The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world it didn’t exist. The drone strikes and wars being perpetuated by the same groups of people regardless of political affiliation made the idea of a deep state seem more and more an acceptable topic to discuss in 2016. But a major fault that parts of the US Left made, most blatantly by Jill Stein, was to assign Hillary Clinton as the sole, anointed candidate of the imperial state.
The deep state has no need to anoint candidates because again it persists regardless of who is in office. And while Clinton had powerful friends in this realm from her work in the State Department, it’d be foolish to think there was consensus on electing her. The deep state, much like the capitalist economy it seeks to preserve, isn’t the illuminati or some other close-knit cabal. It’s a chaotic mess of warring and even partisan factions and individual ambition, veiled by the common purpose of enforcing US empire on the rest of the world. And Trump for all his protectionist and anti-NATO rhetoric seemed like someone they could work with: he certainly shares the ruthless bloodlust of people like General Mattis or Senator John McCain.
But that all changed very quickly when Trump’s bumbling improvised speaking led him to say that the US had to accept the rule of President Assad as a reality. Mattis, along with John Kelly and Rex Tillerson, had been patiently picking up after Trump’s gaffs but this statement of accepting an Arabic country’s sovereignty went too far. The normal redirection did not come: they knew the moment had arrived and so the clean up crew stayed silent to set Trump up and not implicate themselves in his statement.
Sure enough, allegations of sarin gas attacks that came out after were immediately seized upon. Trump officials, especially Nikki Haley and Rex Tillerson, were quick to respond with language that was far afield from Trump’s statement just a few days before. Leaving aside whether the attacks were sarin or who perpetrated them, the moral judgment was obviously hypocritical coming just days after a series of bombings against Mosul that killed hundreds of people.
This is liberalism – while the media focuses on pictures of coughing children in Syria, the truth is that the difference between the alleged attacks by President Assad and the US attacks are method rather than scale or severity. The US doesn’t even obey its own rules on chemical warfare, but it sure makes a great excuse to impose some discipline on the renegade state of Syria.
That’s what this new escalation is about: not freeing anyone, but pummeling the country into submission. Discipline, not liberation, just like with Afghanistan and Iraq. Portions of the US Left sit comfortably in the core of their country’s ultra-violent empire and say, “We cannot be Assad apologists! This is nuanced!” Nuance? Reducing the world to childish conceptions of good vs. evil is not a “nuanced” position. Worse still some of them claim to be Marxists, an ideology that has been consistently anti-imperialism and for national self-determination at its foundation.
And now that this escalation has happened, this band of liberals and Leftists say “Oh we don’t support US intervention, we just want the moderate rebels or the YPG.” First, when the US arms and tactically directs those forces, you’re already dealing with a US intervention, no boots on the ground required. Second, you cannot parrot imperialist propaganda and then complain about the consequences that many of us warned you would come about. At a protest today, I saw many signs that read “Assad out of Syria.” One could hardly blame a working class person in the US for being confused at such a sign: after all, isn’t that exactly what the imperialists want?
And I will undoubtedly be called an “Assadist” for such arguments. Such accusations are woefully out of touch with the history of fighting imperialism. In 1936, Black nationalists and Communists in Harlem led a series of protests with the name “Hands Off Ethiopia.” Some even tried to go fight the Italian fascist invaders, though a combination of hardship and repression at home kept all but two from actually going. These folks were not oblivious to what Ethiopia was like. As Robin G. Kelley wrote in his book Race Rebels:
Soon after the invasion, black Communist leader James Ford similarly characterized Africa’s only independent nation as a “feudal state, under the rule of powerful native feudal lords,” but insisted that “the war of Ethiopia against Italian aggression must be regarded as a national (liberation) war…The international proletariat must regard the struggle of Ethiopia as a just war, as a national defensive war, and support the Ethiopian people.”
This is how a war is born politically. But how is it born legally? Is there any veracity to those who say Trump should have received approval from Congress, or even the UN?
The most important thing to understand about the US military law is that it is an exceptionalist framework detached from democratic oversight as a whole. To name just one of many examples, the Administrative Procedures Act, which governs federal government agencies, makes exceptions to both foreign relations and military for its informal rule making requirements. This essentially makes most rules of military conduct beyond the reach of democratic oversight.
