During a short press conference before meeting UN envoy Kofi Annan today, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made some emotional remarks about the “moral” accusations levelled at Russia and China by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Whilst he didn’t mention the madam secretary’s name, Lavrov said it is “incorrect” to put all the blame for the situation in Syria on Russia and China, not to speak about “threats that they [Russia and China] will pay for it”. Lavrov was obviously referring to Mrs Clinton’s recent statement at the so called “Friends of Syria” conference in France. Mrs Clinton said there that Russia and China would “pay a price” for allegedly supporting Assad’s régime.
One shouldn’t shy away from moral dilemmas, but a question immediately confronts one… WHO are the judges? What makes President Obama and Secretary Clinton qualified to pass moral judgements on the, indeed, intricate problem of the moral responsibility of the Russian, or, for that matter, the Syrian government? What enables the Western press take such a high moral ground on “Russia’s responsibility” for the developments in Syria (with the questions on the moral responsibility of the Syrian opposition and its foreign sponsors wisely avoided). The question is made ever more timely by the fact that, in recent months, Mrs Clinton returned to some of the “tough” policies of former-President George W Bush, who based his approach to the Middle East on an unlimited use of warfare (something Mr Obama now euphemistically calls “leaving all options on the table”).
Yelena Suponina, the head of department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the Russian Institute for Strategic Research, noted, “It’s interesting to note that Hillary Clinton, who started her career as Secretary of State emphasising a certain contrast between herself and former-President George W Bush, at the end of her tenure, returned to some of Bush’s approaches. Obviously, there are some patterns in American Middle East policies that can’t be changed for long”. Were they ever changed? If we believe recently-published stories in American media, in fact, some of the morally-questionable qualities of this policy never changed. A series of articles published in the New York Times revealed even a certain hardening of the White House’s approach. For example, in reality, Obama adopted a “take no prisoners policy” towards terrorist suspects in the Middle East. Under Obama, American drones reportedly killed hundreds of suspects, destroying in the process thousands of civilians, with only ONE MORE PERSON being put in the infamous Guantánamo camp, which the “humane” candidate Obama had promised to close during his electoral campaign.
The NYT’s Jo Becker and Scott Shane wrote in their review of Obama’s drone strategy, “Whilst scores of suspects were killed under Mr Obama, only one has been taken into American custody, and the president balked at adding new prisoners to Guantánamo”. Both authors point up that Obama’s “killing lists” got longer and longer despite the fact that Obama’s America did not suffer from large-scale terrorist acts, unlike George W Bush’s America which went through the 9/11 disaster in 2001. The New York Times kindly noted, “What remains unanswered is how much killing will be enough”, adding that Mr Obama’s own system of evaluating civilian casualties “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants” Obviously, the USA is still at war with terrorism, despite having had no hostile action on its territory for the last 10 years.
Now, how would THIS President Obama react to some unknown “militants” (let’s use the Western media’s preferred term) setting off bombs near US government buildings in DC every day, killing children on their way to school in the process? This is what happens in Damascus. How would Obama treat “combatants” who make “targeted liquidations” of US Army officers (“targeted liquidations” is the term used by the French newspaper Le Figaro to describe the drive-by shootings of Syrian General Mohammed Omar al-Derbas and Colonels Abdel Karim al-Raei and Fouad Shaaban, assassinated before the bombardments of Homs and Houla)? How would he react to someone’s taking a whole detachment of American servicemen as hostages (such was the Free Syrian Army’s action that unleashed the battle for Homs)? So, how would Obama react to such actions? The answer would be… drones, at least; nuclear bombs, at most. Somehow, Obama and Clinton deny the same luxury of self-defence to Assad. Is it just because his bombs aren’t as smart as American ones? Yes, American bombs are smarter, but smart weapons put their owners before ever-more terrible moral choices. The New York Times reports that Obama, when deciding to “liquidate” Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, knew that Mehsud’s wife and in-laws were in the same home. However, the American president still preferred “the killing option”. In a way, his moral position in this situation is even more compromised than that of Assad’s artillerists, who at least don’t know for sure which family their shells are going to kill…
Amnesty International looks somewhat less smart than American bombs when it requires Assad, in the current situation, to hold “fair trials” for terrorists. As if the USA, with its death squads of drones and “signature strikes” against “suspicious compounds”, bothers to have such trials. Gone are the days when former-Vice President Richard Cheney suspected Obama of “giving the terrorists the rights of Americans, letting them lawyer up and reading them their Miranda rights”. Drones know no lawyers, and “smart missiles” don’t recognise Miranda rights.
17 July 2012
Voice of Russia World Service