Author Archives: TowerGuard
Assad and Syria
An article in the Boston Globe dated yesterday expresses the Russian view that all of Syria must be “liberated” before there can be any move toward removing Assad from power. Regime change seems to have become a western knee-jerk reaction to dictators without much thought as to what, if anything, is to replace the hated present regime. Assad is definitely not a “nice” man. He’s directly responsible for the deaths of thousands and the destruction of some of his own country’s cities. He could have avoided much of the bloodshed by talking with the protesters back in 2011, but he chose to shoot them instead. The battles that followed have led to terrible destruction of once beautiful cities. We’ve all seen the photos many times over, and well as the pitiful ones of children caught in the battle.
Brutal though he may be, his is the only government there is in Syria since we can’t really claim that the so-called Caliphate in Raqqa is anything like a recognizable government, unless, of course, the West is looking to make sure they seize power over the whole country. The theory that there are “moderate” islamists that deserve support seems to be just that, a theory. While there may be individuals who embrace some western ideas, they have undoubtedly left by now, or are busy fighting over bits of territory among themselves.
From Josh Landis’ Syria Comment:
The sad truth is that those hoping for a quick resolution to this crisis are likely to be disappointed. Contrary to expectations, the US is unlikely to enter into war with Russia over Syria. The moral argument for intervention cannot out-weigh the immense risks that the US military would be taking were it to engage in a direct and costly war with Russia. Despite the hawkish rhetoric of Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, chances are that once in the White House, she will come to the same conclusion about using American military force as President Obama. Real world constraints reduce the chance that US will deploy force in Syria. The Syrian opposition and their backers will be forced to rethink their current path.
Most policy makers involved in the Syria crisis insist that “there is only a political solution to the Syria crisis.” The unstated problem with this argument is timing. Can a political solution be arrived at before a clear military winner emerges on the battlefield? Mustn’t one side realize that it has no choice but to accept a settlement before both sides will come to the table? The answer to this question is clear. No political solution can take place before a clear winner emerges on the battlefield. The longer this process is delayed, the longer the crisis will drag on, and the greater will be the death count.
Based on our sad experience in Iraq, I find these arguments persuasive. Everyone who thinks should read Ehsani’s entire post, even though it’s unlikely now that we’ll try what failed so miserably in Iraq in Syria. For once, the Russians seem to be right.
There’s another interesting piece from Aaron David Miller at the Wall Street Journal Blogs well worth a careful read.
Hillary outperformed The Donald. She will probably be the one to sit in the Oval Office for at least the next 4 years at least. In a way I’m glad of that, and in another way, it scares me. It’s long past the time when the US should have a woman President, so that makes me happy. This particular woman, however, was present for most of the poor decisions of Bill’s presidency that led to the economic crash – the loosening of regulations, repeal of the Glass-Steagel, and beyond that, her early support of the Iraq War (regardless of what she says now in hind sight) and the regime change in Libya. The main Republican “issues” like the email server and Benghazi to me seem bogus.
At the time when the Clintons were running the Apple Mac email server on a G4 machine in their basement, they had what could arguably be called the most secure system available for their purposes. Having run Mac servers in the same period myself, both for web sites and email, I had to study the security of the system vs the Microsoft server software run on PC’s which was never very secure from hacking.
It’s been my experience that most people don’t even know what a “server” is, or how it operates to send and receive emails and serve up web pages. Users just want to know that the system works for them to get their communications done. Most of us have come to take for granted that we can freely send and receive messages and web pages over the Internet, and we don’t bother ourselves with how it works, unless we have been stung by one of the many viruses that attack PC systems and even then we hand the “broken” box to an “expert” technician expecting it to be completely fixed in a day or two. Offices, commercial or government that do not spend for technical assistance, updates and firewalls suffer the consequences of “penny wise, pound foolish” spending. Recent scandals (Yahoo! and the GPO) prove my point.
