Syria Under Fire, Egypt Under the Radar, U.S. Bombs Away (Part 1)
Note: This is the first article in a three-part series. Part 2, which analyzes the U.S.’s role in Egypt’s political crisis, will appear on Saturday.
By NAVID FARNIA
It became increasingly clear this week that Congress would vote against a resolution authorizing U.S. President Barack Obama to begin military strikes on Syria. Taking a preemptive approach, Obama advised Senate leaders to delay Wednesday’s vote.
A new diplomatic option also began to surface; this would call for Syria President Bashar al-Assad to release his stockpile of chemical weapons to the United Nations. Last night, in an address to the nation, Obama presented the possibility for diplomacy while at the same time, continuing to push for military action. The Obama government has essentially postponed the vote on Syria in order to buy more time to sell a war.
Obama’s two-pronged approach last night reveals that the U.S.’s commitment to diplomacy is at best half-hearted. Despite the political rhetoric, the Obama government’s newfound advocacy for U.S. involvement in Syria does not reflect a desire to resolve the humanitarian catastrophe. Instead, Syria’s civil war – a conflict with over 100,000 dead and over 6 million displaced – is used as justification for policies of ongoing American expansionism in the Middle East.
The U.S.’s imperial expansion inherently depends on its dominion over the Third World, which opens up economic markets for exploitation while simultaneously enforcing globalized racial domination. Hence, military intervention in Syria is exclusively about securing American interests and perpetuating imperial dominance in the region. United States foreign policy in the Middle East is defined by a doctrine of racist jingoism.
By setting his infamous “red line” against the Assad government in 2012, Obama opened the door for U.S. aggression. As a result, many politicians and pundits contend that staying out of Syria will project weakness. Secretary of State John Kerry led the charge, stating that inaction in Syria would “send a message to Iran of American weakness.” Obama echoed these words in last night’s address. Thus, for Obama, Kerry and other war hawks, the need to uphold the U.S.’s image in the world justifies escalating the civil war and killing more innocent people. Such arguments illustrate the American empire’s masculinist chauvinism, which corresponds with the racial subjugation and dispossession of Third World peoples. Even Syria’s sudden willingness to release its chemical weapons is being portrayed as a consequence of unflinching American pressure.
More importantly however, Kerry’s words reflect artful maneuvering as a way to elicit war support. In this sense, Obama’s rhetoric also shows very little ambivalence. Regarding the red line, Obama proclaimed, “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.” This chauvinistic declaration perfectly demonstrates Obama’s attempt to map his ideology onto the world. According to this purview, opposing chemical weapons use apparently translates to favoring jingoistic U.S. intervention in Syria.
American politicians and pundits often desperately propagate this country as the “international leader,” which merely implies that America is the world’s imperial alpha-dog – completely narcissistic and cavalier about non-white lives. For this reason, the Obama government’s masculinist logic and justification for military intervention deserves the utmost condemnation. By analyzing the U.S. government’s arguments, we can reasonably conclude that the Obama administration in fact wants war.
A Report Without Evidence
Before the postponement of Congress’ vote, the U.S. government’s report on the gassing undoubtedly would have factored in the decision concerning military intervention. This report lays the fundamental case for why military strikes are necessary. “The United States Government assesses with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, 2013,” says the unclassified document. According to the U.S. government, 1,429 people were killed in the attack, including at least 426 children.
In stark contrast to the casualty count released by the U.S., others have reported much lower numbers. Doctors Without Borders tallied 355 deaths. Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ death count is at 502. Rami Abdul-Rahman, who runs the Syrian aid organization commented, “I don’t know where [the U.S.’s] number came from.” He continued, “The U.S. took this high number from one part of the Syrian opposition that is supported by the U.S. government. We don’t trust them.” Even France, the U.S.’s staunchest supporter for military intervention, has thus far concluded 281 people were killed. The U.S. government’s report does not divulge where it got its exorbitant figure.
The document in fact raises more questions than it provides answers. It explains, “In addition to U.S. intelligence information, there are accounts from international and Syrian medical personnel; videos; witness accounts; thousands of social media reports from at least 12 different locations in the Damascus area; journalist accounts; and reports from highly credible nongovernmental organizations.” How can social media reports, journalist accounts and videos lead to the determination that the Syrian government gassed its own people?
