It is dangerous to claim victories that you have not won yet.To paraphrase Mark Twain: the reports by some in the anti-war movement of a victory are exaggerated.[i]
Let’s be clear: there is still a bloody civil war raging in Syria which has taken close to 120,000 lives. We have not, in other words, “prevented a war.”
We in the anti-war movement have contributed in small measure – at this point – to making it more difficult for Obama to escalate the level of brutality with a bombing campaign. That is what has happened. That is what is real at this point.
The scale of protests against the war up till now were quite modest, truth be told, and had things gone differently in other respects with Obama’s plans, the protests would have to have been far larger, by orders of magnitude, to make a difference.
One of the contradictions that the U.S. Empire must deal with is the legacy of the Bush years and the debacle in Iraq, the phony claims about WMD, and the longer legacy of Vietnam. Mr. Nobel Peace Prize Obama can’t just carry out a war and rally everyone to him readily. The fact that a large majority of Americans despite the beating of war drums are opposed to military intervention helped, but mass public opinion really only matters when it is turned into a palpable force via direct protest actions that express the sentiments of, and are actively supported by, the mass populace.
Moreover, and this is very important: confusion exists within the Left and more generally in the population about the difference between diplomatic moves and bombardments with missiles, with some people mistakenly greeting diplomatic “solutions” as qualitatively different from the use of weapons of mass destruction.
This would be like celebrating gleefully the fact that Mafia Families have just gathered together in a non-violent meeting of the heads of the families and reached an agreement about how to divide up their turf.
Just how long before this temporary resolution breaks down and turns into mutual blood letting again?
Assad’s agreeing to Russia’s plan to turn over his chemical weapons’ stash to international monitors is just like that a Mafia gathering.
It is but a stage in an Empire’s efforts to bring to heel a crucial country in the Middle East.
Obama has had to temporarily retreat from his desire to launch cruise missiles on Syria, but make no mistake: this is only a pause in the action. The fact that he can now claim that he went the “extra yard” and pursued a peaceful solution to the threats of bombing that he initiated along with the fact that there are all kinds of ways that going forward the U.S. government could allege that Assad has violated the agreement thus putting the bombing on the front burner again should not be overlooked. Negotiations are not alternatives to warfare. They are part and parcel of an ensemble of tools that are used by governments to pursue their exploitive aims. In the last analysis, these aims run up against the aims of other governments and interests and the only way that they can resolve them is through violent means – that is, war and other less public uses of force such as assassinations and other covert actions.
Obama has not suddenly found his Nobel Peace Prize persona and people should not jettison their hard won disillusionment for what he has done since being elected president in 2008.
This is the same Obama who proposed bombing Syria irrespective of Congress, irrespective of international law, the Nuremberg Tribunal, and the UN Charter. This is the same Obama who claimed his right to launch a war solely as POTUS based on secret evidence that he has shared with no one - including Congressional leaders - that Assad’s regime was responsible for Sarin gas use. This is the same Obama who deceitfully raised the specter of the “red line” about the use of chemical weapons on civilians when he has killed thousands with drones, including hundreds of children. This is the same Obama who said that even if Congress did not vote to support his plans to bomb Syria that he reserved the right to go ahead and do it anyway. This is the same Obama who every Tuesday goes over his lists with CIA Director John Brennan and determines who will be next to be assassinated with drones. Thousands have died from this drone policy of his, including hundreds of children. This is the same Obama who falsely claimed that the U.S has for nearly seven decades been the anchor for global stability when he knows full well that the U.S. has used - and is currently using - WMD on millions to kill and maim them, including unnecessarily dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, extensively using Agent Orange and napalm in Vietnam, and deploying white phosphorus and degraded uranium tipped weapons, leading to grotesque birth deformities decades later, in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the same Obama who presides over the largest weapons seller in the world – the USA - that has the largest arsenal of WMD, including chemical weapons, in the world and that refuses to adhere to and enforce international agreements on the storing, use, and proliferation of WMD for itself and its allies such as Israel. When Obama speaks of the U.S. as “exceptional” what that should be translated into in all candor is that he and the rest of the rulers of this country regard rules as what others must abide by, rules that the U.S. either puts forward willy-nilly or that it ignores as it being “exceptional” to the application of international rules.
Negotiations and “peace” agreements are all part of the arsenal of weapons that Empires use to get what they want. And what the U.S. Empire wants is not really the disarming of Assad’s chemical weapons but the removal of Assad from office. As reactionary as Assad is (very), he has become an obstacle to (especially) U.S. and Israel’s plans for the region.
Before we get too delighted with what we have accomplished so far in the anti-war movement and mistake great power maneuvering for peace moves, let’s look more closely at where things stand and how they got to this point.
In relative order of importance, beginning with the most important,
- The British Parliament’s and UN’s refusal to support Obama’s plan to bomb Syria left Obama severely isolated and exposed, leading to his being forced into going to Congress to simulate more legitimacy for his executive plans to wage war.
- John Kerry’s going off script and giving Assad and Russia an opening to (temporarily) prevent the U.S. escalation with bombings by complying with turning over his chemical weapons arsenal to international monitors. When Russian diplomats quickly seized on Kerry’s off the cuff remarks and Assad immediately agreed to their proposal, Obama was left with little choice but to go along, particularly given #1 and #3 in this list.
- More resistance in Congress than Obama anticipated. It was looking like he was headed to a defeat in both chambers to his war resolution proposal. This was in part due to widespread public opposition (which the anti-war protests were part of and overlap with) but probably more important than that at this juncture, this Congressional resistance is due to the infighting among U.S. ruling circles over what path to take and the impossible to properly anticipate and control the explosive ramifications of bombing Syria: a wild escalation of attacks, state terrorist and anti-state terrorist ones, against U.S. targets and U.S. allies, a general intensification of popular revolts in both the region and the world, and intense conflicts and complexities as other powers such as China, Russia, France, Iran and others became directly involved.
Diplomacy is a fine thing, when diplomacy is going on between equals or when the superior power has no designs upon the lesser power. But that is not what we have here. Those who have seen the Godfather movies know that Mafia families periodically gather together to hold negotiations where their normal relationships of killing each other in turf battles are suspended. If these negotiations are successful, the bloodletting among them is alleviated, but only for a time. Sooner or later the killing resumes because they are in cutthroat competition with each other. This is even more true of governments internationally: “peace” conferences and economic summits are held but these more decorous affairs are part and parcel of their ongoing rivalries which sooner or later erupt into open warfare.
End of Part 1
Part II, which will appear tomorrow, will address the question of why Obama is intent on escalating the conflict in Syria.
1As examples of these articles by my friends in the anti-war movement, see David Swanson’s “Admit It: Things are Going Well,” Harvey Wasserman’s “Syria is an epic victory for the Superpower of Peace,” and Ray McGovern’s “How War on Syria Lost Its Way.”
Dennis Loo is a member of the steering committee of World Can't Wait. His website is dennisloo.com.