Syria in the Age of Punitive Missile Strikes

August 27, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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US Secretary of State John Kerry has condemned the apparent chemical attack on the eastern suburbs of Damascus on 21 August 2013, the Syrian capital, as a “moral obscenity” and a spokesman for the British Prime Minister David Cameron called it “completely abhorrent.” Almost a year ago to the day, on 20 August 2012, President Barack Obama had warned his Syrian counterpart that the use of chemical weapons would cross his “red line.” The US has already positioned four ships armed with cruise missiles in the eastern Mediterranean and aircraft may also be launched from Britain’s Akrotiri airbase in Cyprus a mere 100 miles from Syria’s coast.

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Though Kerry and Cameron are categorical in blaming the Bashar al-Assad regime for the chemical attacks, no proof has been produced to back these assertions nor has it been determined as to what chemicals had been used. No precise casualty counts are available and no one know who, if anyone, gave the order to use chemical weapons. When UN inspectors went to Syria, their convoy escorted by the Syrian military came under fire and they had to withdraw briefly before resuming their inspection. The White House claims that since these inspections come five days after the attack the evidence will necessary be tainted and has decided to ignore the investigation and its results just as the Bush White House “knew” there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as it launched the disastrous attack on that country ten years ago. Once again, the United States and the United Kingdom have appointed themselves the international judge, jury, prosecutor, and executioner in an untrammeled exercise of hubris.

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Once the decision to go to war has been taken in the councils of state in Washington, London, Paris, and Sydney (Australia begins its term as chair of the UN Security Council besides being a reliable side kick to the Washington-London anglo-saxon axis), the press has rushed to beat the war drums in support. The New York Times edited its online article on the alleged use of chemical weapons 22 times yesterday, mainly to shore up support for the administration’s position. Crucially, there has been no report that Carla Del Ponte, a member of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria reported in May 2013 that testimony from medical personnel indicated “strongly but not incontrovertibly” that rebel forces were using the nerve agent sarin. This finding and the attack on UN inspectors being escorted by the military should at least create doubt on who actually used the chemical weapons, if indeed these were used.

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Then again there is the question of legal justification. As it is clear that there will be no mandate from the United Nations Security Council for a punitive strike on Syria, justifications are trotted out on what William Hague, the UK Foreign Secretary said was “a great humanitarian need and distress” and claimed that it is based on “international law.” It is not clear though which “international law” was being invoked. if it was the international convention on the non-use of chemical and biological weapons, three major states in the Middle East–Egypt, Israel, and Syria–have not ratified it. Prime Minister Cameron thundered:

“Almost 100 years ago, the whole world came together and said that the use of chemical weapons was morally indefensible and completely wrong. What we have seen in Syria are appalling scenes of death and suffering because of the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.

“I don’t believe we can let that stand. Of course any action we take, or others take, would have to be legal, would have to be proportionate. It would have to be specifically to deter the future use of chemical weapons.

“This is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war or changing our stance in Syria or going further into that conflict. It is nothing to do that. It is about chemical weapons. Their use is wrong, and the world shouldn’t stand idly by.”

But this conveniently glossed over the inconvenient fact that Britain and the United States had supplied chemicals and weapon-making equipment in the 1980s to Saddam Hussein for his war against Iran.

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And in the United States, the War Powers Resolution of 1973 precludes the president from going to war without congressional authorization except in self-defence. Candidate Obama had unequivocally stated in response to a direct question that:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent.

Of course, as president, he had not sought Congressional approval for US actions in Libya two years ago, claiming that it was very limited in scope.

Not only is there no compelling evidence that the Syrian government  had deployed chemical weapons and  no legal basis for attacking the country, but options to attack are so marginal that they are merely a pointless punitive strike. Israel has attacked Syria with missiles several times without causing any real change in the Assad governments behavior and it is unclear what more can be expected from a US-led NATO strike. Clearly Syria’s chemical weapons cannot be targeted as that would cause unimaginable casualties. Syrian government, anticipating an attack would already have reconfigured its command-and-control operations so they do not present a clear target. It is only those command-and-control positions that are not easily moveable which could be attacked and these may cause civilian casualties as well.

