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March 25, 2013

That Poison Gas Tripwire in Syria

Steven R. Berryman

Imperialism, self-righteousness, nation building, and hypocrisy are alive and well, and hosted by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue yet again. A pre-emptive statement by the president on use of chemical weapons in Syria is coming back to haunt him.


Then the tripwire got tripped, and an obvious gas-attack unfolded on cable networks.


President Barack Obama had earlier signaled quite clearly that his “line in the sand” for American military intervention (we don’t call them wars any more) would be use of a weapon of mass destruction, or WMD. Hearken back to President George W. Bush and Iraq much?


Conjure up that vision of Gen. Colin Powell speaking at the United Nations to justify that conquest.


For those who have lost track, the declared U.S. national interest in Syria is to oust strong-man Bashar al-Assad, that nation’s equivalent to Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi, for subjugating his own people. Presumably this will also lead to another Islamic Republic. Some goal.


The problem became, however, that level 2 poison gas used in an attack on a checkpoint in Khan al-Assal, Syria, was home grown CL-17 chlorine, according to a report in the U.K.s The Telegraph, and was used by forces we support against Assad!


This “enemy of my enemy is my friend” thing gets way out of whack when you end up frozen in policy morality, confronted by the reality that you just woke up in bed with elements of the Taliban, who are creatively using improvised poison gas from a home-made missile.


Video footage that I witnessed almost in real-time last Wednesday via CNN showed recovery efforts of the wounded and dead from the incident, an attack on a Syrian Army checkpoint. Twenty-six fatalities were reported, others mortally harmed. The wounded were clutching their chests and clearly could not breathe normally.


White House reaction was quick, strong, and direct – and very reminiscent of the aftermath of the Benghazi (Libya) terrorist murder of our ambassador on the anniversary of 911 – “We have no direct evidence that this was a poison gas attack, but we do intend to investigate it.”


Or, were we just not prepared to admit it and deal with it?


Now, if we continue to allow our operatives to hand over one portion of the Middle East from one bad actor to yet another bad actor, why can’t we get them to at least play fair?


Don’t they know that the United Nations might get pissed off?


When we allow ourselves to get into the undergarments of so many others foreign affairs (from their perspective, national affairs) …we will inevitably get into trouble with the other remaining super-powers, and remnants thereof.


Much of President Obama’s foreign policy is now driving the strange bedfellows of “Red” China and Russia to kiss and make goo goo eyes at each other. They may even approve a natural gas pipeline between them at this rate, as our former enemy from the Soviet days fuels our greatest economic competitor, allowing for their strategic advantage in exports.


We continue to play checkers as our global competition plays the higher-level game of chess. It seems American foreign policy lasts but one administration in length, while others have 10- and 20-year plans. They may yet bury us.


And so the tripwire is tripped in Syria, and there is no response. It’s far worse than if we had drawn no line in the sand at all; we appear toothless, especially as the Department of Defense is decimated by the sequester…Navy warships cancel drug interdictions and patrol with half broken motors.


This “world’s policeman” thing has got to give; it’s too expensive and produces unpredictable results anyway.


Evidence is: We’re not bragging on “the Arab Spring” so much anymore.


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