Meanwhile Congressional authorization for war has become something of a joke. What many people are still unaware of is that the US never officially went to war with Iraq. In fact World War II was the last war where there was a formal declaration. Instead, wars are often approved by Congress through both resolutions and budgetary appropriations. You may have missed but such authorization was given by Congress to use military force against Syria back in 2013. The US has been attacking the country for four years.
I’m just joking. The US has not stopped carrying out military operations in Syria for more than three years since Operation Straggle in 1956. Prior to the 2013 authorization, Donald Rumsfeld signed a secret order in 2004 allowing military raids in 20 different countries, including Syria. The Syrian government even cooperated with the US in torturing detainees under the direction of the CIA. But President Assad soon learned that cooperation could not buy respect for the sovereignty of Syria. For in 2008, a team of US commandos raided the town of Sukkariyeh in eastern Syria, killing eight people. President Assad and the Syrian people were outraged, but it was even worse than they initially thought. When Rumsfeld’s secret order was finally exposed in 2008, the military admitted that it had been carrying out such raids in Syria since 2004. It certainly puts into perspective those who criticize President Assad from being paranoid: I probably would be too if the biggest empire in the world had been carrying out military operations during the time that we thought we were placating them through cooperation.
So in short declarations of war are a joke and even Congressional approval is no longer necessary to carry out military operations with impunity. In the legal profession, this is the kind of point where you look to appeal to a higher authority, and that brings us to international law.
The UN has passed some nonbinding resolutions urging countries to respect the national self-determination of other countries, but of course such documents are not worth the paper they are written on. That being said, the right to self-determination is in the UN’s charter, specifically Chapter 1, Article 1, part 2: “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.” But even here the language is ambiguous and there is no enforcement mechanism.
National self-determination has been affirmed in international law mostly on an ad-hoc basis. The UN does allow some national liberation movements as observers. And, while another nonbinding resolution, the UN did pass one of the strongest statements on Palestine by an international organization back in December of 2016. There is also the UN’s Decolonization Committee which, while varying throughout its history, has generally been successful at helping to facilitate the end of traditional colonialism (whether it helped to bring about the current neocolonialism is another story). South Africa is one of the few nations where national self-determination is guaranteed under its own constitution.
But the vast majority of international law is made to undermine national self-determination. There are obviously the organizations like the IMF and WTO but for this post, to keep it from going on way too long, I am just going to focus on laws of direct enforcement as opposed to subversion through finance. First there’s the common law principle of uti possidetis juris, or “as you possess under law.” This principle was a very successful means of mitigating the impact of revolutionary struggles throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s by mandating that formerly colonized countries maintain the borders set up for them under colonialism. Of course this is a huge issue for both Iraq and Syria, especially because of the large Kurdish populations who have their own desire for national sovereignty.
The veto power of the UN Security Council’s permanent members is inherently against national self-determination. The US also has veto power with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), most recently reaffirmed by President Obama in 2015. And then there is the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. If their tendency to partner with NATO isn’t enough to convince you of their disrespect towards national sovereignty, consider their governing law the Capstone Doctrine. It encourages peacekeeping forces to manage the participation of neighboring countries, giving more power to “contributing countries,” and leaving the decision of when and whether to withdraw from a country up to progress as assessed not by democracy of the people but by the UN Security Council.
With national self-determination so disrespected by both US and international law and imperialism being so well-funded and powerful, it can seem hopeless. But there are plenty of reasons to hold out hope. While higher than in 2013, support among people in the US for military action against Syria remains low compared to previous conflicts, perhaps signaling that the populace is growing more conscious or losing its appetite for endless war. Ecuador’s election of Lenín Moreno was a strong rebuke to the US-directed coups of Latin America against Brazil and Honduras. And new struggles of national liberation like West Papua show that sometimes imperialism can be put on the defensive.
So do no temper your cries with platitudes to appease liberal pundits. Shout “Hands Off Syria” without hesitation and end the undemocratic US imperialism that has oppressed the world for over a century.
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