Posts Tagged ‘War and Peace’

Why the U.S. lost the war on terror

September 4, 2014

The war on terror is over …  Terror won. [1]

Following the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States began what was called the “war on terror.”  This war [2] has been lost.  Anti-American terrorists are many times stronger now than they were back then, and the U.S. government lacks a feasible strategy for fighting them.

It didn’t have to be this way.  Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the whole world, including most of the Islamic world, was outraged at the killing of 3,000 innocent civilians, and rallied to the side of the USA.  There were pro-American demonstrations even in Tehran!

This would have been a great opportunity to shut down Al Qaeda for good.  Al Qaeda was a criminal conspiracy and a would-be mass movement.  The way to fight a mass movement is to cut it off from its popular support.  The way to fight a criminal conspiracy is to cut if off from its sources of money.  Both of these, in my opinion, were feasible at the time.

0618-ISIS-Iraq-gulf_full_600But this was not the path that was taken.

Instead of targeting Al Qaeda, the U.S. government decided to target hostile governments—perhaps on the theory that the Pentagon does not know how to fight mass movements, but does know how to invade small foreign countries.

Instead of targeting countries in which Al Qaeda had its roots, such as Saudi Arabia, the U.S. invaded Iraq, whose leader, Saddam Hussein, was an enemy of Al Qaeda, while continuing its cold war with Iran, also an enemy of Al Qaeda.  Later the U.S. helped overthrow the government of Libya and plotted to overthrow the government of Syria, whose leaders, Qaddafi and Assad, were not anti-American, but eager to stay in the good graces of the U.S. government.

U.S. invasions reduced Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria to bloody chaos, which are precisely the conditions in which radical and terrorist mass movements flourish.  Since the U.S. military has yet to figure out how to deal with insurgencies, the U.S. government has relied on assassination teams, flying killer robots and use of local forces as proxies.

Assassination teams are effective in taking out leaders.  I can’t count the number of times the death of Al Qaeda’s “second in command” has been announced.   Flying killer robots are less so.  But mass movements throw up new leaders.  Osama bin Laden is dead, and his original organization probably is need, but new Al Qaedas have sprung up in Yemen and Iraq, and the so-called Islamic State is even more radical than Al Qaeda.

Use of proxies has backfired time and time again.  The weapons the U.S. government gives to its supposed friends wind up in the hands of its enemies, either because the supposed friends are not willing to fight or because the supposed friends have their own objectives which are different from what we Americans think.

The USA has had too many enemies in the Middle East, so that the enemies of our enemies are also our enemies.   We were enemies of the Shiite ayatollahs in Iran, but supported their Shiite allies in Iraq against Saddam’s loyalists and radical Sunni Muslim jihadists.   We were enemies of the radical jihadist Muslims, but we supported them against Libya’s Qaddafi and Syria’s Assad.  Now Washington journalists and politicians talk about supporting Iran and its Syrian and Iraqi allies against the jihadist Islamic State.

It is no wonder there is no faction in the Middle East the U.S. government can trust.  Nor is it any wonder there is no faction that trusts the U.S. government.

Having no clear aims of its own, the U.S. government follows the lead of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchs such as Qatar, all of whom naturally follow their own perceived interests,

I am as horrified by the actions of the so-called Islamic State movement as anybody else.  But I can’t think of anything the Obama administration could do that won’t make matters worse.   Bomb the Islamic State forces?  Bombing from the air terrorizes and alienates the mass of the people below.  Arm the Iraqi government?  The U.S. arms they were given previously wound up in the hands of the Islamic State.   Arm the Kurds?  Maybe.

We Americans have lost all moral standing in the Middle East to denounce the crimes of the Islamic State.  That is because hundreds of thousands of Middle Easterners have died as the result of U.S. military action, and hundreds of thousands more have been turned into refugees.  [3]   Nobody in that part of the world has any reason to take seriously anything an American says.  [4]   The Islamic State is an evil for the Arabs to deal with (or not), not us.

The best thing for us Americans to do is to admit defeat, wind down our presence in the Middle East and concentrate on rebuilding our own nation.


