Friday, August 30, 2013

Daniel Cohn-Bendit favors attacking Syria, and the British Parliament has a real debate about it

I've been known to quote Daniel Cohn-Bendit sympathetically here, because a lot of times he has good things to say.

But he certainly seems to have gotten thoroughly caught up in Realpolitik lately. Or at least, Realpolitik as in Very Serious People policies. He bowed out of French Green Party politics over his passionate support of Angela Merkel's Fiscal (Suicide) Pact, which permanently locks in Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economic policies in the countries that abide by it.

Now he's endorsing an attack on Syria, and insisting that Germany should support it: Cohn-Bendit über Syrien-Intervention: "Deutschland sollte sich beteiligen" Spiegel Online 30.08.2013.

The famous "68er" of the May-June 1968 uprising in France, the one-time more-or-less anarchist author of Linksradikalismus, Gewaltkur gegen die Alterskrankheit des Kommunismus (Leftwing Radicalism, Strong Medicine Against the Old-Age Diseases of Communism) (1968), onetime key Green Party Leader in Germany, France and the European Parliament, has now settled in to being an advocate of mildly left-leaning neoliberalism and, in the case of Syria, an advocate for "American imperialism." He says:

Eine Strafaktion ohne politische Strategie wäre falsch. Aber der Westen muss militärisch mobilmachen. Als Voraussetzung - entweder für einen Militärschlag oder um einen Waffenstillstand zu erzwingen und das Blutvergießen zu beenden.

[A punitive action without a political strategy would be wrong. But the West must mobilize militarily. As preperation - either for a military strike or to compel a ceasefire and to end the bloodshed.]
He does go on to say that the US shouldn't go it alone and should try to get an EU consensus and UN authorization for any attack. Both are conditions that are unlikely in the extreme to be achieved, especially in light of the British Parliament's very surprising rejection of the idea. If such a such a loyal lackey ally of the US as Britain has been with our Middle East wars won't go along with this one, an EU consensus is highly unlikely.

But I don't think Cohn-Bendit is trying to be cute, saying he supports intervention but only under conditions he knows are impossible. He comes across in this interview as clearly in favor of intervening in the Syrian civil war against the Assad regime. "Wir müssen uns politisch und moralisch gegen Assad stellen," he says. ("We {the West} must stand against Assad politically and morally.")

And he's highly critical of the German Greens for opposing a military attack on Syria.

Cohn-Bendit's position strikes me as highly unrealistic. For Assad's regime and the Allawite minority which is its main power base, this is an all-or-nothing situation. They have everything to lose. The US and NATO countries have little to gain - and actually nothing in terms of substantial national interests to lose by staying out.

I wish US policymakers could get out of the history-starts-today mentality they seem to apply. How we handle one intervention affects how other countries respond in future situations. Unlike Cohn-Bendit's fantasy in that interview, we can't re-create the international consensus of either the First Gulf War or the Bosnia and Kosovo interventions.

The US overreacted across the board to the the 9/11 attacks. Our torture practice genuinely repulsed a lot of people in other countries, including key allies. The lies of the Cheney-Bush Administration and the Tony Blair government in cooperation with them have damaged our credibility in making a case for war to even as subservient an ally as Britain. See Juan Cole, The Ghost of Iraq haunts Obama on Syria as British Parliament Defects Informed Comment on this issue.

David Lightman reports on the (for Americans) sad contrast between the British Parliamentary debate on making war against Syria and what passes for such a discussion in the US Congress, Washington, London: A study in contrasts over Syria debate 08/29/2013.

The fact that the US, Britain and France took the UN resolution on Libya that was aimed at preventing massacres of civilians and used it as a fig-leaf for full-blown military intervention of the side of rebel forces is a factor in the lack of cooperation by Russia and China at the UN over Syria.

Robert Fisk has covered plenty of war in the Middle East, and is no fan of it. He's chronicled a lot of them in his book, The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East (2005), which provides some great background on broad Middle Eastern politics. And is stylistically very well written, which is good because it's a long book.

But I'm surprised at how dimly he views the idea of the US and Britain bombing Syria in Iran, not Syria, is the West's real target Independent 08/30/2013: "Before the stupidest Western war in the history of the modern world begins – I am, of course, referring to the attack on Syria that we all now have to swallow ..."

(The Independent has added a 5-article-limit firewall, so keep that in mind.)

Patrick Cockburn in How Syrian action risks unsettling the fragile Middle East balance of power Independent 08/28/2013 also warns about the potential for widening the conflict with a US direct intervention.

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