Any notion that US President Barack Obama was «giving peace a chance» in his surprise announcement last weekend of not going ahead with military strikes on Syria was firmly scotched this week. The White House has gone into overdrive lobbying Congress members to back war action.
Last Saturday, Obama took the world aback when he suddenly declared that he was putting his war plans on Syria to a Congressional vote. Days before, the American president said that he could assume executive power to order prompt military strikes on the Arab country without relying on sanction from the House of Representatives or Senate.
That military intervention was given urgency following a deadly chemical gas attack near the Syrian capital, Damascus, on 21 August, which the US government and its Western allies have accused the Syrian armed forces of perpetrating. Amateur video appeared to show hundreds of dead civilians from the attack, although the exact circumstances are still not known. As usual the Western mainstream media have amplified Western government claims and have shown a derisory lack of rigor in interrogating official assertions.
However, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denies any responsibility and has countered that it was the Western-backed anti-government militant groups who carried out the atrocity. The Assad government’s view is supported by allies, Russia and Iran, and many other independent observers, who suspect that the incident was staged as a provocative act. Such an act, it is contended, is aimed at enabling Washington and its allies to respond militarily on the back of earlier ultimatums that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would constitute a «red line» triggering intervention. That view, as we shall see, is consonant with the reckless US drumbeat for war in face of the available evidence pointing to the so-called rebels as having committed the crime.
In his initial vow of military action, President Obama also said that he could give the go-ahead for American forces to strike Syria without a mandate from the United Nations Security Council – a bellicose move that caused much consternation in Moscow, Beijing and other world capitals, including the Vatican.
Then in a seeming about-turn last weekend Obama said that while he still retained the executive authority as Commander-in-Chief, he had decided to seek a vote in Congress on the weighty matter.
Obama said: «Having made my decision as Commander-in-Chief based on what I am convinced is our national security interests, I’m also mindful that I’m the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. I’ve long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. And that’s why I’ve made a second decision: I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress».
Speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House, bathed in sun and with flowers in bloom, it may have appeared that Nobel Peace Laureate Obama had «seen the light». Perhaps the US president was abruptly coming to this senses, stepping back from the warpath and taking a more reasoned political route over the Syria crisis – one that would «give peace a chance» through debate and dialogue among US lawmakers. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that the Democrat president has hesitated and flip-flopped in a predicament.
However, the international sigh of relief at Obama’s apparent balking at war was proven short-lived. Far from showing signs of flip-flopping and retreating from the warpath, Obama has over the past days led a cavalry charge on Congress to marshal a Yes vote for his plans to strike Syria. The ominous signs are that the American president is prepared to risk a military adventure in an explosive region of the world where nuclear war is a very real danger. The joint test firing of a US-Israeli ballistic missile in the Eastern Mediterranean on Tuesday underscores that a serious contingency is being contemplated.
The White House, State Department and Pentagon have triple-locked with a «lobbying blitz» on Representatives and Senators to ensure they cast their votes for war when Congress reconvenes next week on 9 September after summer recess. Many lawmakers are wary of the US entering another military quagmire and are apprehensive about the powder-keg danger of the Middle East. The risk of all-out regional war from an American attack on Syria was highlighted again this week by President Assad, who said that «the spark is getting nearer to the powder-keg».
Undeterred, Obama, together with his Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, have been personally briefing congressional leaders and various committees to back the military assault on Syria. Members of Congress have been ensconced in closed-door meetings where they have reportedly received «declassified» military intelligence to bolster «the case for punitive action» against the Assad government. Media reports suggest that the US lawmakers were merely allowed to view more amateur video footage of alleged chemical victims, as some members emerged from closed teleconference meetings and simply spoke of «shocking images», but no other form of information. Will they vote for war based on dodgy YouTube videos?
The quality of this «declassified intel» cannot be independently verified, as with the supposed evidence invoked elsewhere by the US and Western authorities in international forums. Much of the Western purported evidence relating to the 21 August incident near Damascus relies on bombastic assertions and video footage that lacks time and spatial coordinates. This is true of Kerry’s «definitive evidence» presented with much pomp and ceremony last Friday and again on Sunday claiming that the nerve toxin Sarin had been identified in blood and hair samples. Kerry did not present chain of custody details, and it seems rather strange that the Americans obtained their results so swiftly when the United Nations chemical inspection team, led by Ake Sellstrom, says that it will need two more weeks before concluding their tests into the same incident, in laboratories under the auspices of the Organization for the Prohibition on Chemical Weapons.
