Archive for the 'Middle East' Category

Cowboy Talk on Syria

1. Those fundamentally to blame for the slaughter in Syria are those carrying it out.
2. That said, Obama’s failure to punish Assad for the use of poison gas in 2013 gave a de facto green light for the killing to go right ahead and the Russians to double down on their involvement. He didn’t do it because he wanted to preserve the Iran nuclear negotiations.
3. Of course the US could have smashed Assad’s air force over the course of the conflict. It also possesses the wherewithal to impose a no-fly-zone over Syria. It could still do so now. The US military can project force on a far greater scale than the Russians.
4. However, neither course would have been free of risks or costs prior to the deepening of Russian involvement and the costs and risks involved would be much greater now.
5. Still, given the scale of the killing those costs and risks, even now would be worth accepting, provided those costs and risks were well understood by all parties beforehand.
6. Cowboy talk and cowboy ideas about how simple and low cost such an intervention might have been or might yet be open the way for disaster on an even greater scale.

ISIS in Mosul, Iraq in 2003 And Iraq Now


The early years of the occupation of Iraq by the US and its allies were appallingly fucked up at every level. The responsibility for that is mainly political but some of it also falls to the senior military leaders, especially Sánchez and Casey.

The Americans eventually got a grip. Competent military leaders were put in place. The Sunni gunmen were put on the payroll. Fairish and freeish elections were held. Things improved quite a bit.
I forgot to mention that all this time the Kurds were also consolidating their proto-state in the north. Yes, it had been developing prior to the invasion under cover of the no fly zone but its continued existence was always threatened as long as Saddam was in power.
BO came to power thinking, “Not my circus, not my monkeys, how do we get out of here fast?”. While they remained the Yanks put some kind of brake on Al Maliki’s sectarianism but when they high tailed it, then it all went tits up again.
And the situation was aggravated by the war in Syria. Almost any determined course of action by the US government, fully supporting the status quo, fully supporting the secular opposition before they were all killed, or nearly all, or even supporting and disciplining some kind of Islamist resistance. Any one of those courses of action could have kept some of the pressure off the Iraqi state.
Instead we got tacit cooperation with Iran (mustn’t endanger the nuclear talks) and the use of a wide range of admonitory adjectives.
Now it’s “all options are on the table” again. Ha! Ha! Ha!
So, it’s a clusterfuck of giant proportions. Plenty of blame to go around, a good deal of it to the present US administration.
If you opposed the 2003 invasion, good for you. There were clear reasons to think the occupation might be fucked up. But you had no way of knowing how things would turn out 11 years later. So back the fuck off with the “I told you so” line as your 2003 position committed you to the survival of Baathism in Iraq, a concentration camp more than a country at the time. You can’t avoid some responsibility for the horrors Saddam and his family would have gone on to commit.

“But that’s ridiculous, you are saying I am responsible for all the human rights abuses in all the countries we don’t invade”. No, I am not. There is no plan to/call for the overthrow of the Khartoum regime, for example, so there is no need to take a stand on it one way or the other.

And in the case of some countries, no matter how bestially they act, nothing can be done. If China starts regular barbecues of live Tibetan babies in Tianmen square, there is nothing we can do about it.

Each case has to be judged on its merits.
If you were in favor of the 2003 invasion, good for you too. The Saddam regime was a genocide committing, neighboring country invading non-stop horror show. But there was good reason to suppose the occupation would be monumentally fucked up and that might lead to terrible consequences. And it has. So you have some of the responsibility for that.
So whatever stand you took on the invasion of 2003, you are not innocent.

Ari Shavit and Zionism’s “Black Box”

OK, I haven’t read the book (I will, I will) and people whose opinion I value tell me Shavit is a great guy. But I have read this interview and I still don’t know what the fuck he means by language like this,

“Lydda is our black box … in it lies the dark secret of Zionism … if Zionism was to be, Lydda could not be.”

In spite of the reasonable enough stuff he says in response to Alan Johnson’s question about it, I find it hard to avoid the conclusion that he attributes a unique evil, (perhaps to do with hiding its true nature and crimes) to Zionism. He points out that the Palestinians and Arab forces also committed atrocities during the same conflict but I see no similar language applied to them.

There’s no dark secret or black box in Zionism, there’s just a nationalist movement and the violent struggle to build and secure a state. There’s a willingness to get covered in the mud and gore of history and not to feel too sorry about that. Just like every other successful nationalist movement. Mine for sure, yours too.

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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