Hypocritical Righteousness on Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry waxed eloquent about the need to punish national leaders who violate international law. He meant Syria’s Bashar al-Assad but his lecture could have applied to American officials who enabled the invasion of Iraq, including himself, just one of many U.S. hypocrisies, as Lawrence Davidson notes.

By Lawrence Davidson

President Barack Obama sidestepped the political hole he had dug for himself (what we might call the “red line” hole) over his proposed attack on Syria. Having insisted there must be “consequences” for a breach of international law, specifically the alleged use of banned chemical weapons by the Syrian government, he was faced with both popular American reluctance to support military action and congressional pique over not being included in the decision process.

As a consequence President Obama announced on Aug. 31 that he now supports a congressional debate and vote on the issue of attacking Syria. Then he told us how he sees the situation, “This [Syrian chemical] attack is an assault on human dignity. … It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. … Ultimately this is not about who occupies this [White House] office at any given time, it’s about who we are as a country.”

Secretary of State John Kerry (center) testifies on the Syrian crisis before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. At the left of the photo is Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. and on the right is Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. (U.S. State Department photo)

For all I know, the President really believes his own words, but I am pretty sure his implied question of “who we are as a country” is meant to be rhetorical. If one was to give an evidence-based answer to that inquiry, as it relates to chemical weapons, it would be embarrassing in the extreme.

Lest we forget, the U.S. defoliated parts of Vietnam with a chemical weapon called Agent Orange and by its use killed a lot more than large swaths of jungle. Agent Orange killed and maimed an estimated 400,000 Vietnamese and an estimated half a million children have subsequently been born deformed. It also did a fatal job on many of the American troops that handled the stuff.

Later, the U.S. sold chemical and biological weapons-grade material to Saddam Hussein and followed up by helping his army aim the stuff accurately at Iranian troops. Saddam also used it on the Iraqi Kurds. Then there is the fact that our “very special friend,” Israel, used phosphorous bombs (a banned chemical weapon) on the civilians of Gaza. At the time Israel did this, President Obama occupied the Oval Office.

I don’t remember him displaying any moral angst or positioning U.S. ships in the eastern Mediterranean with cruise missiles aimed at Israeli airbases. The truth is that during all of these episodes no one in the government worried (at least publicly) about what our actions or lack thereof, said about what sort of country this is.

However, this question does deserve a direct answer. What sort of country is the U.S. in relation to the use of chemical weapons? The kindest answer one can give is it is a bloody hypocritical nation.

Back to Congress

Nonetheless, sending the issue of a possible attack on Syria to Congress is a timely political move for the President. It puts off having to face the dilemma of taking military action that cannot both constitute meaningful punishment for the violation of international law and, at the same time, keep the U.S. from becoming ever more deeply embroiled in the Syrian civil war.

It also could be a good political move for the U.S. as a whole because it creates a good precedent. Having Congress debate and vote on the issue of military action against Syria could help resuscitate the moribund War Powers Act. Although Obama claims he has the authority to launch an attack no matter what Congress decides, he would be politically hard pressed to do so if the legislators said don’t do it.

Thus the maneuver might narrow the otherwise rapidly expanding powers of the imperial presidency. Of course, none of this means that Congress can’t be scared or otherwise bamboozled into giving the President the power to do something militarily stupid. Vietnam and Iraq stand as powerful precedents in that regard.

There is another very interesting potential consequence of the President’s going to Congress. It might create a situation where there is a publicly noticeable difference between the express desires of a majority of the voting population and the special interests now encouraging military action against Syria.

In my last analysis, I laid out the idea that in the interim between elections, influential special interests have much more to say about policy than do the voters, most of whom pay little attention to foreign policy. Now, however, we have a rare moment when the populace is paying attention and polls indicate that a healthy majority do not want further intervention in the Middle East.

Who will the Congress respond to in the upcoming debate and vote, their special interest constituents or the voting kind?

Of course, the notion that the President of the United States, with or without congressional approval, has the authority to act as the world’s “policeman” and punish violators of international laws, that it itself flaunts, is offensive and dangerous.

There are international institutions in place such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) that, imperfect as they are, can be used to prosecute violations such as the use of banned weapons. (It is to be noted that the cause of “human dignity” would be greatly advanced if the U.S. would stop refusing to ratify the treaty empowering the ICC).

How do you characterize a situation where one or a small number of community members takes it upon themselves to go outside the law to punish alleged wrongdoers? Here in the U.S. this is known as “vigilante justice.” Most often this sort of behavior results is a “lynching” based on little or no reliable evidence.