What none of the reports, FBI or media, tell us is how reliable or easy to use the State Department servers were at the time. Were they “down” for lengths of time that made it inconvenient to use them for busy diplomats and their assistants for work that was time critical? Since Secretary Powell also had used another server during his time as Secretary, it’s quite possible that the government servers were not as reliable as they might have been in which case Clinton’s use of her Mac server would have been common sense.
In any case, Hillary and The Donald didn’t get into all that during the debate, thank goodness! That’s just me letting off steam. They didn’t touch on the Benghazi tragedy either. The person or persons who sold our government officials on the rosey possibilities of regime change from autocratic rule to democracy by force of arms from outside the countries involved are responsible for the many and continuing tragedies of Iraq, Syria and Libya. There was only a brief argument about leaving troops in Iraq where The Donald showed himself to be ignorant. George W. Bush signed the status of forces agreement with Maliki which required the withdrawal of all US troops between 2007 and 2011, not either President Obama or Secretary Clinton.
I’m afraid I’m not an gung-ho supporter of Hillary for President, but I do think she’s the best deal we’ve got as a country at the moment. Donald Trump brings on unpleasant and scary memories of Germany in the 1930’s and 40’s, and I’m not at all comfortable with the the prospect of him as a possible President of the USA. I can only hope that American common sense will prevail one more time and save us from a terrible fate.
Note: On the email controversy. please read this article: It says some of what I mention above and more.
I visited the website of Aljazeera English this morning, and discovered something that surprised me. The live videos I used to watch in order to learn a different point of view of what was happening in the Middle East are blocked and can’t be watched from America. Why? What for? By whom? If I go to america.aljazeera.com the videos I want to see aren’t there – at least I didn’t find them. I did find some reports on Iraq, though, that were infinitely better than anything I’ve seen at the New York Times or the Washington Post, both of seem to be just echoing the administration or the neocon lines.
I can still read the reports at Aljazeera English, so I guess maybe I shouldn’t panic, but it sure was odd and a bit creepy to have this box or something like it pop up with each video:
I have been so short of time to spend on this blog, or doing the research of Middle East happenings that I’ve been doing for so long that others may well have picked this up long before I ever found it. It makes me feel that the talk of the loss of our freedoms here in the US, is not at all just talk. What’s happened to freedom of information? What else are they trying to hide? What’s happened to the media in this country?
Who lost Iraq?
Iraq was never really ours to lose, so the blame game going on in Washington and London is really some kind of a farce. If you really want to know what happened that brought us to today’s disintegration of the country, just take a good long look at this article in Vanity Fair by David Rose which appeared in 2009:
The game was up in 2004 when people like Paul Wolfowitz were more interested in “proper channels” and his personal view of Iraqi Sunnis as “Nazis” in ignorance of who they actually were or their circumstances. Reading the article again brings back the anger at the total stupidity of what happened in disbanding Saddam’s army, and allowing the shias to bring in Iran back in 2004.
In truth, Iraq was lost before the war ever started in all the lies told in order to get our soldiers there. The fact that the war was illegal has never been accepted by those who supported the effort, even when that support came from so-called “humanitarian” concerns. Now these same people want us to make the same mistakes all over again, putting our military noses in one way or another into what has become a regional sectarian war between the various sects of Islam. We have absolutely no business getting involved again.
They want us to do air strikes. On what? And on whom? All airstrikes have accomplished in that part of the world is chaos and more chaos. Look at Libya and Iraq. What earthly good did any of those strikes ever do? More drones to kill more civilians and innocent bystanders? Now wouldn’t that just make us more popular!
I don’t get it. Why is it so hard for Conservatives to see that depriving people of the programs that help keep them alive like food stamps and unemployment insurance hurts the businesses that depend on them more than leaving those programs in place. If few people have the funds to spend, aren’t we starting down a path toward more recession. Few or no customers means little or no business and no new jobs. It can all become a vicious downward cycle.
Why is it so hard to see that giving tax cuts to the rich does nothing to make customers of those who spend the most on essentials? The rich just put their extra into more investments that fail to put anyone back to work. How did we lose the lessons of the 1930’s so quickly? What blinded us? Selfishness? “Trickle-Down Reaganomics”? The whole world seem stuck on that failed idea.
