Friday, August 30, 2013
Obama vs. the US “national interest”
“ ‘I can’t believe the president is even considering it,’ said [one] officer, who like most officers interviewed for this story agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity because military personnel are reluctant to criticize policymakers while military campaigns are being planned. ‘We have been fighting the last 10 years a counterinsurgency war. Syria has modern weaponry. We would have to retrain for a conventional war.’ ”
“ ‘They need to shut the f--k up,’ said a former administration official.”
by Larry Geller
There it is again—those undefined “US Interests” that supposedly will guide President Obama in deciding whether to attack Syria.
The issue at the forefront of the news these days (aside from the start of the football season) is whether (or when?) Obama will attack Syria. He’s on the spot and isolated—his UK buddies have declined to support him. The UN hasn’t supported him. Congress, of course, has not declared war on Syria. Worse, supporters of the Assad regime (including Russia, China and Iran) hint that pursuing US interests via an attack on Syria might not actually be in the US interest.
What the heck are we talking about here? What are “US interests” anyway?
The term appears vague and malleable. So it is fair game for psychological operations aimed at the American people. One tactic is to organize a flock of convincing leaks to craft an interest du jour.
The battle of leaks
The Obama administration is leaking like a sieve, with both intentional and unwanted leaks (these all go unprosecuted, of course).
The purpose of the leaks is to alter public opinion. Obama would like to support a military action against Syria, and since the UK declined to support him, the domestic US propaganda machine is off and running. Leaks are an important part of the Administration strategy.
We should be above being fooled by leaks or any other propaganda. Will we see through them this time? Our track record is not too good, as a people.
You can even hold one of those intelligence leaks in your own hands. Get it here (pdf). It looks like it was made for public dissemination—clean copy, no arcane buzzwords that obstruct public understanding as in genuine leaks such as the Wikileaks cable trove. This leak is indistinguishable from a press release. (For a critique of the document, see A Dodgy Dossier on Syrian War (Consortium News, 8/30/2013) which points out that George W. Bush did better prior to invading Iraq.)
The pull-quotes above are from White House peeved at Pentagon leaks (Politica, 8/30/2013). The article reports that some of the unauthorized leaks came presumably from
a Pentagon bureaucracy less enthusiastic about the prospect of an attack [on Syria] than, say, the State Department, National Security Council or Obama himself.
We, them, and the “US national interest”
There is a clear dividing line between the “national interest” that Obama speaks of and a national interest that might apply to the ordinary people of our nation. We might be concerned with fair-wage jobs, relief from mortgage foreclosures, educational opportunities for all, and ending costly wars, for example. We would have had a national interest in being bailed out instead of the banks that caused the economic collapse if the current recession.
There are other “national interests”—those are the ones Obama is talking about.
Commercial interests want low wages, don’t care about safety nets (in fact, getting rid of them would mean workers would have to take yet lower wages). If the country turned into a vast sweatshop, it wouldn’t bother them.
The military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned against equates cutting off military aid to mid-East countries, whether democratic or despotic, as hurting the national interest. Since we provide weapons of all sorts, small and large, to other countries, the commercial and military interests meld into a single “US interest.”
The “US national interest” doesn’t extend to saving civilian lives in mid-East countries torn apart by internal strife. In fact, we manufacture and supply weapons specifically designed to wreak havoc among civilian populations:
Cluster bombs are banned by 83 nations. The world recoiled in horror when it learned that Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad's forces have killed children with such weapons.
[foreignpolicy.com, U.S. Shipping Thousands of Cluster Bombs to Saudis, Despite Global Ban, 8/22/2013]
Just last week a story came out that the US is sending $640 million worth of cluster bombs to Saudi. Weapons continue to flow to Egypt, Bahrain, and Israel despite massive human rights violations.
[Mondoweiss, Do’s and don’ts for progressives discussing Syria, 8/27/2013]
More from foreignpolicy.com:
Cluster bombs spit out dozens, even hundreds, of micro-munitions in order cover a wide area with death and destruction. These weapons are used for killing large groups of people….Some of the Soviet-made incendiary cluster bombs used by Assad's forces during Syria's civil war are even designed to light buildings on fire and then explode after sitting on the ground for a while -- thereby killing anyone who gets close enough to try to extinguish the flames.
Once again, foreign use of weapons of mass destruction is being billed as the reason we have to engage in a new and costly war that we can’t afford. But who's the “we” in this? This is an important question. “We,” the average taxpayer, will not benefit from additional war expenditure. “We,” the average taxpayer, would be far better off if the US arsenal were reduced and the troops stayed home. “We,” the average taxpayer, have no interest whatsoever in selling weapons designed to wreak havoc on civilian populations.
