Foreign Policy, recent, World Affairs

Tyranny’s Mouthpiece

On September 8, 2019, Syria’s state news agency published an article about the beginning of the Third International Trade Union Forum in Damascus, which hosted “dozens of intellectuals, journalists, (and) political and social activists from Arab and foreign countries.” Among the attendees were the American journalists Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek.

Rania Khalek (Pic: Twitter)

If you want to know why Blumenthal and Khalek were welcome at an event organized “under the auspices of Bashar al-Assad”—aside from the fact that they’re frequent contributors to the Russian propaganda outlets Sputnik and Russia Today—the rest of the article should give you an idea. It condemns the “aggressive terrorist war” launched against Syria, along with the “economic war that constitutes terror in and of itself” (a reference to U.S. sanctions). It calls for a media campaign to galvanize world public opinion in support of the Syrian government and “reveal the truth about the U.S. policy of besieging independent and free countries.” It points out that the “real goal of the war on Syria is to stop it from being a force that opposes U.S. and Israeli plots in the region.” And it emphasizes the importance of “exposing the practices of international imperialism.”

In other words, Syrian government propaganda is almost perfectly aligned with the arguments Blumenthal and Khalek have been making for years. Like the Syrian Ministry of Information, they present the Assad regime as an embattled and encircled victim of a jihadist-led coup backed by the United States and other Western powers.

For example, Blumenthal constantly emphasizes the atrocities of jihadist groups like Jaish al-Islam and al-Nusra because they give him moral and political cover for defending Assad, who has committed atrocities on a far greater scale. When he posted a picture of himself in a “neighborhood east of Damascus occupied by the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam until early last year,” he didn’t bother mentioning the fact that he was also surrounded by notorious government interrogation sites that are part of what Human Rights Watch describes as the regime’s “torture archipelago.” Nor did he mention that he was just down the road from the sites of the Ghouta chemical attacks in August 2013, which HRW reports “killed hundreds of civilians, including large numbers of children” and which can “almost certainly” be blamed on government forces.

Again and again, Blumenthal angrily dismisses the charge that he’s an apologist for Assad. When Jasmin Mujanovic accused him (along with Khalek) of receiving “funds from Assad regime lobby groups” in Foreign Policy magazine, his outrage was righteously indignant: “This is a heinous lie. I did not take a dime from the ‘Assad regime’ or any lobbying group connected to it. Hating my factual journalism undercutting your bogus regime change narratives doesn’t entitle you to lie about me.” Meanwhile, Khalek described the claim as “false and libelous.” But you don’t have to follow some kind of paper trail or do any investigative work to discover that Blumenthal is one of Assad’s most popular Western apologists. He’s happy to do the work for free, and it’s all right there for anyone who cares to look.

While Blumenthal was in Syria, he published a series of video reports about the horrors of U.S. sanctions, the crimes of U.S.-backed rebel groups, and the Assad regime’s valiant resistance to this onslaught. On September 11, he explained: “Because Syria defeated these Wahhabi contras, the U.S. has imposed the most crushing sanctions on this country in history. If you have spasms of rage about my reporting, maybe try to redirect them towards your own government, which imposed this disgusting program on Syria.” He added that he would be “telling the truth about the war of terror waged on Syria” in subsequent videos (again, notice how similar this language is to the propaganda published by the regime).

On September 13, Blumenthal was in Bloudan, a town that was “surrounded on all sides by rebel groups at a certain point,” while a city right down the road was one of the “first towns taken over by the foreign-backed armed groups.” But now that these areas are back under regime control, “people are enjoying life” under Assad’s watchful eye. In a strange digression, he observes that “The Economist said that Syria is now a wretched country. And I think that, while the Economist, which speaks on behalf of the British national security state, wanted to turn Syria into a wretched country, what I’m seeing right here is quite the opposite.” He then pans his smirking selfie video around to demonstrate how wonderful things are in this little corner of Assad’s Syria (thereby contradicting his usual argument that sanctions are strangling the economy and destroying the country—making Syria “wretched,” in other words).