Pete Seeger has passed away, but we still have the songs he wrote. Maybe if more people sang them loudly, we have something nearer to common sense.
A few months ago (back in March) I wrote about how people were ignoring what was going on in Iraq. Once President Maliki sort of threw us out, people in the US seemed to think we’d had a complete victory, and that this “Young Democracy” would flourish just as the Bush administration had sold its propaganda to us. It’s amazing to me how gullible the American people are. There was no chance that Maliki was going to do anything in Iraq except become the kind of government that was all they’d known since the advent of Saddam Hussein. It was just going to be Shia authoritarianism instead of Sunni dictatorship. In spite of his promises to the contrary, Maliki has never made any real attempt to include Sunnis in his government. He even went so far as to chase some of them out of the country and throw others in jail. People who were members of Parliament. The Vice President. Sunni fighters were rarely welcomed into the army or the police and lost access to jobs and paychecks to support their families. Support was withdrawn from the members of the “Awakening” which had turned to help the Occupiers. He sent in his “special” troops to break up a peaceful demonstration, and that was the last straw before the latest explosion.
Anger and resentment has been building among the Sunnis since the Americans left. It is not surprising, especially with the turmoil going on in Syria, that jihadi fighters have returned and helped the rebellious Sunni in Anbar province retake Fallujah.
I can’t imagine what it must be like for the marines who fought and gained the city back in 2004. They thought they were doing the right thing. They fought hard, hand-to-hand in many cases, and lost a lot of comrades in the bloodiest of bloody battles. Many came home missing body parts and with severe cases of PTSD. Even so many thought they had done the right thing in answering the call to war. Those responsible for sending them and lying to the American public about Saddam’s connection to 9/11 and his WMD have never been held accountable for their betrayal of the public trust and the trust of their soldiers. The prize those leaders sought was never to be had, no matter what they did to engineer something that looked a bit like representative government in Iraq.
It’s a bitter, bitter pill to swallow.
From Hoover to the NSA; Raines’s to Snowden
The New York Times today has an article and a video on the 1971 robbery of a small FBI office in Pennsylvania. The video is stunning:
It brings back an entire era for those of us old enough to remember it. The protesters became paranoid for very good reasons. They knew the FBI was watching everyone it could. The Agency didn’t have the same kinds of tools it does today, but the attitude and the justification for secrecy was the same (“National Security”). The difference was the numbers of people who would not accept that what the FBI was doing was right. People today have let their fears control them and inhibit their objections to the NSA’s shenanigans, but it has taken the same kind of gutsy individual courage to expose the facts as it did then. The only difference is that the Raines and their friends were able to maintain their secret identities for 42 years. Edward Snowden didn’t have that chance. Neither did the reporters who worked with him, because apparently government has become even more paranoid about covering up it secrets than it was during the Nixon/Hoover era. We should give that difference some real deep thought.
Excessive secrecy in government has always led to abuse, but the abuse has so far equally found a way to leak out into public. It makes you wonder why government in a democratic republic like ours keeps trying to pry into the lives of its citizens to protect itself from them, and other phantoms of their imaginations, when its greatest strength lies in openness and truth. Maybe that has something to do with why democracies have never succeeded for long. It’s past the time when Americans and their government let fear overrule common sense.
Government by blackmail
It’s still happening, and what we get is what seems to me to be very fuzzy logic.
But the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, made clear he would exact a price for consideration in the House, saying that not only would an extension of expired benefits have to be paid for but that it must also be tied to Republican priorities, such as building the Keystone XL oil pipeline, expanding exemptions from the Affordable Care Act and opening energy exploration on federal land.
“One month ago I personally told the White House that another extension of temporary emergency unemployment benefits should not only be paid for but include something to help put people back to work,” Mr. Boehner said after the Senate vote. “To date, the president has offered no such plan. If he does, I’ll be happy to discuss it, but right now the House is going to remain focused on growing the economy and giving America’s unemployed the independence that only comes from finding a good job.”
