Shall We Attack Syria?

November 11, 2005

The evidence now seems strong that Syria was involved in the killing of a key Lebanese political leader and that the Syrians were engaged in a desperate, brutal and criminal assassination. But there is no evidence, to the contrary, that the vital interests or the security of the United States now depends upon our meddling in, or bringing justice to, Syria. Nevertheless, since 2002 the Bush administration has been, and is continuing, to build a case for military action against that small country. The pattern is much the same as when they built a case against Iraq.

The signals came last month from Condi Rice, just as they did in 2002; we are warned that non-violent sanctions are not enough; the mainstream press is being briefed and engaged; the UN is being used as a platform to broaden the appeal and military skirmishes on the border have already begun. On October 21, 2005, Rice said that the leaders of Syria must be held "accountable." Accountable to whom, one might ask? To us? Why to us? Assassinations are unfortunately the common coin of politics in the Middle East. What makes this incident the one for which we will start holding the perpetrators accountable, which, in the language of this administration, means that we are prepared to attack?

A clue lies in the fact that the president last month declared the Iraq war to be a part of a global war "from Spain to Indonesia." With one speech he thereby turned his Iraq war into one of unlimited dimensions and unlimited duration, giving excuse to go into whatever new country he may choose. To the same point, Secretary Rice refused to tell the Congress how long our troops would remain in Iraq and was not even willing to say that they would be out in ten years. That position only makes sense if one is planning to change the political map of all of the Middle East. Syria is clearly now the next target and Americans can expect from now on a public relations campaign demonizing Syria’s leadership.

A new foreign threat aids the Republican party, politically, and it works ideologically for the neo cons who are the driving force of American foreign policy and who want to settle American democracy not just in Iraq but throughout the Middle East. Since 1992, these neo cons have openly urged that any lesser goal is weak-minded, wimpy even, and unschooled in the Machiavellian lessons of history. They do not say, but are known to believe, that we must “stabilize” Syria to support Israel. (What they do not write about, but should, is that the Middle East has been swallowing up kings and empires for 2,000 years, since the wars of ancient Rome.)

Without continuing these new wars there is very little to keep Republicans electable in the congressional elections of 2006, but with these wars they have a decent chance to survive. Tom Delay and his friends have by now learned that with the Iraq war they can successfully divert attention from the plundering of Medicaid and food stamps, erasing labor law protections, under-funding schools and cutting student loans, despoiling the Artic wilderness and ignoring the wetlands off Louisiana. The upcoming public relations campaign will therefore certainly attempt to make the war against Syria a good war, a just war against a new “tyrant” and as a result to make all our pains at home seem irrelevant.

Someone is going to have to blow the whistle, call a spade a spade, and say, no more, not again. No more wars manufactured against a foreign president to shore up a failed presidency of our own. We have recovery enough to do here at home. We have recovery to do from Katrina; from huge budget deficits; to rebuild our highways; we have recovery to do resetting fair labor standards, re-establishing fair media regulations and building a case for fair taxation; we have recovery to do to regain our standing among the nations of the world.

Throughout history it has been overextension of the military abroad, over-expenditure on swords and under expenditure on plowshares, that has crippled and ended civilizations. If Mr. Bush does not understand history then someone else is going to have to, and in a democracy it is appropriate for the people, the taxpayers, the soldiers themselves, to cool the commander’s apparently insatiable appetite and call off the war against one more imaginary enemy before it begins.