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US and Syria: Sound, fury and a quiet retreat
Publication Date : 13-09-2013
US President Barack Obama, after all the muscle-flexing and macho nationalism, has beaten a humiliating retreat. He has postponed a congressional vote on military strikes against Syria citing "give diplomacy a chance" reason although he knows that this was the only option left to avoid a certain defeat in his bid for domestic political support for war and conflict.
In fact President Obama has a lot to answer for, and it is the sound sense of the peoples of the US, UK and several European Nato allies that yet another disaster has been averted, at least momentarily.
Instead of bowing to the will of the people and accepting his administration’s Syrian policy as "faulty", Obama like the proverbial bully warned the world not to harbour or develop chemical weapons, and kept the option of war open saying “it is too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments.”
The offer he was referring to came not from democratic America, but from Russia that under Vladimir Putin had taken an exceptionally strong position against a strike. Putin in fact has emerged through this crisis as a strong leader, willing to call the US at their game to protect the interests of his country and allies as well. There was no chickening out till the end, with support then gravitating towards the Russian leader who was steadfast in his ‘no strike against Syria’ stance.
The result was that at the G-20 summit, President Obama was unable to garner sufficient support, and returned to Washington with stiff opposition from Russia, China as well as a "no" from most other countries including of course the UK, where David Cameron was prevented from following in Tony Blair's footsteps by his people and their representatives in Parliament.
However, the arrogance with which successive US Presidents address the world is shocking and reprehensible. “Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used,” Obama said.
Are American "ideals and principles" now to violate sovereignty and international laws and covenants, to defy the United Nations' collective will, to wage war and violence? Surely not. After all should not diplomacy be the first and only option in today’s world, instead of the last resort as the Obama administration has made it?
Instead of insisting on policing the world, it would be wise for President Obama to realise that this role is no longer acceptable to the world.
And in using military might and force, the US is fast losing its standing and support amongst even so called allies. More so as lies and propaganda are being used by the US to justify war, as was the case in both Iraq and Libya. Till date former US President George W Bush has not explained how the most powerful nation in the world had read it so wrong, and had destroyed a country without finding the infamous weapons of mass destruction.
President Obama and his advisers must also stop and take stock.
And ask themselves that even with the video that has gone viral, no one---not even Americans---believe them when they insist that the Syrian government has attacked its own people with chemical weapons. Is it a case of crying ‘wolf’ too often, for despite pulling out all the plugs Obama has not been able to convince the world and get its support for an attack on Syria.
His assertion, “But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act”, is ridiculous and can make sense perhaps only to the neo-cons who justify insanity as reason. How can a strike, a willful military act of aggression against another country be described as “modest effort and risk” when even the American teenager knows that it can open all kinds of possibilities leading to escalated violence and war.
Syria made it clear that when confronted with military aggression, limited or otherwise, it would not turn the other cheek; Iran and Hezbollah spoke out in support of Syria; Russia and China literally entered the waters, with the world being very clearly told that a US attack would not be limited. Secondly, how ironic it is that to save Syrian children from being gassed President Obama threatens war that will bring untold suffering to the same children he claims to want to protect.
And third, this nationalist argument used over and over again by Bush junior, “our people have to be saved” has peaked, and after Iraq is clearly not motivating the American people to support yet another war in West Asia. All said and told President Obama and his macho military machine had to back off, eating dust as they did so. The power of the people across the globe made itself felt, with any number of demonstrations against the strike. The Americans too came out on the streets in large numbers, adding to the pressure that would have impacted on the congressional vote had Obama continued with his misadventure.
Defeat was a certainty and while a US President today can ignore the entire world, he will find it difficult to ignore his own people. However, given the larger game plan that the neo-cons have drawn up for West Asia, this President will be compelled to pick up the threads of strike and war again during his term in office.
Whether he succeeds then, or fails as he has now, remains to be seen but until the entire policy towards West Asia is changed, Washington will keep revisiting the region with the only strategy it knows: violence. Diplomacy and peace is only for the West, or for countries like Russia and China that can hold their own. The rest of the world is a ‘colony’ to be exploited, whipped, and attacked at will.
The writer is a consulting editor of The Statesman