This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Reading the text of President Obama’s statement yesterday yesterday on the American response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria was almost as depressing as watching Secretary of State’s John Kerry’s remarks the day before. I find it difficult to believe that men of such intelligence can dumb down their sense of the world to such a degree that it lacks all credibility. Are they mouthing the platitudes of an empire nation or do they believe their sophistry?
All of us claim the moral high ground when we make arguments against others. But the moral high ground that Obama and Kerry claim is beyond belief, without a credible foundation and, I believe, without a national or international audience that will assent to it. That is, to those who refuse to dwell in ignorance of what the United States does around the world.
What else is there to say that hasn’t been said already? The most obvious comparison between Secretary of State Colin Powell’s justification for the US invasion of Iraq and Kerry’s remarks are telling. Even Kerry’s denial of the comparison points to the need to analyze with precision what Kerry – and Obama – said and what they didn’t say. Both assert “facts” and veil them. Both are precise. Both never quite hit the mark.
Then there is the arrogance of power. Listen to Obama as he cites his determination to strike Syria and our ability to dictate the time and place:
Now, after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope. But I’m confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out.
Our military has positioned assets in the region. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose. Moreover, the Chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now. And I’m prepared to give that order.
We – the righteous – are prepared to strike when we want, how we want and with the results dictated in advance, of course, from a safe distance, so that our military “assets” are beyond reach. The Syrians – the Other – are left to calculate time and effect, the danger to them and their neighbors and what might happen in retaliation for our principled behavior and the need to teach the Syrian leadership the lessons of lessons.
Then there is Kerry. Listening to his moral indignation one wonders at his ability to tolerate the cold blooded murder of as many Egyptians in the last weeks as killed in the chemical weapons attack in Syria:
What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality. Let me be clear. The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable. And despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.
“Let me be clear.” “Undeniable.” Strong words for a political leaders and a nation where excuses are always at the ready. As in Egypt, where “strategic considerations” override moral indignation. As in Israel for decades and even now. The double standards are obvious.
At some point, double standards come home to roost. It won’t happen in time for the Syrian people. They are left to listen to Congressional debates, check the calendar and watch the sky for their incoming fate.