Do We Need to Police Syria?

Although not a neo-con, as the term is commonly used now, I do recognize that the US has a distinct role to play in the world, at least for this period of our history, in helping maintain a stable world order.  In a limited sense, it’s not a fool’s errand.  The best example was the Gulf War.  Saddam Hussein annexed neighboring Kuwait, and began massing his armies on the border of Saudi Arabia.  Although I am no friend of the House of Saud, I sure didn’t want it replaced with Hussein’s dictatorship, and leaving Hussein on charge of the majority of Persian Gulf oil.  There was a principle to be adhered to; you can’t just conquer other countries, strip them for parts, and steal their national resources so you can hold it hostage on the world market.  The United States, acting through its sock puppet the UN (at least for that issue), assembled a coalition which included Syria, and kicked Saddam out of Kuwait.  Establishing a cost for a country that tried to conquer it’s neighbors willy nilly helps keep that sort of that action extremely risky, not matter how militarily weak one’s neighbor is and as a result, it’s a relative rarity in the post World War II era.

English: Brasilia - The president of the Syria...

English: Brasilia – The president of the Syrian Arab Republic, Bashar Al-Assad during a visit to Congress Português do Brasil: Brasília – O presidente da República Árabe Síria, Bashar Al-Assad, em visita ao Congresso Nacional (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is another principle at stake now and the Obama administration is preparing to attack Syria based on it; you can’t use chemical weapons; particularly on civilians.  There are not many taboos in warfare, but using chemical weapons would certainly be on that short list.

But in this case, there are competing interests and principles involved.  Prohibiting the use of chemical weapons is a taboo for those countries that were involved in World War I.  Those nations were horrified by what they had done on the battlefield and although almost all of them kept some manner of CW weapons in stock during the 20th century, they weren’t used and relatively few of the former World War I combatants have active stockpiles now.  Even Hitler didn’t use them, although he had them.

But the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily share those taboos. Certainly Saddam Hussein didn’t share them during the Iran-Iraq War, or when he gassed his own people at Halabja in 1988.  And Bashar Assad doesn’t share them now.

So, if we are going to enforce as a norm, the idea that using chemical weapons against civilian populations is verboten, then we have to react.  Although I can’t believe that was actually Obama’s plan.  The reason we are attacking Syria is so Obama can feel butch. He made up that “red line” statement about chemical weapons thinking he would never have to pay up since at the time, all of the experts were saying that Assad had only weeks left.

So here we are 30 months into a Syrian civil war and the experts were wrong, as seems to be the case quite frequently, and now Obama is trying to make it look like his word means something.

But as I said, there are competing interests.  Just like the Iran-Iraq War, in which Henry Kissinger said, “It’s a shame they can’t both lose,” there are no good guys in the Syrian conflict.  There is a choice between an anti-American dictatorship that is a state supported sponsor of terrorism, or a fundamentalist Islamic regime that almost certainly will be a state sponsor of terrorism.  So  foreign policy of the old “realist” bent would be interested in keeping the war between our enemies going on as long as possible.  The longer they are concerned with each other, the less they will be concerned with us.  That was basically our strategy with Iran and Iraq during the 1980’s.

So which is more important?  Leaving secular Baathists and Islamic fundamentalist to fight it out, or interfering and possibility helping the Islamic fundamentalists by inflicting damage to the Syrian Military?

Left out of most of this discussion is what is in the national security interests of the United States?  To me, that has to be a key component of any US military intervention and I just don’t see it in this case.

Although I’m as opposed to the use of chemical weapons against civilians as the next Westerner, we let the Iraqi’s go at it against the Iranians for years and didn’t lose any sleep over it, and in this case, my inclination is to just get a good night’s sleep.  Eventually, the conflict in Syria will be over, and an enemy of the United States will be in charge.  I don’t see much advantage in hastening that day.

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Links

I’ve added a new page to the site, called Links. It’s a collection of web links I’ve collected over the years that have interested me for one reason or another, and were about topics that I figured I would either want to go back and research at one point, or that I wanted to use as a reference in future blog posts.

I’ve kept it and expanded it over the years, listing the links by topics to make them easy to find again. If there are any suggestions to how to organize them better, I’m open to suggestions.

My Connections

My son took advantage of some family connections and recently procured a fairly decent full time job.  Since full time work is going the way of the dodo that was considered a minor coup and the job is one requiring proficiency in a sophisticated software suite, in which the demand was high enough that they were willing to train.  The job is at my wife’s place of employment.  She heard about the position, knew the requirements for the job, and was able to give our son some useful guidance in putting together a resume and in interviewing for this particular position.  Of course, succeeding at the job is all on him, but he more than likely would never have heard of it, let alone known how to successfully apply for it if it hadn’t been for a family connection.

That’s not an uncommon story.  Lots of people get their jobs with help from family.  At my current job I telecommute so I’m rather cut off from office goings on, but when I worked at an office it was not uncommon to see siblings or parent/child combos working at the office.  Usually the kids heard about the job from their parents and if the parents were well respected at work, they were an informal reference for the new applicant.

