Posts tagged ‘chemical weapons’

Fireworks as a Distraction

When I came back from my tour in Southeast Asia, fireworks made me nervous. Those last night in Syria appear to be a show for PR and nothing else. I don’t think it made anyone nervous. I know something of air warfare, at least back in the day, and the first thing you do is take out their defenses, you know Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) and Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA). Then you have the freedom to hit targets and do real damage. I don’t think we hit one defense system. What does that tell you? Damage this morning was noted as minimal and some analysts in the Middle East say that we actually handed a win to Assad, the Russians, and the Iranians. See, America is all about smoke and mirrors.

So what was the point? What did we accomplish? Well, for the weak-minded President DFF’s base, we keep our word about red lines. See, he is tough. But did we just make things worse? And the answer to that question is what is a viable strategy for Syria. I hate Assad right up there with the best of them, but we have to have a plan of what comes after if we really want to up the ante as apparently John Bolton wanted to do. Note we have no Secretary of State or major ambassadors in most of the countries over there, so all we got is a hammer. Remember shock and awe in Iraq that got us here?

So if I am going to criticize, what would I offer as what should our strategy be? That depends. I would start strategy meetings about what should be our policy and what is the blow-back with people who know the area (and some of our allies). Should we confront Russia now or can we hope that, a la Afghanistan, they get worn out? How about Iran? If we don’t want a larger conflagration, what does our appeasement (pin pricks for show) get us? So there has to be a larger strategy here than if you use chemicals, we will hit you, but if you kill millions using conventional weapons, then okey dokey. Oh, and we care about all the innocent children killed, but we don’t accept immigrants from your area. So sad…

I think we need a strategy that makes sense, sell it to Congress to get authorization, and then have contingency plans in place so we can react immediately if that is what our plan requires. If we think Assad will eventually fall, and Russia will be drawn into warfare between the Sunnis and Shiites (that is still what this is about), maybe we do nothing but try to provide humanitarian assistance as the most efficacious way forward. If we think Russia and Iran might use Syria as a launching point to support weakening Saudi Arabia and the Sunnis, which could then result in an all out war, then maybe it is time now to confront both. Russia just seems to be emboldened with our failure to take any action.

Whatever the policy is, it needs to be an informed one that we share with the American people so they are not lulled to sleep by a fireworks display that does nothing. But of course, expecting a rational policy with real costs and benefits out of this administration is a pipe dream. This administration is all about the PR game, not the best interest of the country. So President DFF looked tough and talked tough, and maybe made things a lot worse, but who cares if his base is molified and it distracted from his domestic problems? That was really what all that was about last night.

A Tale of Two Cities

We have an agreement with Russia that says we will get a detailed list of the Syrian chemical weapons and where they are, inspections in-country within a month, and disposal within the next year. Now nobody knows how many hiccups we will see or if it will work, but it is an amazing result if it works. Now we come to the divergent views of what happened:

  • Either President Obama is a flexible leader who has capitalized on events, or he is a wishy washy leader who has decreased our leadership in the world with his wavering
  • Either we have achieved our goal of getting chemical weapons out of the equation or we have lost the opportunity to change the balance of power between the rebels and Assad
  • Either we should learn that we can only achieve real results by negotiations or it was the threat of bombing that allowed negotiations to work

Now on the first bullet, this is pure partisan politics and is sadly the world we are living in today. Some (Democrats) say this was a deal worked out a long time ago at the G20 between Putin and Obama and nothing was spontaneous as it appeared to protect the different parties. The other side (Republicans) say that his wavering and then turning to Congress just showed that he is clueless and makes other countries not respect him. He was just lucky. I don’t think either is correct, but the Republicans in Congress have done every thing they can to try to make him look weak in a critical period of this crisis. This is a far cry from how Democrats worked with Bush.

