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Eluding Peace—A Presidential Primer

With almost pathological haste, Western governments have moved to undermine Russia’s sensible proposal for Syria to hand over its chemical stores, thus avoiding the needless carnage being proposed by the United States. In an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley not hours after the proposal gained the tentative acceptance of the Syrians, Obama grudgingly conceded it was a positive development, but quickly added that it would never have been possible without “a credible military threat,” and sounded all the appropriate reservations. Hillary Clinton also warned that the initiative, however hypothetically, cannot be, “another excuse for delay or obstruction.”

Of course, Obama is playing both sides, adhering to one of the core principle of geopolitics—preparing for every eventuality. Even as you undercut the viability of an accord, take credit for it (just in case it succeeds). In his national address Tuesday night, Obama rather cynically attempted this when he insinuated that the diplomatic solve had emerged from his talks with Vladimir Putin. However, the solution was evidently stimulated by John Kerry’s moment of thoughtless candor, in which he did what no warmongering deputy should ever do—offer the villain an escape route. Kerry said in London on Monday that, sure, if Syria gives up its chemicals, we won’t attack it. The Russian Foreign Minister smartly seized on the admission, quickly secured Syrian acquiescence, and announced a diplomatic breakthrough. Kerry was left dumbfounded, slumping back to Washington with a laurel leaf in hand, instead of the uranium-tipped arrows the White House was so poised to launch “across the bow” of international law.

In the immediate wake of Kerry’s blunder, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius then delivered a fusillade of hostile language that belied French frustration will this last-minute innovation. In a burst of preemptive pique, Fabius announced that the French would submit a Security Council resolution placing strict conditions on the handover of chemical weapons, ensuring that, should any condition not be ostensibly met, the bombs could swiftly issue from their shell casings on Mediterranean destroyers. After all, nobody likes a good war spoiled.

France, England, and the United States are said to be engaged on the development of a resolution. Fabius’ five conditions for his proposed resolution included measures designed to inscribe into history the false notion that the West was right to threaten to attack Syria. The first step, according to Fabius, would be an outright condemnation of the “chemical massacre” committed “by the Syrian regime.” This would be followed by Syrian steps to:

1. Immediately reveal all chemical weapons programs to international monitors

2. Place all chemical weapons under international control and dismantle them

3. Establish a procedure for the inspection of Syrian chemical weapons

4. Join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

5. Submit to sanctions from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Fabius reiterated the punitive measures that would ensure should Syria fail to implement all conditions. This is guaranteed by invoking section seven of the U.N. Charter, which is “militarily enforceable.” A resolution of this kind would keep the West’s path to war cleared of any pacifist obstructions. Despite the overwhelming skepticism of practically every other powerful stakeholder in this conflict—Russia, China, the Arab League, Iran, etc.— laying the blame squarely on the Assad regime for the “chemical massacre” would be a needless provocation that could derail the accord, at best, or, at worst, attempt to force Russia and China submit to America’s flawed interpretation of events.

Secondly, the resolution would call for Syria to submit to ICC sanctions. For what? An attack whose author has yet to be confirmed? This upends the very notion of innocence as the foreground of guilt. This addition would be another pointless provocation designed to make Syria waver on the agreement, subjecting it to the indignity of swallowing a probable lie in order to evade a war that is itself illegal yet promoted as just.

When Peace Makes War

Apart from forcing the Assad regime and the Security Council to effectively confirm the unconfirmed, legitimating the regime’s culpability in the use of chemical weapons opens the door for a subsequent and far more critical demand, at least in the eyes of the Obama administration: regime change. If Assad and the Security Council sanction a lie, then the United States can swiftly assert that Assad is unfit to rule. Whether a “transition plan” is written into the resolution or demanded afterward, Assad will have to accept it or be attacked. Of course, all of the stated premises for regime change are built on a supposition, the proverbial foundation of sand. But the resolution will have the effect of converting the sand into stone, at which point all bets are off.

As the resolution is being feverishly scripted in Paris by some latter-day Voltaire, a public relations campaign has been launched stateside to advertise the war, replete with playlists of YouTube videos, inflated casualty statistics, false certainties, and the ne plus ultra, repeated by National security advisor and human echo chamber Susan Rice, the claim that this won’t be a war, though what President Obama has proposed satisfies every known definition of war in international law. To be fair, the President and his mythmaking minions aren’t talking about international law, rather “international norms,” which evidently are defined by the White House.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told Sunday talk shows, in particular David Gregory on ‘Meet the Press’ (rather, meet the moron), that a simple “common-sense test” was all that one needed to confirm that Assad had committed the “chemical massacre.” This supine approach to verification is a particular legacy of the second Bush administration, which faced similar circumstances in late 2002 when Saddam Hussein unnerved the White House by inviting U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq.