In Blumenthal’s final report from Damascus, he decries the “rabid regime change hyenas who want to reduce all these people you see behind me to one official bad guy—the one that Trump calls ‘Animal Assad.’” He’s standing in a park, surrounded by happy Syrians enjoying their day: “I want you to look at these people behind me,” he implores viewers. “Just look at them.” This reminded me of the scene in Fahrenheit 9/11 when Michael Moore shows us shots of normal Iraqis running errands and living their lives before the invasion—as if living under a genocidal dictator was as tranquil and unremarkable as living in an American suburb. Blumenthal then points out that the “U.S. is imposing brutal economic sanctions on this country that are depriving average people of heating fluid, vital medicines; that are devaluing their currency; that are preventing them from rebuilding their homes. Why? All because their government defeated a ruthless dirty war imposed on them by the West and their Gulf Israeli allies.”

This is the warped narrative Blumenthal peddled before, during, and after his trip to Syria: Forget about the Assad regime’s massacres of protesters and chemical attacks on children. Forget about the torture, rapes, and abductions. Forget about the Syrian Air Force’s joint operations with Russia, indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas, and the wanton destruction of hospitals, health clinics, and schools in Aleppo. The “dirty war” is always “imposed” on the regime from the outside, and Assad is just doing what any besieged leader would do—fighting back. This is why Blumenthal refers to the towns Assad has recaptured as “liberated”—an interesting way to describe territory and people back in the hands of a dictator who has slaughtered tens of thousands of his compatriots, and whose family has ruled Syria for half a century.

In a recent conversation with Robert Wright on Bloggingheads, Blumenthal expressed his contempt for people who’ve been “promoting the break-up of Syria—the destruction of the Syrian nation.” He explained that those people are furious with him for posting videos of Syrians in regime-controlled areas “just basically being happy and enjoying their lives after the war.” Of course, the war isn’t over for a whole lot of people in Syria—from the civilians who are still being obliterated by Russian and Syrian airstrikes to the Kurds who are now at the mercy of their Turkish enemies after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria. Blumenthal was sure to point out that the U.S. forces in northern Syria controlled “areas where there was oil” and the Kurds were “selling oil to Damascus under the table,” despite the fact that Assad is the “rightful owner” of Syria’s natural resources.

There’s apparently nothing Assad can do to the population of Syria that would cause him to lose even a shred of legitimacy in Blumenthal’s eyes. If you only listened to his grossly distorted assessment of the war, you’d think Assad was peacefully minding his own business when armies of U.S.-backed terrorists suddenly invaded his country from every direction. Then, as if the United States’ monstrous proxy war wasn’t bad enough, it imposed devastating sanctions.

Speaking of the sanctions, Blumenthal is full of reverence for Asma al-Assad, the first lady of Syria, who “made a point of being treated for her breast cancer in Syria as a kind of a statement of resistance against sanctions. To say: ‘We can do this.’ And, you know, it really did resonate with a lot of Syrians who are facing this situation.” Blumenthal clearly regards this act of defiance as a real “Rosie the Riveter” moment for the people of Syria. A few days before he mentioned it in his chat with Wright, the New York Times reported: “From April 29 to mid-September, as Russian and Syrian government forces assaulted the last rebel pocket in the northwest, 54 hospitals and clinics in opposition territory were attacked, the United Nations human rights office said.” Asma al-Assad’s decision to get cancer treatment in Syria probably didn’t “resonate” with the patients and doctors who were blown apart by her husband’s air force.

Defending the Assad regime is part of Blumenthal’s job description these days, but it was disappointing that Wright could barely muster any criticism. After Blumenthal spent the first half hour of the interview celebrating the Assad family’s defiance of American imperialism, the closest Wright would come to criticizing this narrative was his claim that “I’m not wild about Assad still being the ruler of Syria … I’m not a fan of his.” Even this tepid criticism of Assad immediately upset Blumenthal, who snapped: “I mean, that’s irrelevant.” Wright responded: “Right, it is. But you know, I think one reason you get into so much trouble is you don’t do the ‘to be sure’ paragraph. To be sure, I don’t support this kind of government.” Blumenthal scoffed: “Now you can continue writing for the Atlantic,” as if criticizing a dictator who gasses children and blows up hospitals is such a feeble, establishment thing to do.

Wright is opposed to U.S. interventions like the one that took place in Syria, so he’s sympathetic to many of Blumenthal’s arguments. But his response to Blumenthal’s comments about Assad was oddly indulgent (especially considering how combative he often is in his interviews): “I don’t want to be your strategist, and I’m not even saying you should be adding the ‘to be sure’ paragraphs. You know, the ecosystem has room for all kinds of voices and maybe there’s some virtue in you being out there to be reviled. Better you than me. But I will say it’s amazing how often you have to add the ‘to be sure’ paragraph. It’s like you have to say, ‘I think Assad’s a horrible person.’”

