Lamar W. Hankins : ‘Masters of War’ Target Syria

“Masters of War.” Art from Society of Wood Engravers.

U.S. foreign policy:
The ‘Masters of War’
are firmly in control

Diplomacy and fairly negotiated economic agreements have taken a back seat to violent military action as the primary way to deal with the world.

By Lamar W. Hankins | The Rag Blog | September 5, 2013

You that never done nothin’
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it’s your little toy
— Bob Dylan, from “Masters of War”

The news this past week seems to confirm that “Masters of War,” the phrase from Bob Dylan’s 1963 song of that title, are firmly in control of U.S. foreign policy. Diplomacy and fairly negotiated economic agreements have taken a back seat to violent military action as the primary way to deal with the world.

At the age of 22, Dylan understood U.S. foreign policy more clearly than most politicians in my lifetime. I am not suggesting with regard to attacking Syria, for instance, that there are not some people genuinely concerned about the welfare of the Syrian people, who were likely gassed recently by President Assad. But I consider most of their comments hollow, hiding motives other than the humanitarian ones they espouse.

Sen. John McCain, for example, says,

For us to sit by, and watch these people being massacred, raped, tortured in the most terrible fashion, meanwhile, the Russians are all in, Hezbollah is all in, and we’re talking about giving them more light weapons? It’s insane.

John McCain has never seen a conflict that couldn’t be improved with a little war-making. He’s been a friend of the “Masters of War” his entire career, and has been richly rewarded. McCain is so pro-war that he made a trip to Syria last May and wound up having a photo-op with terrorists who were involved in a high-profile kidnapping case. The terrorists’ virtue was that they opposed Assad.

President Barack Obama is hardly any better than McCain:

It’s important for us to recognize that when over 1,000 people are killed, including hundreds of innocent children, through the use of a weapon that 98 or 99 percent of humanity says should not be used even in war, and there is no action, then we’re sending a signal that that international norm doesn’t mean much. And that is a danger to our national security.

Obama apparently opposed the Iraq war 10 years ago against just as brutal a dictator as Assad and one who killed more people with chemical weapons than has Assad. Of course, some of Saddam’s gassings were done with U.S. approval and aid, when Iraq was fighting against Iran, our long-time enemy that does not bend to our will. And the U.S. gave Saddam a pass for killing between 3,000 and 5,000 Kurds in Halabja in 1988.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments on the subject are even more jingoistic than McCain’s and Obama’s:

Our sense of basic humanity is offended, not only by this cowardly crime but also by the cynical attempt to cover it up. What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality. The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons, is a moral obscenity. By any standards, it is inexcusable, and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.

These words come from an anti-Vietnam War veteran who nevertheless had few problems with agreeing to invade Iraq in 2003, making his talk of morality unpersuasive. War itself should be enough to shock the conscience, especially of someone who has participated in it.

Maybe these three U.S. leaders forgot that the U.S. has used the same excuses and equivocations to justify its use of depleted uranium against innocent Iraqis several times over a 20-year period, leading to vastly increased incidences of cancer (especially leukemia) and birth defects in Iraqi children.

As Marjorie Cohn and Jeanne Mirer, both associated with human rights organizations, have reported, the U.S. also used white phosphorous gas, which melts the skin and burns tissue down to the bone, in both Afghanistan and Iraq. A third weapon used by the U.S. in both those countries is cluster bombs, which contain tiny bomblets that spread over a vast area and can kill or maim long after being deployed if civilians, often children, disturb them.

Cohn and Mirer write, “The Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in time of War (Geneva IV) classifies ‘willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health’ as a grave breach, which constitutes a war crime.” Our leaders can always be counted on to lament the loss of civilian lives, but they do little else to prevent such losses.

Kerry’s comments about Assad’s use of gas, that it “defies any code of morality” and should “shock the conscience of the world,” apply equally to America’s conduct in its wars. But the U.S. has not been held to account for the “use (of) the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people.”

And neither McCain, Obama, nor Kerry is calling for America to be held accountable. Their claimed moral outrage at the use of Assad’s weapons is mere hypocrisy until they take responsibility for our own human rights violations.

While I agree that Assad’s use of gas is an affront to civilization, it is time to acknowledge that the U.S. has committed similar atrocities that also affront humanity. What disturbs me even more, however, is that over 100,000 people have been killed so far in the Syrian civil war. This fact should be even more alarming than the deaths of 1,500 by unconventional methods.

I have tried to understand why unconventional weapons — chlorine, phosgene, mustard, and sarin gas, along with phosphorous gas, depleted uranium, and cluster bombs, and atomic bombs and their successors — are viewed as being in a special class of war-making weapons that various people see as so exceptional that they should be banned. I understand that a gas attack can be very painful and leave people in agony for days before they die, but conventional weapons often have the same result.

When it comes to atomic and hydrogen bombs, I understand that their widespread use would likely end life as we know it on the earth. But this is not true of the other weapons, including the sarin gas that Assad is likely to have used recently against his foes in Syria. Ninety-eight percent of the world’s countries oppose chemical weapons. This figure would impress me more if the same number of countries opposed all military weapons that kill and maim indiscriminately.

