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From Russia With . . . Irony?

The Syrian dilemma, at least as far as chemical weapons are concerned, has seemed to resolve itself. Russian President Vladimir Putin came riding in on a white horse, shirtless of course, leaving President Obama and Secretary Kerry in a dust cloud of indecision while neatly getting the Syrian regime to turn over its stockpile of chemical weapons – that it said it doesn’t have. This was a real coup for the top Russian, who gave the Obama administration a “teachable moment” in both leadership and diplomacy on the international stage. As a former KGB agent, Putin surely must have laughed out loud at the irony.

Meanwhile, we, meaning the Obama Administration, are throwing our weight around by demanding this, that, and the other thing, as negotiations proceed on how to best secure and account for these WMD’s. We need everybody to know that we will keep our Tomahawk cruise missiles ready to launch on a moment’s notice in the event of noncompliance.

But Mr. Putin just couldn’t resist taunting us with his success in defusing the Syrian crisis. He went and wrote an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times. This was truly a “truth-to-power” moment. In commenting on the president’s address to the nation on September 10th regarding our “exceptionalism” (to be the world’s policeman), Putin replies, “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.” Of course, that phrase became the attention-getter for the media, as Putin no doubt intended.

 More importantly, Putin has exposed the raw underbelly of our foreign policy — arrogant, hegemonic, shortsighted, hypocritical, imperialistic. He is just saying out loud what other nations have said quietly for decades. By our actions, these are the attributes that have infused the foreign policies of the U.S. Not democracy, not humanitarianism, not civil rights, as we would like to believe.

 By any measure, we have the largest military force on the planet. And with over 1,000 bases in something more than 100 countries, we make sure everybody knows it. Not surprisingly, then, military action is at or near the top of the list for dealing with international conflicts, real or not.

 In the case of Syria, our Secretary of State, the nation’s designated peacemaker, talks of war. Our Secretary of War, er, Defense, is conspicuously absent from the debate. And General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just looks at his shoe laces and says very little.

 In another irony, if we use any kind of unilateral military action in Syria without a UN resolution to do so, that in itself would be an act or war and a violation of international law. In other words, the United States would be breaking international law to punish another country for breaking international law.

Of course, the way of getting around the legal problems is just to avoid ratifying treaties (which require approval by 2/3rds of the Senate) in the first place. To that point, the U.S. has yet to ratify some 37 international treaties. They include the Convention on Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, and the Ottawa Treaty that bans Land Mines. The latter being the one Princess Diana worked so hard to get adopted.

Written between the lines of his Op-Ed piece, President Putin is reminding us that the cold war is over, and that our dealings with the world should not be delivered on the point of a spear. “We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement,” he says.  

But our moral compass, it seems, points directly to the military industrial complex.


Published in the Joplin Globe, September 22, 2013

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