Well, yes. And throughout the conversation, Blumenthal said the opposite. But Wright could only bring himself to offer perfunctory disclaimers as his guest extolled the virtues of life under Assad, launched into a dewy-eyed tribute to the first lady of Syria, etc. This demonstrates that even the most fringe position—open support for a vicious dictatorship—can be deemed acceptable by people who share Blumenthal’s general aversion to interventionism. But these people should recognize that the phrase “Assad is a bad guy” is meaningless if it’s always accompanied by a long speech about why Assad is actually a good guy.

At the end of the conversation, Wright joked that he hoped Blumenthal was “convinced that you need to add more ‘to be sure’ paragraphs.” In that spirit, I’ll offer a few caveats of my own: To be sure, there are plenty of jihadist groups fighting against Assad in Syria, many of which have been responsible for violently subjugating the people who lived in territory under their control. To be sure, some U.S.-backed opposition groups ended up aligning themselves with jihadist organizations like al-Nusra. To be sure, U.S. foreign policy is full of contradictions—it’s far more difficult to say “Assad must go” when your allies include Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt and Mohammad bin Salman in Saudi Arabia. And to be sure, there’s an important debate to be had about the extent of the United States’ involvement in conflicts like Syria.

But here’s a disclaimer for Blumenthal to try out (Wright may want to suggest it next time they chat): To be sure, it’s possible to criticize U.S. foreign policy without becoming a propagandist for one of the most savage dictatorships on the planet.


Matt Johnson has written for Stanford Social Innovation Review, the BulwarkEditor & PublisherAreo MagazineArc DigitalSplice TodayForbes, and the Kansas City Star. He was formerly the opinion page editor at the Topeka Capital-Journal. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjj89


  1. I now admit that I was wrong to have advocated in favor of deposing and then killing Saddam Hussein.

    It was one of the worst foreign policy mistakes ever made by the United States.

    Today, I am willing to leave Bashar al-Assad in peace, to either break the people of Syria to his will or die at their hands.

    Let Russia take our place and become trapped in a 20-year-nightmare.

  2. I have been on a similar journey these last few decades. If there is anything to be sure of, it is to be less sure who the good guys and bad guys are and to be suspicious of the type of certainty exhibited by this author. Matt Johnson also engages in too much ad hominem for my tastes. The thrust of his piece was to place Blumenthal in Assad’s camp instead of arguing Blumenthal’s assertions, not very helpful to this reader. If I were to question whether atrocities alleged against Assad were instead false flag operations will I be similarly accused as one of Assad’s apologists? Can we instead argue facts and information instead?

    Back in the late 40s many in the US state department thought Chiang Kai-shek the bad guy and the communists under Mao potentially the better “democrats”. After 50 million killed following the communist take-over, looking back maybe Chaing’s brutal tactics against the communists represented his superior understanding. Similarly the Shah was a bad actor and yet his removal resulted in continued if not more butchery and repression of Iranians.

    Personally I would give more credibility to an author who deals in information over innuendo and one who argues his opponents assertions rather than asserting his opponent’s team allegiance.

  3. Like Libya? That was authorised by the UN Security Resolution 1973. How did that work out?

    Let’s assess. Lucky for me, I’ve done this before here, so brace yourself as I regurgitate this all over you.

    Let’s take a look at the killing and warring for decades. We’ll start with post-WWII. These are all the wars, police actions, conflicts the US used military force - “boots on the ground” - in that resulted in some kind of warring, whether it was the original intent or not.

    Korean War, 1950 to armistice signing in '53. No formal end of the war. UN approved response to North Korea’s unprovoked invasion of the South. Since the armistice was signed, Pyongyang has repeatedly attacked South Korea at home and abroad. Present status: US forces and UN Command still in South Korea.

    Lebanon Intervention, 1958. US troops sent to Beirut to restore order. Not approved by UN. President Chamoun requested US assistance after Egypt and Syria demanded Lebanon join the United Arab Republic (UAR) and sever relations with the West. Uprisings by those loyal to the prime minister, a proponent of Lebanon joining the UAR, attempted to destabilise the government. Mission completed in three months and US troops departed. Present status: No US forces in Lebanon.

    Vietnam/Indochina War, 1960 (or 1965) to 1973. Not approved by the UN. US troops invited by South Vietnam gov’t under attack by North Vietnam-supported guerilla forces. Present status: No US forces in Vietnam.

