Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Decades of Knee-Jerk Vetos for Israel Limit U.S. Options on Syria at the U.N

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Decades of Knee-Jerk Vetos for Israel Limit U.S. Options on Syria at the U.N

Article excerpt

Syrians are the victims of a smorgasbord of global double dealing and hypocrisy that exceeds the sad standards we have become used to in this century. The arguments have seen some unlikely alliances in the West. In support of intervention are people who are genuinely concerned at the plight of Syria's suffering people, along with those who are happy to cheer Israeli bombings of Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese people. The presence of these latter ghouls in the pro-intervention camp should give anyone pause, along with their like-minded neocon friends who want the Pentagon to use all that smart and lethal military technology.

On the other hand, we have conservative isolationists who really do not see it is as our business if foreigners are killing each other in faraway places of which they know little, and they are arm in arm with radical leftists. Once upon a time, the leftpreached proletarian internationalism, workers in unity across national boundaries, sending volunteers to Spain, calling for the opening of a Second Front in Europe and applauding foreign aid to the Viet Cong. In this new era of what we should puckishly call socialist nationalism, a country's sovereignty is sacred and unimpeachable-at least if threatened by any Western power. So they come to the same conclusion as the right: let them rot.

The United Nations is used as a tool by both sides. It has been honorable but ineffective. Ban Ki-moon has actually repeatedly emphasized the horror of what has happened while eschewing Washington's unilateralism.

Indeed, some of those who oppose intervention will piously point to the need for Security Council authorization before any action is taken against Syria, or Serbia, or Sudan. But if the U.N. does authorize action, those people will oppose it just as fervently! For the dying Syrians, the U.N. must seem thoroughly irrelevant, but it is the cockpit in which their case is being fought. Russia, a weaker power with a Security Council veto, cites the organization continuously as the necessary legitimation for action against Syria, clinging to the literal legality of U.N. obligations while being insouciant of the spirit.

President Barack Obama has been puzzlingly imprecise about U.S. attitudes to the world body, perhaps reflecting a battle inside his team with the neocons who see the U.N. as an instrument to be used when it suits them but cast aside when inconvenient. Obama's reputation will take considerable time to recover from his initial gaffe of suggesting that the U.S. would not wait for the U.N. inspectors' report on chemical weapons use in Damascus. After the brief post-Bush honeymoon, it is obvious that Washington's lucid moment about the U.N. and international law has come to an end.

One would like to think that the British House of Commons vote against intervention-from the parliament that declared war on Hitler because he had invaded Poland-was not simply an expression of isolationism, but also a comment on legality. Both Cameron and Obama had signaled their willingness to attack without the U.N. report, let alone a U.N. mandate.

The members of parliament also voted in a context in which it is universally admitted that Tony Blair and Bush lied to secure support for their disastrous attack on Iraq, and in which maladroit and insincere leadership turned a bad dream into a nightmare, and turned the intervention in Afghanistan-which was legal-into a total disaster.

The framers of the concept of Responsibility to Protect-R2P, as it became known in diplomatic shorthand in the age of text and Twitter-were well aware of the pitfalls, and their document anticipated most of the perils that face its honest application. Few countries are unalloyed emulators of the Good Samaritan: they do not like risking their own citizens' lives and taxpayers' finances in a good cause. One might remember that the U.S. sent the bill for Desert Storm to the Gulf states, who sent on their claims to be paid with Iraqi reparations. …

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