Point of View

In wake of Syria, asking the deeper questions about war

September 17, 2013 

It is a natural tendency for citizens to want to trust government leaders, especially from their own party, on issues of war and peace. “Impenetrable innocence” is what my friend calls it.

When the Bush-Cheney administration made false claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and ties to the attacks of 9/11, about half the U.S. population believed those claims. But opposition to the invasion of Iraq led to the single greatest protest for peace ever seen. Around the world, tens of millions of people marched to say “no” to war. President Bush dismissed this movement as a mere “focus group” and ordered the invasion of Iraq a month later.

Once the invasion was launched, opposition withered, at least in the United States, as citizens rallied to ”support the troops” and our media provided us with glowing reports of battlefield success.

On May 1, 2003, George W. Bush appeared in one of the greatest photo-ops ever, landing by fighter jet on the deck of the USS Lincoln aircraft carrier to announce “Mission Accomplished.” Ten years later, with thousands of lives lost and trillions of dollars spent, Iraq is a nation in ruins, roiling with sectarian strife.

Now the partisan shoe is on the other foot.

President Obama has asserted that the Syrian government is responsible for chemical attacks on its citizens. But after fraudulent claims of WMD to justify the invasion of Iraq, the Obama administration bears a very heavy burden of proof in this regard, a burden as yet unmet by a reliable and certifiable trail of evidence.

And what of our own use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium weapons in Iraq? Skyrocketing rates of birth defects as a result of U.S. weapons deployed in Iraq inform us that our own hands are not clean.


There is also the matter of covert U.S. support for foreign mercenary terrorists that comprise portions of the so-called Free Syrian Army. Is it possible that the U.S. would actually enter the Syrian civil war on the side of foreign al-Qaida elements?

It is all the more interesting to see fractures in historic political fault lines, with calls from both the left and right to slow this rush to war.

Many analysts believe that Iran is the ultimate target for regime change, although claims of an Iranian nuclear weapons program are as flimsy as Vice President Cheney’s assertion in 2003 that, "We know Saddam Hussein has reconstituted his nuclear weapons program.”

But the economic sanctions imposed by the Obama administration on both Syria and Iran are having devastating effects on the people of those countries. During the 1990s, U.S. Secretary of State Madelyn Albright was quoted as saying that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children as a result of U.S.-enforced economic sanctions was “worth it.” Obama would do well to consider our history while grieving for Syrian children.

The international diplomatic overtures to avoid a U.S. military strike on Syria are most welcome, as is the engagement of citizens from across the political spectrum. But we need to ask deeper questions. What are the motivations for U.S. presidents, Republican and Democrat, to see war as the solution to international strife when all our recent experience of war-making makes every bad situation worse?

And how we do we reconcile our own military spending – over half of our federal discretionary budget and about half of military spending worldwide – with the admonition of President Dwight Eisenhower: “Every bullet made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents a theft from those who are hungry and unfed, those who are cold and unclothed”?

John Heuer of Pittsboro is director of NC Peace Action.

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