Why Is Washington United Behind a War in Syria?

The most important arguments being made by warmongers for the U.S. to make war in Syria are (a) appeasement, (b) morality, and (c) America as exceptional world leader.

The appeasement idea is that if the U.S. doesn’t exert force against some evil, it will grow worse and eventually become a very difficult problem to solve. This is a pragmatic argument.

The morality idea is that the U.S. is good, that it can identify evils, and that it has a moral obligation to fight them. This idea applies both domestically and internationally.

The American leadership idea singles out America as the leader of the world, asserts that it is exceptional, and concludes that it therefore has an obligation to lead. It is only right, this idea says, for the U.S. to act as policeman of the world and make war against the evils it identifies. Arguments (b) and (c) overlap in their idea that the U.S. has moral obligations to fight evils.

None of these rationales holds water, but I’ve argued that many times in the past, so let’s move on.

The real reason why Washington often finds war a convenient tool is not the same as these arguments or rationales. Appeasement, morality and policing the world do not explain actual U.S. behavior. The actual reason is the drive to become the world’s sovereign, that is, to become the empire that rules the world. This is an age-old ambition of empires that arises under the same Hobbesian conditions that give rise to states.

Hobbes proposed that without a central ruler everyone would fight one another, or that taking would dominate making. People would then rationally and willingly give up rights to a sovereign in order to obtain peace and a regime that allowed making, not taking, to predominate.

In the international context, states replace people. The states fight one another in Hobbesian pre-sovereign style. As recently as World War I and II, this was surely the case on an immense scale, and nothing has happened to change it. Do not be fooled by temporary peace here and there. There is therefore a powerful incentive for states to cede their “rights” to a central sovereign, which then is an empire that enforces the peace within its realm. Such an empire has the incentive to conquer or at least subdue peripheral states in one way or another.

The U.S. is the current world leader in this quest for world government. Many Americans benefit from the empire. That empire can be expected to press on Russia and China, and the pressures it applies will have nothing to do with the rationales of appeasement, morality and America as exceptional world leader. Poison gas won’t be its typical pretext, Skripal’s case being a convenient one, although the U.S. is actually trying to hang chlorine around Putin’s neck. The U.S. sanctions and pressures will find many other excuses like Ukraine, Crimea, authoritarianism, oligarchy, and theft of intellectual property.

Washington is united behind a war in Syria because Syria is the current pressure point of expansion of the empire, and it is deemed feasible to control it, at least by the proponents of empire who dominate Washington and wish to pressure Iran and Russia. Trump is not one of these, although it’s hard to be sure, for he has recently had the temerity to speak of withdrawing from Syria! This met with instant howls of protest, even before any chlorine gas incident, which shows that the rationales differ from the real reasons. At the moment, Trump looks like a figurehead who occasionally speaks his mind or gut, but quickly retreats when the real Washington powers put him in his place. Presidents come and go, but the Hobbesian incentives do not change, which means that the forces behind the empire keep at work no matter what.


4:08 pm on April 11, 2018