If the purpose of war is to kill the enemy until it surrenders, it is unclear to me why any weapon should be considered more horrendous than another. War has always meant indiscriminate death. The best solution to indiscriminate death is negotiation, preferably through the UN or other international bodies.

The U.S. has not pressed negotiation aggressively in Syria because its perceived interests are best served by prolonging that civil war. Syria’s allies include Iran and Hezbollah. Tying up Iran and Hezbollah in helping Assad diverts their attention from other mischief, such as bothering Israel, America’s closest ally in the Middle East.

In addition, the U.S. doesn’t know whom to support among groups that oppose Assad. All of the groups could become bitter enemies of the U.S. should they prevail and come to power in Syria. This is what happened in Egypt. The U.S. supported the ouster of Mubarak (after many years of supporting him), only to see a democratic election put the Muslim Brotherhood’s choice in power, making necessary (from the U.S. perspective) the ouster of President Morsi by the Egyptian military.

But the U.S. government won’t call that a coup by the military because we don’t have any good options there to bring someone to power who will do our bidding. The Egyptian military, supported by $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid, is not a reliable friend. And why should it be, when $12 billion has been pledged by Arab sources?

For all those too young to remember Bob Dylan’s words, the lyrics to “Masters of War,” which I find useful to read occasionally as a reminder of what drives the American war machine, can be found here. Dylan identifies the “masters of war” as those who build weapons, from which they become wealthy, thus giving them an incentive to push for war whenever possible.

By implication, Dylan suggests we should “follow the money,” to see who benefits from war. He sees these people (and their minions in Congress) as indifferent to human life. He references their lies and deception, the fear they generate, and the immorality of their actions.

President Obama now wants to punish Syria for its use of sarin gas, but he wants the approval of Congress to do so. It is beginning to sound as if Obama will attack Syria, with or without congressional approval, but finds it politically advantageous to get its approval, if that doesn’t take too long.

Considering the forces arrayed in favor of attacking Syria — the Pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, the neoconservative pundits who took us into Iraq, policy institutes (think tanks) that have produced such people as National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, the entire arms industry, and most of the oil industry — there is little doubt that the U.S. will attack Syria. Only the duration and extent of that involvement seem in question.

Dylan’s words remain relevant 50 years later, and will probably remain so as long as human beings exist. If it is possible to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice and freedom, we could do worse than pay more attention to what Dylan had to say.

[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins. Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.]

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5 Responses to Lamar W. Hankins : ‘Masters of War’ Target Syria

  1. I take real offense at your second sentence of your second paragraph. There is no real evidence of those people that were victims of a nerve gas attack in Syria having been victims of an attack promulgated by the Assad government. The only “evidence” put forth so far is the “because I said so” evidence from the Obama regime. Yes, I am a US citizen living in the United States. But, I defy you to point out any evidence that is conclusive proof that the gas attack was an Assad scheme.

    Particularly in light of the fact that the “rebels” have had one splinter group spill the beans on the Saudi Arabia-financed al-Qaeda group who had them handling nerve gas without any training and they mishandled them and released them into the atmosphere, killing 12 of the rebels and an unknown number of civilians in the densely populated area that they were stored in. From the description of the storage units, the storage units match exactly the storage units previously used in well documented Sarin gas attacks in Syria on both military and civilian targets.

    Gas attacks can be triggered from either air or ground atomization. So, if a missile were launched, containing conventional explosives as a decoy from a government position into a “rebel” position containing large civilian populations while a ground release of Sarin was being accomplished upon impact of the explosive missile, it would feign all of the appearances of a missile chemical attack by the government. Does this strike you as too devious? From the people who brought you the twin towers? Before you go jumping through your backside in accepting a line of bull being offered by the very Masters of the Universe whom you rightly condemn, you might ought to re-think your jumping at the acceptance of “facts” provided by a President now known to be a pathological liar by multiple statements where the truth would have served him better.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I dont take offense to any of the authors sentences. I think they are all spot on and well said.

    – Extremist2TheDHS

  3. Anonymous says:

    “the Syrian people, who were likely gassed recently by President Assad.” Please provide a shred of evidence of that which has not been provided by the US or Israel. You’re protecting your Democratic Party.
    And while you’re at it, please document how Assad is a “brutal dictator”. He supports women’s rights and leads the only secular state in the Middle East. He is also a political reformer – read the new Syrian constitution, passed last year.
    David Hamilton

  4. Anonymous says:

    If you assume we should not be the wolds police, then it matters not who is more thuggish or who sent the gas. The rebel leadership provided a video recently saying they were making ready to use chemical weapons themselves.

    If you assume we should not be the wolds police then what does matter, and what the author got 100% correct, is that the US should not be bombing or invading Syria. So David, I don’t see how he was protecting the Democratic party (or at least its leadership) who are frothing at the mouth to start a fresh new war.


  5. Anonymous says:

    David, David, David. David. The quality of your friend’s enemies does not mean your friend cannot be a brutal dictator.

    Larry Piltz

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