Caretaker Czech Prime minister Jiri Rusnok and president Milos Zeman have denounced President Obama’s plans to bomb Syria not just as unwise but as actually illegal.
In the United Nations Charter, which the US crafted and to which it is a signatory, there are only two grounds for going to war: self-defense and a UN Security Council resolution designating a country as a threat to world order. President Obama has neither consideration on his side in bombing Syria, though he did seem to make an argument that the use of chemical weapons anywhere is a de facto threat to all other nations, edging toward a rather implausible assertion of US self defense in Ghuta. The US political class either hasn’t read the UN charter or actively despises it, and if they were honest they would revoke their treaty obligations.
Czech officials compare the plans for the US to strike Damascus to the Clinton administration’s bombing of Serbia in the late 1990s, which they say killed innocent non-combatants in contrast to American pledges.
This development strikes me as a startling turn-around from 2003, when France and Germany criticized Bush’s invasion of Iraq but then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld could point to support from “new Europe,” the post-Soviet states of eastern Europe.
Zeman is a notorious Islamophobe who probably just hates the Syrian rebels, coding them as Nazis. He also denounces Bashar al-Assad as a dictator, but says there isn’t much to choose between the two. Still, the Czech Republic has an embassy in Damascus and Rusnok says there are Czech “interests” in Syria (probably referring to trade, including arms trade).
Poland hasn’t gone so far as to denounce the US for plotting illegal activity, but it has firmly declined to be involved in any military action vis-a-vis Syria. Prime Minister Donald Tusk referred to Polish troop deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, saying: “We have experience in this part of the world, which shows that military intervention, even from the most obvious and noble motives, rarely produces the desired effect.” The US Neoconservative scorched earth tactics in pulling a ‘coalition of the willing’ into the cauldron of Iraq has left the US with virtually no allies save a handful of countries (chiefly France and Turkey) who wisely stayed out of the Iraq fiasco and so aren’t traumatized.
Poland is suggesting a face-saving way out, that Russia should intervene with its Syrian ally to extract pledges and ensure that chemical weapons are not used again. (Unfortunately, Russia is in complete denial about the Baath regime’s chemical weapons use and so at the moment not exactly helpful).
One of the differences between Syria and Iraq is that Syria is not very far from eastern Europe. For Bulgaria, the anxiety about an American attack mainly centers on fears that it will create a whole new wave of Syrian refugees in that country, which is already facing a refugee crisis from the Syrian influx.
Although many in Western Europe (including the British parliament) also oppose unilateral American action, Eastern European opposition, especially the Polish, is one reason that NATO has said that it won’t be aboard with a US attack.
In essence, the US is flanked only by France, Israel and Turkey publicly, and behind the scenes by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It is a much diminished, pitiful coalition of the willing.
Ironically, the breathtaking illegality of the US war on Iraq may have over the succeeding decade given the UN charter and international law more standing than it had ever had before, at least in world political rhetoric. To have even a ethnically chauvinist government like that of the Czech Republic invoke it against the United States is mind-boggling.