Category Archives: Syria

Presidents Don’t Matter

In August 2013, or so we were told at the time, the Syrian government launched a chemical attack against one of its own towns, killing by various estimates between 300 and 1700 people.  The Syrian government vehemently denied that it had done such a thing, and a UN investigation was ultimately inconclusive.

At the time, our Dear Leader, President Obama, felt the need to intervene and positively stop such attacks in the future.  But there was not the political will to invade Syria, so instead he moaned about how someone could take this problem off his hands.  The Russians were happy to oblige.

A week and a half ago, or so we were told at the time, the Syrian government launched a chemical attack against one of its own towns, killing under 100 people.  The Syrian government vehemently denied it had done such a thing.

At the time, President Trump felt the need to send a message that such behavior would not be tolerated.  He sent a bouquet of cruise missiles to destroy the airbase from which the attack was launched.  The matter was over and done with within 72 hours.  And the media started to regard Trump as an actual President, rather than a blithering idiot.

If the attack really took place as described in the media, then President Trump’s response was appropriate.  We don’t need to invade Syria, but we do need to keep our word that some things are unacceptable.

I want to believe that.  I really do.  My life would be much calmer that way.  My problem is that some things just don’t fit:

  • Why would the Syrian government do such a thing? They had supposedly cooperated with the US and the Russians to rid themselves of chemical weapons.  Using them now would throw all that away, and anger Russia, their new patron.
  • What’s the point of a chemical attack that kills under 100 people, many of them children? It won’t accomplish any rational military objective, and will only make everyone mad.

The compelling alternative is that the attack earlier this month was a put-up job, staged to frame the Syrian government.  There are others besides the Syrian government who would have far more to gain from an alleged Syrian chemical attack.

And if that’s the case, then either President Trump knows it’s a put-up job, or he doesn’t.

  • If he knows that the attack is fake, then he has not only failed to ‘drain the swamp’ as promised, he has neatly ensconced himself as Head Alligator. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and surprisingly quickly.
  • If he doesn’t, and he was misled by our intelligence agencies, then the conspiracy theorists are right: there really is an entrenched, unelected shadow government that has the real power, and the elected officials are just window dressing.

In either case, the bottom line is that this episode has demonstrated that Presidents don’t matter.   If Hillary Clinton had won the election, I don’t see how things would have happened differently.

But beyond that, it’s been several years now, and I’m still perplexed by our official animus against Syrian President Bashar Assad.  It isn’t just chemical weapons: we’ve tolerated various stripes of tyrants against their own people in the past, because they were our allies against a larger adversary.  Saddam Hussein, a genuine evil dictator, was our bestest friend for years because he stood against the Russians.  As the leader of a secular Arab state, Assad should be a natural ally.  But he isn’t.

That, alas, is a question for another day.

Syrian Flim-Flam

The world has been transfixed by the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees streaming through Greece and Turkey, into Hungary, seeking refuge in Germany, Austria, and Scandinavia.  For a time, thousands of them were effectively detained at the Budapest railway station, but the Hungarian authorities relented and let them continue on.  Germany has indicated that they are prepared to take one million refugees; Austria has already taken tens of thousands.

Many of the refugees are from Syria.  Some may be from other places, and some may even be Islamic terrorists: we can’t really tell, and the refugees themselves know that they can simply ditch whatever identification they may be carrying and tell the authorities whatever they want.  But let’s go back to Syria for a moment.

About two years ago, we almost went to war over the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons.  But two years before that, we were pretty much OK with Syria.  And then something happened—well before the chemical weapon attack—that turned him into an adversary.  And we felt the need to arm the ‘Syrian rebels’ to fight the government, in the process building what we now know as ISIS, a de facto fundamentalist Islamic government in control of big pieces of Iraq and Syria.

Bashar Assad, the Syrian President, is a dictatorial strongman, but he was running a secular, moderate government.  When fundamentalist Islamic fighters appeared, proclaiming themselves to be fighting for freedom and democracy, Assad counterattacked.  He knew, as we should, that an election with fundamentalist Islamists is like an election with Communists: if they win, it will be the last meaningful election for quite some time.

But we bought the Islamists’ line and supported the ‘Syrian rebels.’  Our leadership was flim-flammed.  (Either that, or they actually want the world to be taken over by a new Islamic caliphate.  But that’s an issue for another day.)

In writing this post, I dug up a quote from the then-National Security Adviser, Susan Rice in the abortive 2013 runup to war:

…in the first instance, Assad and his backers in Iran and Hezbollah, do not have any interest in seeing this escalate…

And the next day, we came to understand that Assad’s main backer was not Iran or Hezbollah, but Vladimir Putin.  Oops.

In the meantime, we have hundreds of thousands of refugees piling into Europe.  Many are Christians, and many are Moslems.  Remember that fundamentalist Christianity admits that not everyone is a fundamentalist, and indeed that not everyone is Christian.  Fundamentalist Islam makes no such concession: anyone who isn’t a true believer is to be forcibly converted, taxed, or killed.

The Germans seem to believe that many of these million refugees can be integrated into the labor force to address chronic labor shortages resulting from, among other things, Germany’s low birth rate.  I hope, for their sake, that they’re right.

Insecurity Adviser

Tuesday’s NBC Nighly News included an interview with Susan Rice, the President’s national security adviser, about the upcoming attack in Syria.  It was unexpectedly entertaining, but not in a good way:

Q: If you lose the vote in congress. what does the president do then?

