Columns » Boomer with Attitude

Syria: Down another rabbit hole

Will the U.S. never learn?



Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Good luck these days trying to find an iota of sanity in the halls of government, never mind looking for reasoned arguments. Consider as evidence the ruinous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the mindless, ongoing deadlock in D.C. Or better yet, think of the Obama administration's sudden yen to bomb Syrian government positions. Unlike the way things are supposed to work in a democratic debate, however, the more we hear about Obama's planned adventure in Syria, the less any of it makes sense.

Obama claims the moral high ground by pointing out that Syria's Assad-led government loosed a chemical attack on civilians near Damascus that killed 1,400 people. Or was it 350? No one seems sure. Or was it an attack by the Syrian opposition? Or an accidental release of gas caused by incompetence, as some Syrian opposition spokesmen say? Again, no one seems sure, so it's a good thing the UN sent an investigative team to get to the bottom of things. After all, the UN investigators were right about Saddam Hussein having no WMD's, so we're reasonably waiting to hear what they found, right? No, we're not; Obama says he doesn't care what the UN found, as its investigation was too late to detect chemical residue from the attack — despite a multitude of chemical weapons experts saying the residue could last for years.

Now about that moral high ground the White House is claiming for America: Who in the world are they kidding? First of all, Syria for years has had the unspoken and unacknowledged approval of the U.S. and its allies to store chemical weapons as a supposed counterweight to Israel's nuclear stockpile (which, of course, is also unacknowledged but well-known).

Secondly, Obama didn't have a problem in 2009 when Israel used white phosphorus in Gaza. And the U.S. certainly didn't gripe in the 1980s when Hussein launched horrific mass chemical attacks against Iranian soldiers. In fact, Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr. sold Hussein poisonous chemicals and lethal biological viruses, including anthrax and bubonic plague, as documented by the Washington Post and confirmed last week by Foreign Policy magazine's study of CIA documents. Some might say Reagan was justified in keeping Iran from defeating Hussein; all I'm saying is don't then turn around and condemn Iraq's next-door neighbor for doing the same thing, but on a much smaller scale.

Thirdly, and most damaging of all to U.S. claims of morality related to chemical weapons, American armed forces used white phosphorus and napalm in Fallujah in 2004. And don't get me started on the 20 million gallons of chemicals the U.S. sprayed in Vietnam, including Agent Orange, which, according to the Red Cross, killed 400,000 people and caused birth defects in 500,000 children.

It doesn't make sense, either, for Obama to insist he's only interested in limited, surgical strikes to disable chemical weapons sites. That statement flies in the face of evidence, reported by NPR, that U.S. troops stationed in Jordan are already preparing to move into Syria to help train "moderate members" (non-Islamists) of the Syrian opposition, while John McCain is walking around saying Obama has agreed to "stronger action" than mere surgical strikes.

Perhaps the most astonishing White House thinking is that an armed response to Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons is necessary to "uphold America's credibility." Umm, in light of the Iraq War debacle, which essentially destroyed Hussein's land while strengthening Iran's position in the Middle East and introduced the world to American torture and rendition policies, exactly what credibility are they talking about? Seriously, anyone in D.C. who talks about American foreign policy credibility today is either living in a dream world or doesn't know his own nation's recent history; probably both.

Underlying our leaders' attempts to gin up war fever over Syria is one of America's central problems, at least as I see it: We are stubbornly unwilling to give up our self-perceived role as the world's overseer. Is it simply impossible for this country to learn a damned lesson? All that our 50+-years-and-counting planet patrol has gotten us is a top-heavy empire that wastes American resources we could be using to solve our own serious problems (schools, roads, bridges, poverty, et al.). The U.S. is tapped out, in case no one has noticed, which is the perfect reason for giving up our destructive (self- and otherwise) role as Earth's saviors. But we keep on baiting bears and coming home bloody. Or as Jon Stewart beautifully expressed it last week, "We're called a superpower, but we haven't figured out yet that we don't actually have super powers. But we just keep jumping out of the building, thinking we're gonna fly."

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