.

That Russia and China vetoed UN resolutions for further sanctions on Syria on 19 July 2013, and that they called for a political instead of a US-led military solution on 24 August 2013 has forced the pro-war French-Israeli-US position to be temporarily reconsidered, at least until some concrete evidence emerges about whether the Assad government, the pro-West Islamist rebels or both parties used chemical weapons. Given that the US has presented zero evidence that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons, and given that it lacks the UN Security Council legal cover to strike Syria, the unilateral strike will be seen as part of another jingoistic racist measure by the White Christian West against the non-white Muslim Middle East. Even worse, it is entirely possible that the chemical weapons used in the attack against civilians could have come from the West and used by the rebels, as the Assad government claims.

The issue of chemical weapons in Syria is not new. That the rebels have committed numerous war crimes, including using chemical weapons and executing prisoners in front of video cameras has gone unnoticed by the Western media. That the rebels include al-Qaeda elements and others that are interested in establishing a medieval institutional structure that the US and its NATO partners would probably have to overthrow if these rebels come to power has also gone unnoticed. That the US and its NATO partners have resounding failures with military solutions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya has gone unnoticed, as the fact that the US-backed Arab Spring rebel movements of two years ago became a nightmare for the US because some of the Islamist regimes (Egypt most famously) that emerged turned out to be anti-Western and anti-Israel. That on 26 August 2013 snipers fired at UN inspectors ought to concern those proposing military solutions, because more than likely the snipers were rebels.

If the UN inspectors find that indeed the Syrian regime used chemical weapons, and assuming this is an honest and clean inspection, then people would understand some sort of US-led military hit on Syria. But let us assume that the UN inspectors find the Syrian government did not use chemical weapons. What would the US be prepared to do at that point? Would it propose going to war against the rebels that it has armed and financed? And what of the fact that the anti-Assad elements include Islamists from at least two dozen countries, including al-Qaeda that are presumably the arch-enemy of the West and the core of Islamic terrorism? More alarming, would not the majority of the Syrians arrive at the conclusion that the rebels are furthering a Western agenda, and many rally around the regime because the West will bomb Syria? Would not the bombing actually strengthen Assad, at least politically at home and make Muslim world over more resentful of the "Crusading West"? Playing the world's policeman only works if the office of the sheriff's office has credibility and the power for follow through that would accomplish the mission.

In the last analysis, if we examine the timeline of US policy toward Syria, the evidence indicates that Washington has been long planning an attack. The day that the US announced considering air strikes against Syria, the Greek premier revealed that on 8 August 2013 Obama asked for US rights to air landing and naval operations in Crete and the mainland from which to carry out the strikes. The Russian intelligence services insist that the US has drawn plans for military strikes over a year, but waited for the opportune moment to determine use. Not that the US should be concerned, but Vladimir Putin has decided to send  rocket cruiser Moskva and an anti-submarine vessel to join Russian naval forces in the Mediterranean. I am convinced that Russia is simply staking out its sphere of influence in no uncertain terms, but under no circumstances will it use any fire power.

The US went to war in Iraq on the basis of lies regarding weapons of mass destruction, and it is unlikely that it learned anything from that experience, given that it wants to repeat that mistake with Syria, if it finds the opportunity of least possible consequences at the regional and global levels. The US continued making the mistake of "Vietnamizing" Afghanistan on the basis of fighting a "war on terror in their soil", not ours, as though "terrorism", use of unconventional warfare has borders and cannot be conducted everywhere. These assumptions are deeply imbedded in the psyche of the American culture with a segment of the elites and media that now is immersed in the "war on terror" mindset as the foundation of keeping society living in fear and docile to military solutions for crises that cry out for political solutions.

Not that the US will relax having interfered throughout the Middle East and North Africa that are weaker and more divided than ever. Iran remains on the US imperial radar screen s the next and the ultimate target. Those familiar with the capabilities of Iran may be scratching their heads about a possible US or Israeli git on Iran, but I would not rule it out. So far, we have had a policy of US encirclement and containment of Iran with the ultimate goal of hitting it at some point. There are congressional voices, both from isolationists and anti-war elements, arguing that the White House needs congressional approval on the basis of the War Powers Act of 1973 in order to proceed, and that there must be a broader strategy that explain why striking Syria is warranted to benefit the US in terms of the regional balance of power.

But what if the punitive strikes against Syria were to have no impact on Assad, what comes next? Invasion like Iraq and Afghanistan, both ending with massive losses to the US public debt and nothing to show in terms of economic or geopolitical gains? If there is futility to US foreign policy toward Syria, it is because the assumptions and results of that policy are naive and based on short-term immediate gratification thinking; a sort of fast-food approach to foreign policy, fast and immediately gratifying to the senses, but bad for your entire health long-term.

The balance of power in the Middle East is very delicate, and the last thing the US wants to do is upset it to the degree that it further benefits Iran, Russia and China. While the US is the clear world military superpower, its power is its own detriment, because it weakens its geopolitical and economic position in the world every time that it opts for a military solution. Given that neither China nor Russia will strike at pro-US targets in retaliation of the US strike on Syria, the US figures that it is worth risking the adventure to satisfy the defense industry, Israeli lobby, hawkish elements, and distract from the massive public debt and debt ceiling matters. However, the price the US will pay will be incalculable, largely because Obama came in office to change the tarnished US image in the world, but has proved that US foreign policy is indeed bipartisan and he is not much different than Bush who was at least honest about his war mongering.

It is safe to assume that as a modern empire, the US would behave as an imperial power for to do otherwise would mean it is only an empire in title and not in reality. Exercising imperial power, however, also means paying the the price of predicable and unpredictable consequences. In a world where the other Great Powers and regional ones would seek to protect themselves from imperialism, the US is realistic enough to expect all sorts of problems arising from its policies of military action. Unlike Winston Churchill, who counted on the US to do the right thing, after exhausting all other possibilities, I am counting on the US to pursue military solutions where none are needed to further its national interests.

No comments: