Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The "gaffe" that prevents a war?

It's a nice story of the moment. And I enjoy any story that makes an unnecessary war less likely to happen.

The public narrative has it that Secretary of State John Kerry blurted out an off-the-cuff, Bush-style ultimatum on Monday that Syria could only avoid war by giving up its so-called weapons of mass destruction within a week. Russia then jumped on the comment and proposed that Syria turn over its chemical and biological weapons to an international authority to be destroyed.

It poses an immediate question of what it is that President Obama will be asking Congress and the public to support in his address on Syria later today. Should he go ahead and push for a war resolution from Congress as a way to keep pressure on the Assad regime in Syria? Or should he abandon that track and pursue diplomatic negotiations?

Some in US Intel. Community Reject Obama Admin Case for Syria Attack The Real News 09/09/2013:

(Related print report by Gareth Porter, Obama’s Case for Syria Didn't Reflect Intel Consensus Inter Press Service 09/09/2013

The good news is that this turn of events improves the chances of avoiding war. The bad news is that it may allow a bad war resolution to pass Congress.

And the practical, legal and political problems with the US going to war with Syria that existed up until Kerry's statement yesterday are still there. War is still a bad idea. But even opponents of war won't be unhappy in the short run if Obama can avoid war and declare it a win for his tough-guy diplomacy. It's probably closer to the truth to think that the international isolation of the US on the issue of attacking Syria, and country that has never attacked the United States, was more responsible for producing this opportunity than the Obama Administration threatening an illegal and ill-considered war.

But if taking credit for macho manliness is what our Nobel Peace Prize President needs as a face-saving claim to avoid war with Syria, avoiding that war is still a good outcome.

On the other hand, the Obama Administration hasn't left itself as much room as it could have to back off from its war threats.

Threat inflation is a chronic problem for US foreign policy. The Obama Administration is so isolated, internationally and domestically, on its war threats against Syria that they may take the chance the Russian initiative offers to back away from the brink. But over the last couple of weeks, they've declared Assad to be the New Hitler, i.e., Evil Incarnate.

The Administration and its supporters have been treating us to atrocity stories about the horrors of little children being killed by poison gas. With arguments from its supporters along the lines of, so if you hippies don't want war what are you gonna do about Syria's poison gas, huh? I guess you support New Hitler gassing little children, huh?

Samantha Power went to the UN last week to criticize the Russians and trash the UN over the Syria situation in a way that could have been neocon UN-hater John Bolton speaking.

John Kerry's statement Monday, "gaffe" or not, sounded like a Bush-style ultimatum to comply right away and without question or get blasted by American Freedom Bombs.

Since the idea of going to war with Syria is about as popular among the American people right now as the bubonic plague, Obama can still accept a peace settlement and have most people approve of it. But once you've declared someone to be the New Hitler and gone into war propaganda mode, it makes creating the climate for a diplomatic solution that much harder.

Obama's own policy of intervening in Libya in 2011 creates its own problems for this situation. Libya agreed with the Bush Administration in 2003 to give up its "weapons of mass destruction" programs, which Bush claimed as a great success of his war in Iraq against the (nonexistent) WMDs there. And it was a real success for US nonproliferation policy.

But what was Muammar Gaddafi's reward for cooperating with the US on WMD? We came along eight years later and joined France and Britain in supporting rebel groups seeking to oust Gaddafi. Gaddafi wound up dead, and not via court proceedings. I'm sure Assad and his advisers will have that in mind as they consider what kind of WMD deal they might want to make based on US assurances of not attacking Syria.

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