Tuesday, January 14, 2014

When America Rejected War

Perhaps the most significant news story from 2013 was never reported on in the corporate press. It went virtually unnoticed by The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. Brian Williams, Bill O' Reilly, Scott Pelley, Charlie Rose, and Rachel Maddow made no mention of it.

It is the story of how the American people did something that would have been unthinkable ten years ago: We stopped a war. Literally.

Last September the Obama administration had Syria firmly locked in its crosshairs and was seconds away from pulling the trigger. But the American people raised their collective voices in protest and said, "No!" Diplomacy and sanctions prevailed instead of bombs and violence. And yes, we can certainly debate the merits of that diplomacy in regard to halting Syria's now three-year civil war. But for one brief moment in American history, We the People allowed peace, reason and sanity to trump war.

Rapper-poet Gil Scott-Heron was right: The revolution was not televised.

For those whose cultural amnesia prevents them from remembering anything beyond the last news-cycle, here is a bit of a refresher on Washington's latest warmonger-song-and-dance-routine.

The Middle-Eastern country in question this time around was Syria. The rationale hinged on allegations of a chemical weapons attack on rebel forces, likely ordered by President Bashar al-Assad. Since President Obama is a Democrat, the justifications for this war had less to do with striking preemptively than with intervening humanitarily--not unlike Bill Clinton's rationale for bombing Kosovo in 1999.

As was the case in the Iraq War, the chemical weapons claims were dubious from the beginning.

According to a Sept. 2013 story in McClatchy by Hannah Allam and Mark Siebel (09/02/2013), the administration's case for war was "riddled with inconsistencies," and hinged "mainly on circumstantial evidence." More recently veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh published an article in the London Review of Books, claiming the Obama administration "cherry-picked intelligence" to "justify a strike against Assad." In his report, Hersh maintains it was Syrian rebels operating in the al-Nusra Front that conducted the chemical weapons attack--not Assad. (Al-Nusra is a branch of al-Qaeda in Syria.)

Regardless of who specifically attacked whom with what and when, it was clear our elected elites were again using a batch of dubious talking-points to justify another war. The American public had seen this movie before, and had no desire for a sequel.

As such, an August CBS/New York Times poll found 61 percent of Americans (or six out of every ten) opposed military action in Syria. A Reuters/Ipsos poll from later that month cast the lack of public support for an invasion even more derisively with a Washington Post headline that read, "New Poll: Syria intervention even less popular than Congress" (08/26/13). That survey found a whopping nine percent of respondents favored war. And it was not just progressives who were speaking out. Anti-war libertarians like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) opposed the Syria strike more on practical (costs too much; not our fight, etc.) than moral grounds.

Indeed, congressional representatives on the left and the right were doing something heretofore unfathomable: They were listening to their constituents and acting on their demands. I know--crazy, right?

As Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman wrote of Secretary of State John Kerry's Colin Powell-esq U.N. testimony, in her weekly column ("Americans Say No to Another Middle East War," 09/19/13):

"After 12 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, thousands dead, tens of thousands maimed and trillions of dollars spent, the U.S. public won't take the rehearsed oratory of an appointed official as sufficient grounds for war."

Likewise, the Green Party of the United States voiced opposition to the planned Syrian war early on. In an Aug. 29, 2013 press release, the Greens called any attack on Syria a "serious abuse of presidential powers." The Greens also called on Congress to repeal the Authorization to Use Military Force Act (AUMF), passed shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. The AUMF essentially gives the president carte blanche to unilaterally strike any country it perceives as even a remote threat under the guise of the "War on Terror."

Anyone who thought the mainstream press might have learned a thing or two about sending the nation to war based on lies, sadly would have thought wrong. Quite the reverse, the warmongering, "liberal" press ate-up the White House's chemical weapons story as if Iraq never happened. In fact, when Obama's war plans were suddenly derailed many political pundits seemed downright disappointed.

Washington Post uber-conservative columnist, Charles Krauthammer, decried the Russian peace deal as an instance of "epic incompetence," claiming it serves only so President Obama can "save face" ("The Fruits of Epic Incompetence," 09/12/13).

He laments:

Assad, far from receiving punishment of any kind, goes from monster to peace partner. Putin bestrides the world stage, playing dealmaker. He's welcomed by America as a constructive partner. Now a world statesman, he takes to the New York Times to blame American interventionist arrogance--a.k.a "American exceptionalism"--for inducing small states to buy WMDs in the first place.

Hold up! Vladimir Putin not only brokers a peace deal, but he gets to write an editorial in the communist, America-hating New York Times, as well...??? Say it ain't so, Charlie!

Other media hawks used the lack of a military strike as further evidence of Obama's "weakness" on matters of foreign policy and "defense." These claims are, of course, laughably absurd when one considers that both the military-spending budget and global U.S. troop presence have increased under Obama. Funny how conservatives drop their "support the troops" mantra once a Democrat--who turns out to be more militant than his Republican predecessor--takes office.

So, does this mean we have finally ended the use of war as an instrument of foreign policy? Hardly.

But it does mean, more than a decade after the greatest foreign policy blunder in U.S. history, the American people are slowly waking up to the moral, legal, and economic fallacies of war. Indeed, ten years ago when the country was gearing up to invade Iraq, the atmosphere surrounding antiwar protests was markedly different.

Simplistic as the sentiment may sound to some, Marvin Gaye was right: War is never the answer. It is barbaric, destructive and represents the most baser, savage of human behaviors. In the nearly 100,000 years of human history, it is inconceivable we have not yet rid ourselves of the lust for war.

"Oh war! Thy son of hell," Shakespeare wrote in Henry IV, Part II, "Whom angry heavens do make their minister."

"Throw in the frozen bosoms of our part
Hot coals of vengeance! Let no soldier fly.
He that is truly dedicate to war
Hath no self-love, nor he that loves himself,
Hath not essentially but by circumstance
The name of valour."

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