“Humanitarian bombing” is self-contradictory

August 9, 2014

If you believe it is your duty to protect people from their enemies, the only way to do it is to go stand by them.  Dropping bombs from the air in the hope you will hit some of their enemies will not do the job.  You’ll kill bystanders and create more enemies for yourself and them; you’ll very likely kill some of the people you’re trying to protect.

ISIS-Iraq-AttackSome of us Americans are concerned about the fate of Christians and other minorities in Iraq, currently under attack by the fanatical Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists.  But our concern does not reach the level of being willing to send Americans to fight the ISIS in person.  So it is tempting to many people, myself included, to think we can accomplish the same purpose, without risk, by dropping bombs instead.

But giving in to that temptation would be a big mistake.

  • The ISIS is a fanatic Sunni movement in rebellion against the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq and the non-Sunni government of Syria.  The only way to defeat ISIS is to separate it from the Sunni population of those two countries.  Bombing will kill Sunni bystanders, solidify Sunni support for ISIS and bring ISIS closer to Al Qaeda.
  • Intensive bombing of Fallujah and other parts of Iraq during the U.S. occupation never brought about any decisive victory.  Iraq in fact has an air force if it wants to use it.  There is no reason to think that an American bombing campaign will change anything.
  • Persecution of Christians and other minorities has been going on a long time.  More than half of Iraq’s Christians were killed or driven into exile during the American occupation.  Bombing ISIS will not bring them back or end persecution.
  • Once the initial small-scale bombing campaign fails, past history indicates the government will escalate U.S. military intervention rather than admit failure.

I admire the people of Kurdistan.  They are willing to fight for their own freedom and to allow people of other religions (they’re mostly Sunni Muslims) and heritages to live in peace.   I want the U.S. government to make sure they get all they need to defend themselves.  But I don’t want to make their war an American war.


A bombing campaign in Iraq

August 8, 2014

I want to see the murderous Islamic State fanatics in Iraq stopped before they massacre more Christians and members of other minority groups in Iraq.

I guess I sort of more-or-less support President Obama’s decision to bomb the ISIS forces and drop supplies to the valiant people of Kurdistan.   [Update 8/10/14.  I’ve changed my mind.]

Given the experience of the past 10 years, I don’t want American ground troops being sent back to Iraq.

A bombing campaign, against an enemy without an air force or effective anti-aircraft weapons, is appealing as a virtually risk-less way to wage war.

But the experience of history shows that bombing campaigns don’t necessarily achieve their objective, and bombing campaigns conducted in isolation seldom do.   The ISIS forces aren’t going to gather in the open so as to be good targets.   They are going to mingle with the people we are supposedly trying to protect.

Now I understand that President Obama doesn’t think that bombs alone will do the trick.   The idea is to slow down and weaken the ISIS advance and put the Kurdish fighters and Iraqi government army in a better position to resist.

But what happens if ISIS keeps advancing?  Does Obama step up the bombing campaign?  Does he order ground troops back into Iraq?  Or does he at some point decide there is nothing more he can do?

I remember I supported the Vietnam intervention in its early stages because I thought the South Vietnamese could be saved from totalitarian Communism.   I supported the invasion of Iraq in its early stages because I thought the Iraqis could be liberated from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

I wasn’t wrong about Communism, nor about Saddam Hussein, but I was wrong about what it is possible to accomplish by invading another country (and also wrong about my government’s intentions, but that’s another issue).

So now I hesitantly kind-of in-a-way support intervention against ISIS, because I hate to think of my country standing by and doing nothing, and at the same time I think of all the ways in which things could go wrong.

I imagine President Obama has the same thoughts.  I don’t think I will criticize him on this one.


Why ‘strategic’ bombing doesn’t seem to work by Ian Buruma for the Toronto Globe and Mail

The dangerous escalation of conflict with Russia

August 8, 2014

The conflict over Ukraine is escalating dangerously.

An estimated 700,000 people have fled eastern Ukraine for Russia, creating a major humanitarian crisis.  Russia replied to United States and European Union sanctions with sanctions of its own.  Now the question arises as to whether Russia’s covert support for Ukrainian separatists will escalate into open intervention.

The Vineyard of the Saker is a web log to which I ordinarily don’t link because the Saker’s support for Vladimir Putin is so extreme, but he gave an excellent summary of the far-reaching consequences of Russia’s boycott of food imports from the European Union and other pro-sanctions countries.

