by Nidra Poller (September 11, 2013)
[N.B.: the latest episode in the Syrian Soap Opera intervened as I embarked on the final version of this text that has been modified, amplified, elaborated, extended and abridged over the past two weeks. The imminent military response to the alleged use of nerve gas by Basher al Assad, delayed by the refusal of the British Parliament, postponed to allow for a vote in the American Congress, is now put on hold in favor of a Russian proposal, immediately accepted by Syria and apparently suitable to Barack Hussein Obama and his French sparring partner François Hollande. Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles will be identified, gathered in a safe place, guarded by OPWC (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) personnel, and destroyed in short order. The French, not wanting to be seen as pushovers, immediately drafted a resolution with more teeth than a tiger, which was instantly rejected by the Russians who are running the show. An emergency meeting of the UN Security Council was announced and then postponed indefinitely, Congress will vote eventually if ever at some later date, the “international community” breathes a sigh of relief, and this is what I wrote shortly after the alleged poison gas attack:]
To make law enforcement righteous, put the cops and robbers together in the police force and let them take turns in and out of jail. To protect women let the rapist brutes and the battered victims live together under one roof and make the rules by mutual agreement. That’s the United Nations.
International law without international law enforcement is meaningless. The United Nations, established as a step on the way to world government, is a conglomerate of states with irreconcilable interests and values. Congenitally unable to define international law, natural law, or the moral imperative, the U.N. sets up all-night poker games where rogue states get the upper hand over shackled democracies. The U.N. Security Council would not intervene to protect Syrian civilians, U.N. inspectors were mandated to seek evidence of a chemical attack without trying to identify the perpetrator, and yet the U.N. is supposed to be the only source of legitimacy for a military intervention to enforce “international law.”
The U.N. is the shock of civilizations — blamed on Huntington and, by ricochet, on George W. Bush — in three dimensions! The U.N. is the clash and the bottleneck. In a decent world, the conflict between civilized nations and those that gas their citizens would call for a fight to the finish… but inside the U.N. pretzel, the savages hold the civilized in check. Our nations, we are told, are war weary. In fact, they are not told about the war waged against them that has nothing to do with their mood or appetite and cannot be avoided. The U.N. cannot prevent or defend civilization against this global war of conquest; its role is to hide the reality and leave us defenseless.
And now, not content to lead from behind, Barack Obama has decided to hide behind Congress. The Great Multilateralist Savior has no one but François Hollande to join in his modest project of delicate strikes that would send an eloquent message to Assad. The more Obama flounders, the bolder the stance of our French president, convincing himself he will go it alone if necessary… How? France is not even equipped to go shoulder to shoulder with the Yankees on a three-day cruise missile strike from the sea.
The plot thickens and confusion reigns. Party lines are blurred and crossed. Harlem Désir, the head of the French Socialist party, accuses the right-wing opposition of appeasement! Some Leftists in France and the U.S. have a sudden appetite for military intervention… as long as it’s not called war. Those nasty wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are tossed away like last year’s wardrobe. Libya is limited to a few snapshots of a summer romance followed by a big blank in the next frame when the charming guy turned into a heartless thieving murderer. It won’t be a war because it’s a statement. Like a fashion statement. The international community has to tell Bashar al Assad that it will not accept the use of chemical weapons.
What if Assad didn’t use them? Various sources are claiming the “proof” of the chemical attack has been fabricated. Having worked on the al Dura affair for 13 years, I am wary of graphic images and inflated casualty figures, particularly when people who look alive and healthy are said to be dead. Can I distrust French, American, and Israeli intelligence? Do I know exactly what proof they have? What is to be made of rumors that the attack was done by the rebels to provoke a military intervention? Is the testimony of ex-hostage Pierre Piccinin reliable or over the top?
The argument for intervention in Syria springboards off the belief that the 2003 military operation in Iraq was based on falsified intelligence; Saddam Hussein didn’t have WMDs. But that same argument is used to justify non-intervention in Iran: no matter how close they are to nuclear arms, no matter how fervently they promise to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, there will never be proof enough. A song and dance operation against Assad’s Syria will not send a powerful “don’t mess with us” message to Iran. On the contrary. The Obama administration and its French allies are promising they will not seek a definitive result or any result at all. The operation is not open-ended, there will be no boots on the ground, regime change is not the aim and purpose; what they want, ultimately, is to bring Assad to the negotiating table.
If Israel has to act alone to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, will the international community approve, because it’s the same sort of message they composed for Assad? Or will the U.S., with U. N. approval, order a punitive operation against Israel, for acting without a mandate? And disproportionately, as usual.
If Assad did use chemical weapons, it means he is dangerously irrational and there is no way of knowing what he will do next. How should we know? Those one-world illusions flourishing inside and around the U.N. undermine the ability to make judgments about human behavior. We are allied with everyone and no one, and the only foresight offered is the kind you get after the fact. We should have done something early on, when the sort of people we get along with stood up to the ruthless Alawite dictator (that everyone got along with until recently). All this nastiness could have been avoided. Well, it could have been even more avoided if we had done something in 2009 in Iran. And then again, maybe not.
