FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Myth of a Tragic Mistake

Photo source janeyhenning | CC BY 2.0

Five years ago, one view of an international event triumphed in the West; through assiduous repetition, it has become a state religion. It holds that President Barack Obama made a tragic mistake on 31 August 2013 when he decided not to launch air strikes on the Syrian army after its deadly chemical attacks in the suburbs of Damascus; his equivocation guaranteed the continuation of a regime that had murdered its own citizens.

Former French president François Hollande, and many others, thought ‘the Syrian regime was not alone in believing it was free to do as it pleased. Vladimir Putin realised that he could annex Crimea and destabilise eastern Ukraine’ (1). This retrospective interpretation, backed by an obligatory reference to Winston Churchill (who saw that the Munich agreement would enable further Nazi aggression), pre-legitimises preventive wars and a policy of peace through strength, especially in regard to Russia.

Obama argues that, after US interventions in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Libya, he knew the cost of staking a country’s reputation on repeated armed interventions on foreign soil, usually encouraged by the US intelligence services’ alarmist and misleading analysis. Referring to Syria, his former defence secretary, Robert Gates had even asked Obama: ‘Shouldn’t we finish up the two wars we have before we look for another? (2)’

Some of the keenest advocates of intervention, including the New York Times and the European papers that toe its editorial line, regularly criticise presidential absolutism and insist on the need to respect checks and balances, not to mention follow the law. Western air strikes on Syria would not have constituted self-defence. And they did not have the backing of the UN, or of western public opinion, or Congress, or of America’s most obedient ally, the UK, whose House of Commons opposed them.

There are other comparisons than Churchill and Munich: in 1991 an international coalition backed by a UN resolution drove the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. No sooner was this objective achieved than US neocons began to criticise President George HW Bush for not going all the way and deposing Saddam Hussein. 

For over a decade, they maintained that almost all Middle East problems could be traced to this failure to follow through. In 2003 their wishes finally came true: Churchill was reincarnated, Iraq occupied; later, Saddam was hanged. Has the Middle East since then become paradise on earth?

More articles by:

Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique

December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail