Terra Incognita: Irrational condemnation of Obama

It can’t be that only the US is responsible for stopping war crimes.

By
September 2, 2013 21:32
President Barack Obama speaks about Syria next to VP Joe Biden at the White House, August 31, 2013.

Obama Biden talking Syria white house 31.8.13 370. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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Confused, weak, ineffectual, prevaricating, hesitant; all those words, and other synonyms gathered from a thesaurus that commentators likely keep at hand for these types of situations, have been used to castigate the US president’s “inaction” on Syria. He has been lambasted for abandoning Israel and giving the Iranians the feeling that their nuclear program will never be opposed.

Israeli Journalist Avi Issacharoff claimed “Israel is truly alone” and Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett said it “proves once more that Israel cannot count on anyone but itself.” Fellow party member and MK, Uri Ariel, claimed last week that “we, as people, we as Jews, cannot remain silent in the face of genocide.” A half page ad in Haaretz, run by a dentist, asked Obama “don’t you have any teeth?” Israel’s press has been similarly apoplectic. Yediot Aharonot ran a cover showing Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur and Syria, asking “until when?” Bradley Burston goes further; “here in the Holy Land, the genocide in Syria has made all of us, Israelis and Palestinians both, into the townspeople of Auschwitz [living next to genocide]… President Obama no longer has the option of nothing.”

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LET’S TAKE a step back for a moment. First of all, there is something massively hypocritical about those outside the US who “demand” US action “immediately” in Syria. Ariel told Army Radio that Assad should be “taken care of already.” It sounds like “yalla, get going America.”

For those that demand America do more, perhaps they should demand their government do something, rather than tell everyone else to do more. There is an incredible dissonance for non-Americans to sit around on their armchairs and “demand action” from the US. If their logic is that the Syrian actions are similar to genocide than it is incumbent on all 200 countries in the world to take action.

It can’t be that only the US is responsible for stopping war crimes and enforcing international norms. How about Brazil, South Africa, India, Australia or Nigeria? Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal has “urged US action” on Syria. He claims that his country can’t be bothered to do anything. “There is no capacity in the Arab world to respond to this crises,” he said.

Really? There are 22 Arab states and they don’t have the “capacity” to do anything? The Saudi military alone has the most modern hardware, courtesy of the US. This consists of 310 Abrams tanks and more than 300 combat aircraft, including F-15s. It isn’t capacity that holds them back, it is cowardice. In 1991 when Saddam Hussein was on their border, they likewise hid behind America, vowing, as the saying goes, to “fight to the death of the last American.”

Turkey is the elephant in the room. It too supports US intervention, even though it shares 822 kilometers of border with Syria. But on not one kilometer can the Turkish military, outfitted with the latest NATO equipment, be called upon to say “never again.” Only the Americans can do that, from several thousand miles away.



The Arab media is full of condemnations of the US for “inaction” on Syria. Hussein Ibish, of the American Task Force on Palestine, bashes the US for “promoting” a refugee crises, intensification of the conflict and the rise of Islamist extremism through “inaction.” Elias Harfoush has bashed the US at Al-Hayat claiming “Obama sat in his oval office at the White House for two and a half years, counting the numbers of casualties among the Syrian people.”

This is the Arab world’s response: Blame America.

America doesn’t bomb people fast enough for public opinion. Not one editorial in the region seems to condemn Arab leaders for “dithering.” The princes and kings of Saudi and the Gulf, they are acceptable. But between discovering whales, sharks and sparrows that are “spying for Israel,” Egyptians throw up their hands and complain about US “inaction.”

Americans should ask themselves serious questions about whether they are being hoodwinked once again by the “international community” to do the job that the community should be doing itself. If regional powers can’t confront Syria – but those same powers demand America take action – serious questions should be asked about why Saudis and Turks can’t stand on the front line, but young men from Alabama and Maine should staff the bombing missions? The evidence for Obama’s supposed “weakness” rests on the theory that the US has not enforced its “red lines.” However the actual “red line” spelled out in August of 2012 was more nuanced; “a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized… that would change my calculus [on intervention],” Obama said. A garbled unintelligible sentence, whose actual conclusion has to do with a changing “calculus,” not even action, is what the US president is being hung on today.

But Obama has been strong in his current position: “This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security. It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. It endangers our friends… this menace must be confronted… the US should take military action.”

And Obama has done what many US presidents have done before; “I’m also mindful that I’m president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.” He stands in good company historically. On April 12, Confederate forces began the bombardment of the US Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. On April 15 Lincoln obliged the attackers: “In virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution… hereby do call forth, the militia of several states of the Union… in order to suppress” the rebellion. In 1846, after a skirmish with Mexicans on April 26, it took Congress until May 13th to declare war. William Mckinley waited two months to get a declaration of war on Spain in 1898 after a US ship was sunk in Havana.

Lyndon Johnson waited five days for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave him power to use convention forces against North Vietnam. When North Korean forces poured across the 38th parallel at dawn on June 25 it took Harry Truman – arguing that “communism was acting in Korea just as Hitler” – until July 7 to get a resolution out of the UN.

Were Mckinley, Lincoln and Truman all hesitant confused leaders? They were only sparred these accusations because they didn’t operate in a 24-hour news cycle where immediate response is measured in hours, not weeks.

THE ACCUSATION that Obama has allowed the Syrian military to escape by waiting is problematic. If the Syrians have had to disperse their chemical weapons and bury them in the desert, while breaking up their armored units and hiding tanks in orchards and in underground parking lots, this actually represents a success without firing a shot. Supposedly Sun Tzu argued that “every battle is decided before it is fought.” Assad can’t be “emboldened” by this inaction when his generals are looking skyward and some have deserted their headquarters. Let them hide.

The Syrian National Council rebel spokesman Louay Safi says Obama has shown “failed leadership.” The only failure is for the rebels not to take advantage and attack now. However, a video posted online by one Islamist rebel group shows fighters in pickups “attacking” by rounding up some truck drivers who they summarily execute as “Alawite infidels.” Are the Americans seriously expected to step into the breach where some of the Syrian rebels “heroism” consists of gunning down unarmed civilians and shouting “God is great.”

Similarly, those who preach that the use of chemical weapons is a form of genocide are missing the point. If Assad wanted to commit a genocide wouldn’t he kill more than 1,432 people with these weapons, and wouldn’t he have to actually attempt to exterminate a specific group? Saddam Hussein was thought to have killed some 50,000 Kurdish people in the Anfal genocide, where he used chemical weapons in 1988. It took until 2005 for The Hague to rule that an act of genocide.

Comparisons between Syria and Auschwitz are so far off the mark as to dishonor the victims of Auschwitz, rather than honor the victims in Syria. The hysterical preaching about American “inaction” is devoid of historical understanding and based on hyperbole and armchair generalship, more than on reality. The reality is that Obama has made a sound decision to act pragmatically with the support of the American people.


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