George Sarant

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Posts Tagged ‘Syria

STAY OUT OF THE LINE OF FIRE

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The USA has not been blessed with leaders with a clear-eyed, long-term geopolitical view of the interests of the country for decades, and that record, along with the consistent ineptitude of the present administration, makes inaction preferable to action on a number of fronts. Iraq is descending into a chaotic civil war, due to the precipitous disengagement of the Obama administration and a total lack of strategic vision. There is no question that the blunders of the Bush administration are responsible for instigating these problems, but in that case at least half the blame belongs to Saddam Hussein himself for so successfully faking WMD capabilities in order to be perceived as a more formidable force in the region. That posture backfired, as did his removal. Sadaam was an awful dictator, but he counterbalanced the equally odious Iranian regime, which became the principal beneficiary of his demise. Broader strategic thinking would have made that outcome obvious. 

More importantly, Sadaam was a secular leader who checked religious extremism as long as he was in power. The same dynamic is at work in Syria now, where the US currently has zero credibility or respect, having drawn a  “line in the sand,” which it then ignored.  A wiser, long-term geopolitical understanding would have informed us of the saliency of the religious extremism in the two branches of Islam, and guided our strategic thinking accordingly. This is a long term, historic conflict that could still last centuries. Do we want to be part of that? At this stage, given the bumbling proclivities of our leaders, I think the best course for the US is to use this as an opportunity to get out of the line of fire. By that I mean ceasing to be enemy number one to extremists on both sides of the Islamic rift.  We have managed to fumble our way into that position, and it is now time to extricate ourselves. 

There are many countries in the world with an “Islamic problem,” meaning either a restive minority population or conflict with an aggressive neighbor. The US is not one of them, and a cursory examination of global borders makes that obvious. There is no inherent reason for the US to be at odds with any of these players, but for inserting ourselves into their affairs. Contrary to the beliefs of some on the left, it’s not about oil. We are more self-sufficient in this hemisphere than most other countries, and would be even more so but for the anti-energy policies of this administration, which sooner or later will be undone. The people who depend on mideast oil are the Japanese, the Europeans, and increasingly, the Chinese. Consequently what happens in the area is of far more consequence for them than it is for us. 

As for cultural conflict, Europe has a large, unassimilated Muslim population. Russia, and even China have restive Muslim minorities. Thus, the problems are far more acute for them, so why should the US wind up being the Great Satan? Bin Laden (who primarily targeted the US for stationing forces in Saudi Arabia, which are now gone) is dead and most of the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack are accounted for. The Muslims are not our problem, and the more we disengage from conflict with them the less we would be targeted. Their main goal is obtaining power within the Islamic world. They are basically a headache for the existing regimes, who until now have managed to deflect such hostility onto the west. We are not sufficiently ruthless for this kind of conflict.

This does not mean cutting and running, but making a realistic policy that in essence says you don’t bother us and we won’t bother you, for if you do you will be annihilated with overwhelming force.  We would basically make an offer they couldn’t refuse. Let the CIA do its job for a change and come up with accurate information on these movements. Given the nature of the present administration I do not see a better path. 

We have paid dearly for all of this, not just in lives and treasure, but in terms of our own liberties. We now have a massive security state that is adept primarily at inconveniencing us at airports. Yet the end result is a situation no better than it was before, and given the instability in the area, arguably worse. We need to focus on rebuilding strength at home, where our way of life has deteriorated significantly. I am not suggesting isolationism here, but realism, as per Theodore Roosevelt’s axiom, speak softly but carry a big stick. 

 

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THE WEST & THE MIDDLE EAST 1: SYRIA

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It’s a crazy world we live in when one has to decide whether John Kerry or Vladimir Putin is lying about who is using chemical weapons in Syria.  Kerry testified there is ample evidence it was initiated by the Assad regime, while Putin says he has a detailed 100 page report indicating that the rebels did it. Given the murkiness of this situation congress ought to think twice before rushing into another Middle East conflict, the consequences of which cannot be known. There has been no indication of any contingencies which might result from such action. Are we really prepared for this? 

The President’s credibility is on the line, or what’s left of it, but contrary to prevailing assumptions that does not mean America’s credibility is also hanging by a thread. For what we have here is a regime of the Left such as we have never seen before, mismanaging just about every aspect of government. The administration only now has had to reach out to Republicans to get something done, who would be ill-advised to be suckered in, despite some naturally hawkish tendencies.  Do they really have confidence in the leadership of this administration at this point? Then there is John Kerry, the point man on this mission, who once falsely testified before congress that American forces were regularly committing atrocities in Viet Nam and who met with Assad several times, praising him, against the wishes of the Bush administration.  Can we trust this man now? Republicans are out of their minds if they fall in line for what is likely to be a fiasco, given this kind of leadership. Can they really still have any confidence in them at this point? 