For the second bullet, this is where you have to stop and wonder what your long term goal is. The simple minded view (McCain and Graham) is that the rebels will win the day, but then you have to ask which rebels. And more importantly, would this not lead to a compete breakdown in control of the country as the different groups vie for control. On the other hand you don’t want to reward the murderous behavior of Assad. So the real goal is to keep everything at a stalemate to force a political solution and keep control of the weapons and the country. With all this in mind, bombing is unknown either in controlling use of chemical weapons or the affect on the balance of power. This is by far the best outcome all the way around.

Finally we have pundits and some liberals forgetting that people don’t negotiate unless they have to. Russia isn’t in love with Assad, but recognizing the real problem if the government is toppled and their loss of influence in the area, did not want to see the outcome of bombing. So if you follow this, negotiations work fine if the alternative is potential bombing. I think the Russians made the same calculation I did, there was a chance that Obama would attack with only Senate approval. It was the threat of bombing that got us to the negotiations table. This mentality that negotiations without the threat of a bombing strike would have worked clearly have not paid attention to domestic politics where the Tea Party refuses to negotiate anything because their base and their gerrymandering protects them.

So we have the absolutely best outcome we could have hoped for with the potential for further negotiations to resolve this mess and what do we get? Nit picking and second guessing in the extreme. Those who hate President Obama see a bumbling leader luck into a win, and those who love President Obama see a stroke of strategic genius. Couldn’t we just be happy for a win? Not in the hate generated atmosphere that the Republicans have to generate to activate their base. Are we a great country or what?

Not Sure You Are Getting It

I listened to the news this morning and it is about who won, who lost, who is up politically. It was nonsense and political posturing. Here is the reality if you still don’t get it yet:

  1. We don’t want the rebels to win. We don’t want Assad to win. We want a stalemate that requires a negotiated settlement. We want the instruments of government and control left in place to ensure that chaos and sectarian score settling does not result. We don’t want the same mistake we made in Iraq when we banned Saddam’s party from the instruments of government when they were the only ones who could maintain control. That is the problem with McCain and Graham. Just like Vietnam, John McCain and his sycophant, Lindsey Graham, fail to understand the social political dynamics of this war. They think if their brand of rebels wins, all is well, instead of a descent into chaos. So our ultimate goal is a political settlement that does not destabilize the whole area, not one side or the other prevailing.
  2. Here is the other key point: The region is working through religious wars, old power struggles. and perceived uncorrected tribal or sectarian wrongs held off by totalitarian governments. Our concept of democracy requires a respect for minority groups. They are not there yet and right now it is winner takes all. There is very little we can do about these things and they have to work out their own way forward.
  3. Our interest is to see that that struggle does not turn the region into chaos and threaten the rest of the modern world. That is why the focus on the chemical weapons instead of the humanitarian, stop the killing. In order to stop the killing for sure, we have to get involved, and then like Iraq, the blowback could be substantial. The chemical weapons we may be able to do something about, the rest is really beyond our control unless we want boots on the ground and a 50 year war.
  4. Finally, we have a chance for a political solution because of our creditable threat of the use of bombing to change the balance of power. If the nay sayers take this away, Katy bar the door.

Today we are hearing criticism and false nit picking when if you understood our real goals and what is really possible, you would see we are going down the only possible road. The Middle East is going to be a hot bed for killing, turbulence, and score settling for years to come as the governments evolve into the 21st century. They have to go through their own Enlightenment and recognize that religion and government don’t mix, or their wars will go on forever (a lesson the religious right in our country seems to be impervious to). We can do very little except to try to ensure that their soul searching and evolution does not destabilize the whole world and give them the weapons to do that. My suggestion is to turn off the news because the muckrakers are looking for conflict, political winners and losers, not rational foreign policy.

More Syria

Listening to pundits resulted in my last angry post and like Paul Krugman a few days ago on economic issues, “I am floored with their shear dumbness.” So let’s review what they seem to be missing by a mile.

First, the boundaries of Syria, Iraq, and most Middle Eastern countries were drawn up by Western Nations after WWI based upon the spoils of war, not on social, geographic, economic interests. So there is the natural force for disaggregation along sectarian and tribal lines and this makes these countries ripe for social and religious upheaval. What has kept the peace and stability are governments that were totalitarian and brutal.