The report continues, “Three hospitals in the Damascus area received approximately 3,600 patients displaying symptoms consistent with nerve agent exposure in less than three hours on the morning of August 21, according to a highly credible international humanitarian organization.” But until tests on the soil and water in the area are conducted and blood samples are examined, conclusions regarding chemical weapons are premature. It will reportedly take at least three weeks for United Nations inspectors to make any determinations. How then, can the U.S. summarily verify that chemical weapons were employed – and specifically by the Syrian government – before inspectors working on the ground for this very purpose, reach this conclusion? Where exactly does the U.S. government’s “information” come from?
With the Syrian government having momentum in the civil war, Assad presently has little reason to gas anyone. Although Assad’s government has repeatedly demonstrated its proclivity toward violence against Syrians, this specific situation does not concern Assad’s moral calculus. Rather, this is about simple logic. Why would he do it?
In truth, reports that Saudi Arabia supplied the rebels with chemical weapons (and possibly with Western backing) hold more water. Leaked Iranian diplomatic correspondence, in which Iran warned the U.S. multiple times over the past year that rebels possessed chemical weapons, also recently surfaced. The West’s hawkish zeal to intervene in Syria further proves that the rebels had more to gain from gassing Syrians and provoking Western response than did Assad’s government.
Despite the inconsistencies in the U.S. government’s report, perhaps the most disturbing statement follows: “Our high confidence assessment is the strongest position that the U.S. Intelligence Community can take short of confirmation.” The U.S. essentially claims that confirmation is unnecessary to justify military strikes on Syria. Moreover, multiple U.S. officials actually admitted that it is “not a slam dunk” that Assad’s government used chemical weapons. Nonetheless, we should apparently accept the U.S. government’s evidence – which is at best, extremely suspicious and at worst, entirely fabricated – as validation for another military invasion.
The Self-Interested Empire
The Obama administration’s haphazard propaganda campaign reveals that military intervention in Syria is entirely about American interests. In his August 28th interview on PBS NewsHour, President Obama explained:
What I am clear about is that if the United States stands by its core values and its core interests; if we’re very clear about making sure that we’re stopping terrorist attacks against the United States; if we are very clear about our, you know, commitment to the safety and security of Israel; if we are clear about the free flow of energy throughout the region that affects the entire global economy; but also if we’re clear about our values and that we believe in inclusive governments, that we believe in the protection of minority rights, that we believe in women’s rights, that we believe that over time it’s better for governments to be representative of the will of their people, as opposed to being, you know, dictated to by authoritarian governments; if we are consistent in those principles, then eventually, I think, we’ll be better off. (Emphasis added.)
Obama made this comment before ultimately deciding that a military strike was necessary. A few days later, Obama presented his case for military intervention in a nationally televised address:
We are the United States of America, and we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus. Out of the ashes of world war, we built an international order and enforced the rules that gave it meaning. And we did so because we believe that the rights of individuals to live in peace and dignity depends on the responsibilities of nations. We aren’t perfect, but this nation more than any other has been willing to meet those responsibilities.
So to all members of Congress of both parties, I ask you to take this vote for our national security. (Emphasis added.)
In his sales pitch to the nation, Obama continually mentioned how the situation in Syria is national security issue. And yet, he also said the following in last night’s presidential address: “We don’t dismiss any threats, but the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military.” How is Syria’s civil war a matter of national security if Assad can do no harm to the U.S.?
Rhetorics around national security are constantly employed to incite political support for American militarism. This occurs both within borders, which results in an expanded police and surveillance state that especially abuses people of color, and abroad, where surveillance and economic, political and military interventionism reify U.S. imperial domination and globalize the system of white supremacy. In truth, Syria’s war has nothing to do with the U.S.’s national security. Use of such language merely functions to make distant foreign matters relevant to American interests.
