Monday, October 27, 2008

Attack in Syria: A Late October Surprise?

Lest we forget, as much as we may want to, Bush, Cheney and Gates are still busy plotting and carrying out various random attacks on sovereign countries while most of America is focused on the election and the accompanying financial crisis. I have to add though that, even if nothing else was happening, I suspect the majority of Americans wouldn't even blink at the fact that the US military has continually invaded Pakistan's territory in recent months and has now completed an air raid in Syria's boundaries. USA! USA! and all of that... The desire to win something, somewhere is overwhelming.

Depending on who you believe, the attack on Sunday either "killed a major smuggler of foreign fighters into Iraq" according to some anonymous "US official" and/or resulted in the deaths of 8 civilians.

Killing innocent people is a nasty habit the US military has yet to shake as it continually happens in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq - to list the countries that we know of where such "mistakes" involving "collateral damage" take place. We have no idea what other covert operations around the world might be "accomplishing" in this failed war on terror.

I don't think it's a stretch to see this latest US show of militarism in Syria as perhaps a signal favouring the election of Netanyahu over Livni after she admitted this week that she had failed to form a coalition government in Israel and was forced to call an election. Netanyahu has flatly stated that he has no interest in compromising to further the Israeli/Palestinian peace process (such as it is) and if Livni manages to win, media reports characterize the situation as having now delayed that process for at least a year.

While this certainly isn't a good outcome for Bush, who had expressed that he wanted to find some finality on the I/P issue - but who, in reality, along with Condi had stalled progress repeatedly for years - aggression towards Syria could serve as a favour to McCain. We'll have to see how or if he plans to handle this news if his campaign can manage to get the focus off of Palin's wardrobe (an issue she can't seem to let go of).

As Marc J. Sirois writing in Lebanon's Daily Star explains, after analyzing the futility of attacking Iran:

Then came another kind of "surprise." The global financial crisis that broke out earlier this month did not just damage McCain's campaign by exposing his fundamental (and openly acknowledged) ignorance on economic matters ahead of an era in which such abilities are likely to be at a premium. It also forced the US government to take on trillions of dollars in new liabilities in a bid to restore confidence in the markets. Given the gargantuan deficits and debt already amassed by Bush's profligate spending on wars against Muslims, tax breaks for the rich, and subsidies for large corporations, a costly war with Iran is simply no longer a viable option.

For all of these reasons, Syria must look like a more attractive target, especially if Washington can maintain a level of hostilities that is sufficient to pique the average American's "patriotism" but not so intense that it incurs significant costs. There is no guarantee, however, that the Syrians would cooperate with such an approach, even though any form of response in kind on their part would only invite the Americans to escalate disproportionately, especially with their overwhelming advantage in air power.

The ball seems to have gotten rolling in a Syrian village near the Iraqi border shortly before dusk on Sunday. According to Damascus, US troops arrived in helicopters and assaulted a building under construction at a farmstead, killing eight civilians - half of them children.

The Bush administration's official reaction has been painfully slow in coming, but according to an Associated Press report, a US military officer has confirmed that an attack was carried out by special forces. "We are taking matters into our own hands," AP quoted the officer as saying on condition of anonymity because of what the reporter described as the "political sensitivity" - no mention of patent illegality - "of cross-border raids." Pointedly, the comments came in Washington, not from an officer on the ground in Iraq, where the US military professed to be in the dark about the attack in Syria.
So why now? The timing has got to be instilling a sense of deja vu among senior members of the Syrian regime. They recall with consternation that even after US diplomats publicly acknowledged the value of Syrian intelligence assistance in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Bush and other senior figures kept up their menacing rhetoric about Damascus. [even though they used Syria as a dumping ground for suspects they wanted tortured, like Canada's Maher Arar -catnip]

This looks to be different. Even if Damascus were still a target in Bush's so-called "war on terror," the timing is so vulnerable to accusations of an attempt to influence the election that only a dire threat could possibly justify taking the risk. Even if it turns out that what the Americans hit was indeed tied to the insurgency, therefore, hitting it now makes no sense - unless the real objective is to capture the hearts and minds of undecided voters in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

While Sirois "hope[s] that Obama wins the White House and then makes good on his promise as a conciliatory figure", Obama's fealty to AIPAC may supersede any possible progress with Syria's government on the I/P and Iraq war fronts. The Bush administration's decision to launch this latest attack has only complicated matters but hasn't that been its legacy around the world since day one?

No matter who wins the US election, the dangerously shifting sands in the Middle East will no doubt see the US government involved in extremely complex deliberations for years to come - especially once the Pentagon finally admits that military might is not the answer and that might not happen unless the US finally goes completely bankrupt. A new Great Depression might provide exactly the amount of humility needed to finally reach that point.

But who am I kidding?


Baghdad condemns 'US Syria raid'

Speaking after a Baghdad cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh also explicitly criticised the US over the unconfirmed helicopter strike.

"The Iraqi government rejects the US helicopter strike on Syrian territory, considering that Iraq's constitution does not allow its land to be a base for launching attacks on neighbouring countries," he said.


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