President Obama’s going to Congress will not change the vigilante nature of U.S. intentions. Let’s just hope that Congress listens to the people this time around and tells the President to keep his cruise missiles to himself. And then, let’s hope he does just that.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

12 comments for “Hypocritical Righteousness on Syria

  1. incontinent reader
    September 4, 2013 at 21:15

    The U.S. may well have planned this assemblage of naval ships and weaponry and attack for some time to put pressure on Syria, Russia and Iran, and could have set up this toxic event as as a provocation to use its military once it thought itself ready to overwhelm its opponents. Regardless, the U.S. should be prepared for an asymmetric war, including the elimination of Saudi intelligence and royalty, including Bandar who was thought to have been killed a year ago, and at times when they least expect it. While holding the U.S. accountable may be difficult if not impossible now or in the foreseeable future, especially since it controls, or at least is able to disable the international judicial machinery, there is no reason why those proxies who have been perpetuating this war should escape, nor should one expect any of those business executives who are profiting off of this war will avoid punishment in some form or other. The Administration (this one and the last) has taken us all to the abyss while letting its proxies run interference. At some point when they are more vulnerable, they will begin to fall and when they’re gone they will become harder to replace.

  2. Morton Kurzweil
    September 4, 2013 at 14:59

    The hypocrisy of hindsight serves the purposes of opposition without facts. Harvesting anecdotal evidence supports those who are convinced, the blind and the deaf.
    Anti-Israeli rhetoric has no place in the poison gas genocide in Syria, or the internecine wars in Iraq and Iran.
    There is no place for atomic arms or poison gas in the morality of humanity.
    Petty insinuations of ethnic bigotry is the mob delusion of fear and ignorance.

  3. Atticus Madison
    September 4, 2013 at 13:21

    The only entity to benefit from the Syrian conflict is Israel. It not only has a record of false flag operations like the gas attack, but has long desired an excuse to permanently expand its territory. Its wholly owned subsidiary, the U.S. Congress, is easily coerced into contriving an excuse to attack Syria and Iran to start Israel’s bloodwork. The U.S has nothing to gain by continuing its violations of international law and by bowing to the dictates of AIPAC. Such cowardly, immoral actions by politicians claiming to uphold the law and morals of the world! Disgraceful.

  4. Professor Smartass
    September 4, 2013 at 12:06

    I mentioned this in a White House petition I posted:

    I tried to make this as blunt as possible, so if it becomes visible, it will at least be embarrassing to them.

    The US had no moral authority to punish Syria’s war crimes while our own war criminals aren’t prosecuted.

    The Bush administration committed far worse war crimes than Syria, including starting a war of aggression against Iraq, using torture, the chemical weapon white phosphorus, the radiological weapon depleted uranium, and attempting to restructure Iraq’s economy for the benefit of oil companies and Wall Street, not to mention a million Iraqis killed.

    Further, Syria could never be a threat to us, given our massive and well-known nuclear arsenal to retaliate.

    It is also doubtful that the stated justifications for the military attack are the actual reason, given the bipartisan support for brutal and oppressive regimes that serve business interests who donate to both parties.

    Do not attack Syria, but instead, explain publicly who is demanding this attack and what they expect to gain from it.


    • Pickerl
      September 4, 2013 at 13:33


      I found John Kerry’s transcript to congress in ’71. I updated it for today.

      The following is an excerpt from the US Secretary of State, John F. Kerry (fought in the Vietnam War as a gunboat officer. Proving to be a brave and valiant soldier, he earned several military honors, including the Silver Star, Bronze Star with Combat V (for valor) and three Purple Hearts (biography.com )) with regard to Vietnam that I updated and believe that he should read.
      We who have come here to Washington have come here because we feel we have to be winter soldiers now. We could come back to this country; we could be quiet; we could hold our silence; we could not tell what went on in [Iraq/Afghanistan] Vietnam, but we feel because of what threatens this country, the fact that the crimes threaten it, not [Syria] reds, and not [Assad] redcoats but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out.
      …In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart….
      We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them.
      We [will fight] fought using weapons against those people which I do not believe this country would dream of using were we fighting in the [Russian] European theater or let us say a non-third-world people theater, and so we watched while men charged up hills because a general said that hill has to be taken, and after losing one platoon or two platoons they marched away to leave the high for the reoccupation by [Al-Qaeda] the North Vietnamese because we watched pride allow the most unimportant of battles to be blown into extravaganzas, because we couldn’t lose, and we couldn’t retreat, and because it didn’t matter how many American bodies were lost to prove that point.
      VIETNAMIZATION [Democratization]
      Now we [know] are told that the men who [fight] fought there must watch quietly while American lives are lost so that we can exercise the incredible arrogance of [Democratizing] Vietnamizing the [Arab world] Vietnamese….
      …someone has to give up his life so that the United States doen’st [sic] have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can’t say they [that] we have made a mistake. Someone has to die so that President [Obama] Nixon won’t be, and these are [not] his words, “the first President to lose a war.”
      We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in [Syria, Afghanistan] Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

