Daily Archives: August 28, 2013
Syria’s poison gas
Much yelling by Kerry about the use of toxic gas in Syria on Damascus’ suburbs and towns. Calling the act “morally reprehensible” Kerry gets up on his high horse and talks of retribution. He should be very careful of what he says in public. We, the US have no high horse to stand on having used cluster bombs, depleted uranium and phosphorous in Iraq. Since the rest of the “international community” (western Europe) said nothing at the time officially about our sins, we got away with murder. I can imagine the ironic laughter burbling up in Iran and Iraq.
The drums are rolling for a military response, which, if Obama lets himself be so persuaded, will either do nothing or lead to a disastrous involvement in the internecine strife going on all over the Middle East. The US really has no dog in the fight now going on in Syria. Weakening Assad will only strengthen the islamists among whom are jihadis with long memories of American atrocities in Iraq. Americans may have forgotten the killings in Fallujah, the abuses of Abu Ghraib, the drone bombings of villages in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, the abuses of Guantanamo, but the jihadis have not.
Matthew Schrier, the photographer who was captured by a jihadi group in Syria and escaped tells how the gunmen who tortured him reminded him of Guantanamo to justify their treatment of him. What more will they do if the US takes military action against Assad? How much blowback can we expect to see, regardless of our vaunted “security”? What possible good can firing a few missiles at Assad do? Obama has really put himself in an impossible position. There never should have been any talk of “red lines”.
However that may be, why doesn’t anyone seem to consider that in the chaos that now reigns in much of Syria, some sort of an accidental release could have happened? The military could have hit one of its own supply dumps. Rebels might equally have set off the gas inadvertently. Are we not looking for an excuse for war as in Iraq? And why is it always war? There are other ways of solving problems besides reaching for a gun, though in this case it would be difficult. We would be better off if there were no choice to be made. We can’t solve the problems in Syria. We probably can’t solve the problems in the Middle East/ North Africa in general. By our own behavior towards others, not our words, but our actions, over the last 10 years we have dug ourselves into a deep pit of hypocritical ineffectualness.
So we attack Syria militarily in some fashion. What does it accomplish? More death and destruction on top of what has already happened? What does that prove? Big Brave United States bombs a small country in the middle of a civil war. Kills hundreds of innocent civilians from the air. What a marvelous headline that would make! And how on earth would such action “help” anything? And how would it “punish” Assad?
There is talk of “proof” that Assad’s forces let loose the poison gas that sounds all too much like the “proof” of WMD the Bush regime put forth to justify the invasion of Iraq. We know what a disaster that turned out to be. There is no proof this time either, but we should have learned from bitter experience that once the engine of war has been started it’s impossible to stop. Escalation or mission creep will inevitably follow any brief attack that we might make. Think Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and how all those fights began as “small wars”. Are we going to wait for the UN to finish its job this time, or are we going to thoughtlessly rush in again?
Obama is going to have to be particularly stubborn if he is to resist all the pressure being put on him to lead us into another foreign disaster. It bothers me that he has a tendency to yield to so-called experts in an attempt to keep the peace in his administration. It won’t work this time.
Some people bring up a comparison to Kosovo. The former Yugoslavia was a much smaller country, and much less well defended than Syria. It was also not home, however temporarily, to Islamic extremists and jihadis. The “moderates” in the Middle East and North Africa have been fading into the background while the struggle goes on between military and islamic authoritarianism. It is not a struggle that the West should be poking its nose into except in the most subtle and hidden ways to promote what remains of our interests. And for heaven’s sake let’s stop gasping in horror over what has happened in Syria! Think Napalm, cluster bombs, and phosphorous and where those poisons were used and by whom. Think poison gasses given/sold to countries by our own CIA. Above all, think of the possible consequences of any military action we might take. Learn something from the chaos produced by the invasions of Iraq and Libya.
The arm chair warriors will always be there to trumpet their calls to arms far from the dirt, the blood, the dismemberment, the killing and the destruction they wish on those weaker than themselves. Don’t listen for they are the true spreaders of evil in the world.
Note: A tiny item in the NYT today notes that an Iraqi court has ruled unconstitutional the term limits of the President, the Premier and the Speaker of Parliament.
So these worthy gentlemen can keep running for office as long as they wish while edging further and further away from George Bush’s model of “democracy”. Surprise, surprise!
Stephen Walt in today’s Foreign Policy:
“Yet we now appear to be getting ready to drop a lot of ordnance on Syria — and for a pretty flimsy reason. John Kerry is outraged that Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons — or so he believes — but as I’ve noted before, that fact (if true) is not dispositive. Assad’s forces have already killed tens of thousands with good old-fashioned high explosive, which is much more effective than sarin in most cases. Yes, chemical weapons are illegal and yes, there’s a taboo against their use, but going to war solely to reinforce a rather unimportant norm is a poor reason. The fact that Assad is killing innocent people with this particular tool and not some other equally nasty tool is not by itself a reason to get involved.
“What is most striking about this affair is how Obama seems to have been dragged, reluctantly, into doing something that he clearly didn’t want to do. He probably knows bombing Syria won’t solve anything or move us closer to a political settlement. But he’s been facing a constant drumbeat of pressure from liberal interventionists and other hawks, as well as the disjointed Syrian opposition and some of our allies in the region. He foolishly drew a “red line” a few months back, so now he’s getting taunted with the old canard about the need to “restore U.S. credibility.” This last argument is especially silly: If being willing to use force was the litmus test of a president’s credibility, Obama is in no danger whatsoever. Or has everyone just forgotten about his decision to escalate in Afghanistan, the bombing of Libya, and all those drone strikes?
“More than anything else, Obama reminds me here of George Orwell in his famous essay “Shooting an Elephant.” Orwell recounts how, while serving as a colonial officer in Burma, he was forced to shoot a rogue elephant simply because the local residents expected an official of the British Empire to act this way, even when the animal appeared to pose no further danger. If he didn’t go ahead and dispatch the poor beast, he feared that his prestige and credibility might be diminished. Like Orwell, Obama seems to be sliding toward “doing something” because he feels he simply can’t afford not to.
“Sad, but also revealing.”: