The neoconservative vision of the world is a place where the United States can do what it wants because it is both better morally speaking and also more capable of enforcing desirable standards of behavior. Such a viewpoint just might perhaps be understandable if Washington were actually willing to operate in a disinterested leadership capacity to promote standards that are generally accepted by the international community, somewhat similar to what the United Nations is supposed to do, but it becomes repugnant when there is no sense that the US is actually willing to judge itself by the values that it claims to be upholding. This is why global opinion believes that Washington, not Russia or China, is the greatest threat to world peace and also why the United States ranks near the bottom in opinion polls assessing which countries are viewed favorably.
Every story has to begin somewhere and that is the neocon trick. You take a situation that you have framed from your own perspective and then use it as a starting point for developing additional arguments that favor the action you wanted to take in the first place. In the case of a country like Iran, you claim that the Iranians must be checked because (a) they are destabilizing the region (b) building a Shi’ite land bridge to the Mediterranean (c) supporting terrorism (d) secretly constructing a nuclear weapon and (e) developing ballistic missiles that will enable them to deliver the nuclear weapons. By establishing your premise of Iranian threat as the basis for the discussion, you completely avoid having to demonstrate that Iran is actually doing any of those things, which is a good thing because every single point is either palpably false or can be easily challenged.
The same goes for Syria, where the argument is framed that Syria is becoming an Iranian satrapy and that US troops are in the country to defeat terrorists. Actually, there is a legitimate government in Damascus that is independent of Iran and it is the American soldiers that are present completely illegally in support of some of the terrorists it is supposed to be fighting. But to admit either fact to be true would not be acceptable as it would ruin the discussion from the neocon point of view.
A recent New York Times Bret Stephens op-ed “To Thwart Iran, Save Idlib” on the situation in Syria illustrates just what is wrong with neocon thinking. Stephens is a card-carrying Zionist who has lived in Israel and was between 2002 and 2004 the Editor-in-Chief of the Jerusalem Post, at that time a right-wing English language newspaper. He still supports the invasion of Iraq and predictably has declared the now-dead nuclear pact with Iran to be worse than the 1938 Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler. It is always 1938 in Munich for someone like Stephens.
In other words, Stephens, with his blinders firmly in place, is not a go-to person if you want to know what is actually happening in Syria or Iran. His op-ed asserts that the United States must act forcefully to prevent the Syrian government’s attempt to retake its terrorist infested Idlib Province.
Why? Because Iran and Russia will be empowered otherwise and the US will appear weak. You see, Stephens believes the “top priority in the Middle East is to thwart Iran’s nuclear and regional ambitions.” He asks “So why is [the Trump Administration] so reluctant to lift a finger against Tehran’s most audacious gambit in Syria?”
Stephens explains: “By now, the strategic consequences should also be obvious. Iran will have succeeded in consolidating a Shiite crescent stretching from Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. Russia will have succeeded in reasserting itself as a Mideast military victor and diplomatic power broker. Hezbollah, already the dominant political player in Lebanon, will further extend its influence in Syria. As for Assad, he will have shown that the community of civilized nations will, in fact, let you get away with murder.”
What should be done by Washington and its allies? “…The US can destroy everything that remains of the Syrian Air Force and crater the runways... If Assad continues to move, his presidential palaces should be next. After that, Assad himself. By then he will have been fairly warned. The larger goal is to establish that the US has the ability and will to achieve core foreign policy objectives at a relatively reasonable price.”
There is a word in Italian “pazzo.” It means crazy, but actually has a somewhat stronger meaning, more like delusional, completely nuts. Stephens qualifies, particularly when he presumably includes the United States and Israel among the world’s “community of civilized nations.” Both have been bombing and shooting up Syria even though Damascus has neither threatened nor attacked them. And the Shi’ite crescent is a total fabrication, invented by Israel and repeated endlessly by suck-up American politicians and media talking heads like Stephens. Iraq is 60% Shi’ite to be sure, but the rest of its mostly Sunni population is well entrenched and has fought to maintain its autonomy. Syria is 75% Sunni and 9% Christian. Lebanon is 27% Sunni, 6% Druze, and 40% Christian. Do the math Bret!
And don’t you just love the “achieve core foreign policy objectives at a relatively reasonable price” bit? Destroying the country’s air force and airports, blowing up its government buildings, and assassinating its head of state might be reasonable for armchair warriors in Washington, but it looks a lot different on the ground where most would consider it undeclared war of aggression. That’s a war crime.
And to get back to my original point, all the nonsense is designed to support a narrative of death and destruction that starts with the reader having to accept Stephen’s assertion that there is an actual threat out there even when there is none. Nice work Bret Stephens!
Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.