02 September 2013

The realpolitik of "to bomb or not to bomb": isn't there something else that matters?

The hurricane of opinions on the upcoming "punishment" event in Syria that sweeps all other subjects off the front pages of most news sources is overwhelming. It doesn't help that the opinions - and attached arguments - cover the widest possible spectrum, from the decisive "yes", via a vague "oh well, let's do it and be done with it" to the strongest "just try, you imperialist warmongers". So, for my own sanity, I have tried to sort out at least some of the available punditry and to add my own two bits. Which is to remind us that, while we all are somewhat right in our punditry, we are all in thrall of realpolitik and have forgotten the basics of our supposedly highly developed morality.

Since this post was started, we heard the inspiring "never again" speech by John Kerry, effectively laughed at by his chief in a Machiavellian maneuver that puts the burden of the decision in the lap of the Congress. So it is highly possible that nobody will do anything about the mass murder that is going on. Again and again that "never again".

The American people

To start with, I offer two excellent reviews of the US administration position on the bloodbath in Syria by my two friends of The Watcher's Council. The first, by Joshuapundit, titled Syria-Ossity, ends with the following conclusion:
There's nothing remotely beneficial to American interest in our getting involved here.
The second, by Brent Parrish, titled The Syrian Quagmire: The Dangers of U.S. Involvement, offers a longer, but no less true, last paragraph:
Just ask the president and our congressional leaders what the strategy is in Syria–or in any other conflict, for that matter. I guarantee you they don’t have one. If they do, they’re not letting us know what it is. No, instead our leaders are basing strategy on emotion, not facts and logic. Emotion seems to trump logic these days. But emotion is not a strategy; it’s the noise before defeat.
The arguments presented by the two gentlemen do sound persuasive.

Nay saying in United States has several other shades. Paleoconservative Pat Buchanan sees a conspiracy behind the event of chemical weapons use:
“This thing reeks of a false flag operation,” Buchanan told Newsmax. “I would not understand or comprehend that Bashar al-Assad—no matter how bad a man he may be—would be so stupid as to order a chemical weapons attack on civilians in his own country, when the immediate consequences of which might be that he would be at war with the United States.”
Being a man of extremely delicate disposition, Mr Buchanan decided not to develop the topic in the usual direction this time. Probably considering this step unnecessary, since it was already done by the inimitable George Galloway. Senator Rand Paul shares Buchanan's opinion: “there is a great incentive for this to actually have been launched by rebels, not the Syrian army”.

The LewRockwell.com, the site of well-known leanings, "anti-war, anti-state, pro-market" (I don't wish to go into this wasp nest deeper), offers a piece by one Michael S. Rozeff. pointing, among others, to the following motive behind possible US involvement in Syria:
A third reason is held by many, including both Greaves and Roberts, which is that destabilizing Syria allows Israel to achieve its aims.
What exactly are these aims Israel pursues, is possibly clear to the author (and to Mr Rockwell), but he is not saying, and I will bet my last nickel... but I am not a betting person. Anyway, more on Israel later. The picture of the right wing response to the Obama's plans re Syria would be incomplete without mentioning the somewhat humorous (as usual) response from John Bolton:
“Personally, as somebody who was frequently criticized by Joe Biden and John Kerry and Barack Obama… for being a unilateralist, while I oppose the use of force against Syria, I am delighted that the Obama administration is about to act unilaterally with no approval from the U.N. Security Council. I think we should all take due note of that.”
And that's true too, Mr Bolton, sir! But, of course, there will be no picture at all if we forget the left side of the spectrum. As, for instance, represented by the Daily Kos:
Obviously, the use of chemical weapons—whoever is using them—ought not to be ignored. But action addressing their use must be measured and productive. And they must conform with international law, including the charter of the United Nations that the United States was so instrumental in shaping but has so often chosen to go around since that document was approved. The president should listen to Rep. Lee and the other Democrats who seek a public debate of what to do about the Syrian situation.
It goes without saying that Daily Kos has nothing on Code Pink, who know better what to want and what the world really needs:
Join us in telling Obama that violent intervention in Syria is not the answer to resolving the conflict. We need to redirect our military dollars towards immediate humanitarian aid, refocus on urgent peace talks, halt sales to authoritarian regimes and honor the voices of nonviolent resistance. We don’t want another war!
Of course, they are also telling Baby Assad what the world really needs:
Demonstrators will stage a die-in in front of the embassy to represent all those peaceful protesters who have lost their lives in the pursuit of freedom and government reform.
I bet Assad takes the die-in to his heart. After all, he's already organized a high quality die-in of his own recently...

