Jumping the Shark in Syria

Bomb Fanatics Press Obama to Exercise Custer-like Leadership

Obama’s Choice: Bend under Pressure, or Act Presidential

President Obama is apparently wobbling on the edge of committing an impeachable offense, specifically a military attack on Syria without the authorization of Congress, without the approval of the United Nations Security Council, and without any imminent threat to the United States.

The President finds himself pressured on one side by his own rookie mistake on August 20, 2012, when he said at a press conference, in answer to a question about the civil war in Syria, “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

To judge from the wording of his answer, the President seems to have been trying not to box himself it. He not only failed then, he has failed since to roll back political and media baiting over his supposed “red line,” giving it more symbolic authority each time. Now he’s caught in his own trap.

After several real or apparent earlier uses of some chemical weapons by somebody in Syria, the most recent alleged chemical weapons attack has some Washington officials reacting hysterically on the basis of limited uncertain information that, they argue, is sufficient basis for the United States to launch a limited but certain military attack on somebody.

Gas over Syria Mostly Smoke Blown by Politicians with Hidden Agendas

With his Secretary of State ranting in high-pitched tones about this “moral obscenity” and that “cowardly crime” committed by the Assad regime, the President seems weak and vacillating. The lawyer who is president might remind the lawyer who is secretary of state, that evidence usually precedes judgment, not only in court but also in the process of mature statecraft.

Carrying on as if he thought he was the real president, Secretary of State John Kerry blathers with a fatuous pomposity worthy of a caricature head of state, as he jingoes up a war with demagoguery about the would-be enemy:

“Our sense of basic humanity is offended, not only by this cowardly crime but also by the cynical at tempt to cover it up. What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality. The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons, is a moral obscenity. By any standards, it is inexcusable, and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.”

The irony is overwhelming: Kerry has accurately described the American use of depleted uranium weapons that continue to kill men, women, and children every day in Iraq. Depleted uranium is a chemical, a deadly toxic heavy metal with the added benefit of also being radioactive for billions of years.

The chemical weapon apparently used in Syria kills quickly, and using it is a widely-recognized war crime. Not so widely recognized, but just as much a war crime, using DU WMDs not only kills some victims quickly, but goes on killing others slowly, for generations.

Why is Washington so hot for war before the facts are known?

Kerry was once perceived as a moral man, protesting another immoral American war, in Viet-Nam. But that was a long time ago. Although he opposed the 1991 Gulf War, he raised no outcry against the criminal use of DU WMDs that mercilessly slaughtered Iraqis and infected the country with toxic air, water, and dust. By 2003, Kerry swallowed whole the lies that supported the Bush administration’s lust for war in Iraq. Kerry’s rhetoric then was like his rhetoric now:

“Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator; leading an oppressive regime he presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation. So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real.”

He was fatally wrong then.

Just as wrong in 2003 was Senator John McCain, another enthusiastic booster of the Bush administration’s lying the country into war. Now the Arizona Republican is not only eager for America to take unilateral military action, he’s busy blaming the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, for not being an equally avid warmonger.

The Senator takes offense at a general’s prudence

McCain is mad at Gen. Dempsey for his answer to an inquiry from New York Cong. Eliot Engel, a Democrat, who wondered what might be the best course to pursue in Syria. The general’s rational and careful response on August 19 said, in part:

“We can destroy the Syrian Air Force. The loss of Assad’s Air Force would negate his ability to attack opposition forces from the air, but it would also escalate and potentially further commit the United States to the conflict. Stated another way, it would not be militarily decisive, but it would commit us decisively to the conflict. In a variety of ways, the use of US military force can change the military balance, but it cannot resolve the underlying and historic ethnic, religious, and tribal issues that are fueling this conflict.

“Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides. It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not….

“I believe we can assist in the humanitarian crisis on a far more significant scale. We could, if asked to do so, significantly increase our effort to develop a moderate opposition. Doing so, in combination with expanded capacity-building efforts with regional partners and a significant investment in the development of a moderate Syrian opposition, represents the best framework for an effective U.S. strategy toward Syria going forward.”

Outraged by this almost non-military posture, McCain claimed that it was Gen. Dempsey’s fault that Syria used chemical weapons. According to McCain, “General Dempsey has to be embarrassed,” because his letter opened the door to chemical weapons:

“Dempsey made an incredible illogical statement and then a few days later we saw a massive use of chemical weapons. I’m sure that Bashar al-Assad paid attention to the top military man in America’s words that we were not going to get involved….

I would expect Assad to continue to use these weapons. And other Assads around the world will now not hesitate to use these weapons and sooner or later they may be used against Americans.”

Senator McCain embraces the fallacy of post hoc ergo propeter hoc

So McCain is also blaming the general for future war crimes committed by others, using his own illogical argument. McCain argues that the letter that preceded the use of chemical weapons therefore caused the use of chemical weapons – an elementary logical fallacy. But it’s also obviously nonsense, since chemical weapons were used in Syria before the letter as well.

And McCain has yet to object to his country’s 20 years of using depleted Uranium weapons on mostly defenseless targets.

Not to be left off the public hysteria bandwagon, Vice President Joe Biden, who offered no more evidentiary support for his claims than any of the other manly blitherers, told a Texas audience:

“There is no doubt who was responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria—the Syrian regime—for we know that the Syrian regime are the only ones who have the weapons, have used chemical weapons multiple times in the past, have the means of delivering those weapons, have been determined to wipe out exactly the places that were attacked by chemical weapons.”

Little of the Biden riff is demonstrably true, but then he added an outright lie about the Syrian government, accusing it of not cooperating with UN inspectors: “the government has repeatedly shelled the sites of the attack and blocked the investigation for five days.”

The truth is that the UN delivered its inspection request on Saturday, August 24. The Syrian government approved the request on Sunday. The inspection team went to work on Monday.

“Those who use chemical weapons against defenseless men, women and children should and must be held accountable,” Biden told his Houston audience, without mentioning American use of DU WMDs.

At the United Nations, calmer, more rational heads prevail

At the United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon maintained a more diplomatic composure. In a statement about the UN investigation headed by Under-Secretary-General Angela Kane, he said:

“The Secretary-General now calls for the mission, presently in Damascus, to be granted permission and access to swiftly investigate the incident which occurred on the morning of 21 August. A formal request is being sent by the United Nations to the Government of Syria in this regard. He expects to receive a positive response without delay.”

In a second statement, regarding the use of chemical weapons as a violation of international humanitarian law, the secretary-general concluded:

“The Secretary-General reiterates that any use of chemical weapons by any side under any circumstances would violate international humanitarian law.”

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. This article was first published in Reader Supported News. Read other articles by William.