    Dominican Republic Intervention, April 1965 to September 1966. Not approved by UN. Civil war erupted in the country. The US sent troops to evacuate Americans and foreigners. As the conflicted worsened President Johnson changed the US mission from evacuation to intervention. The arrival of US paratroopers and Marines prompted the warring parties to sign a ceasefire. Six Organisation of American States (OAS) members deployed their forces to the country and the OAS took command of the intervention. Present status: No US forces in DR.

    Lebanon, 1982 – 84. Not authorised by UN. US Marines deployed in 1982 were part of a temporary multinational force (MNF) in Lebanon to ensure safe departure of the PLO from Lebanon and Israeli withdrawal from Beirut. PLO was safely evacuated from Beirut and MNF departed. After Lebanese president was assassinated, Israeli forces returned to Beirut. 700-800 Palestinian civilians were massacred in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. A second MNF was deployed. In 1983 Lebanon and Israel signed an agreement ending the state of war between the two countries and providing for a phased Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, contingent on the withdrawal of Syrian and Palestinian forces still outside of Beirut. The Syrians refused to leave Lebanon. Militias allied with Syria began to fire on the MNF which returned fire. The militias declared the MNF was allied with the Lebanese gov’t. In October ’83 suicide bomb attacks were successfully conducted against US and French forces. French and US air forces retaliated against Syrian and Iranian forces in Lebanon. In Feb ’84 US forces withdrew from Beirut to ships offshore. Syria, Iran, the militias, and the USSR were adversaries to the US prior to the arrival of US forces and remained so. Present status: No US forces in Lebanon.

    Grenada, Oct 1983 to Dec 1983. Not authorised by the UN. After the arrest and execution of the Prime Minister and the establishment of the Revolutionary Military Council, the US invaded and ousted the coup leaders. Cubans in Grenada were deported. The date of the invasion is now a national holiday in Grenada, called Thanksgiving Day, which commemorates the freeing of several political prisoners who were subsequently elected to office. Cuba was a US adversary prior to the invasion and remained so. Present status: No US forces in Grenada.

    Panama, December 1989 to Feb ’90. Not authorised by the UN. In 1989 Noriega annulled a presidential election that would have made Guillermo Endara president. President Noriega ousted, arrested, and deported to the US to stand trial on drug trafficking charges. Present status: No US forces in Panama.

    Persian Gulf War, August 1990 to April 1991. Approved by the UN. Large multinational coalition ejects Iraqi invasion force from Kuwait. Ceasefire agreed. Saddam Hussein remained in power and opposed to the US. Even attempted to assassinate former President Bush the elder during his visit to Kuwait. Present status: US forces stationed in Kuwait.

    US intervention in the Balkans, Feb 1992 – Dec 2004. Authorised by the UN. US and Nato coalition forces battled Serbian forces to end war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Serbia was opposed to the US and Nato, but once the Serbian regime was changed the Serbian people sought to improve ties. Serbs aspire to join the EU but few want to join Nato. Present status: no US forces stationed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Former Yugoslav republics Slovenia, Croatia, and Montenegro joined Nato.

    US intervention in Somalia, March 1993 until March 1995. Authorised by the UN. After failure of UN in Somalia to impose a ceasefire needed for humanitarian aid to be delivered, UNSECGEN requested US send forces to support UN forces already in county. The US and others deployed. After a Somali warlord killed a large number of Pakistani peacekeepers, the UN authorised all to use necessary measures against those responsible for the armed attacks and to establish the effective authority of UNOSOM II throughout Somalia. This was the UN shifting the UN mission from one of humanitarian aid to fighting warlords. After the death of many US personnel in October ’93 the US, joined by several other participating states, withdrew in March ’94. Present status: No US forces stationed in Somalia.

    US intervention in Haiti, September 1994 – 31 March 1995. Authorised by the UN. US forces ousted dictator after coup d’état overthrew elected President Aristide. Present status: US forces not stationed in Haiti.

    Afghan War: Oct 2001 to present. US didn’t ask for UN authorisation, so not authorised by it at first. In Dec '01 the UN authorised the establishment of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). ISAF occupation of and war fighting in Afghanistan involving more than 40 countries. Taliban government toppled. Taliban remain opposed to US. Al Qaeda dispersed and still opposes US. Present status: ISAF forces including US remain in Afghanistan.