Among my son’s peers many of them work for the same companies based on feedback they had gotten from their friends.  If a place is hiring and the salary, and benefits are better than what their friends are making at say, in the fast food industry, they’ll get the hook-up to put in an application, and give them details enough about the job so they have a much better idea of what the job is then the average applicant reading the brief description from an online job searching site or even more quaint, your daily newspaper. A couple of good connections are worth more than a thousand emailed resumes in today’s job hunt.

Growing up, I even took advantage of connections to get a job.  My father worked for a major national airline, and one summer when the airline was hiring temporary help to work the ramp, my father told my brother and me about it to see if we were interested.  Indeed we were, since the job paid double the minimum wage in those days, and it certainly beat washing dishes. The interview was barely that since I had met most of the people who had worked there before.  So by the standards of that time and place, that was an excellent paying job for a couple of guys in community college.  And it’s a job I would have never heard of if it hadn’t been for a family connection.

Needless to say, the military is rife with family connections.  My first visit to the Army Recruiter was a good example.  Upon entering, the office, hopped up on the movie Stripes and Reagan’s America, I stood patiently waiting while the recruiter was filling out paperwork; he barely raised his eyes to look at me and returned to his paperwork.  But of course, I had the hook up.

“Ahem,” I said, clearing my throat, “But I’m a legacy…”  This time he looked up in earnest, a big smile on his face.

“Well why didn’t you say so?  Please follow me!”  We retired to the military recruiter’s wood paneled study, and over brandy and cigars, discussed my future military career, and my father’s draftee inflicted one.  Of course, even as a legacy, one has to be careful to take the recruiter’s promises at face value.  Apparently, many of the things he had promised me turned out to be flights of fancy.  Based on the MOS I had selected, I was promised that I would never need to handle a weapon again after basic training, and I would work in an office building in civilian clothes.  Much to my surprise, this turned out to be not quite accurate, although in what would have probably have been a surprise to my recruiter, many years later I did in fact have an assignment in which I worked in an office in civilian clothes, but that was well beyond the influence of my recruiter, my legacy status, and depended more on dumb luck and being at the right place at the right time.

It wasn’t much of a surprise that most (although not all) of the people I met in the military usually had a family member, most likely a father, who had also been in the military.  That sort of personal family knowledge makes the idea of joining the military conceivable; in a way that someone without such intimate family knowledge might regard it as a totally off the wall due to their lack of familiarity to the idea of the military.

And that applies to almost the entire job market.  The labor market isn’t a pure, well functioning machine. It has a lot of bumps to it, making it difficult to get the idea of the full opportunity for jobs that are available in a particular geographic area.  Think how many buildings you drive by in a day that are staffed by hundreds of people working for companies you have no idea about doing jobs you’ve never heard of.

So taking advantage of the network of friends and family for finding when doing a job search is probably far more cost and time effective than virtually anything else you will do when you job hunt.  It’s far more useful than emailing hundreds of resumes to unwatched email boxes.

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The “Don’t Fund it” Option

The latest, and perhaps last, opportunity to toss a few stop sticks in front of Obamacare is coming up with the upcoming 2014 spending bill.  The Tea Party coalition wants to strip Obamacare funding from the spending bill, giving the President the option of either vetoing the bill, and effectively shutting down the government October 1st, or signing the spending bill stripped of Obamacare funding; stopping it in its tracks.  It’s not repeal, but it’s a delay, and delaying Obamacare implementation I would think is worth taking some chances.  Obamacare is bad law and worse public policy, and if there is a clear path to even delaying this bill (hopefully for some future period in which there is a change in political leadership), then that path should be followed.  Of course there are two (at least) problems with this: the House leadership and establishment Republicans want nothing to do with this idea, and it’s not clear there is an effective path to getting Obamacare defunded.

Official portrait of United States Senator Mik...

Official portrait of United States Senator Mike Lee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The “Don’t Fund it” option is a real organized effort.  It even has a website to track the progress and pledges of the various Republican Senators and Senate candidates. However, as usual, the establishment is opposed to doing anything that might make either Democrats or the Washington media mad at them.  This default bowing to possible media reaction means that they don’t want to take the chance of looking “obstructionist” in front of the national media.  Speaker Boehner is particularly uninterested in anything that would make the House Republicans look confrontational. So I cheer the Tea Party Republicans who are willing to take a risk at slowing down a bad law.

On the other hand…

The House Republicans have failed to impress in follow-through before. Last year’s fiscal cliff disaster was an eye opening view into how dysfunctional the House Republicans can be.  Before Christmas they voted against an option, what was then known as “Plan B” in order to finally agree and vote for a worse plan, as I chronicled last January.  These guys are not master strategists.  This isn’t House of Cards. It’s not even Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I’ve seen no evidence that there are wheels within wheels of planning and maneuvering to accomplish the goal of defunding Obamacare.  Both the debt ceiling fight and the fiscal cliff debacle demonstrated the amateur hour of the GOP and nothing they’ve done since last December has given me any confidence that they have learned from past mistakes and could prevail in this fight.