      We are asking here in Washington for some action, action from the Congress of the United States of America which as the power to raise and maintain armies, and which by the Constitution also has the power to declare war [or not].
      We have come here, not to the President, because we believe that this body can be responsive to the will of the people, and we believe that the will of the people says that we should be out of [the Middle East] Vietnam now….
      We are also here to ask, and we are here to ask vehemently, where are the leaders of our country? Where is the leadership? We are here to ask where are [Ayotte, Blumenthal, Blunt, Chambliss, Cruz, Donnelly, Fischer, Gillibrand, Hagan, Inhofe, Kaine, Lee, Leven, Machin, McCain, McCaskill, Nelson, Reed, Sessions, Shaneen, Udal, Vitten, and Wicker ] McNamara, Rostow, Bundy, Gilpatric, and so many others. Where are they now that we, the men whom they sent off to war, have returned [and said “No more war in our name]? These are commanders who have deserted their troops, and there is no more serious crime in the law of war. The Army says they never leave their wounded. The Marines say they never leave even their dead. These men [will] have [created] left all the casualties and retreated behind a pious shield of public rectitude….
      The above were the words of John F. Kerry, Vietnam Veterans against the War (VVAW) national leader 1971, except in brackets; those are mine, except where cited.

  5. F. G. Sanford
    September 4, 2013 at 10:03

    The red line is actually a red herring. The current AIPAC strategy being marketed to its benefactors in Congress is the threat of a unilateral strike by Israel against Iran. This, of course, raises the spectre of regional chaos into which the US would be dragged. That would occur anyway, but if the US strikes first, Israel would be spared any expensive consequences and retain the plausible deniability that it had instigated war to enhance its expansionist policies. The contracts that Genie Energy and one of its principal investors, Dick Cheney, have with Israel to exploit Golan Heights petroleum resources would also be jeopardized. If, on the other hand, Israel succeeds in reasoning with the congressmen and women it patronizes, it gets to keep Golan. Syria and Jordan become convenient refugee destinations where Palestinians will eventually be resettled. The anger of radical Islamists will likely then be directed toward Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council states. Recent cooperation between Bandar bin Sultan and Mossad indicate that the Gulf States are willingly cooperating in this endeavor, much to Israel’s satisfaction. It will be left to them to figure out how to redirect the Sunni Jihadis against Shia Iran, which will remain the last obstacle to the Caspian Pipeline and unfettered western exploitation of the region’s petroleum resources. Russia, with its own smoldering Islamic population, may hesitate to take the risk of overtly defending Iran. China would benefit from economic cooperation with Iran, but enjoys the luxury of strategic detachment. All in all, US military action against Syria insures energy stability for the next twenty to twenty five years, maintains domestic tranquility, effectively isolates Iran and consolidates Israeli control of the US government. The economy will improve significantly. Gas prices will fall. Reduction of Syria’s population will concomitantly help alleviate the region’s gravest current dilemma: food shortages. All in all, it’s a win-win situation. I expect our Congress will do the right thing and vote in favor of military intervention. Such a deal! What could possibly go wrong?

  6. E
    September 3, 2013 at 23:11

    Once again, national pride precedes national reason. Obama publicly tied his hands with that ‘red line’ and will now have to enforce the tough guy mentality even if Congress says no. America’s hypocrisy will reign supreme when depleted uranium is found in the launched cruise missiles. I’m sure the people of Fallujah won’t fail to see the irony in that.

  7. bobzz
    September 3, 2013 at 22:43

    Obama opened his blg mouth on the ‘red line’, and now he feels he has to do something. My hope is that he is looking for a way out. If Congress votes him down, he could say. “I know I told you that I have the authority to launch a missile strike without Congressional approval, but they did say ‘No’, and David Cameron set aside what he wanted to do by listening to his people. I, therefore, have concluded that I to must listen to the will of the people”. Oh c’mon; I can dream can’t I?

    • Geraald Perdue
      September 4, 2013 at 11:14

      Congress doesn’t have the courage to vote him down.

      • dfnslblty
        September 4, 2013 at 11:52

        they don’t have the legal integrity to represent their constituants; add moral to your comment and I’ll agree.

  8. jaycee
    September 3, 2013 at 22:26

    Should Obama not being facing immediate impeachment proceedings for declaring himself above both the US Constitution and international law as represented by the UN?

    • bobzz
      September 3, 2013 at 22:36

      Perhaps. We missed the chance to impeach Johnson, Nixon, Bush I and Bush II. All of these guys got us into unnecessary wars. And then, of course, Reagan in Iran-Contra, undermining Carter by talking Iran into keeping the hostages past the election. And this is just recent history.

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