Corporate media outlets were glad that the US, France and Britain bombed Syria in violation of international law (FAIR.org, 4/18/18), but lamented what they see as a dearth of US violence in the country.
In The Atlantic (4/14/18), Thanassis Cambanis described the war crime as “undoubtedly a good thing,” and called for “sustained attention and investment, of diplomatic, economic and military resources”—though the latter rubbed up against his assessment in the same paragraph that “a major regional war will only make things worse.” Moreover, he described “the most realistic possibility” for the US and its partners in Syria as “an incomplete and possibly destabilizing policy of confrontation [and] containment. But a reckoning can’t be deferred forever.”
This “reckoning” was his somewhat oblique way of referring to a war pitting the US and its allies against the Syrian government and its allies, the very “wider regional war” he just warned against. In Cambanis’ view, “confrontations” between nuclear-armed America and nuclear-armed Russia are “inevitable,” which implies that there is no sense in trying to avoid such potentially apocalyptic scenarios.
A Washington Post editorial (4/14/18) said that “Mr. Trump was right to order the strikes.” The paper was glad that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and President Donald Trump “properly left open the possibility of further action.” The Post’s rationale for continuing to attack Syria was that “the challenge to vital US interests in Syria is far from over,” and that Trump was therefore wrong “to call Friday’s operation a ‘Mission Accomplished.’” These “interests” include ensuring that Iran does not “obtain the land corridor it seeks across Syria.” (Cambanis, similarly, described as “justified” US efforts to “contain Syria and its allies.”)
The paper was concerned because Trump says that he’d like to subcontract US activities in Syria to US regional partners like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Egypt. None of these states, the Post fretted, “are capable of working with local forces [in Syria] to stabilize and hold the large stretch of [Syrian] territory now under de facto US control east of the Euphrates River.”
The editorial failed to note that this territory amounts to “about one-third of the country, including most of the oil wealth” (New York Times, 3/8/18) and “much of Syria’s best agricultural land” (Syria Comment, 1/15/18). The legitimacy of “de facto US control” over Syrian territory and some of its most valuable resources is apparently beyond question, as is the US’s alleged right to determine which governments are allowed to be friendly with each other: The Iranian “land corridor” refers to the Iranian government having warm relations with the governments of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, something the Post appears to regard as a grave danger.
The editorial says that the US and its allies sought to “minimize the risk of a direct military confrontation with Russia or Iran” and that this was “prudent,” but that “if Russia takes retaliatory action, including in cyberspace, the United States must be ready to respond.” According to this view, projecting US power in Syria is so essential that no form of opposition to US violence in Syria can be brooked, the concern for prudence having vanished.
The Post contended that the US must demand “an acceptable political settlement brokered by the United Nations”—“acceptable” signifying “the departure” of the Syrian government. Functionally, this means keeping the war going: Saying that negotiations should take place but that the only “acceptable” outcome is the dissolution of the Syrian government amounts to the same thing as saying that no negotiations should take place, particularly now that the Syrian government is working from a position of strength and unlikely to agree to its own surrender as a pre-condition for talks.
Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Guardian (4/15/18), supported US violence in Syria by attacking its critics. He said that those who oppose the Anglo-American-French airstrikes on Syria out of “indifference” to Syria’s plight have the “sole merit of being candid,” unlike those who are
less honest . . . the self-proclaimed peace-lovers. Mainly to be found on the hand-wringing left, they are too busy looking in the mirror admiring their own halos to face the moral challenges posed by a situation like Syria.
Luckily Rawnsley has the requisite courage to meet “the moral challenges” and advocate more war: He says that the West should have “impos[ed] no-fly zones” early in the war in Syria, a policy that would have entailed attacking Syria’s air forces, an act of war by any definition. No-fly zones over Iraq and Libya ultimately led to regime change in both countries, with hideous results for their people.
Rawnsley’s complaint that the West applied “no meaningful pressure” to “bring [the Syrian government to the negotiating table” is wildly misleading; the Western powers in fact applied “meaningful pressure” to prevent negotiations.
Rawnsley also legitimized US violence against Syria by expunging the damage it has inflicted. He trotted out the well-worn lie that the West “stood by” and “fail[ed] to act” in Syria, a canard that FAIR has repeatedly de-bunked (e.g., 9/20/15, 4/7/17, 3/7/18). He characterized the West’s approach to seven years of war in Syria as “years of unmasterly inactivity,” having their hands “wedged firmly under their bottoms,” an “impotent posture,” “failures to act,” making the “grav[e] decision not to act,” “inaction,” “non-interventionist” and as “inaction” a second time. Yet the CIA’s effort to oust the Syrian government has been one of the costliest covert-action programs in the agency’s history; has built ten military bases in the country, with two more on the way; and has killed thousands of Syrian civilians in a bombing campaign ostensibly aimed at ISIS (Jacobin, 4/18/18).
“Non-interventionists,” Rawnsley concludes his article, “the horrors of Syria are on you.” Yet there is no shortage of horrors that are on the interventionists. Sanctions imposed by the US and its allies have punished the Syrian population (9/28/16). These states are implicated in sectarian violence that anti-government armed groups have carried out against minorities (Electronic Intifada, 3/16/17). The US bombed a mosque in Aleppo, Syria, in the name of fighting Al Qaeda, killing almost 40 people (Independent, 4/18/17), and America used toxic depleted uranium against ISIS-held territory in Syria (Foreign Policy, 2/14/17): It would be rather difficult to claim that these horrors were caused by “non-interventionists.”
Cambanis, moreover, exclusively listed Syria, Iran and Russia among those governments who “have serially transgressed the laws of war” and “gotten away with murder” in Syria, but the atrocities attributable to the US and its allies surely constitute “serially transgress[ing] the laws of war” and having “gotten away with murder.”
The Syrian government and its partners are also responsible for a substantial share of carnage in the war, but Rawnsley’s accusation that “non-interventionists” are to blame for Syria’s bloodshed is completely untenable. His argument that Western states have inflicted insufficient harm on Syrians amounts to war propaganda.
And he’s far from the only media figure about whom this can be said.