Archive for May, 2013

A note on the death of Videla

He was a very bad bastard: ultra-Catholic, anti-Semite, murderer and torturer of thousands. So good riddance. However, he was never, in the normal meaning of the term, a dictator. In 1976 the three armed forces rebelled jointly ( a first for them) and formed a “junta”, a committee, to run the country, he was primus inter pares, and that until March 1981, not 1983. It wasn’t a one man show like Pinochet in Chile, or a family affair like the Castros in Cuba.

Also, and this may come as a shock to some, he was tried and jailed for his crimes as long ago as 1985. Menem, the then leader of the movement that currently runs the country, let him go in 1990. On the return of democracy in 1983 the same movement’s presidential candidate – Luder- had endorsed the auto-amnesty the armed forces had awarded themselves before leaving power. So if it was up to them Videla would never even have been tried in 1985.

“But, but, but, it was the same movement –under the heroic leadership of Dr. Néstor Carlos Kirchner – that in 2007 annulled the 1990 amnesty and this allowed him to be tried again. You know that times change, historical learning processes etc.”

Yes, it’s nice that they changed their minds on the dictatorship, decades later, when it was completely safe to do so and without ever giving the slightest explanation of or making any declaration of contrition for their previous support for impunity for some of the worst criminals in the history of the country.

So “historical learning processes” my arse. The Kirchners’ decision to turn on the aging tyrants and torturers was a brilliant political stroke, an exercise in real politik which bought them a stock of political capital that has kept the female half of the combo in power to this day. They’d have raised a statue to Videla and declared him the successor of San Martín and Rosas if they’d thought there was more political mileage in it.

Obama and the Urge to “Do Something” in Syria

I’d like to ask what the thing   that Obama is supposed to do about Syria is but won’t because he is a wuss,  or  whatever. A something that would make Iran  take the US seriously, not lead to the US neglecting risks elsewhere in the world and would stand a  fair chance of reducing the body count over the short/medium term. Some possibilities:

 1. “Send in the drones, Assassinate Assad”

Okay, might take a long time to get him though (remember Saddam), with a risk of US credibility draining public appearances in the meantime.  And HB, the Iranians and the non-trivial number of Syrians who support the regime are going to pack it in because of that? It’s going to make a significant difference to the outcome? It’s going to reduce the body count?

 2. “Establish a NFZ zone or something similar. Look what the Israelis have been able to do.”

 The grave weaknesses of this argument are  extensively dealt with in this article. It’s a little long but you need to read it if you want to talk about what the US should/shouldn’t do in Syria.

 3.  “Arm the rebels”

I guess we’re already doing that. I guess also that we could do it some more. The benefits of this for human rights outcomes in even the short term remain unclear to me.

 4. ” Bomb Assad’s chemical weapons stocks”.

 How many of the 70,000 odd deaths in Syria have been caused by chemical weapons?  If the government (or the rebels) starts using them  on a large scale then we might be in different territory but so far, if we haven’t been moved by the mass slaughter occasioned by the use of conventional weapons then it’s hard to see why we should go to war over this.

“We should do it to deter Iran and because we said we would”, you say. So a couple of quick in and out raids with stand-off weapons like those carried out by the Israelis is going to have them sitting up and taking notice in Tehran? Really?

 “We could do it on a much bigger scale”. Yes, we could, that brings us to …

 5. “Invade Syria, overthrow the regime, rerun the occupation of Iraq but this time do it right”.

Now we’re talking.  Anything less than this isn’t worth doing in terms of the outcomes for Syrians. It’s not clear that doing it is in the US’s interest though and certainly it couldn’t be sold to US public opinion and it’s rather risky in terms of the pressure it might put the US military under when the amount of money it has to spend is being reduced.

So, you are in favor of US intervention in Syria? Great, you are in effect in favor of option 5. TINA



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