Another report released this week by the French government also relies heavily on amateur videos and undisclosed French military intelligence. That report concluded that «the 21 August attack outside Damascus could only have been carried out by the Assad regime» – without offering any explanation for this assertion, and in contrast to several independent sources that the Western-backed militants have been caught in possession of Sarin, such as two incidents involving Al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra in Turkey during May and June earlier this year. The French report’s claim that «only the Syrian regime could have carried out a chemical attack» is also contradicted by an official Russian study published at the start of July which found that the foreign-backed Jihadist groups were guilty of a toxic gas assault on the northern village of Khan al-Assal, near Aleppo, on 19 March this year, in which 25 people were killed.
Moreover, on the latest and apparently more serious incident near Damascus involving neurotoxins on 21 August, it has since emerged in a report by Associated Press correspondent Dale Gavlak that militants in the targeted Ghouta suburb admitted responsibility for that deadly attack. Family relatives of the militants said they had received the chemicals from Saudi Arabia without proper instructions. It was claimed that the incident might have resulted from mishandling of the rockets by the militants; others were reportedly killed by a chemical leak in tunnels used for storage.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has roundly dismissed Western claims as «unconvincing» and «unverifiable». Russian President Vladimir Putin has even gone as far as rebutting the allegations made against the Syrian armed forces as «utter nonsense».
The circumstantial evidence implicating the Western-backed mercenaries is consistent with President Barack Obama mounting a full-court propaganda offensive to railroad US lawmakers into backing his military plans. It is consistent with the US objective in Syria being regime change and a false flag provocation to expedite this objective.
To that end, Obama had no intention of backing away from the military option, despite what one may have gleaned from his press conference in the White House Rose Garden last Saturday.
That was merely a necessary change in tack by Obama, prompted by the unexpected No vote against military involvement in the British Parliament on the previous Thursday. British parliamentarians rejected Prime Minister David Cameron’s gung-ho call for Britain to join with an American strike force on Syria. It was a historic defeat for a British premier and one that signals a wider public opposition to yet another Anglo-American war in the Middle East.
Britain’s «special relationship» with the US has always provided Washington political and legal cover for overseas’ military operations. Without this British service and against the backdrop of widespread international consternation, Obama was obliged to seek the backing of Congress for his war plans. The president’s deference to Congress should not be interpreted as the Obama administration harbouring dovish sentiments.
As Obama noted in his address last weekend: «Our military has positioned assets in the region. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs [General Martin Dempsey] has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose. Moreover, the chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now. And I’m prepared to give that order».
Of concern this week was Obama’s apparent deal making with the two most hawkish figures on Capitol Hill – Republican Senators John McCain and Lyndsey Graham. Both senators have up to now been caustic in their criticism of Obama for what they perceive as his pusillanimity over Syria. They have for the last two years been calling for Washington to openly supply weapons to the militants in Syria to topple Bashar al-Assad. They have also demanded no-fly zones and US military air strikes for regime change. In warped American geopolitical calculation, it does not seem to have registered with either McCain or Graham and their reactionary ilk in Washington that the «rebels» they are supporting are al Qaeda brigades, whom the Americans are supposedly waging a global «war on terror» against.
It seems that the Obama White House and the Washington hawks have now found common cause over Syria. The New York Times reported this week that the president held an hour-long private meeting with McCain and Graham in the White House and has gained their support in the upcoming war vote in Congress. For that, Obama has agreed to supply weapons to the militants in Syria and has ordered CIA training of fighters on the ground. McCain and Graham told the Times that Obama’s military plans on Syria were serious and imminent.
«The purpose of the attack is going to be a little more robust than I thought,» Graham told the newspaper with a touch of understatement, while McCain said that the president told him that any strikes would be «very serious» and «not cosmetic».
With five US warships now off the coast of Syria with a total capacity of some 200 cruise missiles plus two aircraft carriers on the way to the region, it would be foolhardy to think Obama is bluffing. Despite overwhelming popular opposition to such action both in the US and around the world, Nobel Peace Laureate Obama seems on a reckless course to do what American presidents do best: committing yet another criminal act of war…
What this demonstrates above all is that the US government is uniformly and incorrigibly an institutional war machine. Personalities are irrelevant. It is a system inexorably geared for conflict to matter the cost in human lives, fuelled by capitalist logic to command resources, profits and hegemony.