By John Pickerill
So the U.S. government conducted a cruise missile attack against Syria last Thursday (April 6) and no one is even asking why. Oh sure, the major news networks keep parroting the same claim that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad attacked his own civilians with chemical weapons. But no one is asking the most important questions:
- Since the Syrian military didn’t actually attack the United States, is it justified for the U.S. to conduct a military attack against Syria?
- Does President Trump (or Obama or Bush or Clinton before him) have the proper authority to carry out a military attack on a sovereign country when we are not at war with that country?
- Is there conclusive evidence that it was the Syrian government, and not someone else like ISIS, who carried out the chemical weapons attack?
- Does it even make sense to assume Assad would use chemical weapons right now?
The answer to all those questions is no. First, the Constitution does not allow the President to commit an act of war against another country on his own (except in self-defense against an imminent threat). Only the American people, through their elected representatives in Congress, can decide to send the
nation into war. Once that decision is made, then and only then can the President carry out the war effort as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. That is why, after Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, President Roosevelt understood he needed Congress to declare war before he could conduct combat operations against Japan.
What makes matters worse, there’s little evidence the Syrian government was the one behind this chemical weapons attack or even possessed any chemical weapons. In 2013 the United Nations declared the Syrian government no longer had any chemical weapons. On Jan 16 of 2017, U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice confirmed this fact in an interview with NPR saying, “We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.”
A more plausible scenario is that ISIS, al-Qaeda, or some another rebel group conducted the gas attack and then blamed it on the Syrian government. After all, that’s what happened in 2013. In August of that year in Ghouta the Syrian Army was accused of using chemical weapons. The UN thoroughly investigated the 2013 attack. Carla Del Ponte of the UN Commission of Inquiry concluded that the evidence showed the attack was carried out by the Syrian rebels, not the Syrian government. And now a scientific analysis of last week’s attack by MIT professor Theodore Postol (Professor of Science, Technology, and National Security) concluded the chemical weapon was not dropped by an aircraft, but instead was a make-shift weapon placed on the ground. That fact alone proves the recent official White House intelligence report was inaccurate.
Besides, Assad has nothing to gain and everything to lose by using chemical weapons right now. Only a few weeks ago the U.S. government was saying it would no longer seek regime change in Syria. On March 30 in Turkey, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson commented that Assad’s long-term status “will be decided by the Syrian people.” On that same day in New York the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, stated “our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.” So it defies any logic that on the eve of a Syria conference in Brussels and a week before peace negotiations were to resume, that the Syrian government would suddenly decide to use chemical weapons knowing it would turn the entire world against them.
It is also worth noting who else stands to gain by keeping the U.S. entangled in war: Neo-conservatives like Senator John McCain and those who fund them. The day after the Trump Administration launched the missile attack into Syria, stock prices jumped for Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Boeing, and other major U.S. defense contractors. That despite the rest of the stock market being down that day due to the disappointing jobs report. Those same contractors contributed $20 million to re-election campaigns in 2016 alone, with Raytheon (maker of the Tomahawk missile) giving more money to McCain than anyone else in government today. Perhaps we should heed President Eisenhower’s old warning, “…we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”
Many of us are rightly outraged over the 74 innocent victims (many of whom were children) who suffered a horrific death on April 4. But let’s keep it in perspective. Over 465,000 Syrians have died and a million have been injured. Over 12 million Syrians, half the country’s population, are homeless. We should be much more outraged at those statistics. Ever since U.S. politicians involved us in this conflict the misery in Syria has only gotten worse. It’s like Iraq all over again. Maybe it’s time for U.S. politicians to admit it, and stop trying to be the world’s policeman.