Once again, politicians demanding austerity for the American public are leading us—and other people’s children—into war
“Just providing arms is not enough.” —John McCain 
This should be the mother of all cakewalks. The Obama administration has announced that the U.S. will begin arming certain groups of Syrian rebels because the Bashar al-Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people in the two-year-old civil war. The New York Times reports  that the U.S. will “begin supplying the rebels for the first time with small arms and ammunition,” according to government officials. Some 90,000 civilians (likely an underestimate) have died in the fighting. Note: This is a public announcement, making official what has been in effect, covertly and surreptitiously and otherwise, for some time (see below).
Click here  for the text of the White House Statement on Chemical Weapons in Syria.
Just yesterday, Politico and TalkingPointsMemo reported  that former president Bill Clinton, in an appearance at the John McCain Institute for International Leadership (why?), said he now agrees with McCain that the U.S. should do more to aid the rebels. McCain has been saying the same thing for over a year, every Sunday-bloody-Sunday morning. Clinton opined that Obama risks looking like a “total fool” if he allows public opinion polls to guide U.S. policy on the matter. Our first reaction yesterday was, And who axed you? This morning we suspect that, given Clinton’s good standing among Obama’s base, he had clearance, if not encouragement, from the White House to say what he said; thus TPM’s headline, “Politico: Bill Clinton Breaks with Obama on Syria,” was perhaps not entirely accurate, unless “breaks with” means “serves as trial balloon mouthpiece for”.
And then, says Andrea Mitchell  on The Rachel Maddow Show, after pointing out that in fighting Hezbollah in Syria, the West is effectively in a proxy war with Iran , McCain goes out onto the Senate floor to preempt the White House’s announcement (“In just a couple of minutes, the president of the United States will be announcing that it is now conclusive that Bashar Assad and the Syrian butchers have used chemical weapons.”). But now McCain says  that the aid he’s been clamoring for is not enough; the president “had better understand that just supplying weapons is not going to change the equation . . .” The U.S. should also establish a no-fly zone. If a no-fly zone were to be established, then the S-300 anti-aircraft missiles that Russia has offered  to sell—or has already delivered —to Assad could be used against the U.S. Air Force. Then what? And if one of those missiles hits an Israeli airliner? (Russia’s offer, or threat, is at least partly in response to the European Union’s allowing its arms embargo to Syria to expire effective June 1.)
It’s not as though the U.S. has not already been aiding the opposition to Assad. In a May 5 Guardian opinion piece  titled “The West and Its Allies Cynically Bleed Syria to Weaken Iran” (source of the illustration above), Seumas Milne wrote:
Airlifts of arms to the Syrian rebels, co-ordinated by the CIA, have increased sharply in recent months to become what one former US official calls a “cataract of weaponry “. British and American forces are training rebel fighters in Jordan. The worth of US aid to the Syrian opposition has doubled to $250m , while the EU has now lifted its oil embargo to allow exports from rebel-held areas .
But John McCain, who assured us in 2002 and 2003 that a conflict with Iraq would be short and sweet, argues that this must be done. And the government, without offering proof, is telling us that chemical weapons were used—haven’t we heard this before?—so the United States, which is a peace-loving nation and a protector of human rights, cannot “stand idly by.” And the governments of the United Kingdom and France, who also support aid to the Syrian rebels, also have not put forth evidence of Assad’s use of chemical weapons. But what have these nations done to negotiate a diplomatic solution? What persuasive force have the U.S., France, or the U.K. applied upon the United Nations, upon Russia and other friends of Bashar al-Assad? France was prepared to take the lead against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya ; why not now? (Because Syria is so freaking complicated and fraught with uncontrollable consequences, maybe?) And what part does Iran play in the government’s strategy? And Israel? Is this part of a deal to keep Tel Aviv from pulling the trigger on Tehran’s nuclear program (whatever that may be)?
Did we mention that Syria borders Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and is very close to Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia? And that the Assad regime is backed by and receiving anti-aircraft weapons from, Russia? Or did we mention that, according to recent reports from the BBC (or was it NBC’s Richard Engel?), there are some fourteen different “rebel groups” constituting the opposition in Syria? Or that, as we reported  in May, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, says that Syria is viewed by the same neocons who brought us the Iraq war as “a back door to get us in a war with Iran”?
What could possibly go wrong?
(Weren’t we saying  just days ago that austerity economics is prescribed for the public but seems never to apply to the Defense department [¶8]? Who has paid for the weapons that will be supplied to the Syrian rebels? American taxpayers—individuals, mostly. But Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid benefits, they tell us, need to be curved downward—even Obama suggests so.)
How Many Wars? After Libya . . . ?  (LNW 3/26/11)