Continue reading ‘More Syria’ »

After the Speech – Some Irreverent Thoughts

I am sorry, but the President made perfect sense tonight and it was the threat of destabilizing the Assad regime that has brought them to the table (Russia and Syria). This is not Bush and this is not a rush to war. And here is the thing that really pisses me off about all the born again isolationists and against the war liberals, none of you ever fought one.

I know that what the President is doing is an attempt to protect us and our men and women in the military. I know that most of America is tired of war, but most of you pussies never fought one and the only thing you are tired of is the shopping George asked you to go out and do in the last one and then emptying the Treasury because most of you thought it should be free anyway and did not even want to raise taxes to pay for it.

Oh sure, you can come up with a thousand unknowns and you want answers. You want a risk free choice. There aren’t any. And I am tired of Progressives like Chris Hayes who can intellectually raise all the risks, or a Libertarian like Rand Paul who can bury his head in the sand and pretend we don’t have any national interest there, but we do. I want to only hear from people who understand the reality of war (there is no such thing as a humanitarian war) and consider whether we want to allow chemical weapons added to the battle field. If you do, you go first.

We must explore the diplomatic opportunities that present themselves, and have patience. The Russians will probably be the stumbling block. But in the end, we have to follow through on our threat if this is all smoke and mirrors which it probably is. We wouldn’t have a diplomatic route if they didn’t think we just might. I am disgusted with most of this country right now.

It just fucking amazes me that most of you can run around waving the flag as George Bush leads you into an absolutely frivolous war, and yes the evidence was out there that the evidence was bogus or at best questionable, and now when it counts you cower in the corner making up every excuse you can think of not to stand up for what is right because this time it might be hard. And the most amazing thing is that the last one was a proxy war that most of you did not give up one fucking thing for, but apparently that was too much to ask. Yeah, we are number one, and pigs fly. I told you this was irreverent.

Thought for the Day

Does anyone get the possible outcome here? The best policy for not having to strike Syria is being willing to. Maybe red lines really are important, not some gaff. Oh, and Mr. President? That applies to domestic issues like the economy also.

A Thaw? It’s Complicated

Well not so fast. The President is putting on a full court press to make the case for bombing (See Syria – One Last Try for what I think they are), and right now the vote doesn’t look good in Congress. Now under threat of attack, maybe the Syrians will come to the table with Russian urging. So the first complication if we are to take the Russian proposal to have Syria put chemical weapons under international control seriously, is if we take the strike off the table by voting it down, what is Syria’s motivation to negotiate?

The second complication, assuming Syria say’s yes, is in the details. What does it mean when (if) Assad says yes? All weapons? What time table? How is transparency assured? Will the Syrian government then sign the accord on chemical weapons? Will those responsible for their use be punished? In other words this could be a giant delaying tactic and we won’t know until we know the details. Doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying, just that to work, there are a lot of details to be considered. What might make you really doubt Assad is the interview he gave on Charlie Rose where he said he would strike back with all possible means if we attacked him. When he was pressed on did that mean chemical weapons, he said, “All possible means.”

Continue reading ‘A Thaw? It’s Complicated’ »

Clutter in Syria Thinking Land

I listened to some of the arguments today on deciding what the decision should be on authorizing a strike. It was a confused clutter of misplaced logic. First was the baying, where is the evidence, we could be duped. I think this is a red hearing from what I know about the handling, launching, and control of chemical weapons. I also think in the next week, that issue will go away.

The next one is the humanitarian argument. Could this cause more deaths than it prevents? Could this cause Assad to escalate? Could this not change the balance of power? They are all straw men arguments. The intent here has nothing to do with humanitarian prevention of more killings or balance of power. It is to “deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade the potential for, future uses of chemical weapons, or other weapons of mass destruction.” Yes, he could escalate and use them again, and then he would pay a heavier price, and that probably would change the balance of power. So be it. The lesson here is not to do that or you will lose in the end.

