by: Marcia Mitchell
Has anyone in Washington noticed? The new US raids into Pakistan and Syria are, as was the invasion of Iraq, in blatant violation of international law. But who's keeping track of this sort of thing? Certainly not senior US officials, who apparently have weighed the negative consequences of illegal military operations against their perceived benefits and opted in favor of the latter.
Washington officials apparently reason that relations with Syria, already damaged over the attacks, may well be mended with the arrival of a new occupant in the Oval Office, given that country's desire for an improved relationship with the United States. Possibly, but not certain. And what may work with Syria may not work with Pakistan; further, what may work with leaders of these countries may not work with their enraged citizens. There is no question that US raids launched from Iraqi soil only add to this latest downward spiral into Middle Eastern mud.
It is fair to ask if anyone in Washington has noticed of late that Chapter VII of the UN Charter clearly establishes the rules for one country attacking another, rules to which this country is a signatory. International law provides three reasons for use of arms against an enemy - defense against imminent military attack, an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe, or a UN Security Council resolution.
(Regime change, now used as justification for having invaded Iraq, is specifically precluded as a reason for war. But again, no one seems to be noticing that toppling Saddam became a flawed justification once Weapons of Mass Destruction proved to be among the missing.)
Perhaps concern over these new forays across foreign borders is unwarranted. Certainly, selective raids against Syria and Pakistan hardly amount to war. But they are acts of aggression, plain and simple. The fact that this sort of cross-border incident is commonplace around the world is no reason for the United States to continue this sort of operation.
The announced objective for doing so is killing or capturing al-Qaida terrorists; the downside is the possibility of killing innocent civilians - children in schools, families celebrating a wedding, farmers working their fields. Add to the political calculus the certainty, not the possibility, of further infuriating and alienating other countries, both those considered friendly and those not so friendly. At this moment in history, it's hard to imagine a worsening of America's image abroad, but Washington seems determined to do so before the present administration leaves office.
Our recent book, "The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War," the story of British secret service officer Katharine Gun's efforts to at least derail the Iraq war, offers two relevant quotes worth thinking about, given these new attacks on Middle Eastern countries.
Richard Perle, sharing bellicose thoughts before the Iraq war, a war he saw as being insufficient to get the job done, said:
"No stages. This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq ... this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we don't try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war ... our children will sing great songs about us years from now."
Most Americans must doubt that Perle's children's choir will perform as he predicted. Instead, they will consider his expectation consistent with a failed political culture, one that finds illegal "total war" preferable to "clever diplomacy."
Another especially relevant quote coming from the Katharine Gun story is attributed to CIA Director Michael Hayden, who was at the NSA helm in 2003 when Gun revealed that agency's illegal spy operation against members of the UN Security Council. It also has to do with a political culture:
"I'm not too uncomfortable with a society that makes its bogeymen secrecy and power ... making secrecy and power the bogeymen of political culture, that's not a bad society."
But it is. At the moment, Hayden-esque bogeymen seem to be making decisions that are turning much of the world against the United States - decisions paid for in the currency of thousands upon thousands of lives lost and maimed, of millions displaced, of America's shattered image abroad, and of new raids of doubtful legality.
There is no question that Perle's position on the Middle East was shared by a significant number of his pro-war colleagues, many still in high places in Washington. After more than five years of war, his words cast an ominous shadow over strategic planning sessions in Washington. And they bring to mind dangerous bogeypersons bent on total war, perhaps not just raids on Syria and Pakistan.
Is anyone noticing?
Marcia Mitchell is co-author with Thomas Mitchell of "The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq War" and "The Spy Who Seduced America: Lies and Betrayal in the Heat of the Cold War."