Food producers in these countries will not only suffer a loss of Russian markets, but depressed food prices as a result of a glut.  Countries that refused to back sanctions will be rewarded.

Russia’s actions will be a severe blow to many European nations, especially in eastern Europe, but will not affect the USA very much—thus driving a wedge between the NATO allies.

Russia’s own farmers will be able to expand their market without having to worry about competition from subsidized American and European imports.  Overall Russia will have an excuse to disconnect from banks and international organizations dominated by the United States and European Union and follow its own path.

Unlike the Saker, I am not a supporter of Putin, but I admit to a grudging respect for his diplomacy.

I was astonished to learn that there are more than 700,000 displaced people from Ukraine in Russia (plus, according to the United Nations, more than 200,000 internally displaced in Ukraine).  That is nearly a million people.

Will this be enough to cause Putin to openly intervene in Ukraine?  I don’t think so.  Putin’s Russia is bogged down in a quagmire war in Chechnya and public opinion polls indicate that Russians don’t want to get bogged down in another quagmire war in Ukraine.

Pepe Escobar wrote that Russia’s minimum demands are (1) no NATO membership for Ukraine, (2) recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, (3) no U.S. troops on Russia’s borders and (4) cultural autonomy for Russian-speakers in eastern and southern Ukraine.  The last is important because it is a political force to help guarantee the first three.

But if the United States and its European allies insist on bringing Ukraine into NATO, if they refuse to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, if the United States stations troops on Russia’s borders, then there is a real possibility of war with Russia.   And Russia is the only nation on the planet with sufficient nuclear weapons to threaten the existence of the United States.


NATO is desperate for war by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

You want to be Uncle Sam’s bitch?  Pay the price! by The Vineyard of the Saker.


War and peace: Links & comments 10/3/13

October 3, 2013


Negotiating with the Enemy by Lou DuBose of the Washington Spectator.

In May, 2003, soon after U.S. forces had defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq, the Iranian government sent a peace offer to the United States through the Swiss ambassador.  The Iranians offered to open their nuclear program to international monitoring and inspection and to end support for Hamas and Hezbollah.  The U.S. government rejected the offer and reprimanded the Swiss ambassador for even passing it along.

Col. James Wilkerson, then assistant to Secretary of State Colin Powell, said the rejection came from Vice President Richard Cheney (shown above).  As a result, the Iranian government began helping Iraqi insurgents.   Now Iraq has a pro-Iranian government.  Arguably Iran was the real winner of the Iraq war.

Going to War with Obama to Go to War with Iran by M.J. Rosenberg of the Washington Spectator.

A bipartisan coalition in the U.S. Senate, aligned with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby, opposes any agreement with Iran unless the Iranian government completely gives up its nuclear energy program and sends all nuclear fuel outside the country.  Some Senators are working on a resolution to allow use of military force against Iran unless its government agrees with these conditions.

The government of Israel itself, which unlike Iran does possess nuclear weapons, is said to be contemplating an attack on Iran.  Besides being a crime against humanity, an attack on Iran would be suicidal for Israel.  It would mean that the only safety for the people of Iran would lie in the destruction of Israel.  Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s stated fears of Iran would be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I don’t want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.  The fewer countries in the world with nuclear weapons, the better.  But I wouldn’t blame the government of any country that was threatened with nuclear attack for wanting its own nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

In Syria, We Don’t Want Rebels to Lose, But We Don’t Want Them to Win Either by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

CIA ramping up covert training program for moderate Syrian rebels by Greg Miller of the Washington Post.

A long stalemate civil war in Syria makes Israel marginally more secure, because Bashar al-Assad can’t help Palestinian fighters so long as he is fighting for his own survival.  On the other hand, neither Israel nor the United States wants a takeover of Syria by radical jihadist rebels.   So expect a continuation of the war, which already has claimed an estimated 100,000 lives and turned millions of people into refugees.

The passing scene: Links & comments 10/1/13

October 1, 2013

A World in Which No One Is Listening to the World’s Sole Superpower by Dilip HIro for The Nation.

