Syria Backtrack

I was as shocked as anyone that President Obama did an about face on firing his phallic symbol-like missiles in Assad’s general direction.  Although I had previously called the administration amateurish, they managed to redefine the word amateur down.

First we’re going to attack, then we’re going to get Congressional approval, but don’t worry, that doesn’t matter, since Obama states he still has the authority to attack anyway, and will, regardless of the vote.

Huh?

Although there are conspiracy theories that the rebels, not the Assad government, actually used chemical weapons as a false flag to trick the US into intervening, I prefer to consider such theories ridiculous until proven otherwise.   As far as figuring out a position on what to do in Syria, I’m just taking the administration’s word that the intelligence is good, and that Assad is the culprit.

However that doesn’t give guidance on how the US should react.

I would really like to support the President in this.  Politics stops at the water’s edge and all that’ however Obama has managed to make it as difficult as possible to support a policy in which the publically stated goals are to accomplish nothing.  They’re not to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons, cripple the regime, or do anything of any military significance. It’s a military mission with no military objectives, and frankly, not even political ones.

Syria isn’t a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, so in a technical sense, they didn’t actually violate “International law.”  The administration is well aware of that since they use terminology “International Norms,” which means things that the international community, such as it is, doesn’t like.  Although no one in the international community feels their norms were violated enough to actually do something about it.

Obama should have just fired his missiles last week without all of the foreplay and advanced warning.  We would have already been on to another issue by now with the feeling that we had sort of accomplished something.  Instead, there was the desperate pleading for international support, an embarrassing House of Commons vote, and now an upcoming Congressional vote that’s likely to be even more embarrassing.

And how will Congress vote?  Very unconventionally apparently.  Noted warmonger Rep. Nancy Pelosi, after wresting with the issue with her 5 year old grandson, is on board to attack Syria. And John McCain, between Smartphone games of poker, is always up for another bombing.  How will the rest of the Congress vote?  It’s not as easy to predict.  Although I can guess how a certain young Illinois lawmaker would have voted:

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now let me be clear–I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied U.N. resolutions, thwarted U.N. inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.

He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.

But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

But the 2002 edition of Barrack Obama was quite a bit different from the current model.

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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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The Costs of the Arab Spring

In a general sense, the main stream media has done an extremely poor job of covering the President, so intent as they

1 September 2010. During Middle East negotiati...

1 September 2010. During Middle East negotiations, Mubarak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel look at their watches to see if it is officially sunset; during Ramadan, Muslims fast until sunset. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) We won’t see this gang together again

are in protecting him that we seldom get good interview questions from the usual crew of White House reporters.  The Pimp with a Limp asked better questions than the usual gang of NBC, CBS, and ABC boot lickers, however during Obama’s interview with Telemundo the President was actually asked a serious and pertinent question:

Jose Diaz Balart – Would you consider the current Egyptian regime an ally of the United States?

President Obama:  I don’t think that we would consider then an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy.  They’re a new government that is trying to find its way.  They were democratically elected.  I think that we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident.

Obama seemed to be caught off guard because it was a really good question, and he hasn’t gotten many of those lately.  Practically speaking, the Arab Spring only seems to subtract from the list of US allies, it doesn’t add to them.  Any Arab country that has any sort of free and fair elections are going to vote in Islamist regimes since, as the Pew polls demonstrate, that is what the people want.  So in the case of Arab countries, Democracy = Islamist governments.  I assumed that the administration had a strategy for that, since they supported the Arab Spring. But it seemed that their “smart diplomacy” was based mostly on the supposed healing force of Obama’s personality.

Of course this isn’t just Obama’s foreign party debacle.  Both parties share the blame in this, including king of the neo cons himself; George W. Bush.  Bush delivered a speech in May that outlined how he thought America should conduct itself in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Some in both parties in Washington look at the risks inherent in democratic change—particularly in the Middle East and North Africa—and find the dangers too great. America, they argue, should be content with supporting the flawed leaders they know in the name of stability.