All in all, the support for Obama's decision to punish Syrian's murderer is rather poor, especially if you consider the polls. The reasons for this lack of support, as you can see above, vary quite widely.


There is barely any interest in Syria, not to mention support for Obama, in the place. After Cameron's epic fail in the Parliament (and I am absolutely not sure that this outcome is something Cameron didn't pray for, although this is my own paranoid mindset to be blamed), France remains the only European ally of US standing fast behind Obama's plans for attack and even promising its participation.

After Obama's sudden (and politically brilliant, but this is only my opinion) U-turn on the need for Congress approval, we, the onlookers, may find ourselves watching an unbelievable situation when France will remain the only still mounted and armed knight in the field... the mind boggles...

And that is the short and the long of what could be said about the cradle of Western civilization. Not much, but there ain't much to say about the cradle for many years.


Mentioned here only because it has a sizable military and could definitely turn the situation in Syria for the better - if its leader, besides being a few tacos short of an enchilada a few feathers short of a whole duck, would do more than direct incessant bluster at Baby Assad, as he has done for the last two years. But this is what Mr Erdogan is all about: bluster.


The perfect example of hard-headed and intractable hypocrisy that flies in the face of know facts and common sense, Russia has at least two reasons for nursing and protecting Baby Assad. Besides being one of the more serious customers for Russian weaponry, Syria provides Russia their only foothold in Mediterranean, which fact the Russian admirals rightly consider vital for their ability to project their fleet power. Barefaced lying, denial of facts and hypocrisy are all part of Vladimir Vladimirovich daily chores. An old KGB hand, he thrives while lying.


I guess that from the Chinese high mountain the insignificant developments in an insignificant corner of the world are of less importance than, for example, for Israel (what is Israel, a mandarin may as well ask). However, the annoying attempts to make Syrian internal affairs a matter of public discussion or, deity forbid, intervention, irritate the mighty Chinese to no end. Because for them the principle of sovereignty is sacrosanct. Just because they don't want anyone sticking their noses in their own murky internal affairs - and that's final, ladies and gentlemen. So, no matter how many thousands of his people Baby Assad is offing, it will remain his own business as long as China has something to say about it. Full stop.


I have to mention the place for several reasons. First - because we are no better (but no worse) than other people, where the subject of Syrian bloodbath is concerned. Let's be frank - the usual suspects that are habitually painting Israel as instigator of the attack on Syria, are talking crap (but then they are full of crap anyway). Israeli position could be easily formulated as "let them kill one another for as long as possible". Of course, there are some local pundits that will eloquently and glibly argue the necessity of a strike or the possible horrors to come out of such strike. But then, pundits are a dime for a dozen lately.

The second reason is that Israel is the closest and the best equipped military force in the region, and IDF is, most probably, in the best position to deal with Syria, taking into account the logistics required to support a strike by US and its (almost non-existent) allies, compared to the same for IDF.

The third reason is, of course, that nothing will unite the assorted fighting factions in Syria like an Israeli intervention would. This is, probably, the best recipe for stopping the internal bloodbath and to replace it by something really unifying the region. As usual, one has to add.



To conclude: no one of the parties mentioned above is absolutely wrong when explaining why Syria shouldn't be attacked, everyone's position, looked upon from the comfy armchair of realpolitik, has a facet impossible to argue with. Even the last ditch resort to finger-pointing, like in that article by Ed Husain:
Syria's civil war is not America's problem. Syria is surrounded by Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and other Arab nations with large standing armies and advanced military equipment. Their cowardice in acting to stop a war on their doorstep should give us pause for thought. Why will they not act, but we must?
There are several excellent answers to that whine, but it will suffice to mention Baby Assad preening his pitiful mustache and ordering another bombing or gassing of his own citizens, Putin biting his lips (or his pillow), in a vain attempt to stifle his laughter at BHO and the Chinese honcho briefly smiling before moving to the next item on his daily agenda.

Tell you more: even the inanity of Code Pink, looked upon at a right angle, could be somewhat justified. War is hell, innit? - so there.

But: all of the opinions presented so far are a result of our moral laziness, our superhuman mental agility when we have to prepare an unassailable position for doing nothing in face of any imaginable atrocity - as we, the humans, became very adept in preparing from the dawn of civilization. The following words (thanks to Peter for reminding me) will not be contested by many, but they will definitely be ignored by most. Still it is a good time for a reminder:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."
If the XX century, arguably the most murderous in human history, didn't teach us about the fallacy of realpolitik, nothing ever will and we are facing more of the same.

