Secretary of State John Kerry has signaled that the United States is reversing its policy of supporting the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad because the opposition became dominated by ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Now the U.S. wants to keep Assad in power as a bulwark against the (previously) US-backed rebels.
War is raging in Syria between the Baathist government of President Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State (ISIS). The United States doesn’t want either side to win. The solution, naturally, is careful calibration to keep both sides equal until they both kill each other.
Mainstream news outlets in the United States, whose politics are closely aligned with those of the U.S. government, frequently criticize mainstream media outlets in Russia, whose politics are closely aligned to those of the Russian government. Current example: recent events in Ukraine.
“Russian officials have been doing everything they can to make it clear that they don’t recognize the legitimacy of this current parliament or its right to form an interim government,” NPR’s Corey Flintoff reported February 26th. “The impression that ordinary Russians would get from [their] news coverage is really that the Ukrainian Revolution is very much a thing to be feared.”
Flintoff made fun of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who called the overthrow of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych “essentially the result of an armed mutiny.” Russian Interior Minister Sergey Lavrov said it was “an attempt at a coup d’état and to seize power by force.”
Here we go again.
In U.S. and Western media, both the Tahrir Square “people power” demonstrations that removed Hosni Mubarak and the military coup that imprisoned the democratically elected Mohammed Morsi are called Egyptian “revolutions.” So is the Benghazi-based insurgency that toppled Libya’s Col. Moammar Gaddafi. If the civil war in Syria leads to the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad — even if, like Gaddafi, he gets blown up by a U.S. drone or a NATO fighter jet — they’ll call that a revolution too.
But those weren’t/aren’t revolutions. A revolution is “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system.”
A new system. Those are the key words.
Even if it occurs as the result of dramatic street violence, a change in leaders doesn’t mean there has been a revolution. If the system doesn’t change much, a revolution has not taken place.
Egypt’s Tahrir Square was dramatic, an important event. But it wasn’t a revolution. This became evident last year, when General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi arrested and jailed President Morsi. If the 2011 Tahrir uprising against Mubarak had been a revolution, Sisi — a high-ranking officer who served most of his career under Mubarak — would not have been in the military at all, much less a figure powerful enough to stage a coup.
In a real revolution, the old system — all of its most important components — are replaced. Military leaders aren’t merely shuffled around or replaced; the army’s core mission and organizational structure are radically altered. It isn’t enough to rejigger boardrooms and change CEOs; the class structure itself — which defines every other role in society — is changed. (In China, for example, landlords went from a privileged class to impoverished pariahs after 1949.) Reforms don’t make a revolution. In a revolution, everything old gets trashed. Society starts from scratch.
The bar for whether a political change qualifies as a full-fledged revolution is extremely high.
And yeah, the definition matters. It matters a lot. Because revolution — capital-R, blood-in-the-streets, head-on-a-stick Revolution is by far the biggest threat to our system of corporate capitalism and the ruling classes who have been stealing almost every cent of the fortune we the people create with our hard work. If our business overlords convince us that revolution is something short of actually changing the system — in other words, getting rid of them — then they’re safe no matter what. Even if we protest, even if we turn violent, we will never truly emancipate ourselves.
Maybe they’ll pay higher taxes. For a little while. Until they bribe their way back out of them.
Until we destroy the 1%, stripping them of their money, power and social status, we will be their slaves. And that will never happen if we forget what revolution is.
Bearing in mind what revolution means, Ukraine comes nowhere close.
Consider this quote from Nicolai Petro, a politics professor at the University of Rhode Island, on Amy Goodman’s radio show:
“Yes, [Ukraine] is pretty much a classical coup, because under the current constitution the president may be—may resign or be impeached, but only after the case is reviewed by the Constitutional Court and then voted by a three-fourth majority of the Parliament. And then, either case, either the prime minister or the speaker of the Parliament must become the president. Instead, that’s not what happened at all. There was an extraordinary session of Parliament, after—it was held after most members were told there would be no session and many had left town. And then, under the chairmanship of the radical party, Svoboda, this rump Parliament declared that the president had self-removed himself from the presidency.”
Note the trappings of “legitimacy”: Constitutional Court, Parliament, preexisting political parties, laws created under the old regime.
