2013 was not a good year for the pro-war lobby in the West, but in America, those in favor of military interventions are looking to make it easier for the president to formally declare war.
As reported by antiwar.com, US Senators John McCain and Tim Kaine have unveiled a bill to the Congress that would change the legal status of the United States in starting future wars across the world.
The bill aims to repeal the 1973 War Powers Act, which was intended to limit the power of the president to take the US to war without Congressional approval. The Act has been widely ignored by a succession of presidents, but now, if McCain and Kaine get their way, it would be scrapped altogether and replaced by a law which requires greater ‘consultation’ with Congress and a vote within 30 days of any ‘significant’ conflict. But crucially, the bill makes an exception for ‘humanitarian’ missions and covert operations.
"The Constitution gives the power to declare war to the Congress, but Congress has not formally declared war since June 1942, even though our nation has been involved in dozens of military actions of one scale or another since that time," McCain said. "There is a reason for this: the nature of war is changing."
In 2013 McCain urged President Obama to consider bombing Syria without Congressional approval and his new initiative must be seen in this context. What the US really needs is for presidents to abide by the 1973 War Powers Act- not its abolition, which is what the uber-hawk McCain is proposing. McCain’s and Kaine’s bill comes after a year of setback for those keen on western military interventions.
Ten years ago, in January 2004, US military corporations and their lobbyists and supporters in political establishment might have looked back at the previous 12 months with great satisfaction. The war against Iraq, which they had long lobbied for, had finally happened. True, the US-led invasion had not been the cakewalk they predicted, and true, no WMDs had been found- despite this being the reason the war lobby gave for attacking Iraq, but what did that matter? Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath Party had been forcibly removed from power- and a long-standing strategic goal had been achieved.
Fast forward to January 2014 and it’s a very different story. The past 12 months have been a real annus horribilis for those in the US who strive for war. Last year they must have been hopeful that they’d get the US to commit to strikes on Syria, which would lead to a conflict embroiling Iran and giving the West the pretext to launch strikes against the Islamic Republic.
“There are times when the president of the United States has to act in the national interest and that clashes with my view [that] we are a nation of laws, governed by the Constitution and the separation of powers,” said John McCain as he urged President Obama to consider bombing Syria without Congressional approval.
But the same September US-led military action in Syria was averted due to skillful Russian diplomacy and widespread public opposition to intervention in Western countries. To the horror of the war lobby, President Assad and the Ba'ath party are not only still in power at the start of 2014, but the Syrian Arab Army has pushed back the rebels. The ‘regime change’ in Damascus that they are so desperate for hasn't happened and doesn‘t look likely to happen any time soon. Worse still for the ‘liberal interventionists’, the US/UK establishment now seems to be slowly shifting its position on Syria- in December it was announced that the US and UK was to end all ‘non-lethal’ support for rebels in the north of the country.
The vast majority of people in the US and Britain were of course relieved that war with Syria was averted. But American hawks were furious that US-led military action did not occur. In a joint statement with fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, John McCain denounced the Russian/American agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons as “an act of provocative weakness on America's part." Neocon columnists joined in the Obama-bashing. In the Weekly Standard, neoconservative political commentator William Kristol said the US president had been inspired by Marx- not the German philosopher Karl, but the American comedian Groucho.
“Less than three weeks after Bashar al-Assad gassed his citizens, Obama let us know he was glad to have come before us to share his outrage, explained that of course he couldn’t stay, and went off to the United Nations with his partner in comedy, Vladimir Putin,” Kristol declared.
“By throwing the ball to Congress and then to Russia, Obama has effectively taken the use of force off the table, letting the Russians and Assad set the ground rules. From a moral and geopolitical standpoint, this is a debacle that will extend throughout the Middle East and beyond", claimed Jennifer Rubin, in the Washington Post.
In Britain, Labour leader Ed Miliband, whose party voted against the government in the crucial Parliamentary vote, was also singled out for the attack over Syria.
