“We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them … may God grant us wisdom.”
With this prayer, US President George W. Bush vowed revenge against Al Qaeda soon after the World Trade Centre attacks of 11 September 2001. “We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest," he said. "And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism.”
In his speech today on the eve of the September 11 anniversary, Obama was at pains to distance himself from Al Qaeda.
But his description of the Syrian government as “the forces of tyranny and extremism” could have been his predecessor’s description of Al Qaeda 12 years ago.
Obama declared that “Al Qaeda will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing”. He will ask Congress to postpone a vote authorising violence, saying “it is beyond our means to right every wrong … America is not the world’s policeman.” However, a “pinprick strike” could compound the chaos and embolden Al Qaeda who would welcome “allies” firing from the sky. He fails to urge “those of you watching at home tonight to view those videos” of the beheadings of his fellow Christians in Syria, now an endangered species, and the demolition of sacred churches that mark the history of Christianity.
The US will give time and space for a Russian-led diplomatic solution to the issue of chemical weapons. Despite Obama’s claims that “my administration tried diplomacy …and negotiations”, he fails to cite a single example, siding instead with the rhetoric of the rebels that we will never negotiate with a dictator.
But is Obama, like Bush, really trying to "starve" the terrorists, who presumably feed on chaos? Many would prefer to forget about Bush's statements given the ironic alliances made by the US. Earlier this year, Obama pledged $250 million of "non-lethal aid" to the Free Syrian Army, a default ally of terrorist armies in "the opposition" affiliated with Al Qaeda. Contrary to Obama’s repeated claims, this is far from a “civil war”.
One opposition group, the Al Qaeda-linked "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant", was accused of assassinating a Free Syrian Army commander in July. The "Islamic Front" has vowed to impose Sharia law in Syria. "Jabhat al Nusra" has vowed allegiance to Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Given the war logic of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", intelligence and arms are shared and flow freely among these allies. This means that US aid may have easily fallen into the hands of Al Qaeda, the sworn enemy of President Bush, still invoked as a reason that intervention in Syria is called for. Why didn't the US align with the Syrian government years ago in the face of a common enemy: the Wahabi Jihadist ideolology.
Obama's rhetoric today marks a significant change to Secretary of State John Kerry's statement at the G20: “This is not the time to be spectators to a slaughter… Neither our country nor our conscience can afford the cost of silence.”
If the US has principles to uphold, but also recognises it can't militarily police the whole world, then some interesting questions arise: Kerry alleges that his “significant body of open source intelligence” revealed that “for three days before the attack, the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons personnel were on the ground in the area, making preparations.” Why wasn't the information used to intervene then, or to warn Syrian civilians and prevent over 1400 fatalities? Why was such intelligence not immediately given to the UN weapons inspection team who were on the ground exactly three days before the war crime?
Moreover, if the US leaders are “serious about upholding a ban on chemical weapons use”, where was their “international obligation” when over 1400 Gazans were killed under Operation Cast Lead in January 2009? Obama did not draw an unequivocal red line that “we will not tolerate their use” against “our ally Israel” because it has his “unshakeable support”. According to Amnesty International, Israel “indiscriminately fired white phosphorous over densely populated residential areas.” These unlawful US-imported chemical weapons burn flesh to the bone. Nonetheless US leaders were content to remain spectators to that particular slaughter.
Whether in Gaza or Ghouta, this selective concern makes a cruel mockery of the principles espoused after the World Trade Centre attacks.
Twelve years on, Bush's prayer, “God grant us wisdom”, has been challenged by Pope Francis. While Obama was still insisting that a “limited” attack on Syria was “the right thing to do”, Pope Francis said that “never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake … war begets war.”
What an irony! While President Obama in St Petersburg was making the moral case for a military solution in Syria, Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square called for a “day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria” last Saturday. The Pope’s call was heeded and echoed by leaders of many faiths, believing that God alone grants them wisdom.
The last papal day of prayer was declared by Pope John Paul II in the wake of the World Trade Centre attacks 12 years ago. He invited religious leaders to Assisi to pray for “true peace … religion must never become a cause of conflict, hatred and violence.”
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