Under a revolution, old institutions would be abolished. Anyone who had anything to do with them would be discredited, and possibly in danger of being executed. Parties, if there were any, would be new (unless they’d been operating clandestinely), with revolutionary politics and brand-new organizational structures. You certainly wouldn’t see old establishment figures like the recently released former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko (a leader of the “Orange Revolution” of 2004, which also wasn’t a revolution), seriously discussed as a potential new ruler.
Many Ukrainians know what revolution is — and they want one. “We need new people who can say no to the oligarchs, not just the old faces,” a 25-year-old economist told The New York Times. “The problem is that the old forces are trying to come back to take their old chairs,” said a shipping broker who waved a sign outside parliament that read: “Revolution, Not a Court Coup!”
U.S. reporters quote the would-be revolutionaries, but they can’t understand their meaning. After all, their country’s founding “revolution,” the American Revolution, was nothing of the sort. The elites became even more powerful. Slavery continued. Women still couldn’t vote. The poor and middle class didn’t gain power.
Just another coup.
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COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Obama’s Illegal War Against Syria
Barack Obama wants to fire cruise missiles at Syria. As president of the nation whose military possesses the most lethal firepower of any society in history, he obviously has the ability to start this war — his sixth major front, after Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Pakistan — if he wants to. But does he have the legal right?
The answer is no. Not if the basic architecture of the Constitution, the separation of powers, remains in force. Not if the Founding Fathers’ originalist intent, and their understanding of English at the time, means anything. Not if America’s treaty obligations, which after ratification carry the full force of U.S. law, are more than pieces of paper.
Might makes right; the victor writes history. No doubt, in the perhaps-not-so-distant future, if the United States is formally constituted as an empire, with Syria one of its outlying provinces or a vassal state, no one will care how it went down back in 2013. Until then, however, it matters a lot. Attacking Syria without legal basis would have broad implications, and not just for the Syrians who will lose their lives, limbs and sanity.
Back here in what neofascist politicians and media mouthpieces call the Homeland, we Americans are watching our top officials and boldface notables brush off the basic legal underpinnings of the political culture with impunity.
Obama and his allies’ disdain for the law probably won’t spark much street protest, much less an uprising. (These days, you have to be a white Republican to provoke a demonstration against your wars.) Nevertheless, official lawlessness is corroding the system, hastening the coming rebellion just as surely as rust will eventually cause a bridge to collapse. When those at the top don’t follow their own rules — rules that they wrote, rules from which they benefit the most — why should anyone else? “They say I got to respect the system,” the Australian punk band the Saints sang, “but there ain’t no respect in that system for me.”
Obama and the other warmongers are counting on ignorance and confusion to make their case, but the rules of war are clear.
Attacking Syria would be illegal.
Obama and his surrogates keep saying that Obama has the “inherent power” to attack Syria (or any other country) in his role as commander-in-chief. He’s only asking Congress for approval, he says, because he’s a nice guy (and the political cover doesn’t hurt if and when the war turns sour, as they usually do).
In The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton explained the thinking behind the new Constitution to 18th century newspaper readers. The president’s role as “commander-in-chief” was nothing close to the lofty Caesar-like rights Obama claim. So ceremonial as to be virtually insignificant, the commander-in-chief gig barely rated a mention: “While [the powers] of the British kings extends to the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies,” Hamilton explained, “all which, by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the Legislature [Congress].”
In his book War Powers: How The Imperial Presidency Hijacked the Constitution, Peter Irons reminds us that under the U.S. Constitution, the president’s only military role is to repel an invasion — after it has occurred! — pending action by Congress. “The Framers,” writes Irons, “agreed that the president could act without a congressional declaration of war to repel an invasion but that only Congress could authorize the deployment of forces outside the nation’s territory in combat against foreign troops.”
The Founders were split on a number of issues. Slavery, for instance. On separation of powers and making war, they were virtually unanimous. Only a single delegate voted to vest the president with the right to wage war.
Obama has no “inherent right” to attack Syria or any other country.
Under the Constitution, Congress could do it. But the U.S. is also subject to treaty obligations that clearly block it from attacking Syria under present circumstances.
The Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, which the U.S. Senate ratified by an 85-1 vote, bans all acts of military aggression. Many of the Nazi leaders executed and imprisoned at Nuremberg were convicted for violating this Pact. It remains in force as international law.
The U.N. Charter mandates that all U.N. member states “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” The Charter does not make exceptions for the three principal arguments Obama makes in favor of attacking Syria: punishment (for using chemical weapons), preemption (it’ll send a message to other possible future chemical weapons users, such as Iran and North Korea) and deterrence (it will deter Assad from attacking Jordan or Israel). To the contrary, the Fourth Geneva Convention outlaws “collective punishment” in which civilians are targeted to suffer for the offenses of their government.
