No “Surgical Strike!”

August 30, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


Spokespeople and apologists for the rulers of the U.S. claim that an advantage of a U.S. “surgical strike” against Syria, as opposed to a “boots on the ground” U.S. invasion, is that it would not endanger American lives—as if American lives are more important than other people’s lives. They are not.

They also portray this option as a clean and almost bloodless action that would score a direct hit at Syria’s rulers and military without causing a lot of civilian casualties. And while their analysts speculate and wring their hands over unpredictable consequences for the U.S. empire in the aftermath of such an attack, little if anything is said about how a “surgical strike” could produce or lead to a whole range of consequences that would greatly increase the suffering of the people of Syria and beyond.

In that light, a bit of history.

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As part of systematically programmed historical amnesia in this country, two U.S. “surgical strikes” are largely unknown, or forgotten in public discourse. One took place in August 1998 when President Bill Clinton ordered an attack from the sky that destroyed a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. The other was the 1999 U.S. guided bomb attack that blew up the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia.

Pharmaceutical Plant in Sudan

After U.S. embassies were blown up in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, Clinton announced a strike against "military targets" supposedly associated with Osama bin Laden in the North African country of Sudan. On August 20 of that year, 16 U.S. cruise missiles struck one of those targets, which turned out to be a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan's capital, Khartoum.

Clinton claimed to have “convincing  information” that the plant had been used to manufacture chemical weapons. After the attack, news reports revealed that “Western engineers who had worked at the Sudan factory were asserting that it was, as Sudan claimed, a working pharmaceutical plant. Reporters visiting the ruined building saw bottles of medicine but no signs of security precautions and no obvious signs of a chemical weapons manufacturing operation.” (New York Times, October 27, 1999).

The attack wiped out a factory that produced and packaged about half of the medicines used in Sudan, an impoverished country, including veterinary medicine used to keep livestock healthy. It undoubtedly caused great suffering and death over the long term for people denied the medicines produced in the plant.

Aside from the immediate harm caused by the U.S. attack, a byproduct was further enhancing the status and perceived credibility of reactionary jihadist forces in North Africa and the Middle East.

The Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia

On May 7, 1999, in the context of U.S. involvement in the war in Yugoslavia, U.S.-guided precision bombs with coordinates provided by the CIA hit the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. The embassy staff had evacuated for reasons unrelated to this attack, but three Chinese journalists were killed.

The CIA, according to one official U.S. explanation, identified the building housing the Chinese embassy as a warehouse for a Yugoslav government agency suspected of arms proliferation activities. On that basis, the strike was approved by President Clinton. The U.S. later claimed that the CIA provided the military with out-of-date maps of Belgrade. Other U.S. official statements excused the attack because “the Chinese Embassy and a headquarters for a Yugoslav arms agency situated nearby look very similar: same size, shape and height.” (New York Times, May 10, 1999)

The attack set off demonstrations of tens of thousands in China and there were violent clashes between protesters and U.S. Marines guarding U.S. embassy buildings in China. Whether the U.S. missile attack was purposely directed at the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia to send a message to a rival and was passed off to the public as a “surgical strike” gone bad, or if indeed the U.S. was actually so reckless and unconcerned about who this “surgical strike” hit that they blew up the Chinese embassy by accident, in either case, the attack demonstrated utter disregard for the consequences and the lives of the targeted victims.


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The point of these examples is not that the U.S. doesn’t have tremendous military capacity and the technical ability to hit targets around the world. The point is that all this is “guided” not by humanitarian concerns but driven by the needs of maintaining and enforcing a global empire. And in that context, all other considerations pale.

And here’s another point to grasp and act on: Even with their massive nuclear technology, the things the U.S. is driven to do around the world to maintain their empire have a price—in terms both of human life and suffering and also in setting off unexpected chain reactions with unpredictable and potentially far-reaching consequences.

All of which argues for, demands, and shows the potential for political protest in advance of, or in response to, any U.S. “surgical strike” against Syria. Especially when protest calls out these global mass murderers for what they are, it creates better conditions for another way—a real revolutionary alternative—to emerge as a force on the world stage.

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