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Rush to War

Seven questions to ask about Syria

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DOOMED TO REPEAT Obama's request to authorize military action in Syria echoes the hasty Iraq Resolution.
  • DOOMED TO REPEAT Obama's request to authorize military action in Syria echoes the hasty Iraq Resolution.

Ten years ago, George W. Bush and his henchmen were planning their war against Iraq mere days after 9-11. But conning Congress and the public into invading a country that posed no threat delayed the invasion until March 2003. And where it took Bush a year and a half to pour on enough lies of omission, contextual lapses and leaps of logic to gin up an illegal war in the Middle East, our current president did it in a week.

Now is a good time to think about some things the American mainstream media is omitting from its 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. NPR reports that certain chemical-weapons experts maintain 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." As Barbara Walters and others who have met the Syrian dictator have found, Assad 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 United States. Why would Assad take that chance? His forces are doing well. If the attack came from Assad's forces, it may have originated on the initiative of a lower-level officer. Should the United States 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 asking Congress to authorize 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. If toppling Assad isn't Obama's goal, why chance it?

4. When you bomb one side in a civil war—a side that 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 have 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.

5. Why are chemical weapons considered especially bad? Because the United States has moved on to other, more advanced ways to kill people. 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 WMDs 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 1,000 deaths different?

6. White phosphorus is a chemical weapon that kills people with slow, agonizing efficiency, melting their bodies down to their bones. The United States dropped white phosphorus in Iraq, notably in the battle of Fallujah. The United States uses depleted uranium bombs in Afghanistan, which are basically chemical weapons. Assuming the Assad regime is guilty as charged of the horrors in Damascus, why does the United States 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? 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.

Ted Rall is an award-winning political cartoonist and columnist whose most recent book is 'The Book of Obama: How We Went from Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.'

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