I just don’t understand how putting the health of the land at risk of permanent damage to create a few temporary jobs on the pipeline, or making the ACA less accessible to ordinary people by giving exemptions to rich people on the lamest of excuses gets us anywhere near creating jobs for the people who want to work and provide for their families. I keep hearing this mantra from conservative politicians everywhere – we have to give corporations and the wealthy tax breaks in order to create jobs. When you look at the results of all the recent tax cutting in states like Ohio, I don’t see where the jobs have come in spite of all the crowing the governor does. The jobs he is so proud of creating came as a result of the stimulus, and had little to do with Kasich’s actual actions. And his Jobs Ohio thing is so secretive it can’t be audited anyone even though it uses taxpayer money. It’s just a program ripe for abuse.
Corporations who got the tax breaks are rolling in cash, but they’re not spending it on factories or hiring workers except very slowly. They’ve been sitting on it. Giving them more breaks won’t make them spend any more. Take a look and unemployment:
Even if we assume the 7% November unemployment number is accurate, why is everyone ignoring the government’s own 13.2% rate of unemployment combined with underemployment” It’s a statistic that most experts agree is the more accurate picture of true unemployment .
And even if more than 200,000 new jobs were created in November, why aren’t we talking about what kind of jobs those are?
Economist and author John Lott reported recently that 96% of the jobs created since January  are crummy part-time jobs.
Billionaire businessman and publisher Mort Zuckerman disagrees . He says 88% of the jobs created this year under Obama are crummy part-time jobs. No matter which figure you believe, the “recovery” is a mirage. This economy is only doing well if you want a job at McDonald’s.
I guess conservative politicians don’t believe in numbers or a reality that’s contrary to their rigidly held doctrines.
It’s coming soon now. Next week we will have the votes in Congress that determine to a large extent whether the US attacks Syria or not. The administration has certainly been trying its best to stir up support both at home and abroad without a great deal of success. The media seems to be behind Senator McCain’s pro-war, pro-rebel stand to a great extent, but the larger public keeps saying, “no”. Little of the mainstream media is skeptical of this possible effort, and the reports that cast doubt on Administration propaganda are mostly ignored. If the President decided to wait for a Congressional decision, he doesn’t seem to have wanted to use it to change his mind, which I hoped for at one point. This morning’s New York Times talks of air raids by US and French planes as well as the missiles to “degrade” Assad’s ability even more. That would mean even more civilian casualties, death, and destruction than there has been already. I fail to see how such a plan would deter the Assad regime from the path it is already on. If it is true, that the regime feels itself as backed into a dire corner between life and death, as I believe it does, it is bound to choose its own survival by whatever means. Nothing much that the West can do aside from wiping the slate clean as in Iraq, will have much effect. All sides in this fight have been incredibly brutal, and to pick one as the incarnation of evil is to misread the people involved and the facts on the ground.
The article also contains this statement:
“They are being pulled in two different directions,” a senior foreign official involved in the discussions said Thursday. “The worst outcome would be to come out of this bruising battle with Congress and conduct a military action that made little difference.”
I think that’s what’s likely to happen anyway, no matter what John McCain and the hawks say. The President has not seemed to want another war, and has tried to reassure people about no boots on the ground. That doesn’t mean he can’t be dragged into more agression. Once begun, military action of any kind has been rather self-perpetuating. If the military action makes little difference, it might cause an uproar here at home among the war party, but it will not change the ultimate outcome in Syria, even if there are cries for more attacks. The Syrians themselves have to sort out what is to become of them. Whoever or whatever caused the deaths by poison gas, our entry into a local civil war will not change the ultimate resolution on the ground. Morality has nothing to do with this other than as a propaganda tool.
Nothing we did in Iraq turned the country into that shining example of democracy that President Bush promised. It only served to make most Iraqis detest us for the foreseeable future.
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.”: