Notes From the Margins…

Hello America: The President Would Like Your Permission to Bomb

  • September 04, 2013
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Americans may be reluctant to get involved in another Middle Eastern war, but the US political elite is not going to allow public opinion get in the way of another righteous intervention.   Because foreign policy, national security and reasons of state are serious matters that require serious leaders,  with wisdom, judgment and insight, and an understanding of the dangerous and unstable world that we inhabit.

Such leaders know, as the rest of the world does,  that America is the one ‘indispensable nation’ in these troubled times and that this indispensability is dependent on its credibility, and that for this credibility to be truly credible,   it must be demonstrated through periodic acts of exemplary violence.

As  Michael Ledeen, the creepy little neocon and Contragate spook, once put it:   “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”

Fortunately, America is currently blessed with an abundance of politicians who understand the truth of this essential philosophy, men – and women – who know a crisis when they see one and know that there is no crisis that a cruise missile strike can’t solve, and no lie too big or too gross to bring one about.

Americans in search of answers to the Syrian crisis for example, can find men like John Boehner, Lindsey Graham, John McCain and John Kerry.   Or women like Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Susan Rice and Samantha Power.

But most of all, they have the towering moral presence of President Barack Obama, the former community leader from Chicago who came to power on an anti-war platform offering Americans something called ‘hope’; the sonorous orator and Nobel Peace Prize winner turned war-junkie, who is now lying and stumbling towards another war with a combination of  incoherence and deceit that almost begins to make his predecessor look as if he knew what he was doing.

Only last week Obama was about to bypass the UN and Congress and blast Syria on the basis of a cooked intelligence report on the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, because the conscience of the world demanded action, according to his increasingly dazed and glassy-eyed looking Secretary of State.   Such action, we were told, were going to be merely punitive and ‘deterrent’ – a surgical slap on the wrist that would merely ‘degrade’ Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons rather than take sides.

Then Obama suddenly decided to postpone the strikes and go to Congress after all.   Obama’s insists that the president doesn’t require   authorisation from Congress in order to carry out military strikes on Syria, but the president is clearly nervous about the Democrats taking exclusive responsibility for the course he’s embarked on.

This is why Nancy Pelosi is backing Obama, and why the administration is courting Republican hardliners like Boehner and McCain, who always want to shoot first and ask questions later,   and seeking a rubber stamp from Congress about a decision that’s already been taken.

Because it’s lonely at the top, and having locked himself into a military response to the Syrian civil war that has no goals and little prospect of success, Obama wants consensus – or at least the appearance of it.

This pseudo-consultation also explains the slippage in the message.   Courting the organized mob that the Republican Party has become means that you have to throw them some chunks of raw meat to chew on.     So last week it was ‘no boots on the ground.’ Now Kerry has suggested that American troops might end up in Syria after all.

And it also turns out that the ‘deterrent’ strikes won’t just ‘degrade’ Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons: they are also intended to have a ‘downstream’ impact on its conventional military capability – an objective that sounds a lot more like regime change and a direct intervention in the Syrian civil war.

And questions of conscience, humanitarianism and ‘saving lives’ are now slipping into the back story of a propaganda offensive that portrays Syria as a threat to America’s national security.   Does Obama seriously anticipate a chemical weapons attack on New York?

No, but it’s always useful to tell Americans that this might happen, just as Bush and Co. once did when they suggested that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda might get together and saturate the eastern seaboard with anthrax and botulism.

The ‘national security’ narrative also allows the president to reserve the right to take unilateral action just in case Congressmen actually listen to their constituencies.     In 2007 Obama told the Boston Globe that he would only take unilateral military action in “instances of self-defense”, because ” The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

Presenting Syria as “an actual or imminent threat” resolves that conundrum – regardless of whether it’s actually true, but if you’ve told so many lies then one more isn’t going to make much difference.



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  1. Richard Carter

    4th Sep 2013 - 9:08 am

    You’re dead right to pick up on the supposed national security angle. In the Washington Post piece that you link to, General Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff no less, that “On this issue, that is the use of chemical weapons, I find a clear linkage to our national security interest.”

    Is Dempsey (a) politically naive, (b) highly devious or (c) just incredibly stupid?
    In what conceivable sense can the limited use of chemical weapons in a civil war in Syria be described as linked to US national security? Maybe someone can tell me…

    • Matt

      4th Sep 2013 - 12:46 pm

      I suspect he’s just doing what he’s been told, given that his more cautious comments beforehand don’t coincide with the official narrative.

  2. Richard Carter

    4th Sep 2013 - 9:18 am

    And the Senate motion (they call it a resolution but it doesn’t become one until it’s carried, not that such niceties would bother these people) would give the US power to carry out its intervention for 60 days with the possibility of a 30-day extension: doesn’t sound much like “a limited and tailored use” of military might to me. Details at

    • Matt

      4th Sep 2013 - 12:47 pm

      It certainly doesn’t!

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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