One of the surest signs that the US government is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the public is when they manufacture an artificial sense of urgency. They are like the hucksters selling time shares who try to persuade people that there is a great deal of urgency and that a decision to buy must be made immediately. We saw this kind of pressure in the run up to the Iraq invasion, with ridiculous talk about how we could not afford to wait for evidence in case the ‘smoking gun’ came in the form of a ‘mushroom cloud’. It was inexcusable inflammatory hyperbole and those who made it (Condoleeza Rice and George W. Bush) should have been pilloried but of course they weren’t.
We now have the Obama administration doing the same thing with Syria, saying that we should not wait for the UN investigating team to complete its work but must act now, now, now, though it is never spelled out exactly what the urgency is and no one seems to ask them. In fact, the US seems to be actively seeking to stop the UN probe.
The basic facts (whether chemical weapons were used, what they were, and by whom) are still not established. The administration seems to be hedging its bets a little, with some spokespersons (Susan Rice, Jay Carney) using the passive voice formulation of ‘chemical weapons were used’ to avoid committing themselves as to who might have used them.
But John Bellinger, legal advisor for the State Department and the National Security Council in the George W. Bush administration, says that whatever the facts turn out to be, there is no legal basis under international law for the bombing campaign that the Obama administration is contemplating except with UN approval.
Well, unfortunately there is not a good international law justification. International law does not recognize the right of a state, like the United States, to use force in Syria unless we’re acting in self-defense of ourselves, or unless it’s authorized by the United Nations through a Security Council resolution. So policymakers might decide that it’s the right thing to do, but there’s not a clear international legal basis to do it.
Given the strong opposition by Russia and China to any UN action, the US is unlikely to get UN Security Council approval for a bombing campaign. Even Britain’s David Cameron, anxious to be Obama’s poodle the way Tony Blair was for Bush, is running into domestic opposition to rushing the UK into military action. But when have legal niceties stopped rogue nations like the US and UK from doing what they damn well please? The British government has already said that its own attorney general (now there’s an impartial source!) has judged that an attack would be legal even without UN approval.
Even Donald Rumsfeld (Donald Rumsfeld!), another person who should be tried as a war criminal and who famously lied that he knew for a fact that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that “We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.” (i.e., somewhere on the planet) says that he doesn’t think Obama has justified an attack on Syria. If you can’t persuade Rumsfeld to go to war, your case is weak indeed.
Obama says that he hasn’t yet decided on whether to attack Syria but he himself has built up such momentum for it that he now risks ‘losing his credibility’ if he does not ‘punish’ Syria in some way. The usual set of neoconservative warmongers and others are using his ‘red line’ rhetoric to goad him into bombing.
Our politics have sunk to a level where the (non-existent) credibility of the American president takes precedence over the victims of his actions or international law.