Back during the Vietnam Conflict, a friend of mine remarked that the United States government had the power to kill all the North Vietnamese and the power to kill all the South Vietnamese, but it did not have the power make Vietnamese obey it.  Mao Zedong was wrong.  Not all political power comes out of the barrel of a gun.

The U.S. government still spends almost as much on its military as the rest of the world put together, but it is less and less able to impose its will on the rest of the world.  As Dilip Hiro wrote, even nominal allies of the United States, even governments that were installed by the U.S. military, refuse to follow President Obama’s lead.

The willingness of a President to engage in military action does not give him credibility.  Instead successive military interventions have drained U.S. strength, and the rest of the world perceives this.  We Americans would have done better to hold our military strength in reserve until we really need it to defend the nation.

I don’t think this is due to weakness of will, and I don’t think things would be better if John McCain or Mitt Romney were in the White House.  I think it is due to long-standing lack of understanding by American leaders that power is not a substitute for understanding.

How a Shopping Mall Becomes a Killing Zone by Philip Jenkins for the American Conservative.

Philip Jenkins in this article described the ingenuity of Somali Al Shabaab terrorists and how they were able to hold out so long and kill so many people in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall.  Instead of attacking the mall, rented a store, built up an arsenal, scouted out the mall and only then began their slaughter.

Terrorism, whatever its roots may be, is a real threat.  It is just not the kind of threat that can be met by invading countries or firing killer drones at suspicious characters in remote villages.  It is a threat to be met by good police and intelligence work.

Science confirms: Politics wrecks your ability to do math by Chris Mooney for Grist.

A psychological experiment showed that not only does political bias cloud people’s understanding of statistics, and that a better understanding of statistics leads not to greater objectivity, but to a greater ability to defend their biases.  This is true of both liberals and conservatives.

Ground Gives Way, and a Louisiana Town Struggles to Regain Its Footing by Michael Wines in the New York Times.

A growing sinkhole, hundreds of feet deep and as large as 20 football fields, swallows up trees and houses in southern Louisiana.  It is like the opening scene of a horror movie.

Mideast struggles: Links & comments 9/29/13

September 29, 2013

Is Iran Out of the US War Queue? Twilight of the Hawks by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.   Hat tip to Jack Clontz

General Wesley Clark said that, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, he was told by a friend in the Pentagon that the Department of Defense had a list of seven countries it intended to invade—Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.  Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and the other architects of that plan are no longer in government, but it does seem as if that, at any given time, the United States government is debating war with one or another of the countries on that list.

Juan Cole is optimistic about peace negotiations with Iran.   I hope he’s right.   There is no basic conflict of interest between our two countries.  We Americans of course would like to have cheap oil, but no Iranian government is going to give its oil away.  Even the Shah of Iran, who was installed by the CIA, eventually nationalized Iranian oil and supported OPEC.

How Bashar al-Assad Destroyed My Country by Omar Ghabra for The Nation.

A Syrian-American recalls how the Assad government in 2011 murdered and tortured non-violent protesters who demanded a democratic government and respect for human rights.   His article illustrates President John F. Kennedy’s saying, that those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.

Where did Syria get its Chemical Weapons in the First Place? by Jannis Bruhl of ProPublica for Informed Comment.  Another hat tip to Jack Clontz

Evidently Russia supplied the poison gas weapons, but essential chemical supplies also came from Germany and other European countries.

Putin to the Rescue by David Bromwich for the London Review of Books.

Barack Obama thoughtlessly says things that come back to haunt him.   That’s one reason the wily Vladimir Putin outsmarted him in the Syrian crisis.   You would think that someone who is as determined as President Obama to prevent leaks of embarrassing information would be more self-disciplined about his own words.

Seymour Hersh on death of Osama bin Laden: ‘It is one big lie; not one word of it is true’ by Lisa O’Carroll for The Guardian.  Hat tip to Daniel Brandt.

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh is my age (76) and still going strong.  People like him make me feel as if I’ve wasted my life.

Uzbekistan’s Karimova Tillyaeva reveals rift in ruling family by BBC News.   Hat tip to Oidin.

The jet-setting daughters of Uzbekistan’s dictator Islam Karimov, who both play roles in the government, haven’t spoken to each other for 12 years.   As celebrity gossip, this is amusing, but I don’t think that the poverty-stricken, repressed people of Uzbekistan find it so amusing.