During George W. Bush’s propaganda offensive leading to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bush and his allies (many of the same figures pushing to attack Syria) successfully convinced the public to sign off on their “preemptive war.” But neither Iraq then, nor Syria now, comes close to fitting the bill legally.
“There’s a well-accepted definition for preemptive war in international law,” Joseph Cirincione, Director of the Non-Proliferation Project of the Carnegie Endowment, said in late 2002. “Preemptive war is justified by an imminent threat of attack, a clear and present danger that the country in question is about to attack you. In such a case a preemptive attack is recognized as justifiable.”
That’s a very high bar. Even troops massed on your border don’t automatically qualify as an imminent threat under international law. You have to let the enemy hit you first, or have strong reason to believe they’re about to do so.
Now Obama can argue — and others will — that Geneva, Kellogg-Briand, the U.N. Charter, and even the U.S. Constitution are quaint, outdated relics, written by naïve men whose 20th century attempts to outlaw war are irrelevant today. If that’s what they think, then they should convince us to amend or annul them.
As long as these laws remain in force, and as long as Obama and other members of America’s ruling class continue to ignore them, an ugly day of reckoning draws closer.
P.S. to Mr. Obama: Please, Sire, may we miserable subjects of your Benevolent Self kindly see proof that the Syrian government (and not the rebels) carried out that poison gas attack the other day? How about some evidence?
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
Not-So-Secret “Secret Bombings” Have Big Implications
Did Israel bomb Damascus yesterday? Of course it did. According to Syrian rebel sources, 42 Syrian army soldiers were killed. But Israel – following its customary policy – won’t admit it. This has happened before. Usually, Syria doesn’t say anything about Israeli airstrikes. (The Syrian government’s complaint about Sunday’s airstrike is unusual, and thus cause for concern that the civil war might escalate into a regional conflict.)
According to experts, the official silence following not-so-secret secret bombings reflect the fact that even enemies have to cooperate sometimes. If Syria acknowledges that it has been the victim of what international law and anyone with a dictionary defines as an act of war, Syrian citizens and non-Syrians throughout the Muslim world would pressure the government of President Bashar al-Assad into a war it can’t win. Knowing this, the Israelis – who don’t want a war that could unite the fractious Arabs against them and set the Middle East ablaze – let Assad save face. By refusing to confirm or to deny, they quietly gloat over what everyone knows, that they can come and go as they please over Syrian airspace (or fire long-range missiles from Israeli territory, since even the Syrians don’t seem sure what hit them yesterday).
We live in a time that bears out the most dystopian of George Orwell’s predictions, yet even in a world of bluster and BS few news events are as surreal and mind-blowing as a so-called secret bombing. There is, after all, nothing secret about bombs. Especially when they fall into a densely populated metropolis. Certainly the families of those 42 dead soldiers are in the loop.
“Imagine an airstrike on a US weapons depot and no one claims responsibility,” the political cartoonist Kevin Moore tweet-asked. “Would we be so blasé about it?” We would be if we were a weak nation and the attacker was a strong one.
Not that this is a first-time occurrence.
Older readers remember the so-called secret bombing of Cambodia in 1969 and 1970, when President Richard Nixon ordered the carpet bombing of North Vietnamese supply bases in eastern Cambodia and Laos, a violation of international law. It was a sensational scoop for to readers of the New York Times and members of Congress (who hadn’t been informed), but if you were there, there was nothing secretive about the 100,000-plus tons of ordnance dropped in 3800-plus sorties by American B-52s.
Tens of thousands of Cambodians, including many civilians, were killed.
As far as the rest of the world was concerned, however, the bombings were cloaked by a conspiracy of silence. The international media found out about it right away but coverage was scant and tentative. Cambodia’s leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, supposedly sent his tacit approval through back channels; for its part, North Vietnam couldn’t say boo because they weren’t supposed to be in Cambodia either.
The US drone war in Pakistan bears similarities to Cambodia, though it features a delicious extra dollop of deception.
