Saturday, August 31, 2013

Our Syria

Commentary by Željko Cvijanović, Novi Standard (Belgrade), August 30, 2013.
Translated by GrayFalcon. Original here.

When the first missiles strike Syria and we are shown the first horrific images - carefully selected to scare us enough without riling us up too much - it would be nothing we haven't seen before, in the case of some of us, lived through ourselves. "There is nothing new under the sun," one could say. Except our eyes are less reliable than ever before. Because there are many new things here, and drawing on analogies can only help us see the heart of the matter - while missing everything else.

America is being led into a new war by a president who got elected claiming to be the antithesis of his belligerent predecessor; who promised Americans hope through changes that would bring the country back from the pitfalls of Bush the Younger's "wars on terror." Today, the man who received a Nobel Peace Prize not so long ago as an advance payment for expected greatness, is declaring that it is not a question whether Syria will be bombed, but when.

Meanwhile, heading the Department of Defense into the conflict is Chuck Hagel - one of the staunchest critics of Bush's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a rare member of the Washington establishment who dared criticize Israel, and almost the lone advocate of dialogue with Iran - in other words, one of the most peaceful Pentagon principals since America began waging war beyond its borders.

Providing the diplomatic cover for missiles and bombers would be Vietnam veteran and anti-interventionist John Kerry, whose arrival at the head of the State Department this winter promised hope for a peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict, due to his cordial relationship with Bashar al-Assad.

Last, but not least, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in this war will be four-star General Martin Dempsey, who opposed a direct intervention by offering a worrying estimate that such an adventure would require "hundreds of scenarios, thousand of soldiers, and billions of dollars."

There have never been more doves at the top, never less support for a war in the American public, yet America has never been more belligerent. What gives?

The answer could cheer up only someone like [current Serbian Prime Minister] Ivica Dačić, who is in charge of Serbia just about as much as Obama and his cabinet run the United States. America is not being dragged into another war and another crime by its political leadership - though they are willing participants in the endeavor, and should not be absolved of responsibility. It is clearer than ever before that America is being dragged into war by its "deep state," the shadowy decision-makers working without the mandate of the American people.

This is nothing new, one might say, adding that such shadowy structures - named by some as the "military-industrial complex," although that is a somewhat reductionist perspective - have led America into wars in the past. And that is true. Just as it is true that we knew about American atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq before Julian Assange and Wikileaks revealed them to us. Just as we guessed the extent of surveillance and control before Edward Snowden, who merely confirmed it. In a similar manner, the American "one percent" who start wars while robbing their compatriots blind are being exposed by the Syrian War - and not just to us, but to the American "99 percent," now reviled around the world through little fault of their own.

This exposure is an important aspect of the deepening crisis in the West, which Syria brings into focus even before the first missile strikes the unfortunate country. It is made clear by today's revolt in the House of Commons, who rejected David Cameron's proposal for UK's participation in the war. Since the 1990s at least, the UK has led the U.S. into wars around the world more often than not, and has never deserted like this. Though I am not sure that London won't change its mind, and though Hollande has managed to out-Sarkozy Sarkozy, America still stands at Syria's gates more alone than ever.

In Libya, Obama found the magic formula to appear both peaceful and warlike, by letting other countries take point on the drive to war. He will, of course, attempt to find a "middle path" by planning limited strikes, intended to help tip the balance in favor of the Syrian rebels. But Obama cannot know how things will go after the first missile aimed at Damascus. He can know even less as to what might be going on by missile #5000. And once the first American jet is shot down, that's simply dark territory.

All of this makes for a completely new situation, indicating that internal resistance in the West to the aggression against Syria might have potential to be the strongest yet after the Vietnam War, with unpredictable political upheavals, consequences and outcomes.

Another new moment is that all the previous American wars - from Desert Storm to Libya - were waged by the American "deep state" with a clear feeling of superiority, translated on the ground as an emphatic missionary complex. There will be manifestations of this in the Syrian War as well, but tainted for the first time by the self-realization of America's weakness, or more precisely, dwindling strength.

As Obama is pressured to light the fuse over Syria, the Senate will vote on a law once again raising the ceiling for the enormous U.S. debt. This paradox is limiting American options, at the very least by imposing awareness on Washington that if it doesn't strike now, it may not be able to strike tomorrow, as the pendulum of American power is swinging back more every day.

Why is this new? Why is it important? Because those who enter a conflict convinced of their own superiority can be reasonable and see the limits of possibility. Conflicts entered with an awareness that tomorrow one will be weaker, however, make one desperate. Think of it as Cinderella: aware that her spell will wear off at midnight, and that she has to woo the prince by then, or lose him forever. The discrepancy between the two perceptions acts to induce a sense of panic, further reducing actual superiority and distorting plans beyond reason or possibility. The superpower becomes a jug that goes to the well till it breaks.

This paradox limits even the basic American options. There is no going back, only going forward to the bitter end - attacking Syria, Iran, China, Russia... Those unable to halt or retreat have closed off all avenues to victory; even at their mightiest, they will live in fear of defeat, becoming their own worst enemy. And this is why Syria is something new, a point of no return.

A power set on the path of no return by the fear of defeat, rather than rational analysis, sends a clear message to everyone else: submission is futile.

It was easy to persuade the bombed-out and beaten Serbs that they could live better by submitting. Even the Libyans, almost genetically poor before Gadhafi brought them reasonable standards of living, could be persuaded they would be better off without him. But who can persuade the Syrians today? Who can promise them anything more than red slaughter, if they lay down their arms before the "Free Syrian Army" thugs? Is there a voice of Allah that would persuade the Iranians they won't be next? Is there anyone in China not aware that the American deficit can be fixed only if they keep enough of their earnings for a cup of rice, and hand everything else over to JP Morgan? Is there a Russian - besides Navalny - unaware that the hole of American debt is so deep, it can only be filled with the resources of Siberia?

Though it will depend on the strategic understanding and tactical plans of each country finding itself on America's road of no return as to how they may get involved in the Syrian War, there is no doubt that they will get involved. And that is another new development.

If it lasts long enough, Syria could become a comic-book war, between the forces of Sublime Evil, arising for the first time since the defeat of Nazism, and the forces of Good joining together in self-defense. And if it lasts even longer, it may reduce the many identities of Western civilization down to just one: totalitarian plunderers. That, in turn, will ensure that the resistance to imperial America, though less visible than some would wish, will become more organized than ever. The lessons of Syria, and the threat of the long, cold global night, will make cats and dogs lie together in harmony. If you know what I mean.

What will Syria mean for Serbia? Much more than one can read in the Serbian media. Incomparably more than one can infer from the silence of Serbian politicians. Perhaps more of Serbia's destiny will be decided before Damascus than before Constantinople in 1453.

What can we do about it? Only pray for the forces of Good to triumph over Evil, knowing all the while that the line between them runs right through us.


Steve Hayes said...

Interesting piece. I've linked to it here Gray Falcon: Our Syria | Khanya

Anonymous said...

Very well-written post - I don't think anyone else has highlighted the dovish background of all the principals as you have, at least I haven't seen it anywhere else, and it's something that just never occurred to me. But you're right.

What others have pointed out is that any sorrow for Obama being maneuvered into a situation not of his making or where he is uncomfortable is surely misplaced if not wasted, because he has done more to normalize the surveillance state and a predilection for intervention than Romney ever would have been able to do. I don't think I've ever been so disappointed in a political leader, probably because I've never been so thoroughly fooled.