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The Path from 9/11 to Syria

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Message Mark Dunlea
Every year on the anniversary of 9/11, I have written an op ed reflecting on the horrors of that day, the lack of justice for those that were murdered, and many still unanswered questions. 

This year's anniversary is especially jarring, because President Obama wants to bomb Syria--over its alleged use of chemical weapons, the type of weapons we couldn't find after we invaded Iraq over 9/11. Obama also wants to send a variety of messages: that he is tough enough to enforce his redline on the use of chemical weapons; that he wants to break the Axis of Resistance against Israel (Iran, Syria, Hezbollah); and that Iran should be scared that their turn is next.

President Bush used our cries of grief after 9/11 to launch what has become perpetual war. On his watch, Obama is saying that we need to attack Syria to show that we condemn the use of chemical weapons. Yet, the US itself has repeatedly used chemical weapons in war.

We have used white phosphorous and depleted uranium in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the rules of war, white phosphorous is considered legal when used against military forces, but not against civilians--a distinction that is often lost on the battlefield (e.g., in the battle for Fallujah in Iraq). While various UN Commissions have proposed that depleted uranium (coated on shells to make it easier to penetrate armor) is illegal, including under the treaty banning chemical weapons, a formal ruling has yet to be made. But our own use of depleted uranium has already led to a significant rise in birth defects in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And while we deny that we knew that Hussein was using chemical weapons when we supported him in his war with Iran, it is undeniable that we provided military intelligence to help him target Iranian troops.

Once we bomb Syria, we won't be able to extract ourselves from that complex mix of revolution, civil war, and proxy war until it runs its many-year course, as in the case of the war in Lebanon, from 1975 to 1990. We would in reality also be attacking Syria's allies--particularly Russia and Iran. Drawing Russia into the battle could lead to nuclear Armageddon.

Has the US government learned nothing from 9/11? Isn't it evident that we shouldn't take military action based on unconfirmed reports? Or that terrorist attacks are best handled as the criminal acts they are? Or that our response should begin with a robust investigation of the crime, rather than, for instance, preventing UN investigators from completing their work.? Or that those found responsible should be held criminally liable? Or that we should seek to bring all the parties to the table to negotiate a resolution?

The administration argues that we tried to work within the UN to stop Assad, but that Russia and China used their veto power to block us. Granted, it isn't easy to end aggression by peaceful means, but neither is the resort to war.

Russia and China feel burned by the West, following their acquiescence in permitting military action against Libya. They did not authorize the US and its allies to utilize an anti-Gaddafi air force or to change the regime, but that's what happened.

When asked recently by Congress what the US will do once the bombing is completed in Syria, Secretary of State Kerry said that the other parties to the conflict, including Russia, are willing to sit down and talk. So why not skip the bombing and move directly to negotiations?

While Russia and China will block a UN-authorized military intervention at this time, they are willing to pass a Security Council resolution saying the UN should investigate to find those responsible for the chemical attacks and prosecute them through the International Criminal Court in accordance with the treaty banning chemical warfare.

Such a course is unacceptable to the US, however, because, once again, the issue of fossil fuels is part of its political equation. The oil sheiks, for instance, want to pipe the natural gas reserves of Qatar through Syria rather than Iran, and, toward that end, Qatar has reportedly provided several billion dollars to the forces fighting Assad.

Many people say it is time to move on from 9/11. It is now over with. The murder of three thousand innocent Americans has been avenged--ten, if not 100, times over.

I myself might be more willing to accept that reasoning, if, following 9/11, the federal government had itself moved on: if it had declared its war on terror a failure, brought it to a halt, restored civil rights in our country, cut the military budget by a least half--to pre-9/11 levels, and invested in creating jobs, rebuilding our infrastructure, and providing services here at home.

I am willing to accept as a starting point the main narrative of 9/11 as it is put forward by the American government--that Middle Eastern terrorists sought to kill Americans in retribution for our activities in their countries.

The official report on 9/11 found that 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. The Commission couldn't figure out who financed the attack, but said ultimately that it was not important, since the Saudi ruling family provided tens of millions of dollars annually to Al Qaeda and could have done so out of petty cash. (The Commission failed to investigate mainstream media reports that the Pakistani ISI--Pakistan's version of a combined CIA and FBI--had also financed the hijackers.)

Despite the Commission findings, the Bush administration and Congress didn't declare war on Saudi Arabia. First, they authorized the invasion of  Afghanistan, a country that President Carter and then Reagan had earlier helped destabilize by financing armed militias to ensnare the Soviet Union in a civil war on its southern border. Our second step shortly thereafter--before the first war was completed or the terrorists apprehended--was to invade the land of a former partner, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, on the pretense that our security was threatened by weapons of mass destruction that we were sure were there.

The neoconservatives (Cheney, Rumsfeld) who controlled our defense establishment had publicly written through the Project for the New American Century about the need for a new Pearl Harbor (e.g., an outside terrorist attack on America) to provide the political cover for an invasion of Iraq in order to seize control of the oil fields. It might have been helpful if Congress or the media had publicly questioned them about this.

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President of Green Education and Legal Fund Inc. Executive Director of Hunger Action Network. Author of Madame President: The Unauthorized Biography of the First Green Party President. Co
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The Path from 9/11 to Syria

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