But in the long run, this foreign policy approach is not realistic. It is not within the power of America to indefinitely preserve the old order, which is inherently unstable. Oppressive governments distrust the diffusion of choice and power, choking off the best source of national prosperity and success.

This is the inbuilt crisis of tyranny. It fears and fights the very human attributes that make a nation great: creativity, enterprise and responsibility. Dictators can maintain power for a time by feeding resentments toward enemies—internal or external, real or imagined. But eventually, in societies of scarcity and mediocrity, their failure becomes evident.

America does not get to choose if a freedom revolution should begin or end in the Middle East or elsewhere. It only gets to choose what side it is on.

And that’s why ultimately we didn’t have much choice other than to be more or less supportive of the Arab Spring.  We supported dictators and other strongmen during the cold war because we needed allies against the Soviets, so in the great game of superpower politics, it made sense.  We also supported Mubarak specifically to maintain the Egyptian Israeli peace; the one US “victory” in Arab/Israeli relations.  However it was a peace dependent on US troops in the Sinai, lots of money to both Israel and Egypt, and of course, supporting an Egyptian dictator.  With the dictator gone, the string that is holding the fragile peace together is slowly unraveling.

So the Arab Spring, which started last year and is still causing waves, including the current civil war in Syria, left us with little choice but to support it, although so far we’ve done it in such a ham handed way that we’ve caused ourselves a great deal of damage.  We supported Mubarak… supported him, supported him….and yer out!  To any other ally of the US, it looked as if we had betrayed our chosen ally based on the impulses of a mob.  We owed Mubarak something, and rotting in a jail cell doesn’t highlight the benefits of being a US ally.

Although the administration screwed up royally with its handling of Egypt, I’m not guilt free myself.  I supported democracy for the Middle East.  And I supported elections in Egypt, although I didn’t support forcing Mubarak to step down.  What I would have wanted, as a US reaction, was to support free and fair elections… in the future.  To at least give time for some more moderate parties to organize and to provide US support for them.  The only organized opposition to Mubarak was the Muslim Brotherhood, so no surprise they end up as the big winners.

Even crazier was our policy towards Libya.  The West had spent years trying to bring Gaddafi to heel, and after seeing the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Gaddafi decided to make nice with the West.  He paid compensation for Lockerbie, and turned over his WMD’s to the UN.  In other words, he became the very model of a modern Middle Eastern dictator, transforming his rogue state to one that was coming in out of the cold.  The “Libyan Terrorist” was no more.  So when the Arab Spring hit Libya, Obama decided to declare war.  Or rather, the UK and France decided to declare war and Obama quickly changed course to join in.

So wherever the Arab Spring arose, the US was there to lend support. Except of course in the two countries where the Arab Spring could have removed avowed enemies of the US:  Iran and Syria.  During Iran’s Green Movement in 2009 Obama went out of his way to ignore the protesters, concentrating on his policy of wooing the Mullahs, who eventually crushed the protesters.

Although one of the many phony reasons for our involvement in Libya was to prevent a civilian massacre, in Syria the death toll is already at 27,000 during the 10 month civil war and rising.

27,000 dead.

So on the Middle East scorecard, we’ve supported the mob in overthrowing governments that were either our allies or in countries where we had no US national security interests.  Egypt was an ally of the US, and we paid billions to it for decades to keep the peace between it and Israel.  Libya, after years of being a rogue terrorist state, finally “came in from the cold” and was rejoining the international community.  Now, the Israeli-Egypt Peace treaty is ade facto corpse, and Marty McFly’s feared Libyan terrorists have once again been freed to drive around the world in VW vans with RPG’s.  Our main adversaries, the Mullahs in Iran and the Bathist dictatorship in Syria, still rule.    I could hardly have sat down and devised a worse outcome of the Arab Spring for the United States.  Meanwhile, the author of this foreign policy disaster, President Obama, is just starting to figure out what a mess he’s caused.

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