THE LAST PAGE: No Easy ‘Sell’ For Punitive Attack On Syria

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Ernest CoreaBy Ernest Corea*

WASHINGTON DC – President Barack Obama faced opposition or demands for caution both abroad and at home as he sought support for an attack on the Syrian regime’s forces in retaliation for its alleged use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people. Much of the external opposition was concentrated at the G20 summit which he attended in St. Petersburg, Russia on Sept. 5-6.

Even a letter from Pope Francis emphasized the dangers of military action that has not received prior endorsement from the UN Security Council (UNSC). In the best of all possible worlds, referring the crisis to the UNSC would make great sense, and be strictly in keeping with the principles of the UN Charter. The process is fraught with powerful obstacles, however, in a world where the ideals of the UN are so often subverted by global politicking.

An irony of the situation concerning Syria is that one of the loudest voices protesting against unilateral action by the US is Russia, Syria’s strongest patron. Russia has repeatedly urged that the US should not undertake punitive action without prior authorization from the UNSC where, of course, Russia can be counted on to veto any such proposal.

Within the US itself, opinion is fairly even divided for and against US intervention. This has become clear particularly in the Senate and House Representatives where Obama sought approval for US action against Syria in the light of its apparent contempt for the norms of the chemical weapons convention signed by some 188 countries.

Support for US action is largely on ethical grounds: wanton attacks on men, women and children with the use of prohibited weapons should be stopped early on or deaths will escalate. Opposition comes from those who remember the deaths and destruction caused when US troops were sent out to Iraq to “die for a lie.” Some critics also cite the Gulf of Tonkin resolution under which action was authorized against Hanoi in response to cooked up Intelligence of an attack on US vessels.

Obama is expected to address some of these issues in a direct appeal to the American public on his return to the US from the G20 summit.

Middle East: Palestine-Israel Peace Talks.

Fears of a wider conflict spreading across the Middle East continue to burden the people most likely to be affected, but the prospect of peace has not fully receded from the region’s perennial danger zone.

“While the world debates what to do about the atrocities in Syria, Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators are operating ‘beneath the radar’ and meeting regularly,” reports current bulletin of Christians for Middle East Peace (CMEP). The bulletin quotes Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar as follows: “The rest of the world may be in turmoil, but Justice Minister [responsible for negotiations] Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat still insist on talking about peace.”

A deadly West Bank raid by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) threatened a collapse of peace talks but that did not happened. Only one meeting was cancelled. But as the tragic situation in Syria unfolds, some are asking whether peace between Israelis and Palestinians is worth spending energy on now, the bulletin points out.

Eldar responds by writing that, “Maybe all the upheavals occurring in the world provide some kind of advantage to the current round of talks. With everyone paying such rapt attention to the goings-on in Egypt and Syria, and with the concurrent lack of public interest in the talks, there is far less pressure on the negotiators, who have plenty of room to maneuver without fear of being interrupted.”

Former Congressman Lee Hamilton writing in the public affairs journal Politico points out: “I think the reason we find ourselves back in this familiar position is because we rightfully recognize that resolving the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is among the most important steps we can take toward reducing the overall tension in the region. Arabs continue to view this conflict as a very important dispute, and the plight of Palestinian refugees is both part of their identity and the lens through which they judge Washington and U.S. policies in the region.”

UK: End of Frost

The world of media luminaries lost some luster when Sir David Frost passed away on Aug. 31 after a heart attack on a luxury cruise ship where he had an engagement to speak to the travelers.

Frost’s talent was internationally recognized, and his best- known set of broadcast interviews was with President Richard Nixon. The disgraced president was in seclusion when Frost persuaded him to sit for a series of interviews that were edited down to four segments which were broadcast.

Frost, as was to be expected, tried every stratagem to persuade Nixon to accept guilt. He did not oblige and for much of the interviews all he would say concerning his views on presidential involvement in the kind of political shenanigans that brought him down was: “If the President does it, it is legitimate.”

Frost was unrelenting, however, in his efforts to force more out of Nixon and eventually had to settle for this morsel:

"I'm sorry. I let down my friends. I let down the country. I let down our system of government and the dreams of all those young people that sought to get into government but will think it is all too corrupt." [IDN-InDepthNews – September 6, 2013]

*The writer has served as Sri Lanka's ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon 'Daily News' and the Ceylon 'Observer', and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore 'Straits Times'. He is Global Editor of and Editorial Adviser to IDN-InDepthNews as well as President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council.

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