War on Syria: If Not Moral or Rational, At Least Legal

Every time the U.S. starts a war of choice against a Muslim state, it loses, but here we go again. At least, by Obama’s latest decision, this war will evidently be legal under US law if it happens. Morality and rationality remain to be determined.

Having decided to ask Congress for approval of his plan to attack Syria, Obama is to be congratulated for behaving as a legal leader of a democracy and observing the Constitutional provision that Congress, not the White House, declares war. Legal does not equal “moral,” by any means, but legal trumps illegal in a democracy. Obama’s decision puts a small but important road block in the path of the rising and extremely dangerous National Security State, a project headed toward the destruction of American democracy. Obama would have put a bigger road block up had he clearly condemned previous private war-making  by our various “imperial” presidents.

As for the attack on Syria itself, I confess to missing the point, if it is indeed designed to send a lesson about committing crimes against humanity. Until he holds the previous administration accountable for its behavior in the Mideast and comes clean on current drone policy, Obama is skating on thin moral ice giving anyone lessons about crimes against humanity. 

That aside, however, the particular logic of case seems to be this: if Assad is judged guilty of committing crimes against humanity, then he should be removed from power and tried by the international court. Otherwise, the US should not attack. Cutting the difference, i.e., labeling him a criminal but allowing him to stay in power, suggests that Washington actually has another goal in mind, e.g., sending everyone (spelled I…R…A…N) the subtle message that Israel is the appointed mini-superpower of the region. It is not in the interests of the right wing regime in Israel to have the U.S. attempt to turn Syria into a US colony, aping the Iraq disaster, but it very much fits with that militarist clique’s preferences that the U.S. punish every state that attempts to stand up to Israel, and Syria has some missiles not approved by Tel Aviv. Of course, Syria presents no threat to Israel; that is not the point. Rather, Syria is a small symbol of lack of deference (Iran of course having replaced Saddam Hussein as the biggest such symbol).

Obama should be very careful to clear up this potential point of confusion. His case will be very, very much stronger if he can do so. One step that would help would be to make a major simultaneous initiative to improve relations with Iran, accompanied by the clear statement that punishing Assad for using poison gas is in no way intended to harm Iran.

Even should he somehow manage to clear up the confusion over his real motivations, however, a separate point remains: starting a new war against a Muslim society represents a turning point in history. This is a time when we must all reflect upon the choice that we have. If Washington attacks Syria, whatever happens as a result cannot be considered “inevitable;” rather, it will be in part the result of this free choice.


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