    Iraq War, Gulf War II, March 2003 to August 2010. Not authorised by the UN. (Or maybe was it. More below.) Multi-national force topples Saddam Hussein. Civil war ensures. This one severely damaged America’s reputation. Present status: US forces stationed in Iraq to assist war on ISIS/ISIL.

    Libya Intervention, 2011. Authorised by the UN. Nato-led enforcement of no-fly zone that crippled the Gaddafi regime and its supporters. Present status: No US forces stationed in Libya.

    War on ISIS/ISIL, August 2014 to present. Authorised by the UN. This is several coalitions (French-led, Russian-led, US-led, and Muslim States’ Coalition) of 32 countries fighting ISIS/ISIL. Present status: US forces stationed abroad to assist war on ISIS/ISIL.

    That’s fifteen, though I double counted Iraq because there’s some issues I’ll discuss further. Seven were authorised by the UN. One more was authorised by the UN after the US and some of its allies already commenced operations. Of the remaining ones, two were requested by the host government, which is an act of sovereignty you mention, three were in response to coups/attempted coups/rejection of election result, and Lebanon ’82 was a multinational intervention that resulted in the safe evacuation of the PLO and due in part to the failure of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to stop attacks on Israel originating in the UN occupied zone on the Israel-Lebanon border.

    Afghanistan, also an international action than soon gained UN approval, was a response to a government hosting terrorists who had perpetrated one of the worst attacks on the US in history, and the attack was chiefly against civilian targets. Prior to the invasion the US offered the government the option of extraditing al Qaeda and the government declined. Fourteen of fifteen events were the US responding to an existing situation/crisis/coup/invasion.

    The howler to many is Gulf War II, Invasion of Iraq. Now, to be frank, my calling it Gulf War II is incorrect. It was the resumption of the first Gulf War. How so?

    Gulf War I paused in a ceasefire.

    Do people not know the meaning of ceasefire? It’s a conditional arrangement for the temporary cessation of violence as a path to a peace, and when a ceasefire is violated, say by the refusal of one party to comply with the conditions, a permissible outcome is the resumption of hostilities. Understand this: the 1991 Gulf War remained in effect throughout the ’90s and the early ’00s. Neither an armistice nor a peace treaty was signed. A new declaration of war was unneeded. New authorisation was unneeded. A violation of a ceasefire permits the resumption of hostilities, though a party may chose to forego this to bring the violating party back into compliance.

    In the Iraq context, when the ceasefire was violated what may happen? The final paragraph of Resolution 687, the conditions of the ceasefire, tells us. It states the victors: “Decides to remain seized of the matter and to take such further steps as may be required for the implementation of the present resolution and to secure peace and security in the region.” (Bold my emphasis.)

    After the ceasefire was declared in 1991 and Resolution 687 issued, Iraq received a total of 16 more resolutions demanding compliance of the ceasefire. How many “you’d better comply this time or else!” need to be ignored before the UN realises the despot understands they are worthless?

    Resolution 687 established three conditions for the ceasefire to hold.

    The best known one addressed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

    The WMD condition was one that rested on solid evidence of prior Iraqi acts. Indisputably, Saddam used chemical weapons against Iran and the Kurds in violation of the Geneva Protocol. War crimes include the use of chemical and biological weapons, and the UN’s Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity state that war crimes have no statute of limitations. WMD use is a war crime. Is this the international law you demand be enforced or not?

    Certainly the US and UK had a circumstantial case, one best supported by the UN weapons inspectors’ claim the Iraqi regime was not forthcoming and even obstructionist. In response, the UN passed unanimously (15–0) Resolution 1441 in 2002, demanding Iraq comply with its disarmament obligations to include weapons of mass destruction, which tells me many more than Bush and Blair had their suspicions Iraq was hiding WMDs. It should mention that 1441 was just the last of 16 resolutions demanding Iraq abide the ceasefire resolution. Why would the UN vote in favour of 1441 if they thought the WMD allegations were malarkey? The resolution was “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations.” A “final opportunity” is an ultimatum, is it not?

