Who’s up for stopping a war?

This is the time, as the next war strains to be born, amid the same old lies as last time, amid the same urgency and pseudo-debate and pretensions of seriousness:

The government of Syria has crossed a “red line.” It has used poison gas, killing hundreds of innocent people and committing a heinous war crime. And suddenly, clear as a bell, we have good vs. evil. Our only course of action, President Obama and his spokespersons tell us, is to “carry out a punitive strike against the Syrian government.”

This is the abstraction of warspeak, which summons a deeply satisfying mythology of righteous vengeance while making the action sound so clear and logical. President Bashar al-Assad committed a “moral obscenity.” It’s up to us to punish him by firing off some Tomahawk missiles. There’s no messiness in this action, no possibility of disastrous consequences, no hint that our intelligence might be compromised, no wink at our hypocrisy or past failures, and certainly no dead civilians — no random innocents lying just as still in the wake of our rain of thousand-pound warheads as those Assad may have killed in his alleged act of moral obscenity.

War, of course, always starts out like this: as bright and hopeful as the sunrise. It’s almost beyond belief to me that we can have such a clean, bloodless national conversation about a new war in the Middle East while the old wars continue to fester and our moral wounds still haunt us. The image of George Bush on the aircraft carrier in his padded flight suit, proclaiming “mission accomplished,” is one the 21st century’s most bitterly ironic icons.

Yet we’re about to bomb Syria — engage, if Obama gets his way, in some “intervention-lite,” as Simon Jenkins [2] of the U.K. Guardian put it. This will almost certainly trigger not good behavior but furious retaliation, alienating not just Syria but its allies, including Iran and Russia. How will the U.S. respond when one of our “enemies” strikes back at us? There’s no telling how far it could go.

“Courting even the remote threat of a possible nuclear confrontation with Russia just to overthrow President Assad, a former US ally, is the height of irresponsibility,” Eric Margolis [3] writes on Common Dreams.

Almost as blatantly MIA in the media and political discussion about attacking Syria over possible poison gas usage is any acknowledgement of the hypocrisy of our moral outrage. Think Agent Orange and napalm, white phosphorous and depleted uranium, among many other toxic substances we have thoughtlessly unleashed on “the enemy,” innocent civilians and our own troops in the wars of the last two generations. How many red lines have we crossed? How many lies have we told maintaining the harmlessness of these poisons? How many unborn babies have we poisoned over the years? How many square miles of Planet Earth are uninhabitable because of our righteous battles for the good of humankind?

Will the missiles we use on Syria be made of depleted uranium, leaving radioactive fallout in their wake?

As always, the war’s stated purpose — “a punitive strike against the Syrian government” — is just a cover story. The U.S. and its possible allies, France and Great Britain, all have an interest in regaining influence in Syria, which requires Assad’s collapse. But beyond the geopolitics, there are deeper and darker hidden motives for launching a bright new war. We, or at least our government and the economic interests it serves, are addicted to war. This addiction is the Washington consensus. Almost every politician who rises to prominence has to embrace this consensus.

Howard Friel [4], writing last week in the New York Times Examiner, quoted from a speech Norman Mailer delivered at U.C. Berkeley in 1965, in an early rally against the Vietnam War: “War is the health of a totalitarian state. And peace is its disease.”

The pursuit of war and global domination has altered this country down to its very roots, Friel writes. Democracy is, of course, antithetical to this obsession.

He adds: “This wealth-robbing, rights-robbing, multifarious machine, which appears to wag the executive, the legislature, the judiciary, and the press — the entire constitutional scheme — makes serial war of one sort or another around the world. That, in turn, fuels the hatred that engenders the terrorism that creates the security obsession that sells more war. As Mailer warned, it is the positive feedback loop of a totalitarian state.”

What needs to be said in conjunction with this grim analysis is that the infrastructure of democracy is still in place in this country, along with a prevailing belief in it. While the Washington consensus has an interest only in circumventing the democratic process and perpetuating endless war, it still needs “the will of the people” on its side, or at least their acquiescence. Things could be worse.

As Norman Solomon [5] wrote recently, “Grassroots pressure has forced President Obama to seek approval from Congress for an attack on Syria.”

When Congress reconvenes on Sept. 9, it will take up the matter. I urge everyone opposed to an attack on Syria — and a continuation down the road toward totalitarianism — to contact their reps before then and, of course, vocalize their opinion every other way they can. Solomon wrote: “But we have a real chance to prevent a U.S. attack.”

I urge especially those of you who don’t regularly communicate with your legislators to make your opinions known. Now is the time. The public is not behind a war with Syria. Whether or not democracy is dead in the U.S. is totally up to us.


Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at, visit his website at or listen to him at Voices of Peace radio.

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