Have You Heard the One About the Middle East Peace Talks?

by , September 05, 2013

No? Well no one else has heard anything about them either. They could easily become the basis for a joke inside the beltway but for the fact that no one in Washington has a sense of humor. As the Chief US mediator is named Martin Indyk one would think there is sufficient fodder for an extended Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert play on words monologue, but perhaps silence about an embarrassment of colossal proportions is the best policy. Indyk must nevertheless be enjoying those quiet evenings at the King David Hotel, hosting his cronies dating from his time as ambassador, possibly contemplating what his next assignment might be. Gauleiter of the conquered Judea and Samaria, perhaps? Surely presiding over an episode in political chicanery that has the entire world laughing merits some reward above and beyond the emoluments he has already received from his good friends in Washington and Tel Aviv for his superb job in keeping the wild Palestinians in check.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who certainly deserves some credit for the splendid entertainment he provided, has moved on to better things and is hoping that Indyk will keep his mouth shut and enjoy the paid vacation. Kerry is busy working his way through The Little Book of Atrocities in order to find just the right words to describe Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. His copy of the book sadly is missing the pages that include the words "drone," "rendition," "assassination," "secret prisons," "torture" and "waterboarding," but apart from that there is some really good meaty material. Who would have thought up expressions he used like "moral obscenity," "crime against conscience," "crime against humanity" and the alliterative "cowardly crime?" Kerry went on Meet the Press on Sunday where he likened al-Assad to Saddam Hussein and that perennial favorite Adolph Hitler.

Kerry is also engaged in orchestrating anonymous leaks to support the White House line while simultaneously and characteristically asserting that the administration has all the evidence it needs though no one is actually allowed to see any of it, bolstering his claim with an extremely precise tally of 1,429 dead in the chemical attack, a number which he has no means to determine unless he used a Ouija board. His belief that by punishing al-Assad Washington and its allies would be upholding the "promise of the planet" confuses me a bit, but that might be a reference to something in The Lord of the Rings, possibly relating to the Dark Lord Sauron. Even if the allusion isn’t actually quite so literary everyone is entitled to one flight of fancy while having to make things up to explain why you want to do something that is really stupid.

Or consider President Barack Obama’s assertion that chemical weapons used in Syria in a "brutal and flagrant" fashion threaten the United States. Apparently maps are not readily available in the White House, but the president is, after all, a lawyer and his argument is presumably more subtle than that. He observes that the chemical weapons in Syria could fall into the hands of terrorists who would then use them in the United States. Mission accomplished presumably if they can shave off their beards and buy a Brooks Brothers suit, get a visa, obtain an airline ticket, travel with a suitcase crammed with chemicals down in the hold and escape the hawk-like gaze of the Transportation Security Administration. And they better not use a cell phone while they are arranging all of the above lest they get intercepted by the NSA and zapped by a predator drone. That the terrorists are in Syria in the first place because of the misplaced policies of Obama and his friends, who are supporting them with weapons and money, matters not a whit. It is so yesterday to think that way, almost like the kind of arguments that Senator Obama himself used to make when talking about Iraq. But that was a long time ago.

Possibly the strangest argument being made to support an attack is that al-Assad might not have ordered the use of chemicals but he is responsible anyway. This reportedly derives from the paucity of hard intelligence relating to the incident, with many of the alleged communications intercepts apparently being limited to low level chatter by soldiers who were believed to be preparing the weapons. It is an odd argument because by that gold standard, George W. Bush. Dick Cheney and Barack Obama are surely guilty of torture and assorted other war crimes carried out by their subordinates, but I suspect it will be a cold day in hell before any of those miscreants find themselves on the receiving end of accountability.

Meanwhile, it is damned clever of the Israelis to make the peace talks go away, while simultaneously shooting unarmed Palestinian demonstrators and announcing the building of 1,500 new houses on the West Bank. It almost makes someone suspect that they might have been somehow behind the apparent use of chemicals on Syrian civilians since they also provided the intelligence implicating the Syrian government and sure are pushing hard for the United States to "do something" about al-Assad. That is called narrative shifting. Having a little war going on in the neighborhood is not half bad if you are up to no good yourself.