America’s biggest threat is its own N-weapons

September 26, 2013

nuclearaccident1Americans are in greater danger from accidents in our own country’s nuclear arsenal than we are from the spread of nuclear weapons to countries such as Pakistan, North Korea or Iran.

An investigative reporter named Eric Schlosser tells in a new book, Command and Control, of narrow escapes from accidental nuclear explosions, and from launching of nuclear bombs based on false alarms.  The thing about narrow escapes is that you can’t count on them happening.  After

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAIn the period from 1950 to 1968 alone, he discovered 700 “significant” nuclear accidents.  The government was uncooperative, but he was helped by whistleblowers who were worried about lax handling of dangerous weapons.

An atomic bomb without its warhead was accidentally dropped on Mars Bluff, S.C., in 1958.  A fully armed atomic bomb was dropped near Goldsboro, N.C., in 1961; there were four fail-safe switches designed to prevent the bomb from going off accidentally, and three of the four failed.

Suppose you were President of the United States and you were told that an atomic bomb had been dropped on North Carolina.  Would you stop and do nothing until you figured out what had happened, or would you assume that the nation was under attack and strike back.

The Cold War is over, but both the United States and the Russian Federation still have their nuclear missiles ready to launch, and an nuclear false alarm is just as possible now as it was then.

I don’t know which is worse—to think, as Schlosser does, that the U.S. Air Force is negligent in its handling of nuclear weapons, or to think that the current system is working as well as is humanly possible.


Eligibility rule for humanitarian war advocates

September 17, 2013

Blogger Duncan Black, aka Atrios, has a new unofficial rule.

Any pundit who advocates war for supposed humanitarian reasons must be able to point to 5 recent occasions when they advocated for achieving humanitarian goals using non-killing methods.

Otherwise, STFU.

via Eschaton.

A good decision by President Obama

September 16, 2013

President Barack Obama made a good decision to back off from attacking Syria, and to back off from nominating Lawrence Summers to head the Federal Reserve Board.

I don’t think it ever shows weakness of character to change your mind when the facts warrant.  The truly weak person doubles down on bad decisions rather than admit to a mistake.

obamaredline500An attack on Syria would have been a bad idea because it wouldn’t have solved the problem of poison gas warfare, and might have made it worse.  A full-scale invasion of Syria would have brought the United States into dangerous confrontation with Russia.  Neither danger has gone away, but both are less than they were last week.

The crisis may turn out to have produced a good result.  If Syria actually does get rid of its poison gas weapons, this is something that wouldn’t have happened except for President Putin’s need to respond to President Obama’s threats.

Another good decision was Lawrence Summers’ withdrawal of his name from consideration as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.  Nomination of Summers to head the Federal Reserve would have been a bad idea because his ideas and policies were a main cause of the recent financial crash.

President George W. Bush in the last years of his second term made course corrections.  He replaced Donald Rumsfeld at Secretary of Defense and established a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.   Maybe President Obama will go through the same evolution.  One can hope.

There is nothing humiliating in accepting objective reality—even if the only objective reality that you recognize is public opinion polls.

What should be U.S. goals in the Middle East?

September 13, 2013

WikipediaMiddleEastmapThe conflicts in the Middle East are too complex for me to easily grasp.  I don’t kid myself that I understand them simply from having read a few books and magazine articles.

There is a struggle between poor people and working people versus a wealthy upper class and foreign corporations.   There is a struggle among democrats, theocrats and nationalists.   There is a religious struggle between Sunnis, Shiites and other Muslim factions and among Muslims, Christians, Jews and other religion.  There is a struggle by corporations and governments inside and outside the region for control of oil and gas fields and of pipeline routes.  There is a struggle between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.  There is a struggle for power and influence among Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and other nations within the region, and among the USA, the UK, France, Russia and other powers outside the region.  Probably there are other important factors that I neglected to mention.   I can’t disentangle them all.

But each and every one of us Americans has the ability and responsibility to decide is what my country’s goals should be in regard to the region, and how far we should go to implement this goals.

I think that the best way for Americans to assure a supply of oil and natural gas is to have good relations with the nations that produce oil and gas and to build up our own economy so that we can afford to pay a fair price.   Taking sides with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states against their rivals in the region is not a dependable strategy for getting access to their oil.

