Slouching towards Damascas
A White House release, issued anonymously (an odd procedure by an Administration that hates unofficial leaks, but consistency is the hobgoblin, etc.) , sets forth the reasons why the President now believes that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons, according to today’s New York Times. Given that a previous allegation about the al-Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons met with equivocation by the President and given that other unnamed “officials” have told the Time that a list of missile targets has been circulating at the White House for a week (evidently in anticipation of a kill meeting, a convocation this Administration has some considerable experience in), it appears that our Nobel Peace laureate commander-in-chief is about to again use his foreign policy instrument of choice on the powers that be in Damascas.
We should be satisfied, I suppose, that this Administration has seen fit to give an (anonymous) explanation of its thinking to as respectable a source as The New York Times, rather than, say, Jay Leno, one of the President’s more important press conduits. That the Times was unable to put any questions to the (anonymous) official shouldn’t concern us. This White House’s official position is that “precision strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles against a limited set of clearly defined targets” are not “hostilities” and therefore do not require the President to seek authorization under the War Powers Act. That seems to be what they have in mind here, so they are not going to submit to interference by the national legislature. Why should they then stoop to answer questions by the establishment media, whom they have very little respect for any way.
The legal team that delivered the novel idea that missile strikes on a foreign country are not “hostilities” is probably the same one that has decided that Mr. al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons violates international law. Undoubtedly the world would be better off if the use of chemical weapons were eliminated. One begins to wonder, however, why it is that only one nation seems willing to enforce these international norms, even without the sanction of the international institution we might expect were the more appropriate forum for making such determinations.
I, of course, was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, so there is no particular reason for anyone to consider my own qualms about the slippery legal niceties of our leader. Nevertheless, it is curious to me that at a time when the White House is gearing up to use overwhelming force in a foreign country for a mission that has no definable goal, despite the unhappy outcome of the previous adventures of this sort, under the banner of a legal principle, we are ignoring the realities of the other one-time member of the former United Arab Republic. Of course, the Administration has played a part in another legal irony there. Section 202 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 says that U.S. foreign aid cannot be extended to “the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed in a military coup d’état or … a decree in which the military plays a decisive role.” It was the obligation of the Administration to cut off $1.5 billion in aid (essentially all military aid) when the generals in Egypt deposed the duly elected head of government of Egypt. Even the legal creativity of the Bush legal opiners would have found it difficult to say that the actions with respect to Mohamed Morsi was anything other than a coup d’état. But, get this, the State Department’s crack legal team has determined that the law does not require the U.S. government to make the determination that a coup has taken place. When Congress enacted the legislation, it evidently forgot to say that the Executive Branch was bound by the law. And therefore, lucky for our present rulers, they can continue to give the money to the Egyptian military.
Now here’s the thing that is hard to get out of my craw. Our leaders, who have not given Mr. al-Assad any chemical weapons, far less the authority to use them, somehow feel that they must risk the lives, spend the fortune and have the country endure the inevitable blow-back of open-ended hostilities (albeit not of the type that Congress can regulate) in order to vindicate the international norms the violation of which do not seem to motivate to action other nations. And yet, when the Egyptian military initiates a bloody repression against the majority political party in the country, largely because the Egyptian military has age-old hatred for it and because the Gulf State oligarchies fear that they might be tumbled by its republican ideology, this Administration will not lift a finger, not even to stop the funds which the military is using for weapons to kill its own citizens in an illegal coup. In other words, while we police a repressive regime over which we have no sway, we allow a bloody military, which we and our Gulf State friends finance, to continue to use ugly and bloody repressive tactics, which are both anti-democratic and not in our long-term best interest. Not to mention that our national legislature has attempted to prevent our leaders from financing a military coup. Not that their views are needed or wanted. But still.
So we in one case have the Administration’s desire to preserve the citizens of Syria from a regime we do not support and in the other have no interest in complying with a law by our own Congress that would stop the military of another country from using our own money to kill its citizens. There may be a moral or rational reason for this contradiction in our values. But don’t expect to find out the real reason. At least not for another fifty years, as we learned this week when the CIA finally admitted to the role it had, and kept from the American people (whose name it acted in), in the overthrow of another duly elected regime, in Iran in 1953.
It looks like Noam Chomsky was right: we act nothing like a democracy. Oh, and by the way, the CIA also kept a dossier on that trouble-maker too. I suppose we should just be grateful that our leaders do all these things against our interest without our knowledge. Otherwise we would have to live in despair that we have no control over events.