• "God invented war so Americans could learn geography" -- Mark Twain.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Humble Exceptionalism & Other Stupidities

Obama's speech on Tuesday night was a tour-de-force in disconnects and contradictions all of which, as La Rochefoucault might have said, served to illustrate the "tours et retours insensibles" of tyrannical self-love.

The premise of Obama's speech was that "Assad" -- that is, the Government of Syria -- had deployed sarin gas against civilians.  The speech offered no new evidence of this assertion but simply repeated the now familiar rhetorical mix-n-match of ambiguous circumstantial facts.

In case anyone wonders what i mean by ambiguous: "In the days leading up to 21 August, ... Assad's chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area they where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops."   Yes indeed, commanders do tend to distribute gas masks when there is a danger of being attacked by gas.  Yes indeed, the precaution taken was near a chemical weapons depot but that is not the same as alleging that those troops were mixing sarin at that time.  As premise for a casus belli this was shabby stuff more in keeping with a prosecutor pushing a cheap case. 

But the argued case for war was shabbier still, beginning with the moronic remark that "[b]ecause these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant..." the world "has spent a century working to ban them." Actually, U.S. and British "area bombing" during the World War made "no distinction" between soldiers and infants and the distinction between gas and DIME bombs which riddle the body with microscopic shrapnel and which the United States supplied to Israel for use against civilians in Gaza and Lebanon is mostly choice of carnage and taste in melodrama.  Indiscriminate killing certainly presents a problem for international law but the choice of indiscriminate means is a collateral issue. 

When Obama stated that "civilised world has spent a century working to ban" chemical weapons, he was technically correct.  But he conveniently ignored the fact that the United States actively pursued a policy of indiscriminate aerial  killing "on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant" during the World War and that it was near 75 years before the United States formally ratified the Geneva Protocol on chemical weapons. As Georges Clemanceau famously said, "Wilson talks like Jesus Christ, but he acts like Lloyd-George."

However, thinking like Lloyd-George, Obama was actually rather clear-headed.  He said more than once that the "Assad regime" did not present a threat to American national security: "the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military," it is "not a direct or imminent threat to our security," and "[n]either Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise. And our ally Israel can defend itself with overwhelming force;" and "so there is no threat to our security."  Got that?  Neither the Assad regime, nor its possession of chemical weapons presents a direct or imminent or reasonably foreseeable danger to the United States ... or even ... sacrosanct Israel. 

Given that finding, Obama's answer to his own question "what the United States of America and the international community is prepared to do" about Assad's supposed use of gas against civilians ought to be, "Nothing."  After all, if there is no likelihood that Syria will use gas against the United States or Israel, there is even less likelihood that it will use it against the United Kingdom, Russia, France or Argentina.  The rule of international law is that, absent self-defence, a resort to violence is permitted only when authorised by the Security Council.

But instead of coming to that logical conclusion, Obama did a volt face and repeated several times that a military strike was necessary in order to "to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime's ability to use them and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use."  A failure to do so, he said, would mean that "other tyrants will have no reason to think twice" about using chemical weapons and would embolden Assad's ally, Iran, which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path"... as surely our devoted ally, Israel, has done. Surely this qualifies as a "massive disconnect." 

This very massive disconnect is the fundamental axiom of neocon geopolitical strategy.  True national security is not achieved by heaping conjectural possibility upon possibility and then preemptively reacting to them.  Nevertheless, neocon  policy is premised on the idea that America's "preeminence" needs to enhanced and enforced by "power projection" operations around the globe aimed at "deterring" potential threats and dissuading potential enemies from aspiring to challenge America's Alpha Maleness.

In other words Obama's power projection against Syria has nothing at all to do with its chemical weapons or with the horror of babies "foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath." It has everything to do with American and Israeli hegemony.  Surely this qualifies as a "massive hypocrisy" albeit one which Obama sought to obfuscate in lofty froth: "Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria..." 

Having previously stated that Syria did not present a threat to U.S. national security, that left "ideals and principles" at the stake.  Obama did not say what these were and one was left to suppose that he meant those tried and true ideals which his hackneyed perorations have repeatedly fallen back on: "the true genius of America, a faith...  a faith in simple dream" that all men (and women too) "are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, ...." etc. etc.  (Address to Democratic Convention (2004); see also 2013 Inaugural.)  Snore.

The ideals and principles actually at issue are those which concern international law, the simple premise of which is that war between states is the summum malum which embraces all subsidiary evils and that, therefore, no nation state shall resort to force against another except in  self-defence against an actual or clearly imminent attack.

There is a reason for this principle and it is called "World War II" the destruction, depredations and slaughter of which ought not to be forgotten.  That horror was not a result of the "appeasement" American and British politicians are so fond of harping on.  What is called "appeasement" was a policy of affirmatively supporting anti-communist dictatorships by way of cordon sanitaire.   The war was a result of every nation becoming a law unto itself --  casting to wind all and any conventional restraints.  Who started the war and who provoked it are not as germane as the fact that 60 million dead and massive physical destruction are what happen when nation states get tired of sitting and talking.  It was that result which led to the forming of the United Nations and to the principle that henceforth, nations would not be the judges in their own cases; a non-defensive resort to force was allowed only when its necessity was so clear as to command a consensus among the major powers. 

Obombo side-stepped this fundamental ideal and principle by a naked resort to Penis Pride: "Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn't do pinpricks." 

Oh well, in that case project ahead! 

Here too, Obama again spoke out of both sides of his mouth: "[S]everal people wrote to me, we should not be the world's policeman. I agree."  Even so, "it falls to the United States to enforce international agreements.  The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world's a better place because we have borne them."

As Obama must surely know from his law school days, the heart of all law is procedure not substance.  The primary issue is not what needs to be enforced but how.  Totally contrary to Obama's implied assertion, no one has ever given the United States a standing mandate to enforce whatever, whenever it deems it expedient and necessary.  It falls to the United States to enforce some international agreement only when the international community specifically authorises it. If a consensus cannot be reached the answer is: "tuff!"

The United States seems to think that the failure of a consensus becomes a justification for dispensing with the requirement.  But, as any child can see, such a justification destroys the rule and sets the world back into that mode in which every nation becomes a law unto itself.

Within and behind the maze of contradictions, Obama's speech stood as a stunning example of international, imperial arrogance.  But it did not stop there. Obama went on to assert an imperial prerogative even within America's borders.  Acknowledging the need for a national consensus, Obama grandiloquently stated that he had submitted the matter to Congress.  But by "consensus" Obama simply meant an opportunity to agree with him.  If aggreement was not forthcoming -- if a democratic consensus could not be reached -- fuck it; he had the "authority" to act on his own.

In sum, Obombo's address to the nation was nothing over and above a declaration of tyrannical prerogative at home and abroad.  To cover the stench, he resorted to more treakle and to one final absurdity.  In order to make "our own children safer over the long run... we should act. That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional. With humility... let us never lose sight of that essential truth."

Yes! Yes! In all humility, let us confess that we are exceptional!

Alexis de Tocqueville would no doubt  remark that the notion of "humble exceptionalism" aptly encapsulates the warped American psyche ever at war with itself.  To that extent Obama's speech could be viewed as completely honest.

© WCG, 2013