What might Iran do? Oh, be afraid of Iran. What message does this send about our “not taking anything off the table” in regard to Iranian nukes? If we are paralyzed by what other parties might do, then we are just paralyzed, take us out of the equation for having any influence on world events in the future. Hope China or Russia will fill the void.

The final misplaced logic is why should we be the policeman of the world, enforcing world norms in the Middle East? Well, first you might want to ask yourself why we spend more on our military than the next thirteen largest militaries combined. So we can police the world. But the real essence of the failure of logic in this argument is the question that if the British and others won’t go along with us, then why should we take it on alone (another part of the policeman of the world argument)? The answer is very simple. If we find it in our long term interests and national security to stifle the use of chemical weapons, we don’t need the coalition of the willing. It is in our best interests.

So the real argument has nothing to do with most of the questions being raised. It has to do with the question of what happens if we don’t and if chemical weapons become more common and one day we are shocked, just shocked I tell you, that there is a chemical weapons attack on BART, the Metro, or the New York Subway System. That is what this is all about.

The Syrian Argument

As we go forward in the next several weeks we will hear all the arguments against doing anything. They will range from why now to possible blowback. They will question what if Assad escalates or Iran reacts. We can’t be policemen of the world and isn’t it somebody else’s turn? If you have ever had to make a hard decision, you know how easy it is to come up with all the reasons why you shouldn’t. My Dad when he was still alive (Chief of Dental Services for the Air Force) once told me that getting to yes was so much harder than just saying no because then you weren’t taking any risks. You also weren’t getting anywhere either.

All of the arguments have some merit and should be considered, but in the final analysis and in the President’s words, this is why we have no choice:

Here’s my question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community: What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price? What’s the purpose of the international system that we’ve built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the governments of 98 percent of the world’s people and approved overwhelmingly by the Congress of the United States is not enforced?

Make no mistake — this has implications beyond chemical warfare. If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms? To terrorist who would spread biological weapons? To armies who carry out genocide?

We cannot raise our children in a world where we will not follow through on the things we say, the accords we sign, the values that define us.

We can make excuses and cower in the corner or we can do the hard thing that has many risks, but if we are who we think and say we are, there really is no choice.

Maybe by Monday We Won’t Be Talking About This

I read two really good op-eds this morning, one by David Brooks and the other one by Roger Cohen. Both make important points about what is going on in the Middle East. David (I think he is Republican constipated on Economics but this isn’t economics) makes what I think is the essential point about the Middle East, this is really a sectarian conflict that quite possibly will expand to the whole area to settle long ago decide borders and power centers. I think that is dead on, and no matter what we do, that will continue. When you see the strife from this perspective you start to see the nation-state politics more clearly as nations trying to hang on to the status quo.

Roger Cohen explains why even though this is the case, we must act. I come down on the Cohen side on this. I think what he laid out is the really simple logic that demands action. His point, which I think is dead on, is that the worst outcome from a strike is that nothing changes, but the outcomes from not taking action changes the whole dynamic in the Middle East with a United States on the sideline and toothless cowering in the corner.

One of the interesting things going on in pundit land on the TV is a lot of, this is hard, bad things could happen, so lets go hide and do nothing. This argument is couched in questions like why do we need to be the policeman of world (because they expect us to and we built a military to do that), Iran and other bad players might react (so we are paralyzed by fear of Iran? What does that say about our nuke deterrence and take any steps necessary?), or what is the long term plan. On the last one, it is to deter chemical weapons usage and then let the sectarian war work itself out, and if they use them again, boom again. Thinking we can control the outcome of an evolving sectarian dynamic in the Middle East is just foolish.

Oh and let’s not say we are doing this to solve a humanitarian problem and that is another false argument for not going in (If we didn’t do anything for the 100,000 killed, why for a few more with chemical weapons). We are doing this to deter use of chemical weapons. They are getting lost, maybe purposely, in false arguments to convince themselves we can hide in the corner and let the world go away.

I really don’t think this is as hard as everyone is making it and I think instead of the endless posturing by pundits, the President needs to lay out our plan and the evidence for our action. Force Congress to decide, and get on with it, whatever it is. That is really not that hard is it?