    It was a dozen years of mischief that even included Iraq expelling the arms inspectors, which of course was also a violation of the ceasefire’s Paragraphs 8 and 9, specifically 9(b)(ii): “The forming of a special commission which shall carry out immediate on-site inspection of Iraq’s biological, chemical and missile capabilities, based on Iraq’s declarations and the designation of any additional locations by the special commission itself;” Iraqi declarations were outright lies. This was violation of the ceasefire. When the commission requested to visit sites, often the Iraqis would obstruct. This was violation of the ceasefire. In some cases Iraqis were caught red handed by inspectors removing documents, a violation of the ceasefire, documents which led to the discovery of more information about the nature of Saddam’s WMD programme. Suffice it to say, at first the Iraqis claimed it was for defensive purposes, and as more information was uncovered despite Iraqi efforts to hide it, the Iraqis admitted the programme also included offensive objectives. This game of grudging admissions was violation of the ceasefire.

    The ceasefire wasn’t only about WMDs.

    Paragraphs 16 and 18: “Reaffirms that Iraq, without prejudice to its debts and obligations arising prior to 2 August 1990, which will be addressed through the normal mechanisms, is liable under international law for any direct loss, damage – including environmental damage and the depletion of natural resources – or injury to foreign Governments, nationals and corporations as a result of its unlawful invasion and occupation of Kuwait;” […] “Decides also to create a fund to pay compensation for claims that fall within paragraph 16 and to establish a commission that will administer the fund;”

    Though the UN Compensation Commission (UNCC) was established, and $350 billion in claims were filed by governments, corporations, and individuals, as of 2010, Iraq had only paid $18.4 billion to claimants. Almost all this compensation was paid after Saddam was toppled.

    The Iraqis looted Kuwait and set almost all its oil fields ablaze. I think many people forget Saddam’s vengeance on Kuwait as his troops fled. It took almost a year to extinguish about 650 fires. Valves were opened turning the land into lakes of oil, much of which oozed into the Persian Gulf.


    The UNCC was to supervise Iraq’s oil sales, the “oil-for-food” programme (OFFP). Twenty-five per cent of the oil sales’ revenue was to pay compensation claims. And what did Iraq do? It busted the ceasefire agreement by selling oil outside the OFFP through Jordan and Turkey. Several investigations revealed evidence of corruption and mismanagement on the part of some UN officials and contractors involved with the OFFP, and called into question the lack of action on the part of UN in enforcing its own resolutions.

    This was the second ceasefire condition Saddam disregarded, and subverted as well.

    And the violations of the ceasefire continued with Paragraph 30: “Decides that, in furtherance of its commitment to facilitate the repatriation of all Kuwaiti and third-State nationals, Iraq shall extend all necessary cooperation to the International Committee of the Red Cross [IRCC] by providing lists of such persons, facilitating the access of the International Committee to all such persons wherever located or detained and facilitating the search by the International Committee for those Kuwait and third-State nationals still unaccounted for;”

    Reported Yuli M. Vorontsov in UN Security Council update report 4: “Iraq, never having cooperated fully, withdrew from the [IRCC] Tripartite Commission in December 1998.” […] “By December 2002, under considerable diplomatic pressure, Iraq resumed its participation in the Tripartite Commission, and following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the Coalition Provisional Authority continued cooperation with the Commission.”

    This was the third condition Saddam violated.

    Understand this, the ceasefire was three conditions, and Saddam breached them all. Repeatedly. A violation of any one of them was justification to resume hostilities, but the international community didn’t care about WMD wild goose chases much less compensation and resolving the status of abducted and disappeared Kuwaitis.

    Given Iraq had disregarded numerous resolutions prior to UN Security Council Resolution 678, the one authorising war with Iraq to liberate Kuwait, and was disregarding the ceasefire’s conditions (Resolution 687) as well as the 16 post-ceasefire resolutions reiterating the UN’s demand that Iraq comply with the conditions of the ceasefire, Iraq demonstrated it found only actions persuasive. Therefore, the “further steps” mentioned in the ceasefire could only be the resumption of war. Words carried no weight with the Iraqi regime.

    The world got it in its head that 2003 was an entirely new war based on new claims, and this was Bush’s and Blair’s folly. It would have been wiser to assert it was the resumption of 1991’s war, justified by Iraq’s failure to comply with every condition of the ’91 ceasefire. But, because the UN tends to craft resolutions with conditions that it will not enforce, that is own members later disregard, and the public doesn’t care about, Bush and Blair sexed up the accusation. Not merely content with that, then they concocted a connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda. I think they forecast the war would be won quickly – Baghdad fell three weeks after the start of hostilities – and the public would lose interest in WMDs in the glow of victory. Then they failed to win the peace. The Western public want their wars to be won quickly and tidily, which is an unrealistic want of war, but if you’re not willing to reorient their thinking and instead play to it, well you’ve earned yourself the angered people.

