Washington vs The American People

Kerry And Hagel Testify At Senate Hearing On Use Of Force Against Syria

One of the most astringent events of the last fortnight was the decision of prime minister David Cameron to allow a parliamentary vote on the possibility of a new war in the Middle East. He lost. He lost because the people of Britain absolutely, positively do not want another bank-breaking, inconclusive, morally fraught war in the Middle East. A new poll in the Independent this morning confirms the depth of the popular opposition:

Only 29 per cent agree that the US, without Britain, should launch air strikes against the Assad regime to deter it from using chemical weapons in future, while 57 per cent disagree. 80 per cent believe that any military strikes against Syria should first be sanctioned by the United Nations, while 15 per cent disagree with this statement.

So around 80 percent of the British people – the country closest to the US – oppose what Obama is now so foolishly proposing. 80 percent. How about Americans – those who actually pay for their president’s wars in money or blood or both? The WaPo-ABC poll reveals that

nearly six in 10 oppose missile strikes in light of the U.S. government’s determination that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people. Democrats and Republicans alike oppose strikes by double digit margins, and there is deep opposition among every political and demographic group in the survey. Political independents are among the most clearly opposed, with 66 percent saying they are against military action.

I cannot remember a war in which the public in the most affected countries is so opposed. And that opposition is not likely to melt in a week or so – certainly not if many people listened to John Kerry yesterday. And that poll is about the abstraction of “strikes” – and not about the open-ended war to depose Assad that the administration actually proposed in its own resolution. Mercifully, Americans are not as dumb as many think:

Only 32 percent said Obama had explained clearly why the U.S. should launch strikes. Back in March 2003, as the Iraq War started, 49 percent said that President George W. Bush had compellingly made his case for what was then at stake.

So Obama has much less domestic support than Bush, no backing from the Brits, open hostility by the UN for immediate war, and an obviously conflicted administration. This is a war even less likely to succeed than Iraq and even less popular. It is as if Obama decided to turn himself into Bush – and throw his second term down a rat-hole in the Middle East.

And yes, this is a proposal for an open-ended involvement in a sectarian civil war in the Middle East. Read it:

Senate Foreign Relations Committee – Syria AUMF

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What we have here is a commitment to degrading the military resources of Assad and an utterly unenforceable attempt to limit that campaign only to prevent the use of chemical arms. If you have never seen a loophole that big before, gaze into it some more. It is so vast you could fit Iraq into it.

The prohibition on “boots on the ground” is also an obvious lie. Even the Senate can’t honestly echo the deceptive propaganda from the White House. So its formulation says:

The authority granted in section 2 does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Syria for the purpose of combat operations.

Another loophole you could drive a battalion through. They could be there for intelligence, for training the rebels, for arming them, for providing air cover, and for guiding them politically. So can we get real and admit that the US already has boots on the ground, and probably a lot? The president has already slipped and told us of the covert war he is already waging. This is part of the undemocratic madness of the military-industrial complex. It does what it wants to do. And every president, it seems, acquiesces. Even this one.

But the White House has given us a chance to make our voices heard. The Congress is the best place for such things, and the House is the most responsive to popular opinion. We can still stop this new war. But time is running out.

(Photo: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the topic of ‘The Authorization of Use of Force in Syria’ September 3, 2013 in Washington, DC. By Win McNamee/Getty Images)