Once a group is identified as freedom fighters, its aims and methods are given special protection from criticism. Long before we heard about the international jihad brigades active in Syria under the black banner of conquest, we could have been troubled by the tactics of the “good rebels,” the ones we should have been helping all the way to victory. They would move into a civilian neighborhood, use it as a base for desperado attacks against government forces, and then run away, leaving unarmed civilians to bear the brunt of the government riposte. The inevitable civilian death toll was used as an argument for outside intervention. Meanwhile in European capitals, particularly in France, joint councils of Syrians in business suits were recognized as if no one remembers previous gentlemanly coalitions subsequently rejected by armed factions on the ground, or found guilty of embezzlement, or ridiculed as whole cloth inventions of the neo-colonial West.
The media’s mission creep
Many high profile journalists in the free world, having lost their taste for reporting more or less objectively from the field, see themselves as conflict resolution commandoes, nowhere more fervent than in the Middle East, nowhere more adamant than when standing in judgment on Israel. In these times of exacerbated international conscience, with frequent references to the Shoah, genocidal threats against Israel in retaliation for an American/European attack on Syria have elicited no surprise or irritation. Newscasters cite the threat —“If the U.S. attacks Syria Tel Aviv will go up in flames” — as if it were a logical corollary. None of them asks “Why Israel?” Occasionally they may mention in passing that Assad is not likely to strike Israel because he knows the riposte would be immediate and devastating. Do they wonder why tiny little Israel has such deterrent power? Can they explain why Israel should be pressured to relinquish its defensive control over a Palestinian neighbor that would explode into Islamic paroxysm if left to its own devices?
Journalists think they are world leaders and heads of state act like commentators: no convictions, no coherent strategy, they reel out daily comments that disappear like yesterday’s newspaper. No one is around to summarize the whole bundle. Today a French Socialist who reminds us that George W. Bush made a mess of the world, shot from the hip, alienated Muslims by invading their countries will add, in the next breath, that François Hollande must lead a punitive expedition against Basher al Assad and then bring him to the negotiating table… To make a deal with fight-to-the-death rebels who are kissing cousins of the ones currently murdering Iraqi civilians by the dozens every day? Journalists and political leaders interchangeably declare that a coitus interruptus military operation against Assad will be a stark warning to Iran and in any event the solution is not military, it’s political.
Commentators and presidents agree that the international community must send a strong swift message to President Assad, agree that it will be even stronger if the U.S. Congress approves, agree that such an evil deed must not go unpunished, agree that no one wants to get bogged down in shifting Middle East sands, agree that it will be better if the Arab League and OIC are on board, agree that a U.N. mandate is absolutely necessary even if this one time it will have to be foregone. The New York Times publishes the battle plan. Turkey complains that the West is dragging its feet. They want Assad smashed like a cockroach…by us.
[update September 11]
And now the whole mess is thrown back into the U.N. pretzel.
Either the free world has to come down from its high horses or individual nations must recover their sovereignty. It is not possible to act on a moral imperative within an amoral framework, in the absence of leadership, strategy, and comprehension of the nature of the Islamic paroxysm that is spinning out one acute crisis after another. We cannot take sides in this maelstrom because no one is on our side, no one respects our values or, if there is a small minority that does, it cannot defend itself and we cannot defend it against the rage and destruction that is exploding for reasons that have nothing to do with us.
Every step made or proposed for Syria—the famous punitive strike or the current international control of chemical weapons—is wrong and to our disadvantage. It is sheer madness to believe that a little military intervention is just what the doctor ordered to cure the mistakes committed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, etc. The Syria policy will fail for the same reasons as the other operations failed: they were conducted in a geopolitical fantasy world with a mindset that undermined the action, constantly weakening the very military power that made it possible to intervene. Only the United States has that overwhelming power. The myth, I would say the lethal narrative, of George W. Bush’s guilt was exploited to bring Barack Hussein Obama into position where he could, with the indecent cooperation of the media, turn that power to mush.
Foreign policy is not social work, it’s not cocktail parties; it’s power politics. It is, ultimately, protecting the lives and limbs of your own citizens in a ruthless world that will never be a garden of peace and harmony. Strategy can’t be improvised from day to day to the tune of newspaper headlines. The never again lesson is not “Trust the international community to prevent genocide, believe you me.” It is: “Defend yourselves or die.”
This is why Israel matters to us all. We have to ask why the self-appointed moralists intervene to prevent Israel from protecting its citizens… from genocide! That non-existent unenforceable international law embodied by the U.N., which is used to justify doing nothing when action is too tough to handle, serves to push Israel into the jaws of its enemies.
It wouldn’t have taken cruise missiles or U.N. mandates to save civilian lives—Palestinian and Israeli– in those dark years of the jihad/intifada that opened the 21st century with a scream of horror. All that was needed was ethics. Instead of which, the same international community that thinks it can punish Bashar al Assad accepted murderous rage against Jews as a reaction to the unbearable spectacle of Palestinian suffering.
Sincere good intentions mixed together with U.N. pronunciamentos, White House shucking and jiving, French struts, and a few cruise missiles will not rescue civilians from the Islamic maelstrom. Not because we are indifferent to their distress. They are caught in an inferno and the bravest fireman cannot go in and rescue them. Paradoxically, the only way we can help them is by protecting ourselves. Not by reverting to attitudes of retrograde isolationism or simplistic revolt, but by rebuilding, on the individual level, the backbone that has slumped, and topping it with a bright mind. Just understanding the frantic course of inaction over the past two weeks is an act of résistance.
Nidra Poller's latest book is Karimi Hotel. Now available in English.
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