The Syrian Civil War, Chemical Weapons, & the Rush to Regional and Global Disaster

28 August 2013

The US, Saudis and Qatar who seek to take sides in fuelling sectarianism and violence in the Middle East, should remember how a similar discourse of preventative war and promotion of sectarian forces in Europe led to World War I.

 

For Randy Forsberg: Dost Thou Not Know…With How Little Wisdom the World is Ruled?”

Chemical Weapons & Historical Memory: From Iraq to Syria

In brief background discussions with a number of the US and indeed world’s top experts on chemical and biological weapons and global security yesterday, a number of critical points, largely ignored by major media outlets in the US were stressed.

A key point is that although the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime certainly wouldn’t surprise anyone, the timing might. As of yet there has been no independent verification, by the UN Weapons Inspection team in Syria, that chemical weapons have in fact been used. That’s just one of the reasons why the head of the UN is asking for more time for the team and for the world to focus on diplomacy, not more violence.

To be sure, the Assad regime may be partly to blame for interfering with the inspectors, but why the rush to judgment by the US and its allies? For even if and when the verification of use happens, it’s quite another thing to verify who used the weapons, as the example of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iran, in the early 1980s - which took years to verify – shows. Of course the US and its allies showed no such concern at the time as they were backing Iraq against Iran.

How quickly the great powers forget their own support for the use of chemical weapons

Yet these same powers, the US, the French and the British, aided by their regional allies, are now leading the charge against Syria, with all the moral outrage, strategic forgetting and lack of historical memory. How quickly the great powers forget their own support for the use of chemical weapons, a moral outrage indeed, one that they all totally supported at the time in their quest against Iran!

 

 

Security implications of possible US-led military strikes

If the US strikes Syria, especially in the absence of independent verification and UN Security Council resolutions, no matter what cover is provided by the Arab League - currently dominated by the Saudis and Qatar, both deeply involved in supporting the Syrian opposition - it will be rightly seen as illegitimate, and could have catastrophic and indeed incalculable consequences.

In addition, leading analysts and newspapers indicate that there are many in the US, Israel and among US allies who want to use this situation to send a message to Iran about its nuclear enrichment program and to lay the groundwork for eventual strikes against Iran. All of this will likely further escalate the ongoing conflict across the Middle East and Islamic world, increasing regional instability and could set the region further aflame, just like the US invasion of Iraq (Pillar, 2011).

The US invasion of Iraq has already played a major role in creating sectarian strife which continues to spill over into the Middle East, ripping it apart, in Iraq, the Syrian civil war and beyond. Qatar (which has provided some $3 billion in arms and cash), Saudi and US support for the Syrian opposition is already strengthening radical Islamist extremist armed groups, displacing the ordinary citizens driven to take up arms by the brutal Assad regime.

No one seems to have learned from previous disasters

Unfortunately for the world, no one seems to have learned from previous disasters of supporting the dictatorships that helped radicalize the Iranian revolution. Nor has the US or its allies learned anything from earlier supporting tens of thousands of radical Islamists to slay the then great Satan, the Soviet Union, after its invasion of Afghanistan, only to have them turn against the other great Satan, the US.

This new generation of violent extremists, many of whom were organized into the global jihad against the USSR, were to become increasingly radicalized in the context of the increasing presence of US troops in the Muslim world, US continued support for Middle Eastern dictatorship, replete with torture, not to mention the subsequent US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and ongoing US-supported occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel.

 

 

The hope of an informed public

The succession of disasters and related sectarian conflict –with some 130,000 killed in the Syria’s internationalized civil war alone, military dictatorship reestablished in Egypt replete with violent repression of the Muslim Brotherhood and the more secular left – continues to register in Syria, throughout the region and to varying extents across the globe. The disaster has been long in the making, since the region was carved up with the fall of the Ottoman empire and the first Arab Revolt, as oil became increasingly important to the strategic calculations of the great powers.

 

The only solution to the current intersection of national, regional and global crises, however unlikely, is a negotiated one, in Syria and beyond. The world today needs great power cooperation, including by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, most especially Russia and their regional allies, something agreed upon by some leading members of the US Establishment who understand the need for cooperative security, as well as by leading critics of US foreign policy.

Yet only an informed public, in the US and across the globe, has any hope of stopping the current race towards regional and global destruction, as the world approaches the 100th anniversary of one of the greatest catastrophes in world history, World War I, which decisively altered the 20th century and paved the way for the Russian revolution, the brutalities of Stalin and Hitler, World War II and the Cold War.

The world would do well to remember this earlier regional and global conflagration, also fed by strategies of preemption and preventive war, and ponder the question of how we can expect anything different from the 21st century, if the powers that be continue the same policies.

Perhaps, since today the world commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr., the apostle of revolutionary nonviolence, we could honor his memory and all those who sacrificed for civil rights and fought for jobs, peace and justice, by pursuing diplomacy and peace, not violence.

 

 

 

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About the authors

Tom Reifer

Tom Reifer is currently Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of San Diego and publishes widely on global peace and social justice issues. He has also been a long-time activist in the anti-nuclear movement as well as a rank and file trade union activist. His specialty is the study of large-scale, long-term social change and world-systems analysis. 

He is currently working on a book "Lawyers, Guns & Money: Wall Street & the American Century"

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