In a twist of irony that has escaped mainstream commentators, one week away from 9/11, the US is considering a course of action that will empower al-Qaeda; i.e., bombing Syria. As terror expert Evan Kohlmann put it, “two of the most powerful insurgent factions in Syria are al-Qaeda factions.” (Kohlmann is an authority on the topic, having worked as a consultant in terrorism matters for the DoD, DOJ, FBI, and other law enforcement agencies.) These rebel factions will be the immediate beneficiaries of a strike against the Assad regime.
This wouldn’t be the first time that the intelligence community expected a US military operation to increase the likelihood of terror attacks against the US. As a letter from CIA Director George Tenet to the Senate Intelligence Committee chair revealed, it was anticipated that Bush’s invasion of Iraq would lead Saddam Hussein to be “much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions”; moreover, the invasion of Iraq was expected to raise the threat of attack by WMD from “low” to “pretty high”. And the intelligent experts were correct. Earlier this year, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told the FBI that he and his brother carried out the Boston Marathon bombing because they “were angry about the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq”.
We can only hope the intelligence experts like Evan Kohlmann won’t be correct this time around.
If we had an authentic democracy—rule by the people—an attack wouldn’t happen, because strong majorities oppose intervening in Syria. Polls conducted by Reuters almost daily between May 31st and September 3rd indicate without exception that a strong majority of Americans are opposed to intervening in Syria—even if Syria used chemical weapons. Similarly, a poll conducted by the BBC shows that, in the UK, “71% of people thought Parliament made the right decision” to reject military action against Syria. Two thirds of respondents said they wouldn’t care if Parliament’s decision harmed UK-US relations.
Another poll shows that a stunning 80% of Americans believe that Obama should seek congressional approval for a strike on Syria. The Obama administration has interpreted this rather narrowly, having scheduled a congressional vote, but still insisting that Obama “has the right to [attack Syria] no matter what Congress does”, as Secretary of State John Kerry remarked. Obama said the same thing, albeit somewhat more tactfully: “I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization”.
The polls pertaining to the prospective strike on Syria differ significantly from those regarding the US and UK support for the Iraq War. Back in 2003, a series of polls found that a majority of Britons supported the invasion of Iraq; Americans at the time supported the invasions by even larger majorities.
Simply put, there’s less support for a strike on Syria than there was for the invasion of Iraq—and we know how well the Iraq War turned out.
Yet public opinion and the threat of provoking terror attacks are not persuasive to the unfathomable wisdom of the Obama administration. As John Kerry said, a strike on Syria “is of great consequence to…all of us who care about enforcing the international norm with respect to chemical weapons.” Apparently Kerry is more concerned with international norms than international law, since attacking Syria without a U.N. Security Council resolution would violate the latter. In Obama’s words, the Security Council is “paralyzed”—which, by definition, means it won’t do what he tells it to do.
Matthew Waxman, writing for the Council on Foreign Relations—hardly a radical outfit—observes that, “despite treaties outlawing chemical weapons use, there is no precedent for using military intervention as a response to violations.”
To be fair to the Obama administration, we should listen to what US leaders have to say about chemical weapons; they’re experts on the matter. In Iraq alone, they used white phosphorous and depleted uranium munitions, which coincided with an explosion of birth defects throughout Iraq that “surpassed those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the nuclear attacks at the end of WWII”.
Ken Klippenstein lives in Madison, WI, USA, where he edits whiterosereader.org He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kenklippenstein