The public were blamed too for not supporting war- with historian Andrew Roberts criticizing the “hideous, amoral selfishness” of “new Britain.”
“All too often, we see on Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, a new generation who want Britain to become just another minor power that watches events from the sidelines: another Norway, Japan, Sweden or Ireland….Welcome to the most morally vacuous, pusillanimous and self-indulgent generation for half a millennium,” he ranted.
Government Minister Michael Gove was just as angry, screeching “You’re a disgrace” at MPs who voted against intervention.
It wasn’t just their failure to get direct US-led military action against Syria which upset the war lobby in 2013. There was also the rapprochement with Iran. American neocons were appalled that the Islamic Republic, under its new President, was coming ‘in from the cold‘ and in November their worst nightmare came true with a historic nuclear deal being agreed with Iran, which greatly reduces the chances of any western military strikes against the country, at least in the near future.
John Bolton, US Ambassador to the UN under George W. Bush, who despite his pro-war views rejects the label ‘neoconservative‘, called the agreement “an abject surrender.” and concluded “an Israeli military strike is the only way to avoid Tehran’s otherwise inevitable march to nuclear weapons, and the proliferation that will surely follow.”
“In truth, it’s not a deal in the usual meaning of the term. It’s an accommodation. It’s a way for the Obama administration to avoid confronting Iran,” bemoaned American political analyst and a regular commentator for Fox News William Kristol.
Journalist Bret Stephens writing in the Wall Street Journal claimed that deal wasn’t another Munich: it was actually worse than the notorious agreement that handed Hitler the Sudentenland in 1938.
“If you hear echoes of the 1930s in the capitulation at Geneva, it's because the West is being led by the same sort of men, minus the umbrellas,” he claimed.
Across the Atlantic, British journalist Melanie Phillips, who earlier in the year advocated “neutralizing” Iran on national television, and who called the British Question Time audience “incredibly ignorant.” for not sharing her views on the “threat” to Britain from the Islamic Republic, labeled the deal a “capitulation” to the “terrorist and genocidal Iranian regime.” In a piece entitled ‘World saved? Hardly. More a final countdown to nuclear blackmail and war’, Phillips fumed that the deal “all but guarantees that the principal source of terrorism in the world today will now develop nuclear weapons for its monstrous purposes.”
While we cannot write them off completely - given their level of representation in the US and UK mainstream media and in the national legislatures, which is wildly disproportionate to the level of public support they have – there is no disguising the fact that supporters of ‘humanitarian interventions' from politics and media are in a much weaker position than 12 months ago.
It’s much, much harder to sell foreign ‘interventions’ to the public now – in an age of austerity –than it was in 2003. People across the Western world have had enough of being tricked into costly wars, on the basis of claims which later were proved to have been false, like the ones that Iraq possessed WMDs in 2003.
Moreover in the US and UK a split has developed between neocons and ‘liberal interventionists’ and other members of the political establishment in those countries who prefer diplomacy to war and who support a ‘realist’ foreign policy position based on an acknowledgement that we no longer live in a unipolar world.
Those who are hungry for more military interventions didn’t get what they wanted in 2013 and their frustration is there for all to see. The people who have brought so much death and destruction to Iraq, have been trying to emotionally blackmail us over Syria claiming that the truly awful refugee crisis is caused by ‘non-intervention’ and is a result of the west ‘doing nothing’.
But in fact the Syrian conflict has become so protracted because the West and its regional allies have already intervened – by arming, funding and supporting ‘rebel’ groups dedicated to the violent overthrow of the government. Instead of pouring water over the fire in Syria, the West and its allies have deliberately poured petrol. In any case we don’t need lectures on morality from those who egged on a blatantly illegal war with Iraq which has led to the deaths of up to 1million people.
Let’s not forget that if the American uber-hawks had got their way over Syria and Iran in 2013 we’d probably now be entering the fifth month of World War III. The war lobby tried their hardest, but thankfully this time they did not prevail. Let’s hope that they don’t succeed in 2014 either.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.