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The Washington Post reports that a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on the week of August 19-23, the very week in which television images of the alleged chemical attack flickered across television screens, only 9 percent of the respondents supported a military intervention in Syria. It is clear that there is no support for an extensive intervention either by troops on the ground or a prolonged air strike against the Syrian forces and in any case President Obama has ruled out regime change.

The conclusion is inescapable: any attack on Syria is simply to counter domestic opponents who claim that the Obama is weak. For that some Syrians will die a senseless death.

Hail to the Chief!

A Defining Partnership or a Post-dated Check?

November 9, 2010 at 10:26 pm | Posted in Human Rights, International Relations, Political Economy, World Politics | Leave a comment
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President Barack Obama’s declaration that relations between the United States and india will be a ‘defining partnership‘ of the 21st century and that the United States will support India’s quest for permanent membership in the UN Security Council may have been exactly what the Indian political elite wanted to hear but it eerily resembles the Cripps Mission sent by the Churchill government to enlist the support of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League as belligerents in the Allied war effort against Nazi Germany and its allies.

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Just as Sir Stafford Cripps came with the offer of full Dominion status to India if it joined the Allied war effort, President Obama said that he saw India being a permanent member of the UN Security Council sometime in the future. Not only was Obama not specific about when this would happen–and since it depended at the very least on the agreement of the four other veto-bearing members of the Security Council, he was in no position to offer a timetable unlike Cripps–but what it would entail. Indeed, the current members of the Security Council jealously guard their veto privileges and would not easily surrender it nor admit other veto-bearing powers to their ranks.

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At the same time, with breath-taking arrogance President Obama declared that India must play a ‘responsible’ role in world affairs–chiding India for not speaking up against Burma’s military rulers. This was echoed by an editorial in the Los Angeles Times: “India’s government has seldom acted in the interest of the world, and humanity, when doing so might clash with its own economic interests. Nowhere is this more apparent than on India’s border, where New Delhi is coddling a repressive military junta in Myanmar. India’s trade ties with this brutal regime, and its silence on human rights abuses there and elsewhere around the world, don’t recommend it for greater influence in the United Nations.”

And yet, US abuses of human rights are legion: Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, still defends water-boarding as not being torture. The last few US administrations have wantonly killed hapless civilians: Madeleine Albright, President Clinton’s Secretary of State, said that the death of half a million Iraqi children as a result of sanctions imposed after the end of the first Gulf War was worth it in a 1996 60 Minutes interview, George W. Bush’s murderous assault on Iraq and Afghanistan killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis, and Obama has escalated the use of drones to indiscriminately kill Pakistani villagers on the Afghan border. When has the United States spoken about Israeli abuses against the Palestinians…and the list goes on.

While Obama was calling the US-India partnership as a ‘defining relationship, his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was defining the US-Australia alliance as a “core partnership” and explicitly calling for Australia to relegate its relationship to China–a country that accounts for 23 percent of its exports–to a secondary partnership because of the shared ideals between the two countries.

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She said, “And it is important to recognise that just because you increase your trade with China or your diplomatic exchanges with China, China has a long way to go in demonstrating its interest in being – and its ability to become – a responsible stakeholder.” Once again, the US sets itself as the arbiter.

Yet, what has the US got to offer India? Much as the Indian political elite wishes for a permanent seat with veto powers in the UN Security Council, that is not in the power of a US President to bestow–and even if it were, how ‘great’ can a country be if its ‘greatness’ is bestowed by some other power as a favor?

If Obama plays up to the aspirations of the Indian elite, it is to enlist them in an alliance to check the rise of China–and in tandem, Hillary Clinton was given the easier chance of recruiting Australia, one of the more slavish allies of the US.

It is a pity that Manmohan Singh and other Indian leaders did not tell Obama, as Gandhi told Cripps, that his offer is ‘a post-dated check on a failing bank!’

 

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