Syria_regionI think that the best way for Americans to encourage other nations to give up poison gas, bio-weapons and nuclear weapons is to assure them that they do not need these weapons to deter attack.  The more the U.S. government threatens and bombs foreign countries, the more they will want weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent.

Back in the days when Israel’s existence was threatened by the Arab League, I thought the United States government should protect that country from attack.  If such a situation recurred, I suppose I would feel the same way.  But for now, the U.S. guarantee encourages the current Israel leadership to think they can attack foreign countries with impunity.   This is dangerous in the long run, even for Israel itself.

I think the best way to fight terrorists is to treat them as criminals and not as warriors.   U.S. actions create terrorists, when we arm and pay them to attack governments we’ve designated as enemies, or when we kill indiscriminately and raise up enemies bent on taking revenge.

I think the best way to promote freedom and democracy is to show friendship to governments that are free and democratic.  When a dictator is overthrown, the best way to help the new government is to provide practical aid, including helping to liquidate the government debts left over from the previous regime.  If the U.S. government was really interested in promoting freedom and democracy in Egypt, it would not have given the former regime $1 billion a year to buy U.S. weapons to use against their own people.

I think the best way to deal with governments that commit atrocities is to bring charges before international courts against the individuals responsible, based on evidence and proof.

I think the mission of the U.S. armed forces should be to defend the U.S. homeland, to defend U.S. allies to which our country is bound by treaties and to protect the lives of individual American citizens abroad.

I had a quiz with the original version of this post, but I deleted it because of apparent lack of interest and because the results would not have been meaningful.  However, I would be highly interested in comments about the goals of U.S. policy in the Middle East and about when the U.S. government would be justified in using military force.

What Putin has to say to Americans about Syria

September 12, 2013

If I were a Russian, I don’t think I would be a supporter of President Vladimir Putin.  Russia is a country where opponents of the regime die mysteriously, a tightly-knit group of self-described oligarchs control finance and industry and holdovers from the old Soviet Union are entrenched in government.  But I think Putin made a lot of sense his New York Times article about Syria yesterday.

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders.  A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa.  It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multi-religious country.  There are few champions of democracy in Syria.  But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government.  The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations.  This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.

Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria?  After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali.  This threatens us all.

He also stated:

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest?  I doubt it.  Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”

He ended the article with these words:

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust.  I appreciate this.  I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.”

It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.  There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy.  Their policies differ, too.  We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.


President Putin, it is true, has his own reasons for not wanting the Syrian government to be overthrown.  Syria has been a Russian client state since the days of the old Soviet Union.  It provides the Russian Federation with its only naval base on the Mediterranean.   It is a potential outlet for a natural gas pipeline from the Caspian Sea region of Russia and Central Asia.

And while the Russian government’s proposal for a turnover of Syrian chemical weapons to an international authority sounds good, it would be impossible to implement while the country is in the middle of a civil war.  After all, the United States promised in 1990 to get rid of our chemical weapons stockpiles by 2012, and has not managed to do so.

But the governments of the United States, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have reasons for supporting the rebels which have more to do with pipeline routes, geopolitical advantage and Sunni-Shiite struggles than with humanitarism.  There is nothing at stake in Syria’s civil war that justifies a U.S. attack on Syria.


The Syrian enigma: Links & comments 9/10/13

September 10, 2013

When I first heard the charges that the Syrian government had used nerve gas against rebel forces, I disbelieved them.  It didn’t make any sense to me that Bashar al-Assad would do something that was not only wicked but foolish.  Then I gradually became convinced there is something to the charges.  Who else but the Syrian government would have the capability to launch such attacks?

Now I don’t know what to believe.

Letter Detailing Syria’s Case to Congress Has More Verifiable Claims Than U.S. Case to Date by Brad Friedman for the BRAD BLOG (which I have added to my Blogs I Like page)

Mohammed Jihad al-Lahman, Speaker of the Syrian People’s Assembly, wrote a letter to members of the U.S. Congress appealing to them to refrain from attacking his country.

