Humanitarian intervention or punitive action? Both say the supporters of war against Syria, adding that not to act will be to risk undermining international law. Which international law? Well actually no law, but rather the most flimsy and thus flexible “emerging norm” known as “Responsibility to Protect” (or R2P), which consists of a set of principles based upon the idea that sovereignty is not a right, but a responsibility, and with its precedents set especially by UN Security Council Resolutions 1973 and 1975 against Libya and Ivory Coast respectively. There is more about the dangers of this doctrine in an article I posted in April 2011.
So we have humanitarian concern mixed up with calls for punishment, and then there is also this argument of recourse to international law when the accepted rule of law (as determined by the UN Security Council) is to be by-passed altogether. That none of this makes coherent sense is clearly one reason why so many MPs from all parties – each of whom deserves enormous credit for standing tall and being counted – made the decision to block the government’s already stated commitment to attack Syria. Added to which there are many more reasons, some of which are deeply troubling, for why the MPs were not merely justified but obliged to stand firm. Firstly, there is the question of consequences, the likelihood being that these will be altogether catastrophic both for the region but also for the world more widely, and then there is also this…
If Barack Obama decides to attack the Syrian regime, he has ensured – for the very first time in history – that the United States will be on the same side as al-Qa’ida.
Quite an alliance! Was it not the Three Musketeers who shouted “All for one and one for all” each time they sought combat? This really should be the new battle cry if – or when – the statesmen of the Western world go to war against Bashar al-Assad.1
So writes veteran Middle Eastern correspondent Robert Fisk in an article published on Tuesday [Aug 27th] in The Independent. And Fisk then goes on to make an extraordinary set of claims (or at least many will think his claims extraordinary), laid out angrily beneath the striking headline banner “Does Obama know he’s fighting on al-Qa’ida’s side?”
Click here to read Robert Fisk’s full article.
The answer to Fisk’s provocative, if rhetorical, question is actually well known. Yes, Obama has been very well aware and for a very long time that “the rebels” are largely pro-al Qaeda sympathisers and spearheaded by al-Qaeda affiliates al-Nusra – as I have already detailed a number of times in earlier posts about the Syrian crisis. It has really not been much of a secret at all that in Syria we are engaged in backing an opposition that is increasingly comprised of Jihadist forces. And if this apparently makes no sense especially since, as Fisk also notes, “the Americans drone al-Qa’ida to death in Yemen and Pakistan” then the inconsistency ought to serve to highlight how the real agenda here is not the one being advertised at home.
The main thrust of Fisk’s article is an excellent one, and even if one important detail is significantly wrong – that contrary to his claim, the Americans have worked alongside al-Qaeda on many previous occasions. Given the timing of its publication perhaps Fisk’s article even helped to nudge some of our MPs to vote down both government and opposition motions at the end of yesterday’s Commons debate. However, the bigger reasons why our nation has thankfully side-stepped direct military involvement in yet another expansionist war have almost nothing to do with the mainstream voices.
Instead, yesterday’s “sensational” decision in the Commons (and here I am stealing the word chosen by Jeremy Paxman on last night’s Newsnight) has everything to do with the lead up to the Iraq war: the debacle surrounding the “Dodgy Dossier” as well as the huge protests calling on Blair’s government to refrain from military action. That intelligence reports are sometimes “sexed up” so dissenting opinion can be marginalised and overridden has left a bitter taste in the mouth of the British electorate and also provides a cause for concern for those Members of Parliament with any conscience, not to mention others who may be more worried about seeking re-election. In other words, after more than a decade of lies and deception, the warmongers have finally reaped a little of what they themselves had sown.
This does not mean that the warmongers will not still get their way, of course, but yesterday’s decision certainly goes a long way in helping to restrain them. For certainly it must have come as a tremendous shock to Obama when he first heard the news, just as it came as a shock to many here including myself. So what does Obama do next? Sadly, but hardly surprisingly, his immediate response is to continue to press ahead even if now without the support of America’s most obedient ally.