As I reported in 2010, the United States isn’t so much occupying Afghanistan as it is using eastern Afghanistan as a staging area to launch drone strikes against tribal areas in western Pakistan. Again we have the ridiculous spectacle of something that couldn’t possibly be less secret – Hellfire missiles streaming out of the sky from buzzing drones circling Pakistani cities in broad daylight and blasting homes and cars – while both the Americans firing the weapons and the Pakistani government whose territory they are landing on officially deny knowing anything about them. Although Pakistani officials either claim helplessness in the face of American military might or condemn the drone strikes outright, thousands of people have died in hundreds of attacks under the Bush and Obama administrations as the result of a brutal quid pro quo: the CIA kills political dissidents and other “enemies of the state” on the Pakistani regime’s hit list in exchange for the privilege of killing “terrorists” it deems a threat. (It recently came out that CIA drone operators fire blindly, without knowing who they’re killing.)
The United States has similar arrangements with Yemen and Somalia.
Oh, and the U.S. doesn’t even officially acknowledge that it has a drone program. It’s classified. If it exists. Even though Obama jokes about it.
I wonder whether the lawyered-up officials who gin up these pssst arrangements worry about the geopolitical implications. For at least 200 years – arguably since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 – the Western world has been governed on the basis of strictly defined borders. In the postwar era the United Nations has served primarily as an attempt to enshrine the sovereignty of nation-states. At the core of contemporary international law is the doctrine that invading the territory or airspace is an act of war, particularly when the victim is internationally recognized as sovereign. So how does that square with secret bombings?
If Israel can carry out acts of war against Syria with impunity, without suffering any sanction, and if United States can do the same in Pakistan, who is to say which cross-border incursions of the future are acceptable and which are not? If Syria and Pakistan tacitly consent to their territory being bombed, but don’t sign formal agreements to allow it, can they legitimately claim to be sovereign independent states? It seems to me that both the bombers and the victim countries are messing around with issues with huge potential ramifications without thinking them through.
When political leaders wallow in “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes” absurdism, citizens roll their eyes and learn to reflexively distrust everything they see and hear from officials and in mainstream media. How, for example, can you take an Israeli government seriously that has had nuclear weapons since the 1970s but refuses to admit it (and sabre-rattles with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, which probably doesn’t exist)? Or a United Nations that refuses to call them to account under nuclear nonproliferation treaties?
The greatest enemy of political stability is alienation. Citizens don’t have to like their leaders to hand them the tacit consent of the governed. But if a regime wants to stay in power, the people have to believe their government more often than not. It can’t be perceived as totally full of crap.
Just ask Mikhail Gorbachev.
Sure, all rules are arbitrary. But once you start breaking your own rules, you undermine the basis of legitimacy for the system you’ve created and hope to perpetuate. If we go back to the basis of nationhood – you have a right to exist if you can carve out borders, defend them, and repel invaders – we unwind the world order that has been in place for nearly half a millennium. Which may be for the better. But it’s probably something that we should all discuss.
In the open.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
Ten Years into the Iraq War, the U.S. Repeats in Syria
The Quagmire Pattern always seems to play out the same way.
There’s a civil war in some country deemed by the CIA to be Of Strategic Importance (i.e., energy reserves, proximity to energy reserves, or potential pipeline route to carry energy reserves).
During this initial stage, a secular socialist dictatorship fights Muslim insurgents who want to create an Islamist theocracy. To build public support – or at least apathetic tolerance – the conflict is cast to and by the media as a struggle between tyrannical torturers and freedom-loving underdogs.
The U.S. must get involved!
If not us, who?
Alternative answers to this question – the European Union, the African Union, the United Nations, or nobody at all – what about self-determination? – are shrugged off. It is as if no one has said a word.
The Pentagon selects a rebel faction to support, typically the most radical (because they’re the most fanatical fighters), and sends them money and weapons and trainers.
It works. The regime falls. Yay!
Civil war ensues. Not so yay.
The craziest religious zealots are poised to prevail in this second stage. Because they’re militant and well-trained (by the U.S.). Suffering from buyers’/backers’ remorse, American policymakers have a change of heart. Pivoting 180 degrees, the U.S. now decides to back the most moderate faction (because they’re the most reasonable/most pro-business) among the former opposition.
Then the quagmire begins.
The trouble for Washington is, the radicals are still fanatical – and the best fighters. Minus outside intervention, they will win. So the U.S. pours in more help to their new moderate allies. More weapons. Bigger weapons. More money. Air support. Trainers. Ground troops. Whatever it takes to win an “honorable peace.” And install a moderate regime before withdrawing.
If they can withdraw.