The only sensible thing to do is to either vote against this action, and/or get out of the way and let the administration take the fall for botching this entire situation. Given its tenuous credibility, drawing red lines and then saying they didn’t, and then stating that  “the world” did; never mind that virtually no one else in the world wants any part of this mission. Action was not taken two years ago when it would have mattered. It is too little too late, and yes, action at this point would be worse than doing nothing. There is nothing to be gained and a lot to lose by doing it now. If there were another chemical attack and it was clear who did it, then action might be justified. But the UN has yet to issue a report either way, which at least give some substantive support to whoever is right. 

A wise government would be looking to get us out of the line of fire, but they instead want to jump into it. Both Secretary Kerry and President Obama strongly opposed the Iraq war, but now are pursuing a comparable policy on far more tenuous grounds. There is no coalition, no congressional support as yet, and no conclusive proof. To claim that Syria is a threat to our national security is preposterous. Just what national security do we gain when this administration has leaked like a sieve and a good portion of our national secrets have been spilled all over, and governments the world over are alienated and angry. Due to their breathtaking ineptitude they have managed to make Russia a major player again, and make Putin look like a statesman. What we really need is a congressional no confidence vote, so at least the rest of the world know it is not us taking action but an administration acting against the wishes of the people, and then somehow muddle through three more years of this lame duck presidency. 

 

 

Written by georgesarant

September 6, 2013 at 5:11 PM

THE WEST & THE MIDDLE EAST 1: SYRIA

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There is a considerable amount of saber-rattling going on with regard to Syria’s use of chemical weapons against civilians.  As disgusting and horrible as such action may be, it is hard to see how the end result is any different from being killed by bombs, gunshots, or fire. Granted it violates “International Law,” but it is unclear why the United States has to enforce it. The argument is that if we don’t, the law is meaningless, but how and why does it fall on the US to give it meaning? Nevertheless this action might be justified if it were to take place within the framework of some kind of coherent strategy. The problem is that we do not appear to have one, nor have the consequences been thoroughly vetted. 

Do we simply lob some missiles over to send a message about chemical weapons? What happens after that in terms of retaliation? Opponents have already said they would target Israel, never mind that Israel is not instigating the attack. If they do, certainly Israel will respond to defend itself, and then we have a wider war. To think that we can shoot some missiles as a message and then walk away is incredibly naive. The message otherwise can be reduced to “it’s okay to go on torturing and killing, just don’t use chemicals.”  If it is still about restoring US credibility it is too little too late, in terms of the President’s “line in the sand,” unless we are prepared to go much further. 

I would not oppose military action if there were a clear strategy to produce some kind of desired outcome. But there doesn’t appear to be any. The time to act in Syria has gone by. We still have not provided the opposition with adequate weapons to counter Assad’s forces, which we should have done over a year ago. Now it is not all that clear who is leading the opposition, and there is a rising Al Qaeda presence on that side. As awful as Assad’s regime may be, a country dominated by Al Qaeda would be far worse, and present an actual threat to the West.

That points to another law, the War Powers Act, according to which unless there is an imminent threat to the US, congressional approval must be obtained. Those who opposed George Bush for acting aggressively should note that even he obtained congressional approval before taking military action. It is hard to argue that Syria presents an imminent threat, so what is the legal basis for such a strike? These questions ought to be debated in congress before acting. To argue there isn’t time for that is ridiculous, given that the administration has let it be an open secret that we are going to attack so there is no element of surprise and the Syrian regime already has ample time to prepare.

Furthermore, we would be involving ourselves more deeply in what is becoming an overall civil war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, with Iran and its allies aligned against most of the Arab states. Instead we should see this as an opportunity to get out of the line of fire, which I’ll explore more fully subsequently. Aiding one side covertly is one thing; getting directly involved in an even longer war is another.

Our priorities are also warped. If western countries are to be involved at all in this region, they ought to be stopping the continued persecution and increasing extinction of Christians in the Middle East, which we’ll also expand on next time. Right now our only strategy seems to be to punish Assad’s Syria, but not so much so as to topple the regime, which presumably would lead to chaos in the region. The problem is that “Syria” is not much of a nation to begin with. The current geography of much of the Middle East consists of provinces carved rather haphazardly out of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. This is one of the main reasons there is continuing turmoil in the area. The regime likes to pretend there is some relationship to the ancient Assyrian empire, but there isn’t any. Thus it is laughable when people in these countries question the legitimacy of Israel, given that their own countries are essentially no older in historical time.

 

 

Written by georgesarant

August 29, 2013 at 2:00 PM