FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Rogue Empire

by ELIZABETH O'SHEA

It may be that we have inched back from the precipice of war in Syria, if for no other reason than a hefty gust of sheer luck. Russia’s intervention and neutralisation of the escalating tension between the US and the Assad regime has saved Obama from near certain defeat in Congress, with the UK government already rebuked and the Security Council never a viable option. The project was going soak up significant political capital for Obama and the well is nearly already dry. This political lacuna, or hopefully ongoing calm, presents a useful moment for reflection on the way war is propagated.

There are, of course, plenty of obvious and practical reasons to oppose a military intervention into Syria. The first is that we know so very little about the chemical weapons attacks of late August: how they transpired, who was responsible, even how many people died.  The UN has only made limited findings and declined to apportion blame. It appears to be very difficult to work out who was responsible – a task that is unlikely to get easier. It is reasonable to think that even if Assad’s regime was responsible, it may be that both sides have chemical weapon capabilities.

We know about such capabilities partly because Britain kept the receipts. It is true: such an allegation is probably more spin than substance – the origins of the weapons have not been identified and the chemicals exported could be used for other purposes. But the brazen hypocrisy of the West in claiming to uphold principles it happily profits from violating never ceases to amaze.

Moreover, for even the more pragmatic amongst us, the lesser of two evils here is not clear cut. A direct attack on the Assad regime would necessarily result in a military and political advantage to oppositional forces. The beneficiaries of such a move include some nefarious characters, with little regard for human life or dignity.

Indeed the only certainty that arising from a military intervention into Syria is that nothing would be certain. A ‘limited and tailored’ intervention is a thinly disguised Pandora ’s Box. No fly zones can easily become regime change, the distinction marked by grainy phone camera footage of the extrajudicial killing of Muammar Gaddafi. Libya is the perfectly instructive example, yet it has also been conveniently banished from the public consciousness. Two years after the imposition of a no fly zone in very similar circumstances, enforced militarily by the US and NATO, the country remains an economic, political and social disaster.

And yet this ahistorical approach to international affairs persists, which sees the conflict in binary terms of intervention and abstention, certain death and saving lives. It is so typical, so repetitive; the serious lack of imagination matched only by the gravity of the lethal project being proposed. The hawks circle, their hopes are still soaring well above the vigilance of doves. ‘At some point,’ they claim, ‘pacifism becomes part of the machinery of death, and isolationism becomes a form of genocide.’ Quite literally then, war is peace.

Yet despite these familiar refrains, the prospect of a war in Syria is in fact remarkably different to those of recent memory. The factual and rhetorical justification already feels far more flimsy, the political classes in a number of countries remain fractured on the question generally and the vast majority of everyday people are steadfastly opposed to intervention. This is undoubtedly a step forward.

What is also laid bare in breathtaking terms by the advocates for war is how little regard they have for basic liberal democratic values. The US treats international law with disdain: it is a set of rules that applies to everyone but never to itself. Cheerleaders for the diplomatic strategy that Obama appears to have stumbled into almost by accident seem oblivious to the criminality of such conduct. Article 2 of the UN Charter prohibits the ‘threat or use of force’ – threat, not just use – for all members, not just when such conduct is carried out by suspicious Middle Eastern dictators. The criminality of Obama’s diplomatic genius is barely noted.

The irony of such attitudes to international law intensifies in respect of chemical weapons. The situation in Syria, as Professor Chomsky has identified, is a perfect moment to call for a ban on all chemical weapons in the Middle East (let alone elsewhere). The chemical weapons convention, surely the starting point for any reasonable discussion on such an issue, remains persistently unratified by not only Syria, but crucially also Israel. So chemical weapons are not okay, unless it is our man in the Middle East who has them.

So the biggest barrier to ridding the Middle East of chemical weapons is not Syria or Russia, or even technically Israel, it is actually the US. That is not a rhetorical flourish, it is literally the outcome of a resolution proposed by Syria in 2003 when it was a non-permanent member of the Security Council, but ultimately abandoned at the threat of the US exercising its veto. American exceptionalism continues to justify even more American exceptionalism.

Anne Orford, writing on Libya, observed that ‘the bombing of Libya in the name of revolution may be legal, but the international law that authorises such action has surely lost its claim to be universal.’ In respect to Syria, we see this legacy gaining momentum. International law appears to have become something to be enforced but not abided by. This may seem grandiose, but the truth is hard to deny: one of the greatest menaces in the world today remains the US Government. The aspiration of peace, good governance and respect for human rights are regularly jeopardised by this ultimate rogue state.

Elizabeth O’Shea is a lawyer in Melbourne, Australia.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail