SYNDICATED COLUMN: 7 Questions You Should Ask About Syria

Lightening-Quick Obama Makes Bush’s “Rush to War” Look Slow and Methodical

Ten years ago, George W. Bush and his henchmen were beginning their war against Iraq. They wanted to invade hours after 9/11. But conning Congress and the public into invading a country that posed no threat to us delayed the invasion until March 2003. This week, as the media celebrates the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s iconic speech, it is shock- and awe-inspiring to see how far America has come. Where it took a white president a year and a half to pour on enough lies of omission, contextual lapses and leaps of logic to gin up a stupid, illegal war in the Middle East, our black president did it in a week.

Here we go again. A Baathist autocrat is in American crosshairs. The justification: WMDs. Also, he “kills his own people.” Which we haven’t cared about before. But: WMDs.

Ten years ago, the Baathist tyrant of Iraq denied the WMD accusations and invited UN weapons inspectors to verify his claim. Which they did. Because he was telling the truth. But the Bushies didn’t want to wait. No time! Had to invade right away!

And: again. “At this juncture, the belated decision by the regime to grant access to the UN team is too late to be credible,” an Obama official said five days after Syrian troops allegedly fired poison gas into a neighborhood on the outskirts of Damascus, killing over 1000 people.

“Too late”? Really? Assad’s government OKed the inspection less than 48 hours after the UN asked. On a weekend. I have editors who don’t get back to me that quickly. Doesn’t seem like a slow response from a government that doesn’t have diplomatic relations with the U.S. Also, they’re kinda busy fighting a civil war.

Now is a good time to think about some things the American mainstream media is omitting from their coverage — concerns strikingly similar to issues that never got discussed back in 2002 and 2003.

1. “Chemical weapons were used in Syria,” Secretary of State John Kerry says. Probably. But by whom? Maybe the Syrian army, maybe the rebels. Experts tell NPR: “The Free Syrian Army has the experience and perhaps even the launching systems to perpetrate such an attack.” Maybe we should ease off on the cruise missiles before we know which side is guilty.

2. Assuming the attack was launched by the Syrian army, who gave the order to fire? Maybe it’s Assad or his top generals. Assad denies this, calling the West’s accusations “nonsense” and “an insult to common sense.” Which, when you think about it, is true. As Barbara Walters and others who have met the Syrian dictator have found, Assad is not an idiot or a madman. He is a well-educated, intelligent man Why would he brush off Obama’s “red line” about the use of chemical weapons last year? His nation borders Iraq, so it’s not like he needs reminders of what happens when you attract unwanted attention from the U.S. Why would Assad take that chance? His forces are doing well. If the attack came from Assad’s forces, maybe it originated on the initiative of a lower-level officer. Should the U.S. go to war over the possible actions of a mid-ranked army officer who went rogue?

3. “The options that we are considering are not about regime change,” says the White House PR flack. So why is Obama “days away” from a military strike? To “send a message,” in Beltway parlance. But the air war that the attack on Syria is reportedly being modeled after, Clinton’s campaign against Serbia during the 1990s, caused the collapse of the Serbian government. Regional players think, and some hope, that degrading Assad’s military infrastructure could turn the war in favor of the Syrian rebels. If toppling Assad isn’t Obama’s goal, why chance it?

4. When you bomb one side in a civil war — a side that, by the way, might be innocent of the chemical attack — you help their enemies. Assad is bad, but as we saw in post-Saddam Iraq, what follows a dictator can be worse. Syria’s rebel forces include radical Islamists who aren’t very nice guys. They’ve installed Taliban-style Sharia law in the areas they control, issuing bizarre edicts (they’ve outlawed croissants) and carrying out floggings and executions, including the recent whipping and fatal shooting of a 14-year-old boy for making an offhand remark about Mohammed. Obama is already sending them arms and cash. Should we fight their war for them too?

5. Why are chemical weapons considered especially bad? Because the U.S. has moved on to other, more advanced ways to kill people. And because we claim to be exceptional. Paul Waldman of The American Prospect notes: “We want to define our means of warfare as ordinary and any other means as outside the bounds of humane behavior, less for practical advantage than to convince ourselves that our actions are moral and justified.” And, as Dominic Tierney argued in The Atlantic, “Powerful countries like the United States cultivate a taboo against using WMD partly because they have a vast advantage in conventional arms.” If 100,000 people have died in Syria during the last two years, why are these 1000 deaths different?

6. White phosphorus is a chemical weapon that kills people with slow, agonizing efficiency, melting their bodies down to their bones. The U.S. dropped white phosphorus in Iraq, notably in the battle of Fallujah. The U.S. uses depleted uranium bombs in Afghanistan. Those are basically chemical weapons. The U.S. uses non-chemical weapons that shock the world’s conscience, such as cluster bombs that leave brightly colored canisters designed to attract playful children. Assuming the Assad regime is guilty as charged of the horrors in Damascus, why does the U.S. have the moral standing to act as jury and executioner?

7. Why us? Assuming that military action is appropriate in Syria, why is the United States constantly arguing that we should carry it out? Why not France, which has a colonial history there? Or Turkey, which is right next door? Or, for that matter, Papua New Guinea? Why is it always us?

Because our political culture has succumbed to militarism. Which has made us so nuts that we’ve gone from zero to war in a week. Which brings up a quote from the “forgotten MLK,” from 1967: “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”

Some things never change.

(Ted Rall’s website is Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)



  • aaronwilliams135
    August 29, 2013 9:08 AM

    Missing an “us” in the last paragraph. You can remove this comment.

  • alex_the_tired
    August 29, 2013 11:47 AM

    Question 8. How likely is it that the “Syrian Electronic Army” has been able to shut down the Times’ site for two days in a row? At least for me, it’s two days in a row. I’ve been trying to get onto the site all morning, and I can only access the limited version through the quad address.

    Is it just me? Have they finally gotten fed up with my constant harping?

  • aaronwilliams135
    August 29, 2013 12:55 PM

    @Alex. My NYtimes access just came back online. I was down for 2 days. Also regarding S.E.A., I suspect Russian “advisors” involvement.

  • alex_the_tired
    August 29, 2013 1:13 PM

    Russians, CIA, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, whoever. The point is, I have a lot of trouble buying that a group of hackers who feel so strongly about Syria one way or the other were able to target the New York Times so effectively. In compsci, the adage is that all problems are easy when you have enough people working on it. I don’t know how many Syrian computer hackers there are, but I bet there are a lot more American, Chinese, and Russian ones, all working under contract.

  • aaronwilliams135
    August 29, 2013 1:19 PM

    @Ted. It’s a great article. I agree with all of your points. If this is really about Israel and Iran, then let them sort it out. Also, nice to see your (first?) acknowledgement that radical Islamists suck.

    Just a side note for you: “Willie Pete” (militarese for white phosphorus) is almost exclusively delivered via artillery and mortar shells, so I would just say “utilized” rather than “dropped”. Same with DU, which is essentially just a super-heavy and stronger-than-steel bullet which is fired from a tank or aircraft cannon, not a bomb which is dropped.

  • aaronwilliams135
    August 29, 2013 1:31 PM

    @Alex. So what, you’re suggesting a politically motivated inside job? Well, I guess anything is possible.

    My point is, from what I understand (no hacker, I) the Russians–and I’m talking Russian military, not pimply kids–are top tier techs. I would not put it past Putin to send in a tech hit squad to fuck with us. Firstly, just for the fun of it. Secondly, to test their capabilities and our defenses in a real world action.

  • “Some things never change.”

    And why not? You have zero influence on foreign policy. From birth until the day you die, you — Ted Rall — will have had ZERO effect on US foreign policy. Same goes for everyone reading this.

    What does it take to get through liberal heads that learning about all this stuff, the history, the religion, the people, etc …. MEANS NOTHING with respect to influencing US foreign policy. Those that don’t understand how foreign policy is crafted and carried out are the same people who are so baffled as to why nothing changed from Bush to Obama.

    Some things never change? Indeed. Including self-delusion.

  • aaronwilliams135
    August 29, 2013 2:33 PM

    Speaking of unwanted a-holes, whatever happened to Whimsical? It would be funny to see him try to spin Obama’s rush to war as our fault.

    I guess I missed the part where Ted claimed that by writing this article he was going to change US foreign policy.

    I’ve always considered the search for truth to be it’s own reward.

  • Well said aaron. I don’t think anyone here thinks we will change anything. We also know that the USG doesn’t want our opinions and that they make decisions based upon self-serving agendas without regard to morality, justice, or sense. We’re just talking about what is good for the people; about the way things should be done. Someone has got to point the way to a better world or the only thing left to do is give up on life.

  • alex_the_tired
    August 29, 2013 10:19 PM


    What I’m suggesting is that we’ve seen this before. Sure, possibly it’s the Russians. Maybe it’s the Chinese. Heck, possibly it IS the Syrian Electronic Army. For all I know, it’s Ted on a Commodore 64, bouncing the signal off the satellite that used to control the Fembots.

    What I do know for sure is that the current administration doesn’t just veil itself in secrecy. It lies to us: deliberately, actively lies. All our email is being copied. Our phone calls are being recorded. Our physical mail is being photographed. The people who pulled back the curtain to show us what was going on? One of them will almost certainly never live to see outside of prison again. The other one will almost certainly die in Russia under “suspicious” circumstances (or disappear).

    And now we’re being told that it’s the “Syrian Electronic Army”? I’ve got a shiny dollar coin for the first reporter who simply tells the president to his face that no one believes a word he says any more.

  • aaronwilliams135
    August 30, 2013 8:30 AM

    @Jack. Wholeheartedly agree. It’s the not giving up on life part that is the trick. Being able to visit a forum like this where folks talk sense is a big help.

    @Alex. No doubt that our government is capable of anything and can’t be trusted.

    We’ve both staked out plausible scenarios here, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, eventually comes out about this. I’ll bet you 1 imaginary internet dollar that I’m right! haha