    I just wrote several paragraphs justifying the invasion of Iraq, and to counter it a person needs only state: “No chemical weapons were found.” It’s a simple and effective reply – a devastating one in fact – because Bush and Blair made the wrong case for war, and they lied to make that wrong case. It’s like a prosecutor ignoring all the murderer’s victims to accuse the murderer of a new homicide, one without a body, and then the prosecutor gets caught fabricating evidence about the existence of the person and his murder. Just stupid.

    Nevertheless, the world community was not willing to enforce its very own ceasefire - it merely reiterated resolutions unanimously for about a dozen years - and some of those officials involved with running components of ceasefire were found to be corrupt by pocketing pay offs from Iraq. To hold such high regard of the UN strikes me as unjustified.

  4. I continue to doubt whether the world would be any worse off than it is if the United Nations shut down tomorrow and ceased to operate.

    Might it be measurably better off?

  5. Thanks for the reply. I can understand how someone has reservations about the second Iraq War, but what are the ones for the first? To me that’s a pretty cut-and-dried case of unprovoked aggression. Saddam demanded $10 billion from Kuwait, it refused to pay the Dane geld, so he invaded and declared the entire country the new 19th province of Iraq.

  6. To me the UN is an organisation of over reach and under deliver; expressing lofty goals manifesting in dismal returns. It’s involved in all kinds of activities well beyond its original remit, and even that one, the reason for its existence, it performs poorly. Former SECGEN Dag Hammarskjold said it “was created not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell.” Personally, I can’t name any hell the UN saved us from; I have no opposition to countries having regular, even daily, pow wows, so it can be argued that the Security Council has a save-us-from-hell purpose. But, for many of proponents, the leading us to heaven is a cherished objective; the UN has a moral authority to them, though I don’t understand why. Its failings are not entirely the UN’s fault; countries tend to guard jealously their sovereignty - rightly so, I think. Really though, a lot of its activities are duplication of ones already performed by states’ international development agencies and NGOs. In fact, UN agencies duplicate activities of other UN agencies.

    Is it a wise investment? Since its founding, it’s gone through more than half a trillion dollars. Is that a lot when we look at the annual budgets of many nations? No. Still, it’s $500 billion that’s bought what? Its budget is 40 times larger than when it was established, paying for 17 agencies, 14 funds, and a secretariat with 17 departments employing more than 41,000 people. Its bureaucrats are better paid than many civil servants in the developed world, and when you add non-pay compensation such as western-standard housing, daily per diem, private education at expensive international schools for employees’ children, annual flights home, etc., it’s a great place to work for the perks. That said, is it to exist for the enrichment and comfort of its employees?

  7. So it would appear that you see no great harm coming to the world if the UN were to close up shop tomorrow.

    As for the personal enrichment of those who work there, I see that as part of a larger UN project; that of laundering billions of dollars in grant money, much of which is diverted into the pockets of corrupt third world leaders, their families and their associates.

    Bribes. Well, we don’t need the UN for that. There are other, more efficient ways.

  8. I never said nor even suggested rule of law has no value. In fact, I frequently write here that I greatly value rule of law but not rule by law.

    What I drew attention to was your complaint that only international approval is permissible by mentioning Libya, a case where international approval was given and the same bad outcome of civil mayhem happened; Saddam’s use of chemical weapons, a law that went unenforced; and the international community’s inability to enforce the three conditions of the cease fire, which were flouted for a dozen years. If you’re going to attach conditions, and then not require they be adhered to, what’s the value of putting those words on paper? And when finally action is taken to enforce, you apparently disapprove.

    I find it peculiar you have declined to substantiate your prior assertions of your first comment. Instead, you concoct something I didn’t say/suggest and claim I suggested it.

  9. I thought at the time, MorganFoster, that the millennium-long savagery of that region could only be kept suppressed by one whose ruling style was born of the same milieu as those over whom he exercised power. It seemed to me that Bush the elder had it right; don’t break it or you’ll be buying it. I take no satisfaction that recent history proved my suspicions possibly well-founded.

  10. It may be similar to the gripe about the engineering on many products, they should include on design team someone with experience in maintenance. More important, by adding treaty conditions that you will not enforce it sets you up to be discredited and that will further embolden your enemy.

