In 1997, I had the good fortune to move with my family to a place sufficiently far from the hype-soaked, MIC-funded confines of Washington DC that a person could actually have real conversations in public about issues like the Palestine Question without immediately being accused of being a traitor, or an anti-semite, or worse. Our Member of Congress here in Virginia’s 5th district is currently Robert Hurt, a pleasant but fairly good-old-boy-ish Republican who first won the seat in the Tea Party-inspired upheaval of 2010.
On Thursday, I was part of a 20-person citizen delegation organized by the indefatigable peace activist David Swanson that went to see Rep. Hurt, with the two goals of (1) pressing him to express his own position on the possibility of a US military attack on Syria and (2) expressing our own opposition to such an attack. (A fairly good local-news report of the meeting is here.) On the first point, Hurt said he “remained to be convinced of the need for the attack”, but he would “listen to the president and hear the administration’s briefings with an open mind.” During the meeting, I pressed him to listen to the admin’s briefings with a critical mind, as well, and not to be afraid to ask for questions and clarifications. He said he would. This seems all the more important in light of Rep. Alan Grayson’s account in today’s NYT of just how unsatisfactory he found the briefings that he was given on the subject, in his role as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Grayson, a Democratic member from South Florida, has emerged– along with libertarian-inclined Rep. Justin Amash of Wisconsin– as a leader of the DontattackSyria movement. (Any US citizen reading this who has not yet signed the petition there should do so asap.) All the more surprising because, as MJ Rosenberg has noted, Grayson had previously had something of a reputation as an AIPAC dupe.
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Things are moving extremely rapidly here in the United States, in terms of the citizenry–with a speed that certainly seems to have startled most denizens of the inside-the-Washington-Beltway bubble–“suddenly” coming out and expressing itself (ourselves) sick and tired of all these darned wars and unready to give our president permission to start yet another one. I want to send a shoutout, first of all, to all the people in the United Kingdom, and in its “mother of Parliaments”, who gave us the opportunity here in the United States to have this really important public debate. I don’t doubt for a minute that, if PM Cameron had been able to get away with playing the U.S.-lapdog role formerly played by Tony Blair, then Obama, seeing that as a sign of something like an international consensus (or anyway, a borad-enough Coalition of the Willing) would have launched his direct, U.S. military “punitive action” against Syria last weekend, or so.
Instead of which, Obama decided one week ago today that he wanted to emulate the step Cameron took in taking the issue to the legislature. Perhaps, suddenly seeing that there could be big risks in this significant military escalation, he wanted to “share the blame” for any ensuing catastrophe with Congress? Who knows? Anyway, as we have seen repeatedly this past week– and as we saw earlier with George W. Bush in 2003– an American president tends to see himself as acting on two stages at once: the national and the international. In the past, presidents found it easier to act as if they were able uniquely to mediate the interaction between the two stages; or at least, uniquely positioned to play one off against the other. Now, with the increasing maturation of social media, I think it’s harder for Obama to go to the G-20, for example, and claim, “There’s a strong surge of support inside the United States for an attack”, or then to come back to Washington and claim he won “strong support from our allies for this.”
Anyway, here we are. He seems to be failing at both levels in his campaign to “persuade”, and I am very glad of this. Will he go it alone, with or without enabling legislation from the Congress? Possibly. (Certainly, the signals he and Kerry are giving on this point seem very unclear.)
Inside the U.S., the persuasion campaign has centered mainly around the two issues of “expressing our (and the world’s) disgust at chemical weapons”, and the need to shore up the “credibility” of U.S. power.
Like the only way to express disgust at chemical weapons is to launch an attack, one of whose aims is described precisely at weakening the command-and-control system with which the Syrian military controls its arsenal of chemical weapons…. thus increasing by a huge factor the probability that these weapons will then get out of their control???
I took on the “credibility” issue in this recent piece on AJAM. “Credibility” really is such a canard. As I said when I spoke at our citizen forum on Syria here in Charlottesville on Wednesday, people outside the U.S. don’t doubt whether our military is weak– they worry that we may be weak in the head. Indeed.
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So what exactly is the goal of the military strike being discussed by Obama and his national-security aides? There have been numerous, hard-to-dismiss reports that, going far beyond “punishing” Syria for the regime’s alleged (but still very far from proven) use of chemical weapons, the goal is actually to degrade the regime’s central command-and-control capabilities to the extent that this provides the opposition forces a window in which they can surge forward and seize power. Of course, there are huge problems with any such plan. The first is the question of the capability of the opposition forces, whose own command-and-control systems have been shown hopelessly splintered throughout their two-plus years in existence. Time and and again, when it has come to capabilities, it has been the most politically extreme factions in the opposition that have shown themselves most capable. The Obama administration– and primarily, its action arm the CIA and their allies in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey– have been trying to strengthen the units of the so-called “Free Syrian Army”. But even the FSA doesn’t have a unified command system. At the field level, very frequently its units collaborate more with roaming bands of takfiris than they do with other FSA units.
If you like the complete collapse of central government control and the entrenchment in power of roaming bands of takfiris that we can now see in Libya two years after the west’s regime change there– then you will simply LOVE what you’ll see in Syria if U.S. power is used to help Syria’s opposition forces topple the Asad regime by force.
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[more to come]