Lawrence Powell, Contributor
Watching Obama's Syria speech Tuesday night, right after viewing Charlie Rose's interview with Assad (which revealed his gentler, caring side), brought to mind the verse "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." (Matthew 5:9). Unfortunately, it also reminded me of Gandhi's sad observation that "an eye for eye makes the whole world blind".
In their parallel self-revelations, both Obama and Assad gave the impression of wanting what is truly best for the Syrian people, and the world. Both ache from this tragedy, from the ongoing destruction of human life they see before them.
And yet, both find themselves irresistibly propelled towards violent conflict, seemingly by powerful forces they cannot control and do not fully understand. How do such good intentions become so twisted that they lead to such horrors of war? Each leader demonises the other, portrays him as the absolute enemy of goodness - leaving him little room for compromise or cooperation.
As philosopher Sam Keen once put it, their fear-based thinking reduces to:
We are innocent. / They are guilty.
We tell the truth, inform. / They lie, use propaganda.
We only defend ourselves. / They are aggressors.
We have a defence department. / They have a war department.
Our country's weapons are designed to deter. / Their weapons are designed to attack.
Our country's soldiers are liberators. / Their country's soldiers are terrorists.
Psychologists reading this will immediately recognise this pattern as Freudian 'projection' - the defensive rationalisation that it is not oneself, but others, who are hostile and threatening. One creates an idealised image of oneself, then all of the negative, unacceptable qualities are ascribed to 'the other' (i.e., projected on to him).
Fortunately for Obama and Assad (both of whom had become hopelessly locked into this dangerous us-versus-them mindset), Russia has stepped in as referee at the last moment, proposing a possible way to silence the drums of war - by convincing Syria to place its chemical weapons under international supervision, thereby depriving the US of its reason to invade. For this, foreign minister Sergei Lavrov should get a peace prize.
ABSURD US FOREIGN POLICY
Over the past several years, Washington's stubborn insistence on finding some excuse to intervene militarily in Syria has made no sense, logically or morally. (That is, unless you take into account ulterior geopolitical motives for wanting to force 'regime change', at any cost). If Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the new secretary of state, John Kerry, were, as they've said publicly, genuinely interested in securing "peace" and "democracy" for Syria, a number of things just don't add up very well.
For example, why did they forgo diplomacy as a first resort? Early in the conflict, Assad's regime repeatedly made 'good faith' offers to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Syrian rebels. Similar offers were also made by Russia and China. But it all fell on deaf American ears. Both the US government and the Syrian opposition declined the invitations to talk openly about this in a neutral international forum that would involve all parties.
If the US was serious about a peaceful resolution to the conflict, why not make a thorough effort to exhaust all possibilities for negotiating a workable compromise, first, before rushing to threats of military intervention?
It also made no sense - if the US was truly interested in seeing 'a democratic Syria' - to discredit all of the democratic overtures offered by Assad. His scheduling in February 2012 of a popular referendum on a new democratic Syrian constitution (89.4 per cent of Syrians voted in favour), followed by promised multi-party elections held shortly thereafter, was met with derision by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who dismissed Assad's referendum and elections as "laughable", threatening instead that his "days are numbered".
Another thing that defies logic, if the US cares about achieving peace and democracy in Syria, is why it would openly support the 'rebels' when it's now known that their ranks contain large contingents of ruthless al-Qaida fighters.
On the one hand, the US government (Homeland Security, NSA, CIA) expects Americans (and in the process, the rest of the world) to surrender their democratic free speech and privacy rights at airports and on the Internet in order to combat terrorists. On the other, it openly supports the overthrow of someone else's sovereign government by terrorists.
Obama, Clinton, and Kerry have chosen the wrong side in this dispute. Assad is, after all, a secular leader, not a religious zealot, who has maintained peace between the various religious factions in the country, including Christians, whose religious rights are currently constitutionally protected under his regime. If his regime falls to the insurgents, al-Qaida-allied groups will triumph and all bets will be off.
Moreover, the proposed US military 'surgical strikes' on Syria - if Obama orders them as retaliation for alleged chemical weapons use - would almost certainly inspire new waves of retaliatory terrorism, aimed at US and Europe targets - all of which would further strengthen al-Qaida's cause internationally.
MILITARY STRIKE COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE
If US objectives are what they say they are, invading Syria and/or 'changing' Assad's regime makes absolutely no sense as a way to enhance the security of Americans - which is what the US 'Defence Department' is supposed to be for, isn't it?
It's also hypocritical for Kerry and Obama to pretend to be so outraged by the use of chemical weapons in Syria when the US maintains sophisticated chemical and biological weapons of its own, and has itself used chemical agents in past wars with devastating effects on civilians and soldiers.
The US made extensive use of Agent Orange and napalm in Vietnam, as well as employing white phosphorus and depleted uranium in the Iraq war. And back when Saddam Hussein was still in Washington's good graces, during the Iran-Iraq War, the US knowingly stood by and did nothing to stop his use of them. And, of course, that's not to mention the far more dangerous US stockpile of more than a thousand nuclear warheads, and its being the only country to have dropped atomic bombs that obliterated whole cities (Hiroshima, Nagasaki).
So I smell something fishy in all of this. Either someone in a real act of chemical warfare has poured LSD into the Washington, DC, water supply - which would explain the disappearance of logical sanity from Obama and Kerry's policies - or, they're up to something they're not telling us.
In contrast to Washington's official story, the alternative picture of US involvement that has emerged in reports in recent months in Al Jazeera, the Guardian, and RT (but so far is rarely acknowledged in most mainstream Western media) suggests that the US - in conjunction with its allies Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UK and and Israel - have all along been covertly training and funnelling supplies to the so-called Syrian 'rebels'. That external support turned what was originally a minor internal dispute into a full-blown civil war, with horrible consequences.
Since the US intentionally fanned the flames of that dispute from the outset, it has to be considered a contributing, culpable party to the loss of life that has ensued, and to pushing this conflict to the point where chemical weapons got used (though we don't yet know definitively by which side, or if both sides in fact used them.)
Lawrence Alfred Powell is honorary research fellow at the Centre of Methods and Policy Application in the Social Sciences at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and a former lecturer in the Department of Government at UWI. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.