    When Hitler re-militarized the Rhineland in 1936 it was a violation of both Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Treaties. Had someone like Churchill been in power and potentially gone to war or had pressured Hitler to back down, Hitler would likely have been toppled from power. Had it required a short war to enforce the treaty Churchill would also have probably gone down in history as having fought an unnecessary war over a minor border issue.

    Because of the treaty stipulations and they were not enforced, it not only created an opportunity for Hitler to be emboldened, it also discouraged and discredited Hitler’s internal foes. In so many ways the Treaty of Versailles was a shoddy document that helped set a path to the next war.

  11. As far as I can tell the purpose of the UN is to provide very cushy jobs to political appointees of every country in the world. Those jobs entail mainly endless cocktail parties, lunches, and dinners in one of the most expensive cities in the world. And that very expensive city is located in a country which 95% of the UN delegates bash endlessly. My recommended solution: Put the damn thing in Syria.

  12. The issues I have with scapegoating Chamberlain are 1) Britain’s and France’s inaction prior to '38 emboldened Hitler, and Chamberlain became PM in '37; 2) appeasement was strongly supported by not only by most of Chamberlain’s party but the wider public as well and also Britain’s allies, chiefly France; and 3) having a good understanding of Britain’s order of battle prior to ‘38, I know that many important military advantages of air and ground swung from the Allies’ favour to Germany’s by '38.

    Britain’s regular army in '35-'36 was about 209,000 stationed worldwide - its priority was the colonies, so the military’s role was to secure those foreign interest particularly in China, India, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. By Sept '38, German had 850,000 men, while Britain had a mere 220,000, half of which were positioned around the world. At the start of 1938, Britain had a grand total of two divisions capable of being deployed in combat in short notice. They were, however, rearming, and by 1940 it hoped to have five divisions, including one armoured division. The French had about 40 divisions, of which 5 were at the Maginot Line. Britain and France had better tanks, definitely better than the Panzer I and II that was the bulk of the force, but German’s combined arms tactics of concentration of forces plus wide use of field radios to coordinate manoeuvers was a force multiplier, which was demonstrated in '40. If '40 and '41 were bleak for Britain, I wonder how bad it would have been if fought in '38 and '39.

    Though Britain was unrivaled in naval power, it was not at parity with Germany’s air power. Its Hurricane was first introduced in late '37. Though a good fighter, it was outclassed by Germany’s. During the Battle of Britain, Hurricanes took the role of attacking bombers whilst the Spitfires engaged fighters - deliveries of Spitfires began in summer of '38. The first five Chain Home Radar stations went operational in '38, and dozens more were built by Sept '39. It was these plus the ground observers that allowed fighter command to effectively counter German air power advantages in '40. I should also mention that RAF aeroplanes were fueled with 87 octane aviation gasoline until the US started providing it 100 octane, which Germany used. The first shipment of this arrived in June '39, and by mid '40 all the Merlin engines had been transferred to it.

    The peculiar thing is the Czechs had a very large army, about 1m million men, strong fortifications, and decent tanks and artillery. Yet, it was landlocked, about 75% of its trade was with or went through Germany, and it was also surrounded by hostile neighbours - both Hungary and Poland wanted to annex Czech territory themselves.

    Ultimately, if you’re going to war, you had better make sure the public supports it and the military is capable of fighting it. Chamberlain had neither of these in '38. Prudence dictates rapid rearming, mobilisation of personnel and their training, and waiting for events to change to gain public support for war.

  13. Good point about Britain’s dispersed army. While I will agree Chamberlain was scapegoated I still believe he is a good portrait to use for the failure of appeasement. Remind me to never argue with you when lots of detail is required.

  14. Ok, so he was 26 years of age, still very much vulnerable person to the threats of the magnitude he was facing. We are not talking about crime where a person gradually has greater resolve throughout the course of their criminalities. We are talking about a person who was most likely predominately sitting behind a screen throughout the majority of their day. Whilst knowing his actions where against the law, chances are he didn’t think too much about the potential for facing a judge and staring down maximum penalites of ~$1 000 000 and a maximum of 35 years in prison. What should be understood here, is it is not an automatic process whereby one gets found to have committed a crime and the next day they are facing the judge. With a case like this, the person has a period of time -not knowing- what they will be facing, a period of great worry and anxiety. I surmise here, this intense period of facing these maximum penalties culminated in a tragic circumstance which I don’t think people would likely disagree with.

  15. Indeed; I agree with all of this.

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