Spurious case for war

Just as the hysteria over Iraq’s supposed WMDs was phoney, this time the West’s case for war bristles with contradictions. The horror over Syria’s alleged use of poison gas reeks of hypocrisy.

The sword of Damocles hanging over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s head is reason enough for Asia to close ranks. Ignoring Shia-Sunni or Arab-Aryan rivalry, the Arab League, Organisation of Islamic Conference and non-aligned nations movement should jointly insist on a peace conference on Syria before it is too late.
Parliamentary opinion has forced British Prime Minister David Cameron to withdraw from aggressive plans. Seventy per cent of the French are against attacking Syria. Even US President Barack Obama is waiting for Congressional approval. Now is the time for India and China to seize the diplomatic initiative.
Jawaharlal Nehru organised a conference when the Dutch, encouraged by Britain, threatened to reconquer Indonesia after World War II. He also sent Biju Patnaik on a daring mission to rescue some top Indonesian leaders. Despite strong American pressure, the exercise succeeded in mobilising opinion against the reimposition of colonialism. That is what Asia needs again today.
As a Security Council member with the right of veto, China is in the stronger position. Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, has already announced that only a “political solution” can solve the problem. But since India probably enjoys greater credibility, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid should go beyond refusing to support any action without United Nations approval. India needs to be more proactive in consultation with China.
Just as the hysteria over Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction turned out to be as phoney as the physical evidence Colin Powell brandished, this time, too, the West’s case for war bristles with contradictions. The horror over Syria’s alleged use of poison gas and calls for a liberal democratic regime in Damascus reeks of hypocrisy. Efforts to bypass Russia and China at the UN and to avoid a negotiated solution suggest that once again, the search for supporting evidence follows a preordained decision.
It’s no one’s case that Mr Assad’s minority sect Alawite regime epitomises liberal democratic values. His Ba’ath Socialist Party has held power since 1963. His family has ruled Syria since 1971. Discontent is inevitable. But
Mr Assad is no religious fundamentalist unlike the absolute monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both close US allies, who have long funded and armed his enemies. What really condemn him are his friendly ties with Iran and the Hezbollah, both being among his weapons suppliers. Thanks to them, Mr Assad, who made significant advances against the rebels in Qusayr and north of Homs, seemed likely to be winning the war last week when British MPs refused to permit military action against Syria.
His success may have alarmed Turkey and Israel, both also close American partners. One is a major Nato force, the other a key determinant of US policy through the American Zionist lobby. With disgruntled Kurds straddling the 560-mile Turkey-Syria border along which there is constant friction, Ankara has been clamouring for a no-fly zone over Syria. It was no accident that just as the Turks were carving out a 10-km-wide “no man’s land” out of Syrian territory, Israel mobilised its forces on the Golan Heights, which it seized from Syria in 1967.
Syria is Iran’s only Arab ally. Destroying Syria would deal a severe blow to Hassan Rowhani, the moderate cleric who is Iran’s new President. Israel is also raring to demolish Iran’s suspected nuclear facilities.
The US has regarded Iran as its enemy ever since the Shah’s fall. In 1988, the CIA was responsible for the misinformation that Iran had gassed thousands of Kurds in Halabjah. The actual culprit, Saddam Hussein, wasn’t blamed because he was fighting the Ayatollah who was America’s enemy. Saddam’s use of mustard gas in the eight-year war with Iran was also glossed over. A famous photograph shows Donald Rumsfeld, the US secretary for war, shaking hands with Saddam only the day after the public announcement of the gas use.
Yet, John Kerry, the secretary of state, blandly declares, “The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders, by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.” He can’t have read the report of Christopher Busby, scientific secretary of the European committee on radiation risk, that the US used white phosphorous and depleted uranium against Iraq in 2003. Fallujah, where the poison was unleashed, recorded “the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied.”
Nor can Mr Kerry have seen Time magazine’s grim cover photograph of a war-weary American soldier swinging a dead Asian baby by its uplifted arms as if it were some small animal or doll. Between 1962 and 1971, the US poisoned Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos with 20 million gallons of defoliant and herbicides, including the notorious Agent Orange that blighted everything within range. Hanoi calculates the gas killed 400,000 Vietnamese and resulted in 500,000 children being born with physical and mental defects.
No one has suggested that the US might find Syria’s natural gas fields even more attractive than Iraq’s oil fields. Natural gas means clean energy, which is becoming mandatory for members of the European Union which has imposed an arms embargo on Syria. But neither the Western powers nor Israel wants to see the $10-billion Syria-Iran-Iraq pipeline — agreed to in July 2011 — realised.
The personal factor is Mr Obama’s dread that friends and foes alike might interpret inaction over Syria as weakness. Having announced a “red line” that Mr Assad wouldn’t be allowed to cross, America’s first black President is possibly haunted by the fear of what posterity might say if Iran goes ahead with the bomb because he didn’t punish Syria.
There is no reason why Asians should have to pay for these Western dilemmas. A Syrian peace conference and a firm stand against outside intervention might still help to regain the initiative. Asia’s future must be in Asian hands.

The writer is a senior journalist, columnist and author

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