That’s not to say there aren’t options available to getting Obamacare defunded.  Some ideas include:

The Republicans could fund the government in multiple spending bills, isolating the Obamacare funding into a separate bill, and basically passing everything but that. Then it will be on the Democrats in the Senate to vote against the rest of the clean government funding.

They could just add an amendment to the bill holding off the implementation of Obamacare for one, two, or even three years. Since the exchanges and a lot of other moving parts aren’t ready, this might be tempting for some Senate Democrats. Obama basically did something similar by fiat.

The House Republicans could offer to fund Obama’s infrastructure and jobs bill with the funds that are not spent on Obamacare implementation.

These are just a couple of ideas that I thought of, off the top of my head.  I imagine a skilled parliamentarian would have a much longer, and perhaps more realistic list.  But in reality it seems unlikely that there is either a skilled parliamentarian or a list of options of any kind available. So I’m left to wonder,

-      Is there an actual strategy that has a possible favorable outcome?

-      Are there contingency plans depending on different possible White House or Senate Democrat responses?

-      Is there a united message and talking points for all participants to use in media contacts?

-      Has this scenario been “war-gamed?”

I wouldn’t be surprised if none of these issues had been seriously considered.  And that’s why, although I would love, love, love to throw my whole hearted support behind a “don’t fund it” plan, I would only want to do it if I thought there was at least a reasonable chance of success, rather than the Republicans ending up worse off than if they had just done nothing, and the media spinning the Republicans as both stupid and evil, like with the fiscal cliff.  And there is a possibility that the Republicans could end up worse off than if they hadn’t done anything.  If the President and Senate Democrats stand firm (and why wouldn’t they?), all the blame will be spun in the media as Republicans taking away Social Security from the elderly, paychecks from the military… you get the idea.  At that point the ball will be in the Democratic court, and they may have their own conditions to get government funded again.

Catching a few media interviews with Senator Mike Lee over the past week, I didn’t get any indication that there was a well thought of plan that has a reasonable chance of success.  Instead, it sounded more like a last gasp.

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The Real White Privilege

Representative Charlie Rangel, joined noted Zimmerman trial witness Rachel “Dee-Dee” Jeantel, in bringing racial slurs to the forefront of American consciousness once again.  Of course they’re not the only ones, but the term “Cracker” is getting quite the workout lately in the American media.  In discussing the Tea Party, Rangel said:

Rangel

Rangel (Photo credit: Georgetown Voice)

“It is the same group we faced in the South with those white crackers and the dogs and the police. They didn’t care about how they looked,” 

Leaving the Tea Party aspect of it aside, I’m fascinated that the word cracker is getting so much of a recent work out in recent public statements.  It’s generated a great deal of online commentary, revolving around is it a racial slur, is it a good racial slur, and should white people be offended by that racial slur?

When it comes to racial slurs, there is still a disparate impact between the use of what is now euphemistically referred to as the “N Word,” and virtually every other attempted racial slur.  For Paula Deen, the use of the N Word 30 years ago effectively ended her career.  For Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper, he’s removed himself from the team and is now seeking counseling.  Yes that’s right, counseling.

Of course there are a few outliers.  Tim Allen recently gave an interview in which he argued that as a comedian, he should be allowed to say the N Word.  At least so far, there seem to be little major reaction.  Allen’s TV show, Last Man Standing, was renewed for another season.  No Michael Richards treatment for him.

Rangel or anyone using the term cracker is just something I cannot seem to get worked up about.  The truth is, there are not any good racial insults for white people.  Oh there is quite a list of different terms, but they have all of the effectiveness of a wet firecracker.  Oops, there’s that word cracker again.  I was born in Georgia, and that was practically a State nickname.  My father called me a Georgia Cracker when I was growing up there, and has yet to appear on the Today Show to give a sobbing an incoherent apology for it.

I think when it comes to derogatory racial slurs for whites; this is an area in which black people just cannot compete on an even playing field. As a white person, I just can’t be racially insulted. Cracker? Sorry Charlie (Rangel). I remember during the 1970’s TV sitcoms tried to tell us that honky was a racial slur, but I laughed and laughed whenever George Jefferson would call a white person honky. So call me an Ofay honky cracker if you want, I’ll just laugh.  It just sounds funny.

Rangel could have spewed the term with all the ugliness, hate and vitriol of any KKK’er, and it still would have been more funny than insulting. Calling him the N-word however, would have probably been an emotional kick in the gut to him. So it’s not a fair fight. There isn’t a racial slur from his arsenal of hate that would affect me in the slightest, other than amuse me, but he’s a powerful Congressman, and the lowliest white guy, even a hobo or prisoner in lock-up, could emotionally wreck him with a few slurs.

That’s the real white privilege.

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