Pentagon officials say the U.S. Navy has moved five destroyers equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles into the eastern Mediterranean Sea to prepare for a possible strike on Syria. This comes as the British Parliament voted Thursday not to back international action against Syria following the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons last week. This comes as a team of U.N. inspectors, who spent the week traveling to rebel-controlled areas in search of proof of a poison gas attack, is set to give its preliminary findings to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday. As the United States continues to try to build an international coalition, we speak with Bassam Haddad, director of the Middle East Studies Program at George Mason University and co-founder of Jadaliyya.com. "The United States in Iraq has actually used nerve agents, mustard gas and/or white phosphorus in Fallujah and beyond, left depleted uranium all over the country in Iraq, ruined and destroyed the lives of generations as a result, and now claims that it needs to do this to protect Syrian civilians — which is exactly the opposite of what will happen in any invasion or any strike on Syria, which is not possible to happen in the surgical manner that is being discussed right now," Haddad says. "You have a regional environment that is also in many ways opposed to this, including of course the allies of Syria in the region, and we have a possibility of this becoming something much more than what many envision."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: You also have an interesting front-page—well, the New York Daily News has a great front-page headline.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Oh, yes, the newspaper has a—the Daily News has a front page today: "The British Aren’t Coming!" And this is after, of course, the paper has been cheerleading the possibilities of an attack on Syria. But clearly the vote in Parliament not only jolted President Obama and the proponents of an attack on Syria, but also the Daily News.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, that is our front-page headline story today, and it’s Syria.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we go now to United Nations inspectors in Syria who visited a military hospital in a government-held area of Damascus today, where they met with soldiers suffering from an apparent chemical attack. This comes after inspectors spent the week traveling to rebel-controlled areas in search of proof of a poison gas attack last week. The team is set to give its preliminary findings to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Pentagon officials say the Navy has moved five destroyers, each equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles, into the eastern Mediterranean to prepare for a possible strike on Syria. This comes as the United States continues to seek international support for taking action against Syria following the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons last week. This is U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Our approach is to continue to find an international coalition that will act together, and I think you’re seeing a number of countries say publicly—state their position on—on the use of chemical weapons. We’ll continue to consult with our allies and our partners and friends.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Today, the German government said it has ruled out participation, while France said it may take measures against Syria’s ruling regime after its Parliament meets next Wednesday. This comes as the British Parliament dramatically withheld its support Thursday. A motion put forth by Prime Minister David Cameron’s government was defeated by 285 to 272, a majority of 13 votes. This is Prime Minister Cameron.
PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons, but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons. It is very clear tonight that while the House has not passed a motion, it is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the government will act accordingly.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the U.N.'s refugee committee urged Syria's neighboring countries to keep their borders open to deal with what it’s termed the worst refugee crisis since the Rwanda genocide in 1994. Two million refugees have fled Syria since the conflict began over two years ago. According to UNICEF, there are now some one million Syrian children who are refugees. This is U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: Syria is not only the most tragic humanitarian situation that we faced since the Rwanda genocide, it is also the worst threat to global peace and security that we have witnessed in the present century.
AMY GOODMAN: For more on Syria, we’re joined in Chicago by Bassam Haddad, director of the Middle East Studies Program at George Mason University, co-founder of Jadaliyya. He’s author of Business Networks in Syria: The Political Economy of Authoritarian Resilience.
We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Bassam. Can you just respond to both the British vote, the Parliament vote that says no to attacks on Syria, against Cameron’s wishes, the prime minister, and yet the U.S. moving forward?
BASSAM HADDAD: Well, absolutely. The British have, you know, made their say, and the Americans, the U.S. government, and France is pushing forward. What I think we should do first, before we actually begin to talk about any of this, is to recognize that this is not—no longer about the Syrian regime and whatever atrocities it may have committed and whatever atrocities the rebels may have committed. This is about invading a sovereign country before even the evidence is out, before even the U.N. inspectors are out. There are decisions to already invade, to attack, to launch a strike on Syria, by a country that we should actually check the record of. The United States is not qualified to do what it claims it wants to do, as a result of its own record in violating international law for a very long time and supporting dictators and rogue regimes and the apartheid state of Israel in opposition to all manners of international law. The United States violated international law by attacking and invading a country on false premise, which is Iraq in 2003. And most importantly, the United States, in Iraq, has actually used nerve agent, mustard gas and/or white phosphorus in Fallujah and beyond, left depleted uranium all over the country in Iraq, ruined and destroyed the lives of generations as a result, and now claims that it needs to do this to protect Syrian civilians, which is exactly the opposite of what will happen in any invasion or any strike on Syria, which is not possible to happen in the surgical manner that is being discussed right now.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Bassam Haddad, what do you think would be the repercussions of such a strike, if the United States goes at it, especially if it goes at it with very little support in the international community?