The moderates, you see, never enjoyed the support of most of their country’s people. They didn’t earn their stripes in the war against the former regime. Because of U.S. help, they never had to up their game militarily. So they’re weak. Putting them in power isn’t enough. If the U.S. leaves, they collapse.
Boy, is the U.S. in a pickle now.
Americans troops are getting offed by a determined radical insurgency. The harder the Americans try to crush the nuts, the stronger and bigger they get (because excessive force by invaders radicalizes moderate – but patriotic – fence sitters). Moreover, their puppet allies are a pain in the ass. Far from being grateful, the stooges resent the fact that the U.S. armed their enemies during the original uprising against the fallen dictatorship. The puppet-puppetmaster relationship is inherently one characterized by mistrust.
Starting with the Carter and Reagan Administrations’ arming of the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the 1980s and continuing today with the ineffectual and ornery Hamid Karzai, the Quagmire Pattern is how the U.S. intervention unfolded in Afghanistan.
However, the American electorate isn’t told this. They are repeatedly told that abandonment – as opposed to isolationism – is the problem. “The decisive factor in terms of the rise of the Taliban and al-Qaida was the fact that the United States and most of the international community simply walked away and left it to Pakistan and to other more extremist elements to determine Afghanistan’s future in the ’90s,” claims James Dobbins, former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo in a standard retell of the Abandonment Narrative.
The logical implication, of course, is that the U.S. – er, the “international community” – shouldn’t have left Afghanistan in the early 1990s. We ought to have remained indefinitely. The problem with this argument is that we have been over there for 12 straight years, and have little to show for our efforts. (It also ignores history. The U.S. was involved in the 1996-2001 Afghan civil war. It helped both sides: weapons to the Northern Alliance, tens of millions of dollars to the Taliban.)
The Abandonment Narrative is total bullshit – but it has the force of media propagandizers behind it.
The Quagmire Pattern has played out in Afghanistan. And in Iraq. Again in Libya, where a weak central government propped up by the Obama Administration is sitting on its hands as Islamist militias engage in genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Now the Quagmire Pattern is unfolding again, this time in Syria. When the uprising against the secular socialist government of Bashar al-Assad began two years ago, the U.S. rushed in with money, trainers and indirect arms sales. Jihadis received most of the bang-bang goodies. Now people like Dobbins are arguing in favor of weapons transfers from Pentagon arms depots to the Syrian opposition. And President Obama is considering using sketchy allegations that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons – here we go again with the WMDs – as a pretext for invading Syria with ground troops.
Dobbins admits that there are “geopolitical risks,” including distracting ourselves from America’s other Big Possible Future War, against Iran. Yet he still wants to arm the Syrian rebels, who include members of Al Qaeda.
There is, he told NPR, “the possibility that the intervention wouldn’t work and that it would look like a failure.”
“Possibility”? Such interventions have never worked.
So why does he still want to give weapons to people who will probably wind up aiming them at American soldiers?
“I think the consequences of not acting and the risks of not acting are even greater.”
In other words: we do what we do because that’s what we do.
That’s how the Quagmire Pattern works.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
The US war of words against Syria is marred by hypocrisy and a lack of realism.
You’d need a team of linguists to tease out the internal contradictions, brazen hypocrisies and verbal contortions in President Barack Obama’s call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power.
“The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but…”
The “but” belies the preceding phrase—particularly since its speaker controls the ability and possible willingness to enforce his desires at the point of a depleted uranium warhead.
“The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing and slaughtering his own people,” Obama continued. One might say the same thing of Obama’s own calls for dialogue and reform in Iraq and Afghanistan. Except, perhaps, for the fact that the Iraqis and Afghans being killed are not Obama’s “own people”. As you no doubt remember from Bush’s statements about Saddam Hussein, American leaders keep returning to that phrase: “killing his own people”.
Now the Euros are doing it. “Our three countries believe that President Assad, who is resorting to brutal military force against his own people and who is responsible for the situation, has lost all legitimacy and can no longer claim to lead the country,” British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a joint statement.
If you think about this phrase, it doesn’t make sense. Who are “your” own people? Was Hitler exempt because he didn’t consider his victims to be “his” people? Surely Saddam shed few tears for those gassed Kurds. Anyway, it must have focus-grouped well back in 2002.
“We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way,” Obama went on. “He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” Here is US foreign policy summed up in 39 words: demanding the improbable and the impossible, followed by the arrogant presumption that the president of the United States has the right to demand regime change in a nation other than the United States.