There’s saber-rattling in Washington. There’s saber-rattling in Moscow. Tit-for-tat talk. Rattle-for-rattle. Neither the USA nor Russia is under attack. Neither country can claim that there is a threat to its security. It's all about a country that is located almost 11,000km from the USA and about 5,500km from Russia. Syria.
It all followed a chemical attack which Washington blamed on the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and then proceeded to launch some 60 Tomahawk missiles on the al Shayrat airbase. US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson warned that Russia was at risk of becoming irrelevant in the Middle East if it continued to support Assad.
Damascus has denied US allegations, noting that the targeted area may have been hosting chemical weapons stockpiles belonging to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) or Al-Nusra Front jihadists. Moscow, in a wry dismissal, has alluded to the ‘events of 2003’ when the US representative (Colin Powell) insisted at the UN that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Russian President Vladimir Putin observed that ‘the military campaign was subsequently launched in Iraq and it ended with the devastation of the country, the growth of the terrorist threat and the appearance of Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS] on the world stage.’
|They can laugh about it and they will|
Just because the USA lied in 2003 does not mean that it will always lie and has done so in this instance. On the other hand, that 2003 lie has given cause for any allegation to be properly investigated before any action is taken. Russia in fact has called for such an investigation.
Bolivian Ambassador to the UN, Sacha Llorenti lambasted the USA for its unilateral response, pointing out that the principle of multilateralism has been violated. He added that following the 2003 lie, the UN had set up modalities for dealing with such situations which included in the first instance independent and comprehensive investigations.
But Washington does not care. Washington rattles sabers. Washington has promised to repeat military action in response to any possible new chemical weapon attacks. Moscow has not blinked. Russia (along with Iran) has responded likewise, telling the US to expect ‘response with force’ if ‘red lines are crossed in Syria’.
There are no diplomatic niceties in the joint communique issued by the two countries: ‘What America waged in an aggression on Syria is a crossing of red lines. From now on we will respond with force to any aggressor or any breach of red lines from whoever it is and America knows our ability to respond well.’
It is hard to argue with Llorenti when he asserts that ‘the United States believe that they are investigators, they are attorneys, judges and they are the executioners. That's not what international law is about.’ The problem is that when any law is violated with impunity, that law ceases to be effective. The problem with Llorenti’s argument is that it makes sense only if the UN makes sense (when it comes to multilateralism). What we have is a monumental hypocrisy, a lie which makes it laughable when a liar is called out.
If the UN cannot rein in the rogue state that is the United States of America, then we have to accept that Washington’s do-as-we-please ways in fact invite do-as-we-please from Russia, Iran or whoever. It won’t take too long before we get to that terrible point where the question ‘who started it all?’ ceases to matter.
Well, what’s new? Isn’t this what ‘multilateralism’ has always been about? Huff, puff, hot air and not much else? Lovely words that get lost in the misery? Well, should we then shrug shoulders, raise and then lower eyebrows and wait for the next great example of hypocrisy?
Perhaps we should use it to call to question certain groups and certain assumptions. The International Crisis Group, for instance, has issued a statement following the US attack. It is ‘an opportunity’ (yes, those words!) they say. An opportunity to jumpstart diplomatic efforts, they say. No mention of the legality of that attack. Nothing on investigations. The ICG takes the US narrative as valid.
‘If regime chemical attacks were to continue (perhaps employing chlorine instead of the much deadlier nerve agent sarin), the U.S. might find itself compelled to launch additional, more significant strikes,’ ICG states. Now this is certainly a cute license to trigger-happy Donald Trump.
What needs to be understood is that while these games are being played with Trump and Putin trying to out-stare one another and while outfits like the ICG tosses out character certificates to preferred aggressors, there are people who cannot stare, cannot blink and in fact are dead.
This forces us to ask, ‘what happened to all those who were waving a flag called Responsibility to Protect?’ Is it about protecting Syrians from Assad? How about the risks that Syrians face at the hands of the ISIS and a global thug wearing a Good Samaritan name-tag?
But wait, why should we even bother about these rag-tag outfits who are operating as approvers for the actions of preferred parties who don’t do too much apart from constructing legitimacy for aggression against the chosen enemies (of their chosen buddies), when the United Nations itself does just that when it is divested of the somber architecture and established procedures for the conduct of discussions?
The UN’s impotency has been revealed once again. It is not a forum that can do anything of significance to prevent wars. It can only pick on weaker nations that have for one reason or another fallen out of favor of the favored member states.
Just imagine if Bolivia had taken the kind of initiative that the USA took in Syria. The UN Security Council would not be discussing the legality of the particular action. We won’t hear impassioned speeches of past errors, the reiteration of established procedures, calls for investigations and so on. They would be discussing sanctions. That’s if they didn’t authorize the USA to bomb the Bolivian capital.
It’s all happening in Syria, folks. For now, maybe we can call it ‘a show’ and watch from the sidelines. After all Syria is more than 5000km from Sri Lanka. But what if Sri Lanka became tomorrow’s Syria? Sacha Llorenti may lash out at the USA at a hastily arranged emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. The ICG would bend over backwards, touch its metaphorical heels and salute the USA for ‘opportunities produced’. Trump and Putin would indulge in a game of who will blink first. There would be Sri Lankans who won’t be watching though. They won’t be able to blink. They’d be dead.
Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: malindasene.