BASSAM HADDAD: Well, the issue here also is the fact that the situation can spin out of control in a very, very quick manner. You have a very strong opposition to this strike, even from the camp that the U.S. is allied with, including Britain, as we have seen. We have international actors, like Russia and China, who are clearly not just against this move, but there have—there has been some movement, some military movements and preparations on the Russian side. You have a regional environment that is also, in many ways, opposed to this, including, of course, the allies of Syria in the region. And we have a possibility of this becoming something much more than what many envision. This is not Libya. Syria has a lot of allies locally. The Syrian terrain is very different than that of Libya. And we’re looking at a potential serious set of consequences that actually might not be in favor of anyone, and certainly, in all cases, the Syrian people will be the victims.
And the cynical aspect here is that the United States is not actually looking to change the balance of power in Syria. There is a very marked insistence on a limited strike, supposedly, that actually will end up prolonging this existing civil war, this tragic civil war, and it will not serve the purposes that any ordinary Syrians would like to be served. In fact, on top of this mayhem that has caused the killing of more than 100,000 people, the regime perhaps is the main culprit here, but the rebels also have partaken in a lot of the atrocities that have taken place. On top of all of this, the Syrians right now in Syria are waiting for, again, the United States to strike and basically make Syria the seventh Arab country that the United States strikes in the past couple of decades.
AMY GOODMAN: Bassam, last week Democracy Now! spoke to Razan Zaitouneh in Syria. She is a human rights lawyer who works with the Human Rights Violation Documentation Center. She went to the site of the chemical attack, and she described it.
RAZAN ZAITOUNEH: We started to visit the medical points in Ghouta to where injured were removed, and we couldn’t believe our eyes. I haven’t seen such death in my whole life. People were lying on the ground in hallways, on roadsides, in hundreds.
There haven’t been enough medical staff to treat them. There is not enough medications for more serious cases. They were just to choose to whom they will give the medication, because there is no medication for everybody. Even doctors were crying because they couldn’t help the injured people, because the lack of the medication and oxygen.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh describing Ghouta, the site of the chemical attack. And I want to follow that up with President Obama’s comments on Syria when speaking on PBS Wednesday.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When you start talking about chemical weapons, in a country that has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world, where, over time, their control over chemical weapons may erode, where they’re allied to known terrorist organizations that in the past have targeted the United States, then there is a prospect, a possibility, in which chemical weapons, that can have devastating effects, could be directed at us. And we want to make sure that that does not happen.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Obama. Bassam Haddad, your response to both Razan Zaitouneh and President Obama?
BASSAM HADDAD: I mean, you know, first, to President Obama, we’ve heard this before. It sounds extremely familiar, when we kept propping up a country and its abilities in terms of weapons of mass destruction or chemical weapons. But this is not what’s at work here. There is something else that’s much more cynical. There isn’t even an attempt now to just take out Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. There is a very, as I said, cynical attempt to do a bloody nose operation, and that will actually prolong the civil war, prolong the depletion of the resources of anything that has to do with Syria, not just the Syrian regime, and that that is not going to resolve any of the problems that President Obama has been addressing.
The only solution to this is something that is akin to a political solution where the serious international actors, the ones that are powerful, can come together force—literally force—the local players on all sides to actually come together and find a political solution. There is no other solution. There is no military solution to this. And the more dangerous that the chemical weapons that President Obama is discussing is the more reason to actually push for a serious political solution. One wonders, however, if that is indeed desired, as far as desired by these powerful actors, including the United States, and especially the United States.
Now, as far as the report, I mean, it’s horrific. What is happening in Syria is horrific, not just what just happened in the past week. The death of more than 100,000 people, the existence of more than two million refugees—many of them, if not half, are children—is, as we have heard in the earlier report, is just horrendous. This is actually all the more reason not to take such actions, because any strike will actually end up escalating the situation beyond any control. We cannot compare the idea of inaction compared to action, in the sense that action will actually resolve the problem. Action will not resolve the problem. A strike and an invasion will not resolve the problem; it will actually exacerbate it. And that’s one good reason why the British, who are not—the British government, who was not a lover of peace, as we have seen in its decision to invade Iraq on false premises in 2003, has already backed out. And most of the countries that are watching this, the powerful countries, have already called for caution, and we are still plowing ahead. That is, the United States government is still plowing ahead with a plan that will actually bring more devastation to the Syrian people.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Bassam Haddad, on this whole issue of the use of chemical weapons being an excuse to launch an attack, it’s—my fellow columnist at the New York Daily News, Denis Hamill, noted yesterday in a column that we are a country that used massive use of chemical weapons in Vietnam. It was called Agent Orange and napalm. And the Vietnamese are still paying for the consequences of those attacks, not to mention what you’ve said about depleted uranium and the other—and the other—and white phosphorus that the United States used in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: It looks like we just lost the satellite in Chicago, but it’s a very interesting point, Juan.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, and, of course, we’re not even getting into the issue of the nuclear bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, yet our government still has not been held responsible for any of these massive losses of civilian life in the pursuit of our objectives. So it just seems to me enormously hypocritical at this point to use this as the excuse to attack Iraq—sorry, Syria.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, of course, we will—we will continue to cover this story as it develops. We want to thank Bassam Haddad for having joined us, director of the Middle East Studies Program at George Mason University.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the unprecedented NFL settlement with former players for the violence of football—brain injuries, Alzheimer’s, depression. Back in a moment.