Let’s be clear here. The people of the US and the world have won a huge victory over a war-obsessed US government and an administration that was hell-bent on yet again launching a criminal war of aggression against a country that poses no threat to the US or its neighbors. Overwhelming public opposition in the US and the nations of Europe, as well as most of the rest of the world to a US strike on Syria have forced the US to falter and to accept the idea of a compromise deal offered by Russia.
The Obama administration by all accounts was facing an unprecedented defeat in Congress of its proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to launch a new Middle East war, this time on the nation of Syria. It is now desperately trying to spin the bad news, with the mindless support of the US corporate media, so as to claim that it has won some kind of victory. The White House, absurdly, is arguing that the Syrian government’s apparent agreement to a surprise Russian plan to place all Syria’s chemical weapons stocks under international control and then to destroy them is somehow the administration’s doing.
The reality: it was a quick move by Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, to grab hold of what Kerry’s State Department staff quickly labeled a “rhetorical slip” by the serial-lying, war-promoting US Secretary of State John Kerry, and run with it, that has produced this backdown by the US administration.
Kerry, in brief impromptu session with reporters following a meeting with Britain’s foreign secretary, was asked an unscreened question by a reporter, who wanted to know “what Syria could do” to avoid a looming US bombing blitz of the country. Kerry, like Obama used to scripted press conferences and puff-ball questions from the US press corp, offered a stumbling, off-the-cuff answer saying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week …. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done.”
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, hearing this bumbling answer, took Kerry at his word and immediately announced that Russia would seek Assad’s agreement to such a plan, and would help to ensure its implementation.
Prior to this surprise development, the US was offering Syria no deals. Indeed, the Obama administration was in the midst of a “flood-the-zone” lobbying campaign in Congress and the media, promoting its plan for an aerial blitz of Syria, with Obama scheduled to make a televised pitch at 9 pm ET today to pump Americans up for war.
In order to win support from normally war-crazed Republicans, the White House was expanding the stated goals of the bombing campaign from just a short “shot over the bow” attack to a longer and wider bombing campaign designed to “degrade” Assad’s military and to shift the balance in favor of rebel forces seeking to overthrow the government. There was no talk of any compromise or of any peace feelers; only talk of “red lines” crossed by Syria, and the need to maintain America’s and the president’s “credibility” by striking Assad without mercy. Ships, aircraft, troops and bombs were in place around Syria, in preparation for an attack, which at one point last week seemed just days away.
But as the days have gone on, urgent constituent messages to Congress have poured in, reportedly running 540:1 against a US attack. Britain’s parliament last week voted solidly against allowing that usually supine US ally from joining in an attack, and even in France, where President François Hollande had enthusiastically volunteered to have his country join in the US blitz, public opposition has been enormous and growing, forcing him to back off in his support for war.
It’s not over yet, but it appears that the Obama administration, sensing that it was facing a humiliating defeat in Congress, with perhaps both houses rejecting a war authorization to attack Syria, has decided to grab at the Russian escape offer.
President Obama has grudgingly termed the Russian proposal “potentially positive,” while warning that “we have to be skeptical.” In a bid to derail criticism from pro-war Republicans, he quoted former President Ronald Reagan’s line about his agreement with the former Soviet Union to reduce both country’s nuclear stockpiles: “Trust but verify.”
It is important that the administration and the corporate media not be allowed to “revise” the history of this crisis to claim that the Obama administration won a victory against Syria and its military and diplomatic backer, Russia.
The opposite is true: For the first time in over a century and perhaps in US history, it appears that a US president has been forced by public and international pressure, both at home and abroad, to back down on a plan to attack another nation. This is a huge change in fortune for the imperial war-mongers who, only a decade ago, were talking about the US being the world’s “only superpower,” and about establishing “full-spectrum dominance” over the entire world and preventing other nations from ever achieving the power to challenge the US.
Ten years, two losing wars and at least five pseudo-wars later, China and Russia, separately and working together, have shown that they cannot be so easily bullied, and that they can stymie US power. A resurgent Russia had already announced that if Syria were attacked by the US, it would come to the aid of its ally, and Russian President Vladimir Putin had put teeth in that warning by sending the latest anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles to Syria, and by ordering Russian warships directly into the Eastern Mediterranean where the US had been building up an armada of Tomahawk-missile-equipped destroyers, aircraft carriers and Marine-filled landing ships in anticipation of an attack on Syria. These measures, taken together, had to be viewed with alarm by US military strategists.
If Russia’s peace initiative succeeds, with Syria turning over the chemical weapons stocks (that, as the NY Times reported, it initially developed over the years with the knowing support of British, French, German and US corporate suppliers), it will be a huge blow to the US imperial enterprise.
The US government has finally blinked. More importantly, the American people appear to have begun to finally awake from their 9/11-induced trance. Attempts by Obama and Kerry and by fatuous shills like Republican Sens. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona to claim that somehow Syria’s chemical weapons posed a threat to this country were never taken seriously by the public this time around, even despite shrill scare stories in the US media. Photos and videos of dead gassed children, while eliciting horror among citizens, did not lead to the usual pro-war stampede, as we have lost our blind trust in what our leaders tell us. There was a willingness among the public, for a change, to listen to those pointing out that the administration has no solid evidence to prove that the poison gas attack on Aug. 21 was the Syrian government’s doing.
The coming months will be critical. The war-mongers have been seriously weakened this week, but may feel the need to re-assert themselves by orchestrating some other “existential threat” to America that the public will buy into. All those who want to live in a peaceful world, who want the US to cease being the world’s leading terrorist state, and who want this country to become a law-abiding part of the international community, need to remain vigilant.
To keep the pressure on Congress and the President not to go to war in Syria, go to this site for things you can do.
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).