MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The videos of the deadly gruesome impact of chemical weapons on humans is visceral, ghastly and horrifying. In the modern technological age, we see visuals from mobile cameras, smart phones, video cameras, and we share the horror of writhing bodies, babies and children lined up in coarse linen shrouds, half-buried corpses.
We are, as humans, appalled, feeling an emotion that dredges up a physiological, primeval disgust, an embarrassment at being a member of a species capable of this.
So when President Obama vows the vaguest of retaliatory attacks, he evokes a sense of humanity that we are at home with.
This part, the disgust, the desire for retribution, the empathy we can all share.
But remember this, sear it upon your brains so that your thoughts can put your emotions in balance: Like 9-11 the thirst for revenge turned into a cudgel of fear, like the excuse in Libya of Omar Ghadaffi slaugthering civilians allegedly supporting rebels, like starting a war that has killed tens and tens of thousands in civilians over unfound WMDs in Iraq.
Oh yes, Syria has inexcusable chemical weapons, but more than 100,000 Syrians have died in the Syrian war until now, as the US has waited when to fully way in, largely -- it appears -- out of concern that many of the rebels are actually Al-Qaeda and Islamic extremists. These are terrorists that White Houses for 12 years (along with the UK who has -- in a spectacularly democratic way -- bowed out of any "retribution" against Syria) has warned us could use WMDs against us at any moment, and yet Obama has only the vaguest notion of bombing Syria to deter them from using further chemical weapons (depending upon who you want to believe employed them, given serious doubt about the credibility of US sources and skepticism about why the Syrian military would want to give the US an excuse for officially entering the civil war) -- and his actions may only have the opposite effect of what he is claiming to want to protect us from: the Syrian military may lose control over the chemcial weapons in their large arsenal and Obama's potential strike may hasten that development.
In an untentionally revealing interview with PBS anchors Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff on August 28, Obama offered reasons for his proposed military "punishment" of Syria:
I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable...
But what I am clear about is that if the United States stands by its core values and its core interests; if we’re very clear about making sure that we’re stopping terrorist attacks against the United States; if we are very clear about our, you know, commitment to the safety and security of Israel; if we are clear about the free flow of energy throughout the region that affects the entire global economy... [italics inserted by BuzzFlash at Truthout]
Obama performs here what is known as a rhetorical pivot: he moves from the horrifying chemical attack to evoking fear in Americans that we will be the future victims and he must prevent this. But he never answers the question: just how?
Indeed, Obama has no credible plans to secure the large Syrian stockpile of chemical weapons, if his goal is making us safer. In fact, as we mentioned earlier he risks making us as Americans relatively more vulnerable.
Another pertinent report on the PBS News Hour is entitled, "Bombing Chemical Weapons Sites Could Endanger Civilians, Cause Environmental Catastrophe, Experts Warn." It addresses the issues of the civilians in Syria who would be killed in heinours gruesome fasion if the US actually bombs the chemical weapons storage and manufacturing facilities:
But now there is concern that bombing other sites could accidentally release dangerous chemical weapons that the U.S. military didn't know were there because they've lost track of some of the suspected nerve agents.
Bombing stockpiles of chemical weapons -- purposely or accidentally -- would likely kill nearby civilians in an accidental nerve agent release, create a long-lasting environmental catastrophe or both, five experts told The Associated Press. That's because under ideal conditions -- and conditions wouldn't be ideal in Syria -- explosives would leave at least 20 to 30 percent of the poison in lethal form.
"If you drop a conventional munition on a storage facility containing unknown chemical agents - and we don't know exactly what is where in the Syrian arsenal -- some of those agents will be neutralized and some will be spread," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a nonprofit that focuses on all types of weaponry. "You are not going to destroy all of them."
"It's a classic case of the cure being worse than the disease," Kimball said. He said some of the suspected storage sites are in or near major Syrian cities like Damascus, Homs and Hama. Those cities have a combined population of well over 2 million people.
What is going on is the 12th year of using scare tactics to go to war for oil or as Obama put it third in his list of objectives in bombing Syria (but it is first on the US military-industrial-corporate complex agenda): "if we are clear about the free flow of energy throughout the region that affects the entire global economy." It is third on his list in the PBS interview because long ago in the Bush administration, polling showed that you could never sell a war in the Middle East to Americans on oil hegemony; you had to market it on fear.
It's not the global economy at issue, it is the US's interest in 25% of the world's oil, along with other Western nations.
What is going on here, and BuzzFlash at Truthout will discuss tomorrow, is the "Great Game." Syria is not a significant supplier of oil, but it is a key pawn in the "Great Game" of petroleum in the Middle East, right now in play between Persian Iran and Arab nations like Saudi Arabia (who actually wants the US to dethrone Assad to rid Syria of Iranian influence, if that were an ideal that could be achieved for them).
And in this intricate chess game, the chemical attack that killed a thousand or more in a civil war betweeen competing sects of Islam and among fracticous rebel forces including Islamic extemists, is the WMD card that Bush held and is now in Obama's hands.
Wave that card and make Americans fear for their lives no matter how distant and unlikely the relationship, no matter how ironically US military action might actually cause terrorists to get their hands on the chemical weapons.
This, as terrible as the attack was (and whoever did it), is about the "Great Game."
Ironically, although the US has been reducing its chemical weapons stockpile over the years due to treaties, it is still the superpower of WMDs when you include nuclear and biological weapons.
In fact, the most recent celebrated biological weapons attack in the US (which potentially are really not much different in widerange impact than chemical weapons, if not more deadly) came from anthrax developed at Fort Dietrick Maryland under the auspices of the US military -- and it was that anthrax that was used post 9-11 to attack Congress and kill Americans, and according the FBI (although still disputed by others), by an American researcher who committed suicide.
When it comes to WMDs and toxic agents that can kill US citizens, Obama should start attending to what is inside his borders first -- and located at arsenals around the world.
Obama may get his Congressional vote, but all that it will authorize -- should it pass -- is that the president gets to show the US projects military power on behalf of control of the largest regional oil supply under the guise of fear.
(Photo: National Media Museum)