Opinion » Ted Rall

We Are All Soviets Now

Not-so-secret bombings have big implications


Did Israel bomb Damascus? Of course it did. But Israel won't admit it.

According to experts, the silence following not-so-secret secret bombings shows that even enemies have to cooperate sometimes. If Syria acknowledges that it has been the victim of an act of war, Syrians and non-Syrians throughout the Muslim world would pressure the government of President Bashar al-Assad into a war it can't win. Knowing this, the Israelis let Assad save face. They quietly gloat over what everyone knows, that they can come and go as they please over Syrian airspace.

We live in a time that bears out the most dystopian of George Orwell's predictions, yet few news events are as surreal and mind-blowing as a so-called secret bombing. There is, after all, nothing secret about bombs.

Older readers remember the secret bombing of Cambodia in 1969 and 1970, when President Richard Nixon ordered the bombing of North Vietnamese supply bases in eastern Cambodia and Laos, a violation of international law. It was a sensational scoop to readers of The New York Times, but if you were there, there was nothing secretive about the 100,000-plus tons of ordnance dropped in 3,800-plus sorties by American B-52s.

As far as the rest of the world was concerned, the bombings were cloaked by a conspiracy of silence. The media found out about it right away but coverage was scant and tentative. Cambodia's leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, supposedly sent his tacit approval through back channels.

The U.S. drone war in Pakistan bears similarities, though it features a delicious extra dollop of deception.

As I reported in 2010, the United States isn't so much occupying Afghanistan as it is using it as a staging area for drone strikes. Again, we have the ridiculous spectacle of something that couldn't be less secret while both Americans and the Pakistani government officially deny knowing anything about it.

For at least 200 years, the West has been governed on the basis of strictly defined borders. The United Nations has served as an attempt to enshrine the sovereignty of nation-states. At the core of contemporary international law is the doctrine that invading territory or airspace is an act of war.

If Israel can carry out acts of war against Syria, and if the United States can do the same in Pakistan, who is to say which cross-border incursions are acceptable? If Syria and Pakistan tacitly consent to their territory being bombed, but don't sign formal agreements, can they legitimately claim to be sovereign independent states? It seems that both the bomber and the victim countries are messing around with huge potential ramifications.

The greatest enemy of political stability is alienation. Citizens don't have to like their leaders to hand them the tacit consent of the governed. But if a regime wants to stay in power, the people have to believe their government more often than not.

Sure, all rules are arbitrary. But once you start breaking your own rules, you undermine the basis of legitimacy for the system you've created. If we go back to the basis of nationhood, we unwind the world order in place for nearly half a millennium. Which may be for the better. But it's probably something that we should all discuss. In the open.