Dear President Obama:
Little did your school boy chums in Hawaii, watching you race up and down the basketball court, know how prescient they were when they nicknamed you “Barry O’Bomber”.
Little did your fellow Harvard Law Review editors, who elected you to lead that venerable journal, ever imagine that you could be a president who chronically violates the Constitution, federal statutes, international treaties and the separation of power at depths equal to or beyond the George W. Bush regime.
Nor would many of the voters who elected you in 2008 have conceived that your foreign policy would rely so much on brute military force at the expense of systemically waging peace. Certainly, voters who knew your background as a child of third world countries, a community organizer, a scholar of constitutional law and a critic of the Bush/Cheney years, never would have expected you to favor the giant warfare state so pleasing to the military industrial complex.
Now, as if having learned nothing from the devastating and costly aftermaths of the military invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, you’re beating the combustible drums to attack Syria – a country that is no threat to the U.S. and is embroiled in complex civil wars under a brutal regime.
This time, however, you may have pushed for too many acts of War. Public opinion and sizable numbers of members of both parties in Congress are opposed. These lawmakers oppose bombing Syria in spite of your corralling the cowardly leaders of both parties in the Congress.
Thus far, your chief achievement on the Syrian front has been support for your position from al-Qaeda affiliates fighting in Syria, the pro-Israeli government lobby, AIPAC, your chief nemesis in Congress, House Speaker John Boehner, and Dick Cheney. This is quite a gathering and a telling commentary on your ecumenical talents. Assuming the veracity of your declarations regarding the regime’s resort to chemical warfare (first introduced into the Middle East by Winston Churchill’s Royal Air Force’s plastering of Iraqi tribesmen in the nineteen twenties), your motley support group is oblivious to the uncontrollable consequences that might stem from bombing Syria. One domestic consequence may be that Speaker Boehner expects to exact concessions from you on domestic issues before Congress in return for giving you such high visibility bipartisan cover.
Your argument for shelling Syria is to maintain “international credibility” in drawing that “red line” regardless, it seems, of the loss of innocent Syrian civilian life, causalities to our foreign service and armed forces in that wider region, and retaliation against the fearful Christian population in Syria (one in seven Syrians are Christian). But the more fundamental credibilities are to our Constitution, to the neglected necessities of the American people, and to the red line of observing international law and the UN Charter (which prohibit unilateral bombing in this situation).
There is another burgeoning cost – that of the militarization of the State Department whose original charter invests it with the responsibility of diplomacy. Instead, Mr. Obama you have shaped the State Department into a belligerent “force projector” first under Generalissima Clinton and now under Generalissimo Kerry. The sidelined foreign service officers, who have knowledge and conflict avoidance experience, are left with reinforced fortress-like embassies as befits our Empire reputation abroad.
Secretary John Kerry descended to gibberish when, under questioning this week by a House Committee member, he asserted that your proposed attack was “not war” because there would be “no boots on the ground.” In Kerry’s view, bombing a country with missiles and air force bombers is not an act of war.
It is instructive to note how government autocracy feeds on itself. Start with unjustified government secrecy garnished by the words “national security.” That leads to secret laws, secret evidence, secret courts, secret prisons, secret prisoners, secret relationships with selected members of Congress, denial of standing for any citizen to file suit, secret drone strikes, secret incursions into other nations and all this directed by a President who alone decides when to be secret prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. What a Republic, what a democracy, what a passive people we have become!
Voices of reason and experience have urged the proper path away from the metastasizing war that is plaguing Syria. As proposed by former president, Jimmy Carter, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and other seasoned diplomats and retired military, vigorous leadership by you is needed for an international peace conference with all parties at the table, including the countries supplying weapons to the various adversaries in Syria.
Mr. Obama, you may benefit from reading the writings of Colman McCarthy, a leading advocate of peace studies in our schools and universities. He gives numerous examples of how waging peace avoided war and civil strife over the past 100 years.
Crowding out attention to America’s serious domestic problems by yet another military adventure (opposed by many military officials) , yet another attack on another small, non-threatening Muslim country by the powerful Christian nation (as many Muslims see it) is aggression camouflaging sheer madness.
Please, before you recklessly flout Congress, absorb the wisdom of the World Peace Foundation’s Alex de Waal and Bridget Conley-Zilkic. Writing in the New York Times, they strongly condemn the use of nerve gas in Syria, brand the perpetrators as war criminals to be tried by an international war crimes tribunal and then declare:
“But it is folly to think that airstrikes can be limited: they are ill-conceived as punishment, fail to protect civilians and, most important, hinder peacemaking…. Punishment, protection and peace must be joined… An American assault on Syria would be an act of desperation with incalculable consequences. To borrow once more from Sir William Harcourt [the British parliamentarian who argued against British intervention in our Civil War (which cost 750,000 American lives)]: ‘We are asked to go we know not whither, in order to do we know not what.’”
If and when the people and Congress turn you down this month, there will be one silver lining. Only a Right/Left coalition can stop this warring. Such convergence is strengthening monthly in the House of Representatives to stop future war crimes and the injurious blowback against America of the wreckages from Empire.
History teaches that Empires always devour themselves.
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.