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Donnelly/My Turn: Red faced, red-handed

The hostile outburst directed at Russian President Vladimir Putin for his statements in behalf of ending Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal should shame those attacking him. From U.S. senators to panelists on CNN, Putin’s gracious, conciliatory remarks in a New York Times op-ed have been subjected to insulting remarks. One of the nastiest remarks came from the was usually sensible Sen. Robert Hernandez, who said that reading Putin’s words made him want to “vomit.” Others have stubbornly dismissed Putin’s sensible words as a trick.

Putin’s sensible peace gesture contrasts with the United States’ handling of foreign affairs in Syria. U.S. fueling of rebellion in Syria has been less than admirable, as was its earlier attack on Libya. The “red line” drawn by President Obama was in retrospect rash and imprudent. His announcement of an impending a military strike on Syria violates the U.N. Charter. Thomas Jefferson Law School professor Marjorie Cohn points out that “Article 2(4) makes it illegal for any country to either use force or threaten to use force against another country.” The incestuous relationship between the major media and the government keeps such awkward facts out of sight.

Any suspicions about Putin’s motives would have been better directed at the tricky wording in the recent U.S. resolution on Libya that surprised co-signers on the U.N. Security Council when the U.S. claimed that the wording about “humanitarian” assistance conferred the right to rain down bombs and rockets on Libya, killing by some estimates tens of thousands.

U.S. attacks did not count as “hostilities,” the administration argued. The U.S. has remained silent about the Libyan death toll it inflicted, even as it offered as fact “1,429” Syrians killed in the chemical weapons attack. England and France put the estimate in the low hundreds. All the deaths are horrible, of course; the point here is that in one instance our government uses a high (and unconfirmed) and very specific figure in hopes of garnering support for a military attack, while in the Libyan case, the government is shy about providing any figures that tell how many Libyans died from U.S. and French bombs and missiles.

Some of the finger-pointing at Syria’s government might apply as well to the U.S. and its own stock of chemical weapons, which the government has repeatedly stalled in destroying and are not scheduled to be completely destroyed for more than a decade. The U.S. has used its own variants of chemical weapons in Vietnam and Iraq — if not poison gas — where the effects are being felt in a surge of babies born with birth defects.

Syria has every right to insist that as it agrees to divest itself of chemical weapons stocks, the U.S. should cease supplying arms to the rebels, especially since their ranks are increasingly filled by Islamic jihadists from abroad. Syria has not ratified the chemical weapons treaty banning them and could argue, if it turns out it is guilty of having used them, that they didn’t violate an agreement they never made. It is surprising that Assad has expressed a willingness to accept the treaty, given the fact that Syria’s immediate neighbor, Israel, has never ratified the chemical weapons ban treaty.

Regime change in several countries has been Israel’s hope for years and is spelled out by Richard Perle and other neoconservatives who continually lobby the U.S. to act on Israel’s behalf.

A strategy paper co-authored by Perle and others calls for “Securing the Realm,” by promoting regime changes nearby unfriendly countries, including Iraq, Iran. and Syria. A later paper contains a remark especially pointed in light of subsequent events: “Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event –– like a new Pearl Harbor.” The “Realm” to be secured, of course, is Israel, not the U.S., although the U.S. military has been busy fulfilling that agenda. The al-Qaida attack on 9/11 provided a Pearl Harbor-like catastrophe and an excuse to attack Iraq. The chaos resulting from the U.S. war in Iraq, its bombing of Libya, and its current help in weakening Syria through prolonged war may end in Balkanizing those countries — that is, breaking them up — which would likely mean that they would be occupied with internal quarrels over the control of oil and power.

Israel, like the U.S., has been having second thoughts about regime change in Syria, since the influx of al-Qaida fighters could dominate the country if Assad fell. Unmentioned in most discussions of the Syrian crisis is Israel’s continuing and illegal occupation of Syria’s Golan Heights. Even less mentioned is that Israel is currently drawing more than 30 percent of its water supply from that occupied land. A weakened Syria makes return of its territory unlikely.

Jerome Donnelly is a retired university professor who lives in New Salem part of the year.

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