In what NPR called “perhaps President Obama’s last best chance” to make his case for launching a war against Syria, the president tellingly didn’t make a single effort to present hard, compelling evidence to prove that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad had been behind the alleged Sarin Aug. 21 attack on residents of a suburb of Damascus.
Not one piece of evidence.
Instead, he continued the talking point of the past week, focussing on the admitted horror of seeing young children “writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor.”
Given that two thirds of Americans, according to polls, do not want the US to unilaterally attack Syria, and really do not want yet another war in the Middle East, it is truly amazing that the president didn’t try to make the case, at least, that Assad was the guilty party. He simply stated, as was done in the two-page propaganda article posted on the White House website, that “We know the Assad regime was responsible” for the gas attack.
Except that we don’t. As I have written (but as the corporate media have blacked out throughout this latest crisis), a group of 12 veteran intelligence officers has written to the president telling him that the intelligence does not point to Assad, but to the rebel forces as the source of the gas attack.
What Obama did instead was try to make a case that attacking Syria to punish the government for its unproven use of gas against its own people was a matter of US national security.
Here he pulled out an even more far-fetched version of the old “domino theory” than even Lyndon Johnson’s and John F. Kennedy’s crew came up with to justify the Vietnam War.
If the US didn’t act against Syria, the president intoned darkly, Assad might eventually feel confident enough to use poison gas against neighboring Turkey, Jordan or Israel. And “other tyrants” around the world, he went on, might decide, if the US didn’t respond in Syria, to stockpile poison gas weapons that might “over time” be used against American soldiers. Even worse, he warned, Iran might decide, if the US failed to bomb Syria for its alleged gas use, that it would be safe developing those nuclear weapons that the US insists Iran wants to build.
There is, in short, no limit to the horrors that could be visited on the world if the US isn’t ready to bomb the crap out of Syria, according to President Obama.
And just to close the deal regarding Syria’s existential threat to America, the president said that we needed to bomb Assad’s forces in order “to make our children safer in the long run.”
Talk about a stretch!
Oddly, he at another point belittled the idea of any threat posed by Syria, saying that “the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military.”
There was another striking omission in this address. The president initially declared gravely that Assad’s regime, in using poison gas weapons, had “violated the laws of war.”
And yet he surely knows, as a Constitutional scholar, that he himself has already violated a more serious law of war — Article 51 of the United Nations Charter — by threatening Syria, a country that he himself admits poses no imminent threat to the US, with attack — and not just verbally threatening, but by assembling an armada in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf ready at a moment’s notice to fire hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles into the country. Such a threat is termed a Crime Against Peace, and carries a maximum punishment of execution.
Apparently, to this president, as to presidents before him, other countries are bound by the Geneva Convention and by the United Nations Charter, on pain of unilateral attack by the US, but those rules to not apply to what he called this “exceptional” nation.
Obama made a slight reference to Russia’s peace bid, under which Syria has agreed to sign the chemical weapons convention (which Israel’s Knesset has yet to ratify, incidentally, and which the US itself has yet to comply with, as it still maintains significant stocks of poison gas and even smallpox virus), and to turn over his chemical weapons and manufacturing facilities to international control for eventual destruction. But he said only that he would ask Congress to postpone a vote on authorizing an attack on Syria, not that he would drop the idea.
In closing, the president claimed that the US had for seven decades has been the “anchor of international security” and he insisted that “the world’s a better place” because of that role. It’s an appallingly ahistorical statement that the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, who lost upwards of three million civilians to American bombs, gas, napalm, anti-personnel bombs and bullets, the people of Iraq, who lost over a million civilians to US weapons, and who are still suffering massive birth defects from the depleted uranium that was callously spread across their land by US forces, and that the people of Afghanistan, whose country has been ripped apart by 12 years of US occupation and war, would certainly find repellant.
No, the world is decidedly not a better place because of America’s endless, unilateral and criminal wars and depredations, and Syria will fare no better following an American assault.
The real obscenity of this address was recalling at the end that the man giving it has somewhere on a wall in the White House a Nobel Peace Prize medal hanging.
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).