Sunday September 15, 2013
President Obama has encountered a series of roadblocks after deciding to use military force against Bashar Assad’s Syria for its use of chemical weapons against civilians. Many of those obstacles resulted from statements made by the President and prominent administration officials; a principal one was the failure to talk candidly and plainly to Congress and the American public about the likely scope of planned military attacks.
Repeatedly, Obama and other officials called the military actions as limited, tailored, surgical, and proportional, and they downplayed the level of violence.
The adjectives were unpersuasive because the administration contemplated sending in dozens of cruise missiles into Damascus, followed perhaps by aircraft bombings. Many lawmakers and their constituents found the administration’s over-optimistic and unrealistic word play to be deliberate efforts to mislead and deceive.
If the arguments being presented by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry for attacking Syria seem increasingly shrill and disjointed that might well be because a legitimate case cannot be made for going to war. The central argument—i.e., that punishing al-Assad will “change his calculus” and dissuade him from using chemical weapons against rebel forces embedded within the civilian population—relies on demonstrating that al-Assad has already done just that, a case that has not been credibly made thus far. Nor would a “shot across the bow” strike be likely to influence the thinking of a regime that theoretically might find itself with its back against the wall, willing to use all resources at hand to defeat a ruthless enemy. Still less does the argument that Washington must act lest the chemical weapons fall into the hands of terrorists and be used against American and other Western targets convince. Such a scenario is much more likely if the rebels, who undeniably include many extremists, are empowered through military action to such an extent that they might eventually triumph. If Washington wishes to prevent possible weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of terrorists, it should be doing everything it can to support the Syrian government. Any scenario that involves attacking the very soldiers who are presumably guarding the chemical weapons is a recipe for disaster.
As has often been the case in other situations over the past 12 years, Washington has maneuvered itself into a new crisis because it is failing to see the Syrian situation in all its complexity, preferring simple solutions that do not involve any commitment or long-term strategic planning. One former intelligence colleague has called it “a very poorly defined problem” that will not be solved by lobbing a few Tomahawk cruise missiles towards Damascus. That is the issue precisely—failing to understand what the problem is frustrates any attempt to devise a reasonable solution.
The newspaper Israel Hayom conducted a public opinion survey according to which Israel was the only country in which a possible U.S. military strike against Syria is supported by the majority of the population. While in America and Europe 90% of the population is against the operation, in Israel 66% of the population supports it. 73% of Israelis believe that a strike against the el-Asad regime will be made, and only 13% are concerned that it will lead to a regional war.
This attitude among Israelis toward the military operations planned against Syria is the result of active state propaganda. Netanyahu's government has cast aside all concerns that if the ruling regime in the neighboring country is overthrown, even fiercer opponents of Israel may come to power, and it is advocating as powerful a strike as possible against Syria. Behind the missile launches held by the Israeli navy in conjunction with the Americans in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea on September 3 stand geopolitical reckonings connected mainly with the future of the Syrian Golan Heights, occupied in 1967; it is no accident that the question of their ownership has remained in the shadow of the discussion on Syria…
Once upon a time, in the early 1970′s, many people, including myself, thought that all the “struggles” of that period were linked: the Cultural Revolution in China, the guerillas in Latin America, the Prague Spring and the East European “dissidents”, May 68, the civil rights movement, the opposition to the Vietnam war, and the nominally socialist anti-colonial movements in Africa and Asia. We also thought that the “fascist” regimes in Spain, Portugal and Greece, by analogy with WWII, could only be overthrown through armed struggle, very likely protracted.