This bombardment of Syria with clichés shows no sign of stopping

Politicians all around the world discuss war with the very tiredest of language

Robert Fisk
Thursday 05 September 2013 11:50 BST
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives to address the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Syria and is confronted by protesters
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives to address the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Syria and is confronted by protesters (Getty Images)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Missiles maybe. But the bombardment of clichés is real enough – and low enough quality not to do anyone any harm except for the gentlemen who utter them. Really, who writes this stuff for Kerry? There was “armchair isolationism”. Why an armchair? And who was the target of the weird reference to post-First World War US isolationism?

Was Kerry trying to turn Obama into Roosevelt after the 1941 “day of infamy” (a genuine non-cliché there from old Franklin D)? Then we had our old friend, the “state sponsor of terrorism” from the days of Saddam – no wonder a British minister mistook Assad for the executed Iraqi dictator – from House Majority leader Eric Cantor. And just listen to this from Kerry: “This is not the time to be spectators to a slaughter. Neither our country nor our conscience can afford the cost of silence.” Yup, it’s alliteration, folks (spectators/slaughter, country/conscience/cost).

And then yet once more – how tired can you get of this mulch? – Kerry also felt he could compare Assad to Hitler. This is preposterous. Over a hundred thousand Syrians may well have died in this terrible war. But Hitler started a war that may have killed 70 million. Does Kerry maybe think that Hitler is still alive? The late Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin thought that when he fantasized in a letter to Ronnie Reagan when he was invading Lebanon in 1982 that he felt he was advancing on Berlin (Arafat was the man in the bunker). And not long ago the now Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told us all that the crackpot president of Iran (Mahmoud Ahmedinejad at the time) was “worse than Hitler”. So let’s have it just one more time: HITLER IS DEAD.

And get this. Obama is not asking America to go to war, but to “degrade and deter” Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons. We first got “degrade” in the 1991 Gulf war, then we got it again when Nato fired weapons at Milosovic’s chums in Serbia (targets, you may remember, that included a TV station, an express train and a hospital). And “the costs of inaction are greater and graver still” – this from Democratic chairman of the Senate committee, Robert Menendez. But is this true? When Saddam used gas against the Kurds of Halabjah, the US did not see this as a ‘grave cost’ to the nation. Indeed, it waited years before condemning it because Saddam was our mate at the time.

But it goes on and on across the pond, Nancy Pelosi talking about that ‘red line’ again and, of course, “all options are on the table” – I have no idea who invented that old donkey – but the Middle East potentates are not beyond a dip in the cliché pond. We had Assad himself warning for the umpteenth time that the “powder keg” of the region may explode, that “chaos and extremism” may spread. The condemnation of ‘extremism’ is par for the course nowadays and surely qualifies Assad for American citizenship.

Then up pops – in Beirut - the chairman of the Iranian parliamentary committee for national security, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, announcing that a US attack would “engulf the entire region”. Which, as I’ve said before, doesn’t let the Syrian government off the hook for chemical weapons attacks. But so far we’ve had to rely on those famous “intelligence officials” for the details, the same lads and lassies who told us about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but failed to spot the noisy clues that were on their desks about 19 Arabs who planned to fly aircraft into tall buildings 12 years ago.

And all the while, hovering over the horizon is that mysterious missile which Israel fired over the Mediterranean on Tuesday in a “joint exercise” with the US. It was the Russians who broke the story, of course. But why was that missile fired now, at this exact moment, when the Syrian regime expects Cruise missiles to come flying in? It was fired to assess Israel’s missile defences, according to the Pentagon. But defences against who? Hezbollah? Hamas? Syria? Iran? Well, it proves one thing. If Obama goes ahead, we’ll have the Russians to give us a running commentary. But please, no clichés.

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