“We” or “US interests” as used by Obama seems to mean the weapons producers (including chemical weapons manufacturers) who compete with other advanced countries to supply those in the mid-East who are happy to use these weapons against each other or their own citizens. In the days
When newspapers report foreign aid to these countries, they fail to note that (for example) the US is not sending a check that they can use for food, nor cargo containers of Rice Krispies. $1.3 billion in aid to Egypt goes in the form of weapons shipments to their murderous military regime, for example. The aid money for weapons never gets to them—it is kept in a US trust account and paid out to arms dealers or manufacturers. We send US-made weapons of mass destruction to Egypt as aid currency. We support their ability to kill.
If we don’t like that definition of “US interests” then it is up to us to change it.
Leaving the economic interest of US weapons sales aside, it’s not clear what else could constitute a “US interest” other than maintenance of the despotic regimes in the oil-producing region—which may not be achievable. Some accounts are simply confusing. For example, In Syria, America Loses if Either Side Wins (New York Times, 8/25/2013) suggests that the US should not react to the chemical weapons attack
…the Obama administration should resist the temptation to intervene more forcefully in Syria’s civil war. A victory by either side would be equally undesirable for the United States.
At this point, a prolonged stalemate is the only outcome that would not be damaging to American interests.
A prolonged stalemate (with escalating death toll) is what we have had in Syria so far. The article, of course, fails to define whose interests they are talking about when they use the term “American interests.”
The fake “red line”
Although the commercial press is unlikely to draw a connection, using chemical weapons is not something that terribly bothers US governments historically. That makes it hard to understand how Obama can claim the high ground with his “red line.”
Speaking of “ground,” the US has left the ground in Iraq strewn with depleted uranium, which will cause cancers and birth defects for generations to come. We don’t seem to care.
The US used either nerve gas, white phosphorus or mustard gas n Fallujah.
The U.S. knew [Saddam] Hussein was launching some of the worst chemical attacks in history -- and still gave him a hand.
The U.S. government may be considering military action in response to chemical strikes near Damascus. But a generation ago, America's military and intelligence communities knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks far more devastating than anything Syria has seen, Foreign Policy has learned.
[foreign policy, Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran, 8/25/2013]
But back to Syria.
Commercial media may show at most sanitized images of the chemical weapons attack (see, for example, the photo in the NYTimes article above showing neatly arranged body bags). Democracy Now has repeated aired images of bodies disfigured by the chemicals, even victims still quivering in their death throes from the effects of the nerve gas. It isn’t pretty, but understanding what is going on in Syria is necessary if US citizens are to weigh in on US escalation in the region. Escalation means more civilian deaths.
Democracy Now’s Juan Gonzales went off on the subject of this country’s use of WMD at the end of today’s interview with Bassam Haddad, director of the Middle East Studies Program at George Mason University:
BASSAM HADDAD: The only solution to this is something that is akin to a political solution where the serious international actors, the ones that are powerful, can come together force—literally force—the local players on all sides to actually come together and find a political solution. There is no other solution. There is no military solution to this. And the more dangerous that the chemical weapons that President Obama is discussing is the more reason to actually push for a serious political solution. One wonders, however, if that is indeed desired, as far as desired by these powerful actors, including the United States, and especially the United States.
Now, as far as the report, I mean, it’s horrific. What is happening in Syria is horrific, not just what just happened in the past week. The death of more than 100,000 people, the existence of more than two million refugees—many of them, if not half, are children—is, as we have heard in the earlier report, is just horrendous. This is actually all the more reason not to take such actions, because any strike will actually end up escalating the situation beyond any control. We cannot compare the idea of inaction compared to action, in the sense that action will actually resolve the problem. Action will not resolve the problem. A strike and an invasion will not resolve the problem; it will actually exacerbate it. And that’s one good reason why the British, who are not—the British government, who was not a lover of peace, as we have seen in its decision to invade Iraq on false premises in 2003, has already backed out. And most of the countries that are watching this, the powerful countries, have already called for caution, and we are still plowing ahead. That is, the United States government is still plowing ahead with a plan that will actually bring more devastation to the Syrian people.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Bassam Haddad, on this whole issue of the use of chemical weapons being an excuse to launch an attack, it’s—my fellow columnist at the New York Daily News, Denis Hamill, noted yesterday in a column that we are a country that used massive use of chemical weapons in Vietnam. It was called Agent Orange and napalm. And the Vietnamese are still paying for the consequences of those attacks, not to mention what you’ve said about depleted uranium and the other—and the other—and white phosphorus that the United States used in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: It looks like we just lost the satellite in Chicago, but it’s a very interesting point, Juan.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, and, of course, we’re not even getting into the issue of the nuclear bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, yet our government still has not been held responsible for any of these massive losses of civilian life in the pursuit of our objectives. So it just seems to me enormously hypocritical at this point to use this as the excuse to attack Iraq—sorry, Syria.
Good for Juan Gonzalez. Somebody has to say this. More people have to say this. We citizens need to say this. The US national interest, whatever it is, should not include increasing the loss of civilian life.