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The American people do not want US armed forces to get involved in the civil war in Syria. The United Nations will not back US bombing of Syria. The British Parliament does not want to get involved in bombing Syria. World public opinion is opposed to US bombing Syria. Not even NATO wants to take part in bombing Syria. So who wants the United States to bomb Syria?
The same people who brought us the war in Iraq, that’s who.
On August 27, the Foreign Policy Initiative, a reincarnation of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) that dictated the Bush 2 administration’s disastrous foreign policy, issued its marching orders to Obama. In an open letter to the President, the FPI urged “a decisive response to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s recent large-scale use of chemical weapons”.
The neocon “foreign policy experts” skipped over the pathos designed to arouse feelings of guilt in ordinary Americans for sitting in front of their television sets and “doing nothing”. Rather, their argument is based on power projection. Once Obama set a “red line”, he must react to “show the world”.
“Left unanswered, the Assad regime’s mounting attacks with chemical weapons will show the world that America’s red lines are only empty threats.”
The FPI told Obama that the United States should consider “direct military strikes against the pillars of the Assad regime”, not just to get rid of the chemical weapons threat, “but also to deter or destroy the Assad regime’s airpower and other conventional military means of committing atrocities against civilian non-combatants.”
At the same time, “the United States should accelerate efforts to vet, train, and arm moderate elements of Syria’s armed opposition, with the goal of empowering them to prevail against both the Assad regime and the growing presence of Al Qaeda-affiliated and other extremist rebel factions in the country.” The United States should “help shape and influence the foundations for the post-Assad Syria”.
In short, what is called for is a full-scale regime change, getting rid of both the existing regime and its main military opposition, and putting in power supposed “moderate elements of Syria’s armed opposition”, who by all accounts are the weakest in the field.
So, after failing to produce such nice, moderate results in Iraq or Afghanistan, try, try again.
The most familiar names among the 78 signatories included Elliott Abrams, Max Boot, Douglas J. Feith, Robert Kagan, Lawrence F. Kaplan, Joseph I. Lieberman, Martin Peretz, and Karl Rove. No surprises there.
The novelty on the list was the signature of Bernard-Henri Levy.
Not surprising either, when you stop to think about it. After all, Bernard-Henri Levy is widely credited with having persuaded former French president Nicolas Sarkozy to lead the charge that overthrew Kaddafi and delivered Libya to its current chaos. After such an accomplishment, the Parisian dandy naturally feels entitled to tell the United States President what to do.
I vividly recall Bernard-Henri Levy reacting with the mock indignation that serves as his usual shield from criticism to claims that the Benghazi rebels included Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda. Outrageous! he vociferated. He had been to Benghazi and seen for himself that the folks there were all liberal democrats who just wanted to enjoy free elections and multicultural harmony. Not so very much later, liberated Benghazi was sending Islamist fighters to destabilize Mali, recruiting Islamists to fight in Syria and assassinating a U.S. ambassador. This turn of events has not fazed the media star the French call “BHL” in the slightest. Although widely ridiculed and even hated in France, his influence persists.
In 2010, the writer Jacob Cohen published a novel entitled “Le Printemps des Sayanim”*. Despite the usual disclaimer, the novel was a roman à clés. A main character, named MST, was described in this fiction by an Israeli diplomat in Paris as follows: “MST is of capital importance to us. He is worth more than a hundred sayanim. […] He covers a large part of the left for us. Inasmuch as he ‘criticizes’ Israel, what he says is taken seriously. That way he can get our interests into a lot of media. […] Moreover, that man has incredible networks, in the most influential circles in Europe, in America. He can call Sarkozy whenever he wants, or the king of Morocco, or the president of the European Commission. […]”
No French reader would have any trouble recognizing BHL, although, of course, this was fiction.
But the question deserves to be raised: why has the real BHL been so keen to overthrow governments in Libya and Syria? Even if the countries fall apart?
Perhaps this flashy dilettante thinks these wars are good for Israel. BHL’s devotion to Israel is as conspicuous as his white v-neck shirts and back-swept hairdo. Perhaps he fantasizes that if all the surrounding countries are in hopeless shambles, “the only democracy in the Middle East” will be the only tree left standing in the forest.
But even Israeli intelligence, which is a major source of US assessment of happenings in the region, doubts that Assad’s chemical weapons are a threat to Israel.
Giora Inbar, the former head of the IDF’s liaison unit in southern Lebanon, was quoted by the August 27 Times of Israel as saying that “there would be no logic in Assad attacking Israel”.
Inbar said that Israeli military intelligence made a priority of intelligence-gathering in Syria, was very well-informed, and was widely trusted. The United States was “aware of” Israel’s intelligence on the doings of the Syrian regime, “and relies upon it.”
Still, Israeli officials are not hyping the incident the way John Kerry did, insisting on deliberate murder of children.
The New York Times on Tuesday quoted an Israeli official as saying: “It’s quite likely that there was kind of an operational mistake here […] I don’t think they wanted to kill so many people, especially so many children. Maybe they were trying to hit one place or to get one effect and they got a much greater effect than they thought.”
All that is speculation. But the most plausible hypothesis so far is that the incident was an accident. Indeed, rebel sources themselves have been quoted as saying that the incident occurred as a result of their own mishandling of chemical weapons obtained from Saudi Arabia. In that case, the victims were the “collateral damage” so frequent in war. War is a series of unintended consequences. The most obvious unintended consequence of US air strikes on Syria, if they happen, will be the total collapse of whatever pro-American sentiment may be left in the world, and a furious backlash against Israel, which is widely seen as the influence behind US policy in the Middle East. Some Israelis are fully aware of this.
The New York Times quoted former Israeli ambassador to the United States Itamar Rabinovich as warning that it would be “a mistake to overplay the Israeli interest” in striking Syria. “It’s bad for Israel that the average American gets it into his or her mind that boys are again sent to war for Israel. They have to be sent to war for America.”
If not for Israel, why do boys, or girls, or missiles, have to be sent at all?
And the best way to prevent the backlash against Israel and its supporters is to call a halt to the whole project of using US military force in Syria.
But whatever happens, the reckless adventurer Bernard-Henri Levy can retire to his palatial villa in Marrakech, and dream up some new scheme.
*Sayanim is a Hebrew word (singular sayan) defined by Wikipedia “passive agents most usually called “sleeping agents” established outside Israel, ready to help Mossad agents out of feelings of patriotism toward Israel.
Diana Johnstone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org