Mon 9 Sep 2013
“A new poll of Americans has found that though the nation remains wary over the prospect of becoming involved in another Middle Eastern war, the vast majority of US citizens strongly approve of sending Congress to Syria,” The Onion reported in its Sept. 5 issue.
“The New York Times/CBS News poll showed that though just 1 in 4 Americans believe that the United States has a responsibility to intervene in the Syrian conflict, more than 90 percent of the public is convinced that putting all 535 representatives of the United States Congress on the ground in Syria… is the best course of action at this time,” the satirical newspaper and website added.
In fact, the Obama Administration’s proposal to attack Syria to punish its ruler for attacking its own civilians with poison gas was a terrible farce. Thank God that idea seems to be fading. According to news reports, the Syrian government had moved its weaponry to residential neighborhoods, thus creating a human shield for its arsenal. As a result, the primary effect of air raids on Syria could well have been to kill hundreds, if not thousands, more civilians.
Fortunately President Obama on Monday announced that if there are adequate safeguards, he’s prepared to accept Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plan to head off a US attack: let the UN take possession of Syria’s chemical weapons and destroy them. The proposal, which has Syria’s blessing, comes only days before Congress was to vote on whether to approve an attack. That vote has now been postponed. To many people, Obama’s statements in preparation for the vote seemed downright disgraceful.
Former congressional candidate Norman Solomon of Inverness Park commented in the Sept. 8 Marin Independent Journal, “President Barack Obama is seeking authorization from Congress for use of military force against Syria — while asserting the right to ignore the decision by Congress if it doesn’t go his way.
“Blending tragedy and farce, this approach would destroy the meaning of congressional ‘authorization,’ turning Congress into an advisory body when it votes on whether the US government should launch a military attack on another country,” Solomon wrote.
“In matters of war and peace, the next step might be for the Executive Branch to provide all 535 members of Congress with juice, graham crackers and blankets for naptime….
Democrat Norman Solomon and his wife, Cheryl Higgins, campaigning in the 2012 Western Weekend parade.
“An American attack would also provide major help to ‘rebels,’ aligned with al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists, who are as repressively cruel as the Assad regime they seek to overthrow. The chilling parallels with massive US aid to mujahedeen forces in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan during the 1980s should be hard to miss….
“It’s crucial that Congress vote against attacking Syria. But the problems with the president’s approach go far deeper than his scenario for war, awful as it is. Without enormous pushback, Obama will succeed in establishing a political precedent that is antithetical to the separation of powers and the consent of the governed.
“As with the president’s atrocious support for the now-exposed surveillance programs that have put the National Security Agency in a Big Brother role, our country’s basic constitutional principles are at stake.”
So what should the US do? In a letter to the editor printed in the Sept. 5 San Francisco Chronicle, Pete McCloskey proposed one reasonable response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons. A much-decorated Navy and Marine Corps veteran who served in Congress from 1967 to 1983, McCloskey wrote:
“Whatever might be the vote with respect to military action against Syria, it would be a good time for Congress to reassert its reliance on international law and the World Court’s jurisdiction to try national leaders for war crimes such as the use of poison gas….
“Declaring Bashar Assad a war criminal and suggesting that a tribunal be convened to try him might do as much to deter future use of poison gas by Assad as any ‘surgical’ military strike…. If deterrence of future use of poison gas is a primary goal of President Obama, it is entirely consistent with the goal that Assad know that he will one day face trial as a war criminal.”
Former Congressman Pete McCloskey at West Marin School in November 2011. Annoyed at the “new brand of Republicanism,” McCloskey in 2007 switched from Republican to Democrat.
If Assad loses his grip on Syria, it will, of course, be possible to put him on trial, so it’s worth remembering that the State Department for some time has predicted that his regime isn’t going to last too much longer. In July a year ago, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters, “The sand is running out of the hour glass… [It] should be abundantly clear to those who support the Assad regime: the days are numbered.”
Assad’s government is a brutal one, the US government correctly declares, but that very brutality is the reason our government had a close working relationship with Syria until recently.
After 9/11, the CIA began a program of “extraordinary rendition” in order to use torture to interrogate foreigners we captured in the Middle East. Because it was unable to use “enhanced interrogation” techniques on US soil, the CIA began sending detainees to foreign countries. As The Washington Post reported last Feb. 5, the CIA often counted on foreign governments — “some of them quite nasty” — to do the torturing.
The Post quoted a 2005 New Yorker article that noted, “Syria was one of the ‘most common destinations for rendered suspects.’ [Syrian] government forces, according to [an Open Society Foundation] report, held some of the US-provided detainees in a prison known as ‘The Grave’ for its coffin-sized cells and subjected them to ‘torture involving a chair frame used to stretch the spine and beatings.’”
Interestingly, some of the other renditions were to Iran which, like Syria, is usually our adversary. So why did the two countries cooperate with the US? Syria and Iran, like the US, are enemies of al-Qaeda, The Washington Post explained, and it was a matter of the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Whether President Assad ordered a poison-gas attack on his own people was still being debated as recently as last weekend. Assad was claiming the rebels did the gassing. The German press said government forces may have carried out the attack without his authorization. And the Russian press claimed the West’s account of what happened “doesn’t make sense.”
I personally believe that Assad did order a poison-gas attack and, like McCloskey, think he should eventually be held accountable.
In the meantime, is there anything else to be done?
According to the poll of Americans quoted by The Onion, “91 percent of those surveyed agreed that the active use of sarin gas by the Syrian government would, if anything, only increase poll respondents’ desire to send Congress to Syria.”
The Onion quoted a “survey respondent and Iraq War veteran Maj. General John Mill” as saying that sending Congress — or at least congressional leaders — to Syria “is the correct course of action.” But the US needs to take action “sooner rather than later,” Mill added. “This war isn’t going to last forever.”
Ironically, an actual poll by the Associated Press found public opinion isn’t much different from the tongue-in-cheek poll reported in The Onion. “Only 1 in 5 Americans believe that failing to respond to chemical weapons attacks in Syria would embolden other rogue governments,” AP reported Monday. The wire service described these findings as “rejecting the heart of a weeks-long White House campaign for US military strikes.”
I found it fascinating that the results suggest Democrats are significantly more hawkish than Republicans, at least in this case. “The poll indicated that 53 percent of Democrats, 59 percent of independents, and 73 percent of Republicans believe Congress should vote against the plan to strike Syria,” AP reported.
“Overall, 61 percent of people surveyed said they wanted Congress to vote against authorizing military strikes in Syria.” This gets us back to The Onion’s poll: if members of Congress ignore public opinion and vote for an attack, send them all to Syria.