In recent days, administration officials and members of Congress have urged attacking Syria with Tomahawk missiles. The attack, they say, is necessary to punish President Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons on civilians and to "send a message" to other countries in the region not to use weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
The proponents of war seem to have forgotten the events of June 26, 1993, reported in a Washington Post article with this title:
U.S. Navy ships launched 23 Tomahawk missiles against the headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service yesterday in what President Clinton said was a "firm and commensurate" response to Iraq's plan to assassinate former president George Bush in mid-April.(Washington Post, 27 June 1993)
Clinton, speaking in a televised address to the nation at 7:40 last night, said he ordered the attack to send three messages to the Iraqi leadership: "We will combat terrorism. We will deter aggression. We will protect our people." (WaPo, 1993) [Emphasis added.]Clinton took the action based on "unspecified intelligence assessments" citing threats by Saddam against Bush; confessions to FBI agents (reportedly obtained using torture); and FBI reports that linked a captured car bomb "to previous explosives made in Iraq." (WaPo, 1993)
Officials made clear that no further military action was planned and warned Iraq not to retaliate. (WaPo, 19930Colin Powell said the purpose of the attack was not to "take down the entire complex...but to ruin Iraq's ability to continue using it." Why he thought that is unclear. The same complex was attacked in 1991 as part of an Operation Desert Storm bombing campaign, and it had been rebuilt. (WaPo, 1993)
A decade later, the US government expressed dissatisfaction with the response to its previous bomb-laden messages. At a September 19, 2002 press conference,President George W. Bush said:
At the United Nations Security Council it is very important that the members understand that the credibility of the United Nations is at stake, that the Security Council must be firm in its resolve to deal with a truth threat to world peace, and that is Saddam Hussein. That the United Nations Security Council must work with the United States and Britain and other concerned parties to send a clear message that we expect Saddam to disarm. [Emphasis added.]President Bush refused to wait for UN inspectors to complete their investigation into whether Iraq still had chemical weapons. Citing vague, classified evidence of chemical weapons, he invaded Iraq and captured Saddam Hussein. Chemical weapons were never found, but a powerful message had been sent that the US would not tolerate WMD threats.
So, how is it that, this week, President Obama argued that another message is needed to convince states in the region not to use chemical weapons? There are three possible explanations: (1) sending "messages" about WMD through military force is an exercise in futility; (2) claims that Assad used chemical weapons are as bogus as the claims that Hussein had them; or (3) both of the first two are true. All three explanations argue against using a military strike on Syria to send a message that WMD are unacceptable.
If violence sends any message, it's that the US is a violent state willing to use aggression to achieve its goal, motivating states to build WMD arsenals not to destroy them.
During their appearances before Senate and House committees this week, Kerry and Hagel have been endorsing the erroneous belief that “inaction” (a.k.a., not attacking another country) in the Syrian case will make Iran think that (very bad) U.S. policy of “prevention” regarding nuclear weapons is one they can safely ignore. (Larison, TAC, Sept. 5)
It doesn’t seem to occur to them that attacking Iran’s ally would increase Tehran’s interest in acquiring nuclear weapons, or that an illegal and unilateral attack on Syria would undermine both negotiations with and international support for sanctions on Iran. While pretending that this attack makes Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons less likely, they are supporting action that will make it more so. (Larison))A US strike on Syria over widespread and passionate public opposition would send an internal message, that our leaders have abandoned the concept of a democratic republic and are committed to the policies of tyrants--i.e., ignoring public input and forcing citizens to fight wars of aggression. In that case, Americans would be much more concerned about tyranny at home than any in distant Syria.