And then there is the American horse in the race. Well, that’s a trick question because there isn’t one. The United States is not at war with Syria, has not been threatened by al-Assad, and will accomplish absolutely nothing by lobbing a few dozen cruise missiles towards Damascus. Except that those cruise missiles cost about $1,410,000 a pop and deploying those ships to the Syrian coast ain’t cheap either pushing the total bill into the hundreds of millions, but that is just tough luck for the taxpayers when the President of the United States is wanting to demonstrate how tough he can be. Can Obama attack Syria? Sure. Under the terms of the War Powers Resolution of 1973 the president can initiate military action without anyone’s approval. He then has 60 days to explain to congress why he did what he did. The prerogative of the president to go to war without sanction was intended to allow the chief executive the latitude to repel an enemy attack or invasion or to respond to a state of emergency, but Obama has interpreted it to mean that anything he chooses to do on grounds of national security is both legal and constitutional.

So there is nothing to stop Obama from bombing Syria, with or without the congressional approval that he is now seeking. Kerry has already announced that the president has "the right" to bomb whatever the outcome. In appealing to congress, Obama will undoubtedly make the case that Damascus is in league with Tehran to gain the support of the Israeli Lobby, which is currently hard at work contacting congressmen. Obama has already said that failing to stop chemical weapons will make it harder to stop nuclear proliferators and he has undoubtedly counted heads to confirm that he has enough votes to endorse his policy, though there should be a substantial number of "no’s" coming from the few congressmen who have seriously considered the possible consequences supplemented by Republicans out to embarrass him. Nevertheless, one remains astonished that Obama has embraced a punishing attack at all given the horrific track record on interventions starting with Afghanistan and Iraq and continuing more recently with Libya. And let’s face it, lacking any imprimatur from either the UN or Nato or even from the British, the ongoing attempt to gather a "coalition of the willing" to join in the effort is largely cosmetic, designed to make it look like there is some kind of international consensus to stage an attack. There is not. According to opinion polls only Israelis favor an attack on Syria and in the United States the public is strongly opposed to any sustained military action.

So why is Washington doing this since it will in no way affect things on the ground in Syria apart from the collateral damage murder of a bunch of Syrians? Well, to hear Obama and Kerry tell it American "credibility" and Syrian "accountability" are at stake, meaning that when you draw a theoretical red line over something that is none of your business you have to be serious about it. And there is a delicious irony in that if there is a government anywhere that has been neither accountable nor credible in the past decade it is the United Sates. All it means in reality is that when a government that Washington doesn’t particularly like uses weapons that the American government has forbidden it must be punished to serve as an example. Unfortunately, the posturing about illegal weapons did not apply when Israel used white phosphorous in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza during 2009 to kill over a thousand civilians, including many children, but that was a conflict that the White House supported so the war crime bar was set a lot higher. Washington also looked the other way when at-that-time America’s favorite thug Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds and Iranians. The double standard will be noted by many around the world.

All of which makes one ask whether we have gone completely crazy as a nation or does it only seem that way? Maybe the Obama Administration is all a Potemkin village and there is a real government somewhere hidden that actually knows what it is doing. Recall the by today’s standards impossibly politically incorrect Monty Python sketch about a television quiz show in which the viewer had to spot the looney? The looneys would, at intervals, float or bounce across the screen with improbable costumes, red wigs, protruding eyes, and "A Looney" even written in red on their bare chests. A buzzer would sound when someone spotted them. Well, I think I have spotted the looneys. They look an awful lot like Barack Obama, John Kerry, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power when they are trying to explain why we must attack Syria. Too bad I don’t have a buzzer that I can push to reveal to them that I know what they are. Too bad.

Read more by Philip Giraldi