Among other things he offered evidence that the gas attacks were made by the Syrian rebel forces.  He said that Turkish and Iraqi authorities captured rebel forces with nerve gas weapons, that Syria appealed to the United Nations back in March to investigate nerve gas attacks by rebels and that the Syrian government turned over evidence of rebel use of nerve gas to the Russian and Chinese embassies.

All these allegations can easily be checked, and ought to be checked before any congressional vote.

Syria crisis: Obama welcomes Russia’s chemical weapons proposal by Dan Roberts and Julian Borger of The Guardian.

The Russian government called on Syria’s leaders to place their chemical weapons under international control and eventually to destroy them.  Since Syria depends on Russian backing, there is a good chance this will be accepted.

It provides a good opportunity for Barack Obama and John Kerry to climb back off the limb they’ve gotten out on.  I wonder how much the crisis is due to President Obama having said the use of chemical weapons is a “red line”, believing when he said it that the line never would be crossed.

However, if Bashar al-Assad agrees to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, some good will have come from President Obama’s threats.   Assuming the agreement is carried out, of course.

Russia balks at French plan for U.N. Security Council resolution on Syrian chemical arms by the Washington Post [added later]

It turns out that the Russian government would “welcome” the Syrian government handing over its chemical arms to an international authority, but aren’t offering to take responsibility for implementing this and wouldn’t support a threat of military action if they didn’t comply.  So less has changed than I thought.

How U.S. Grand Strategy in Syria Led to the Idea of Missile Strikes by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.

Juan Cole, a Middle East historian, wrote that there are two factions among the Syrian rebels—radical Sunni Muslims linked to Al Qaeda in the north of Syria, backed by Turkey and Qatar, and another less radical faction in the south of Syria backed by Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United States.

According to Cole, the purpose of the planned U.S. attack is to weaken the Syrian forces on the southern front and help the rebel faction favored by the United States.

Can You Pass the Qatar Quiz? by Jeffrey Rudolph for Informed Comment.

How did the tiny Persian Gulf nation of Qatar come to play such a big part in Middle East power politics?  This guest post on Informed Comment helps to explain.


Arab countries said to offer to pay for invasion

September 6, 2013


The following is by a blogger for the Washington Post.   I think it deserves more attention than it got.

Secretary of State John Kerry said at Wednesday’s hearing that Arab counties have offered to pay for the entirety of unseating President Bashar al-Assad if the United States took the lead militarily.

“With respect to Arab countries offering to bear costs and to assess, the answer is profoundly yes,” Kerry said. “They have. That offer is on the table.”

Asked by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) about how much those countries would contribute, Kerry said they have offered to pay for all of a full invasion.

“In fact, some of them have said that if the United States is prepared to go do the whole thing the way we’ve done it previously in other places, they’ll carry that cost,” Kerry said. “That’s how dedicated they are at this. That’s not in the cards, and nobody’s talking about it, but they’re talking in serious ways about getting this done.”

via Washington Post.

Kerry didn’t say which Arab countries he had in mind, but Saudi Arabia and the Gulf oil mini-states are the only ones who would have the money to finance such an operation.  They reportedly have been financing the Syrian rebels, so this might be cost-effective for them to do.

We Americans should ask ourselves how these Arab countries’ interests are served by overthrowing Bashar al-Assad and whether those interests are the same as our interests.   If our interest is in promoting freedom and democracy, my answer is, probably not.

Syria is in the middle of a struggle involving Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries for power and influence in the region.  I don’t see how the people of the United States, or the people of Syria, or freedom and democracy, are served by the United States taking sides in this struggle.


War resolution is a trap for Congress

September 6, 2013


Why does President Obama want authorization from Congress to attack Syria, when he claims he doesn’t need it and some administration officials say he may go ahead even without authorization?

Surely one reason is that a favorable vote will give him political cover.  Senators John Kerry and Hillary Clinton voted for the Bush administration’s requests for authorization to use military force against Iraq and Al Qaeda.  That made it possible for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to say that they had equal responsibility.

That same will be said by Barack Obama and Joe Biden if Elizabeth Warren or Rand Paul vote for the authorization to use force against Syria, and later criticize administration policy.  It’s a good political ploy.  Let’s hope that a majority of the Senate and the House of Representatives have as good an understanding of the situation as a majority of the American people.



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