Although Obama embellished with the national security rhetoric, he did not lie about American interests being at stake. The PBS interview and last night’s address demonstrate how Obama employs American exceptionalism to rationalize imperialism. By routinely conjuring the mythical notion that the U.S. has elevated values vis-à-vis the rest of the world, Obama aims to manufacture consent for the pursuit of American imperial interests. He effectively paints America’s values and interests as one and the same.
Obama explicitly indicated in the PBS interview that American interests would play an integral role in his decision concerning Syria. He qualified this by adding that people’s rights deserve protection from authoritarian governments. Such logic equates human rights with American interests. But in truth, the U.S. repeatedly violates human rights and enthusiastically participates in the political repression of Third World peoples. Therefore, any U.S. incursion into Syria should appropriately be understood as a racist and imperialist war of aggression.
In an article on Jadaliyya, Vijay Prashad writes about the U.S.’s intention to bomb Syria with Tomahawk missiles. These missiles may contain depleted uranium, which produces health hazards that could resonate for generations. The United Nations General Assembly has attempted to prohibit their use – 155 countries worry about their effects – but the U.S., Israel and European powers continually strike down the vote. Prashad further explains:
The United States used such weapons in Iraq, where a 2010 study found that the rate of heart defects was thirteen times that in Europe, the nervous system abnormalities at birth were thirty-three times that in Europe, and the childhood cancer rate was twelve times greater than those before the use of DU in Fallujah in 2004. These are the consequences of an imperialist bombardment. It will violate law in order to pretend to uphold law. It will use dangerous chemicals to protest the use of dangerous chemicals. It will get self-righteous about chemical weapons, such as nerve gas, that it sold to the Assad government within the past three years.
Advocacy for military strikes with missiles that are comparable to chemical weapons sheds further light on the U.S.’s sinister intentions. This is the Obama government’s jingoistic attempt to enforce the president’s fabricated “red line” with American imperial might. In last night’s speech, Obama denied that the U.S. is the “world’s policeman,” but in the same speech, he called America the “anchor of global security” and the enforcer of “international agreements.”
The Empire’s Morality
The U.S.’s desire to invade Syria thus reflects an engrained narcissism with respect to America’s place in world affairs. This narcissism stems from the pursuit of American interests, which is justified by its “values.” America, and everything it represents, becomes equated with moralism; in turn, America’s perceived role as the world’s moral police allows it to unabashedly and aggressively secure its interests, even through military force.
Nevertheless, maintaining a “free flow of energy” in the region is a morally reprehensible rationalization for military strikes, just as it was in Iraq and Libya. The U.S. government cannot make appeals to morality when it continually invades and intervenes in other countries and is responsible for widespread oppression, systematic dispossession and unrelenting murder around the world. Furthermore, given its historical propensity to use chemical weapons on innocent people or to advocate their use when it serves American interests, the U.S. government lacks the credibility (let alone the evidence) to claim another country has gassed its own people.
The Obama administration’s (mis)information campaign lacks concrete evidence and should be interrogated accordingly. As the U.S. pushes forward, we know that the majority of Americans and much of the world oppose U.S. strikes on Syria. Despite this, Obama continues to propagate military intervention – on Monday, he sat down for interviews with six different major news outlets to discuss Syria. He has even questioned the world’s credibility on the issue. “My credibility is not on the line,” Obama said. “International credibility is on the line.” Obama’s rhetoric demonstrates how the U.S. leadership perpetuates an image of America as the world’s most morally virtuous country. This same leadership claims that those who oppose U.S. imperialism are immoral. By this logic, anti-imperialism reflects immorality. In truth, the U.S. government, led by the Obama administration, is completely devoid of ethics and treats civilian death as collateral damage.
Obama undermines the world’s credibility in order to justify pursuing American interests and further subjugating Third World nations. That Barack Obama is the U.S.’s first Black president does not change the reality that American imperial interests align with racial dominance in the Middle East and throughout the world. The United States government intends to make an example out of Syria as a display of American imperial power. Should Congress eventually acquiesce to the Obama government’s wishes, Syrians will regrettably be victim to a significantly greater military force than that of the horrific Assad government.
Navid Farnia received his Master of Arts degree from the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University in New York. He is an Iranian American who was born and raised in Oklahoma.
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