Monday, September 09, 2013

UN Ambassador Power goes all John Bolton on the UN

I've not taken on any detailed discussions of the Obama Administration pitches for going to war with Syria. Some of it is because of my broader skepticism about the need for the US to engage in more wars in the Middle East. Or anywhere, for that matter. See Andrew Bacevich's piece, The Hill to the Rescue on Syria? Don't Hold Your Breath LobeLog Foreign Policy on the history of that policy since the Carter Doctrine. Also at Informed Comment and TomDispatch.

Part of it is distrust of the Obama Administration that intervened in the civil war in Libya under the pretext of preventing a humanitarian disaster in one city and instead became a party in the civil war that ended with a regime change whose advantage to the US is not at all obvious. And as unpleasant a character as Muammar Gaddafi may have been, he had voluntarily given his nuclear weapons program in an agreement with the Cheney-Bush Administration, as explains (Libyan Nuclear Weapons n/d):

On 19 December 2003 Libya agreed to destroy all of its chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons. The surprise announcement followed nine months of secret talks between Libyan, American, and British officials. Libya agreed to abide by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and to allow for immediate inspections and monitoring.
Then eight years later, the US comes along and intervenes military for regime change in Libya. For humanitarian purposes, of course. I griped in 2011 that rewarding that Libyan regime for cooperating with the US on "WMD", our excuse for invading Iraq in 2003 and Obama's case for attacking Syria now, by intervening to help overthrow him may not have been entirely advisable.

The US press hardly noticed that connection. I'll bet Assad the New Hitler did.

I also don't believe that Assad the New Hitler's use of chemical weapons is the main reason for Obama's push for attacking Syria. As Juan Cole explains, the US is already playing an active role in the Syrian civil war: How US Grand Strategy in Syria led to the idea of Missile Strikes Informed Comment 09/09/2013.

And, apart from the illegality in international law of attacking a country that has not attacked us, the Congressional authorization process doesn't sound to me like it's likely to put any serious restraints on escalation and mission creep, which are all but inevitable. Tom Hayden writes in Fooled Again Into Wider War? Peace and Justice Resource Center 09/05/2013 of the measure approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

The measure authorizes: two or three months of sustained bombing and missile strikes, aimed at decisively damaging Assad's military bases and infrastructure, increasing the capabilities of the insurgent forces (somehow without strengthening Al Qaeda), and profoundly weakening Assad's capacity to continue in power. The prohibition of "boots" on the ground, so important to Congress, does not cover CIA boots on the ground nor the boots of American advisers and trainers just over the Syrian border.

UN Ambassador Samantha Power doesn't want us focusing on such questions. She wants to be horrified at the results of the use of chemical weapons, which at this point has not been clearly linked to Assad the New Hitler, based on what's in the public record, as Rick Perlstein reports in On Syria: Don't Surrender to Trust The Nation 09/09/2013.

Ambassador Power has no doubts. And she doesn't want us fretting about mission creep or who Our Side is in the civil war in which her boss is asking us to intervene in the name of humanitarianism and to combat the proliferation of chemical weapons. This is video of the speech, US Ambassador Power Speaks On Syrian Crisis (Full Speech 2013):

The text is here, Remarks on Syria at the Center for American Progress 09/06/2013:

Notwithstanding these complexities – notwithstanding the various concerns that we all share – I am here today to explain why the costs of not taking targeted, limited military action are far greater than the risks of going forward in the manner that President Obama has outlined.

Every decision to use military force is an excruciatingly difficult one. It is especially difficult when one filters the Syria crisis through the prism of the past decade.

But let me take a minute to discuss the uniquely monstrous crime that has brought us to this crossroads. What comes to mind for me is one father in al-Ghouta saying goodbye to his two young daughters. His girls had not yet been shrouded, they were still dressed in the pink shorts and leggings of little girls. The father lifted their lifeless bodies, cradled them, and cried out "Wake up...What would I do without you?... How do I stand this pain?" As a parent, I cannot begin to answer his questions. I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to feel such searing agony.

In arguing for limited military action in the wake of this mass casualty chemical weapons atrocity, we are not arguing that Syrian lives are worth protecting only when they are threatened with poison gas. Rather, we are reaffirming what the world has already made plain in laying down its collective judgment on chemical weapons: there is something different about chemical warfare that raises the stakes for the United States and raises the stakes for the world.

There are many reasons that governments representing 98% of the world's population – including all 15 members of the UN Security Council – agreed to ban chemical weapons.

These weapons kill in the most gruesome possible way. They kill indiscriminately – they are incapable of distinguishing between a child and a rebel. And they have the potential to kill massively. We believe that this one attack in Damascus claimed more than 1,400 lives, far more than even the worst attacks by conventional means in Syria. And we assess that, although Assad used more chemical weapons on August 21 than he had before, he has barely put a dent in his enormous stockpile, and the international community has clearly not yet put a dent in his willingness to use them.

President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and many members of Congress have spelled out the consequences of failing to meet this threat. If there are more chemical attacks, we will see an inevitable spike in the flow of refugees, on top of the already two million in the region, possibly pushing Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey or Iraq past their breaking points. The fourth largest city in Jordan right now is already the Zaatari refugee camp. Half of Syria's refugees are children, and we know what can happen to children who grow to adulthood without hope or opportunity in refugee camps; the camps become fertile recruiting grounds for violent extremists.
Of course, the ordinance we drop during "two or three months of sustained bombing and missile strikes" will only kill Bad People. So it's all good.

Digby isn't quite so sure. In Another problem from hell. Self delusion. Hullabaloo 09/09/2013, she writes:

This whole argument among the humanitarian hawks raises the question: at what point do those who believe that violence is the only way to stop violence against innocents become what they despise? I think it's a very easy line to cross without even knowing it because I suspect that nearly everyone involved in these disputes self-righteously believes they are either acting out of self-defense or in defense of others. Even "the evil ones" believe they are doing what they do for a higher purpose. Everyone who promotes violence as the answer to problem are very sure that they are doing it for all the right reasons. But the reasons on all sides always sound exactly the same.
Digby is commenting on Power's speech of September 5, as reported by Louis Charbonneau of Reuters in U.S. gives up on U.N. Security Council in Syria crisis, blames Russia 09/05/2013. The text of that speech is here, Remarks at the Security Council Stakeout [sic] on Syria 09/05/2013.

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