A Slow Motion Replay of 2003

In late 2002 the Bush administration was publicizing Iraq as a serial violator of sixteen U.N. resolutions dating to 1990. By the winter of 2003, that list had grown to seventeen. After Hussein’s surprise invitation, the West drafted U.N. resolution 1441, which was a masterpiece of legal casuistry. One can see the invisible hand of Donald Rumsfeld in its sophistic turns, notably the expectation that Iraq prove that it did not possess WMDs. As the Bush administration had repeatedly noted, Saddam Hussein had failed to allow U.N. inspectors to oversee the destruction of his WMDs (namely because he had none). And yet—a condition unsatisfied. Likewise, resolution 1441 demanded the impossible—proving the nonexistence of the nonexistent. Or, as Rumsfeld later rendered it, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Yet the resolution states that Iraq had not given a full accounting of its WMDs program. That itself was an empty claim, and had anyone challenged the U.S. to prove it, it couldn’t have. The international community should have seen through this ruse and recognized, as the late Christopher Hitchens once noted, “What is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” As was clear from the untimely removal of weapons inspectors from Iraq in 1998, the threat for the Bush administration (or regime, take your pick) wasn’t so much the discovery of WMDs, but the confirmation of their absence.

Iraq was found to be in “material breach” of certain articles of 1441 to do with chemical weapons and long-range missiles. But consider its behavior prior to the onset of the war: it had “notably improved” its cooperation. It was destroying banned missiles under U.N. supervision. It was anxiously attempting to verify it had destroyed anthrax stores in the nineties. The U.N. team had found no evidence of attempts to procure equipment for centrifuge-enrichment or import uranium. And Iraq had already submitted a 12,000 page declaration of its weapons arsenal.

But this wasn’t good enough. Much was then made of whether the Iraqis had provided, the words of 1441, “immediate, unimpeded, unconditional, and unrestricted access.” Decision number seven of 1441 essentially called for the U.N. team to have instantaneous access to virtually any building in Iraq, including the Presidential Palace—this last an especially insulting provocation designed to lure Hussein into a temporizing posture, the better to proclaim a breach of faith. Since, in Hans Blix words, the Iraqis had initially attempted to attach some conditions on investigations and were “somewhat reluctant” before cooperating more completely, they were technically in violation.

And they still hadn’t proved the unprovable (as a smirking Rumsfeld polished his oval spectacles, the better to observe the “shock and awe” in high definition).

After Jacque Chirac—in a last-ditch effort to salvage Gallic pride—claimed he would veto any Security Council resolution for war, the Bush administration and the United Nations parted company. Despite the fact that the U.N. Charter forbids member states from unilaterally enforcing resolutions. Despite the fact that 1441 did not authorize military action short of an imminent threat. Dispatched like an unwanted houseguest, Bush slammed the door on the U.N. and turned to his nefarious cabal of “the willing.” Blessed by the Nuncio of Cant himself, Tony Blair, America launched one of the most needless wars in modern history, perhaps on the strength of Blair’s hysterical claim that an Iraqi WMD could hit London in just 45 minutes.

Given this recent history, and the likelihood that the U.S. is pursuing a long-term plan to isolate and overthrow Iran, should we really believe Syria will escape the same fate? That plan is contingent on defanging Iran’s allies, notably Syria and Lebanon. A diplomatic settlement fails to do this, which is why the U.S., Britain, and France are hurriedly drafting a resolution so onerous as to either ensure regime change or incite war, either with the same outcome: Assad exiled, a Sunni proxy ascendant. In spite of the last-ditch Russian initiative, the odds favor war. Premeditated, prescribed, and executed by none other than our imperial kingpin. The peace prize winner and supposed moral heir to Martin Luther King Jr. Obama’s imperial legate Rice even mimicked King’s quote on injustice in her public relations pitch on WMDs: ”Opening a door to their use anywhere threatens the United States and our personnel everywhere.” King must be rolling over in his grave, beset by this Orwellian nightmare. The world watches as his errant dauphin, our Quixote on a rampage, laughingly discards King’s nonviolent legacy, but encourages all the despondent pacifists on the left, still fired by King’s vision, to, in a phrase, keep dreaming.

Jason Hirthler is a veteran of the communications industry. He lives and works in New York City and can be reached at jasonhirthler@gmail.com.

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Jason Hirthler is a veteran of the communications industry and author of The Sins of Empire and Imperial Fictions, essay collections from between 2012-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at jasonhirthler@gmail.com.  

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