A: …we have no expectation of losing the vote in congress.  We are quite confident and indeed today. we’ve had a series of very constructive bipartisan meetings… a number of key leaders have come out of those discussions, making plain their support for this. on a bipartisan basis.

In other words, the fix is in, even though most of the electorate is against it, and many Congressmen are getting almost unanimous word from their constituents that going to war in Syria is a really bad idea.

Q: …Since when did we start announcing our intentions to the enemy. potentially giving the enemy time to prepare?

A. We have not announced our intentions to the enemy….

Huh?  Our leadership has been about as subtle as Miley Cyrus.  (And ten years hence, we’ll wonder what that meant.)

…in fact the united states has been making clear for years that it is unacceptable to use chemical weapons. when president obama made the statement last summer… that the use of chemical weapons is absolutely unacceptable.

You see?  We’re not blabbing our intentions!  We’re just telling everyone about them.

Q: Do you draw that bright a distinction between the death by an incendiary bomb by a school and death by chemical weapons?  That appears to be the administration’s bright line on this?

A: All of this is horrific… if terrorists get hold of those weapons, other dictators get hold of those weapons, they can be used on a massive scale.

As opposed to massive use of incendiaries, which are OK.

Q: what about the measurable chance as recent history has taught us, that military action could in this case, make things worse?

A: …We think that’s a very limited risk in this case. in the first instance, Assad and his backers in Iran and Hezbollah, do not have any interest in seeing this escalate….

I did a double-take when I heard this the first time, and went back to the video and the transcript.  What planet is she on?  Iran and Hezbollah are spoiling for a fight, and will be more than happy to escalate.  They can start by attacking Israel.

…they know that the united states will stand up for our own national security , our own defense. and that of our partners and friends in the region. it’s not in their interest to escalate, and i don’t think they would do so….

That’s almost as good as Bush belling us that the Iraqis would welcome us as liberators.  Getting us into another interminable war, in the face of flagging public support at home, when we’re, in a word, broke, would definitely be in our adversaries’ interest.

…We also have to ask, what if we don’t act. what message does that send to those who would use violence against us or others with impunity?

Well, if we do act, it tells our adversaries that if they do something really bad, we’ll send in the missiles to make some pinprick attacks, and think we’ve done our job.

Do we have a national insecurity adviser?  That could only be an improvement.

A Step Back

On Saturday, President Obama reverted to type (since he was first elected, he has strenuously avoided the appearance of actually leading on anything) and announced that he would be seeking authorization from Congress to engage in military strikes in Syria.

Yesterday, we learned that Obama had actually been reconsidering on Friday, while the news media were banging the drums for an imminent attack.  We’ve been had, again.

But the drumbeat for war continued on the evening news last night:

  • “Air samples and blood samples have tested positive for signatures of sarin,” noted our Secretary of State.  That’s not particularly surprising: sarin is an effective chemical weapon.  But that doesn’t address the more important question: who used it?
  • We’re told that when Obama told his advisers that he would hold off on the attacks and seek authorization from Congress, his advisers tried to talk him out of it.  Why would he do such a thing?  Because by getting the US involved in a pointless war–by himself–he could get himself impeached.  And his fingerprints would be all over it.
  • Senator John McCain, Obama’s rival in the 2008 election, had a somewhat different take on it.  The actual merits of the case in Syria seemed beside the point.  But if the President deferred to Congress, and Congress voted him down, it would be bad for future Presidents who might need to engage in unilateral executive action.  And this is a problem… how?
  • The evening news then reported on Syrian refugees who are distinctly disappointed that America hadn’t come through with destruction.  “We are asking for Obama to strike Assad, like he promised,” one refugee remarked.  When all else fails, go for the heartstrings….

On last night’s news, other than noting that some Congressmen and Senators were opposed to the attacks, there was no discussion of the case against striking Syria.  Is this because the case is so self-evident as to not be worth reporting, or is it that the news media’s corporate masters really want us to drag out the blunderbuss?

“A Shot across the Bow”

About  a week ago, so we’ve been told, the Syrian government deployed chemical weapons against its own people in several villages east of Damascus, killing several hundred.  On Monday, our Secretary of State, John Kerry, looking like an unshaven bum in his expensive suit, called it a ‘moral obscenity’ deserving of American military retaliation.  (And this is the same John Kerry who ran against Bush for President in 2004?)

Why don’t I believe this narrative?

I’m reminded of the runup to the Iraq war in 2002, when we were told that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world, when it seemed clear enough, even in 2001, that we were looking for a pretext to fight Iraq so that the younger Bush could avenge where the older Bush had wimped out.

We’re against the current Syrian government, when we were OK with them until a couple of years ago.  We’re now arming the ‘rebels,’ some of whom belong to al-Qaeda, which, I thought, was the enemy.

President Obama now proposes ‘a shot across the bow’ to send the Assad regime “a pretty strong signal, that in fact, it better not do it again.”  Perhaps that’s meant to be reassuring, but I’m not reassured.

A literal shot across the bow is a warning measure (not intending to accomplish actual damage) taken against a warship in a context that makes that ship a legitimate target.  Obama proposes cruise missile strikes against Syrian military installations to actually destroy them: if that’s not an act of war, I don’t know what is.

Last year, Obama indicated that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would be a ‘red line’ that would trigger severe consequences.  So now either the narrative of last week’s attacks is true, and we need to follow through on our word and retaliate, or else visibly wimp out; or the narrative is fake, and we’re setting ourselves up for another pointless military adventure.

I don’t believe that even President Carter would have been that stupid.