If Obama does now decide to authorise a military assault on Syria then he will be acting in near total isolation. He will be acting against a UN mandate and without congressional approval, and so the final veil disguising his increasingly ruthless foreign policy will be have to be jettisoned altogether. Obama the Nobel Peace Prize laureate defrocked, and his aggression just as nakedly displayed as previous winner Henry Kissinger (not that Kissinger has ever appeared remotely like anything but the warmonger he truly is – even Nobel Peace Prizes can only disguise so much killing).
Here is what Presidential candidate Obama said about military intervention back in 2007:
The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.2
Click here to read a full transcript of an interview he gave to Charlie Savage in December 2007.
But Congress, just like our own British parliament, is currently in recess. So shouldn’t Obama have Congress recalled to satisfy Constitutional requirements? Well there is now a growing demand for Congress to be reconvened:
A group of around 90 lawmakers are demanding that the president reconvene Congress for an emergency session and allow a vote to take place before any strike against the Assad regime.
The White House has said it is “consulting directly” with Congressional leaders but has made no move to call legislators back from their summer recess nor signaled it will wait for a vote before launching strikes.
The effort to force Mr Obama to submit to Congressional approval is being led by Representative Scott Rigell, a Virginia Republican, who said he expects more than 100 representatives to sign a letter he is sending to the White House.3
And another congressman who has now joined the calls for a vote on military action is fellow Democrat Jerrold Nadler, warning Obama in a statement released on Wednesday [Aug 28th] that the “Constitution Requires Congressional Authorization on Use of Force Against Syria”:
The Constitution requires that, barring an attack on the United States or an imminent threat to the U.S., any decision to use military force can only be made by Congress – not by the President. The decision to go to war – and we should be clear, launching a military strike on another country, justified or not, is an act of war – is reserved by the Constitution to the American people acting through their elected representatives in Congress.
Since there is no imminent threat to the United States, there is no legal justification for bypassing the Constitutionally-required Congressional authorization. “Consultation” with Congress is not sufficient. The Constitution requires Congressional authorization.
Click here to read Nadler’s full statement.
Since yesterday’s vote the BBC has done little more than harp on relentlessly about whether or not Britain is diminished as a leading international player, and how our failure to respond has damaged “the special relationship” with America. But in truth Britain had already lost most of its international credibility, and thanks largely to Tony Blair who left us in no doubt that we had become little more than “America’s poodle”. Back then, of course, the French were being castigated and singled out as a bunch of “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”, but suddenly the surrender monkeys are back in favour! And we ought to remember that Britain has gone against the will of America before, when Harold Wilson refused to buckle under immense pressure and instead left it to the French and the Americans to get bogged down in the jungles of Indochina.
Furthermore, this line of argument also mistakes America for the White House, whilst entirely forgetting how public opinion in America is no more favourable when it comes attacking Syria than here in Britain. So, as Obama decides what to do next, we must now hope that Congress and American public opinion will be able to restrain his push for war. Unfortunately, however, the battleships are already in place and so right now Obama will be desperate to save his own face. Obviously the immediate situation remains an extremely perilous one.
For once, however, Britain has played an important part in leading the way to peace. For once I am genuinely proud of my nation and ready to applaud all of the Members of Parliament who resisted pressure from their parties to fold. They have, temporarily at least, saved us the ignominy of embarking on yet another thinly-veiled neo-imperialist adventure, and hopefully may have helped to set a new course in world affairs; sparing the Middle East from war without end and helping to prevent a new Cold War from turning hot.
A full list of the MPs who voted against the government motion authorising the possible use of military force against Syria is now available on the New Statesman website. Those saying no included 224 Labour MPs, 30 Conservatives and a meager 9 Liberal Democrats. The motion was defeated by 285 votes to 272. I notice incidentally that my own MP, Paul Blomfield, is absent from the list.
1 From an article entitled “Does Obama know he’s fighting on al-Qa’ida’s side?” written by Robert Fisk, published in The independent on August 27, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/does-obama-know-hes-fighting-on-alqaidas-side-8786680.html
2 Transcribed from an interview with Charlie Savage from December 20, 2007. http://www.boston.com/news/politics/2008/specials/CandidateQA/ObamaQA/
3 From an article entitled “Growing demand in Congress for vote on Syria attack” written by Raf Sanchez, published in The Telegraph on August 28, 2013. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10272130/Growing-demand-in-Congress-for-vote-on-Syria-attack.html