Official Washington’s neocons still influence U.S. foreign policy despite their Iraq War disaster. Forever pushing what they view as Israel’s strategic needs, the neocons now are stoking fires of war against Iran and Syria by piling on old and new arguments, reports Robert Parry.
Journalistically, there’s a problem with this passage from Monday’s New York Times: “Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon of Israel … castigated Iran as being dedicated to a nuclear weapon and acting to deceive, and he repeated Israel’s warning that it would not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon.” Can you tell what the flaw is?
If the New York Times were acting in a professional and objective manner, the next line would have read something like: “Of course, Israel itself developed a nuclear bomb in secret decades ago and now has possibly the most sophisticated undeclared nuclear arsenal on earth.” But the Times chose not to remind its readers of Israel’s stunning hypocrisy as a rogue nuclear-armed state condemning Iran for supposedly harboring a desire for a nuke, a weapon that Iran doesn’t have and says it doesn’t want.
That sort of double standard is common in the mainstream U.S. news media when reporting on Israel and its Muslim adversaries. But to let an Israeli official get away with castigating Iran for contemplating something that Israel has already done – without mentioning the hypocrisy – is a clear violation of journalistic standards. Indeed, it is evidence of bias.
Meanwhile, the neocon editors of the Washington Post are continuing their new campaign to pressure President Barack Obama into issuing more military ultimatums to Syria, another Israeli “enemy.” The logic seems to be that if Obama keeps issuing ultimatums eventually Syria won’t comply or won’t be able to comply, thus creating a casus belli, much as when President George W. Bush demanded that Iraq surrender WMD that it didn’t have.
In a double-barreled blast on Tuesday, the Post published a lead editorial and then a separate op-ed by its editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt making essentially the same argument – that Obama’s diplomacy over Syria has failed and that it’s time for more military threats or even a military intervention in Syria’s civil war. That “theme” was quickly picked up by other U.S. news outlets, including “liberal” MSNBC.
Yet, the real problem with Obama’s Syria strategy is that it is still based on his blustering pronouncements during Campaign 2012 when he was trying to sound tough in order to fend off the more hawkish, neocon rhetoric of Republican Mitt Romney.
During that period, Obama was drawing “red lines” regarding Syria and declaring that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “must go.” Obama insisted that the purpose of any peace talks must be to dissolve Assad’s government and replace it with one organized by Assad’s opponents, in other words, Assad’s negotiated surrender.
But that was never realistic, however unsavory Assad and his regime might be. He still represents major segments of Syrian society, including blocs of Alawites (an offshoot of Shiite Islam) and Christians. Plus, the strongest part of the rebel movement, seeking Assad’s ouster, is the contingent of radical jihadists representing extreme Sunni groups, including some affiliated with al-Qaeda and some even more extreme who are vowing to exterminate the Alawites and other “heretics.”
In the midst of this complex and dangerous mix, the Post’s neocon editors are baiting Obama to stop being so weak, so “inert,” as Hiatt wrote.
On Sunday, the Post’s editors demanded that Obama issue a new military ultimatum regarding delays in Assad’s delivery of chemical weapons to a UN agency for destruction. On Tuesday, the argument was that Obama must intervene militarily to prevent Syria from becoming a base for al-Qaeda militants to plot attacks against the American “homeland.”
“Once again, terrorists linked to al-Qaeda may be using territory they control to plot attacks against the United States, even as [Secretary of State John] Kerry pursues his long-shot diplomacy and Mr. Obama offers excuses for inaction,” the Post’s editorial read.
“With or without U.N. action, it is time for the Obama administration to reconsider how it can check the regime’s crimes and the growing threat of al-Qaeda. As Mr. Kerry reportedly conceded, for now it has no answers.”
Hiatt reiterated the same points in his companion op-ed: “It is no secret that the Obama administration’s Syria policy, to the extent that one exists, is failing. Now the man with the unenviable task of implementing that policy, Secretary of State John F. Kerry, has acknowledged as much, according to two U.S. senators who spoke with him Sunday, John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).
“Kerry said that the Geneva negotiating process hasn’t delivered, they said, and that new approaches are needed. … Now, though, a new factor has emerged. Last week, in Senate testimony that got less attention than it deserved, Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said Syria ‘is becoming a center of radical extremism and a potential threat to the homeland.’”
Hiatt continued: “Havens in Syria, in other words, could play the same role that Afghan refuges offered al-Qaeda before 9/11. As the West cold-shouldered moderate and secular forces, extremist ranks have swelled in Syria to as many as 26,000, including 7,000 foreigners, Clapper said.”
Not surprisingly, given the always-hawkish views of McCain and Graham, their proposed “new approaches” to this new threat involved military interventions in Syria. Graham wanted to unleash armed drones over the country, while McCain called for establishing “a safe zone in which to train the Free Syrian Army and care for refugees, protected by Patriot missiles based in Turkey,” Hiatt wrote.
Of course, a big part of the Syrian problem is that al-Qaeda-connected extremists are fighting as part of the rebel coalition against Assad’s army. Indeed, the jihadists are considered, by far, the most effective part of the rebel force. To a significant degree, the Sunni jihadists – funded and armed by Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states – are the rebel army.
In other words, the semantic trick that the Post is pulling off is to conflate the existence of al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria with the Syrian government when they are actually on opposite sides, bitterly fighting one another. The Post’s argument is a bit like blaming Fidel Castro for harboring al-Qaeda operatives in Cuba without mentioning that they are locked up at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo and thus outside Castro’s control.
Currently, the Syrian government is engaged in a brutal campaign to root out these “terrorists” – as well as other armed rebels – and is killing lots of civilians in the process. While there may be no easy solution to this catastrophe, the idea of another U.S. military intervention could easily lead to even more death and destruction.
As Hiatt noted, “Obama has doubted that the United States could intervene in such a messy conflict without making things worse. He reportedly worries that even a limited commitment would inexorably suck the nation into something deeper. There certainly is no public clamor to intervene.”
But lack of public support for another Mideast war is no concern to Hiatt and other Post editors who have never really apologized for helping to mislead the American people into the Iraq invasion which resulted in the deaths of nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Indeed, the Iraqi bloodbath — initiated by President Bush and promoted by the neocons — has already been forgotten, as the Post cited the Syrian civil war as the worst humanitarian disaster since the Rwanda genocide in the 1990s, jumping over the Iraqi carnage of the past decade.
Now, Hiatt and the other neocons are promoting “themes” designed to maneuver Obama into another Mideast conflict, pushing the hot button of al-Qaeda “refuges” as if Assad is protecting the extremists, not trying to kill them.
Yet, if preventing al-Qaeda from establishing a safe haven in Syria is now the top U.S. concern – and not just the latest neocon excuse for another U.S. invasion of a Muslim country – then a more logical approach might be to seek a power-sharing arrangement between Assad’s government and the more moderate opposition, creating a united front against the jihadists.
Such an agreement could be followed by a coordinated strategy to rid Syria of these extremists. Obama also might put the squeeze on the Saudis and other oil-rich sheiks to stop funding the Sunni jihad inside Syria.
But the U.S. insistence that Assad negotiate his own surrender – especially when his forces have gained the upper hand militarily – will simply ensure more fighting and killing, while the neocons ramp up their pressure on Obama for one more “regime change.”
Consortium News, February 4, 2014.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.