A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Off to illegal war vs. uncertain threat, spurred by media

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Sept. 15, 16 or 17

Again, U.S. military assets are about to rain destruction on Middle East targets, and innocent bystanders are inevitably going to be among the casualties. President Obama on Wednesday authorized U.S. airstrikes inside Syria for the first time, plus expanded air attacks in Iraq to combat ISIS terrorists who control large tracts of land in both countries.

A year ago this week, this column in a piece titled “Bombing? Are you Syria?” noted, “Maybe some sort of measured response – by the world – would not be unreasonable. What is unreasonable is looking at the situation – a ruthless authoritarian leader … angering a U.S. President who disregards Congress in considering a military campaign, and media becoming excited at the prospect of such dramatic action – and expecting the outcome to be much different than before. That’s insanity.”

“Crazy” may be an apt description of ISIS, which is ruthless in its treatment of conquered people and vicious in its wholesale slaughter of enemy troops and journalists. But there’s method to their madness. In seeking the drama of a confrontation with the United States, they provoke aggressive action against them to generate more support.

“Chaotic” describes the region, as well. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad – whose regime last summer probably used chemical-biological weapons against civilians, killing 1,400 – also is fighting the self-styled Sunni ISIS in the civil war involving others, including rebels tied to Shiite forces, and other, smaller groups.

Military intervention, however “modest” or “targeted” one depicts it, can escalate into full-scale regional conflict.

Besides being ineffective, unilateral U.S. military attacks on Syria would be illegal. First, the U.S. Constitution clearly states that Congress has the power to declare war, and those on Capitol Hill who advocate war should stand up and say so, or sit down and shut up. The White House also should remember then-Sen. Obama’s statement, “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat.”

U.S. military strikes would violate international law, too. The United Nations Charter makes it illegal for one country to use force or threaten to use force against another country, and forbids intervention in an internal or domestic dispute in a foreign country. Plus, common sense says that noncombatants would inevitably be killed in such a misadventure; “collateral damage” remains the preferred, sanitized term for killing people who aren’t soldiers or terrorists.

Here, now, the world needs a genuine United Nations force, even temporarily, to contain and eliminate ISIS, whether freezing its finances, suffocating its trade, seizing its arms, or “imprisoning” them where they are while offering humanitarian assistance to refugees, with minimal fighting.

Already, ISIS’ foes include not just the Usual Global Suspects, such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UK Prime Minster David Cameron. The Arab League in general and Saudi Arabia in particular oppose ISIS, as do – incredible Strange Bedfellows – Hamas and Hezbollah, Syria’s Assad and Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

But any effective action requires true international action: China and South Africa, Iceland and Brazil, Norway and New Zealand…?

Also required: less rhetoric and more intelligence, analysis and thought, brought to bear and shared with the public. (We’ve been kept in the dark and lied to before.)

Thankfully, some journalists aren’t accepting the push to war. New York Times reporters Mark Landler, Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt last week wrote, “As President Obama prepares to send the United States on what could be a years-long military campaign against the militant group, American intelligence agencies have concluded that it poses no immediate threat to the United States. Some officials and terrorism experts believe that the actual danger posed by ISIS has been distorted in hours of television punditry and alarmist statements by politicians, and that there has been little substantive public debate about the unintended consequences of expanding American military action in the Middle East.”

The distortions have influenced the people. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, 71 percent of all Americans now support airstrikes against the ISIS terrorists – up from 54 percent three weeks ago and from 45 percent in June.

That compares to last September, when the non-partisan Pew Research Center found that just 28 percent of Americans favored military action, including airstrikes, in Syria while 63 percent opposed them.

Ineffective, illegal and unnecessary, Obama’s airstrikes make it increasingly difficult to dream of that moment envisioned by Illinois poet journalist Carl Sandburg, who wrote, “Sometime they'll give a war and nobody will come.”

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