We can draw artificial and inane red lines, like use of chemical or other weapons, we can satisfy our thirst for peace by picturesque "die-ins" (don't they photograph good?), we can provide uncounted pages of learned punditry, going deeper and deeper in our reflections on many facets of realpolitik. But the truth is that we are only kidding ourselves. No one is an island, and no one can draw a red line around his country, around his state, around his city or his yard.

Turn your back today, and tomorrow it will be your garden trampled by someone's boots and your (or your grandkids') near and dear teared apart by high explosives or shot or gassed. Yes, I know that realpolitik tells us to forget our grandkids for the purpose, but can we?

Bashar Assad should be killed.

That simple.


SnoopyTheGoon said...

Resurgent Westphalian realpolitik aside, there another interpretation: that few give a shit about the actual Syrian people. It is perhaps the most disturbing interpretation of all.

"Bashar Assad should be killed."

Quite. Him and a bunch of others at the top of the Ba'ath Party and Syrian military high command.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

" few give a shit about the actual Syrian people"

Right. As for me focusing on Baby Assad - you are right, I just wanted a focal point.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

He should be killed, I agree. But we apparently have no ability in that direction or it might have happened already. So hit his palace (or two) with a bomb or bombs (if we can do it without being shot down by one of Obongo's errant MANPADs, and then say sorry that his British wife and half-Brit kids got the grease along with him.

For once I find myself on Code Pink's side, however. I cannot see the point in avenging the mass killing of civilians by killing more civilians. All to make Obongo look tough. What balderdash. Poison gas sounds horrifc, true, but it's pristine compared to massed artillery.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

He and his henchmen should have been offed a long time ago, when the mass murder started. Indeed, the formal "red line" quite stupidly drawn by Obama was just a pretext for doing nothing.

As for reasoning of Code Pink: it only means let mass murder continue, while we do that "die in" thing and collect pictures from the press. Taken further, it means that "never again" remains an empty slogan - as it really does.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

One thing for sure, Assad can't go to the toilet without permission from Tehran, and Obozo knows it (assuming he's been paying attention to his daily briefings instead of pondering what's for lunch) and so if gas was used (and I even heretically ain't sure about that) the Iranians authorized it. So if Obozo's not willing to bomb Tehran, then, as I said before, he should shut up and go play golf.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Oh, that he is certainly not ready to do, if he ever will, which I am starting to doubt too.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

"the formal "red line" quite stupidly drawn by Obama was just a pretext for doing nothing."
Exactly. He is SO pissed now! His speechwriters have since been given direction to draw the red line at the point where hell freezes over.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I rather believe that he will forbid color red anywhere in the WH for the duration.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Good post Snoop. My soap box is closed for the day. Let us contemplate the observation of the immortal sage Yogi Berra "We might be lost, but we're making good time."

SnoopyTheGoon said...

a few tacos short of an enchilada

While I agree that Tex-Mex cuisine is a potentially rich source of metaphor, this one needs a little tinkering. How about "a few pinto beans short of an enchilada combo"?

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Has anyone checked into recent employment of Flat Fatima in the alleged Syrian gas attack? Could explain a lot.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I must admit it is hard to "give a shit" about the Syrian populace. Muslims killing Muslims? Why would we would to hinder that?

SnoopyTheGoon said...

We are certainly getting somewhere, true. And have a nice day.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Yep, you got me there. I keep mixing up the ingredients of the Tex-Mex cuisine for sure. But I eat the stuff with pleasure nevertheless.

As for the object of the exercise - I prefer to call him a meshuggener anyway...

SnoopyTheGoon said...

No, I didn't see any yet, but I guess it will appear.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

The problem is that while Muslims are killing Muslims, most of the people who die are peaceful citizenry who don't care much about the rebels and/or about the Baby Assad and his henchmen.

As it goes in any well-organized massacre usually.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Oh, and by the way - many of Assad supporters are not Muslims or, at least, token Muslims.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I accept the blame for this one. I used it here some time ago, trying to be funny by mixing things up. (Tacos and enchiladas are distinct preparations, both of them too fattening for me.) Nobody seems to have gotten the joke. Too lame.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Your acceptance of the blame accepted ;-)

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I agree Snoopy that Assad & Co. need to be overthrown, Equally important significant military action must be taken so that use of chemical weapons does not become a legitimate part of war. If Assad is not punished for using chemical weapons, not only Assad, but other brutal dictators will use them, particularly the other Bashir, the indicted war criminal who is Sudan's ruler.

I agree that to do nothing in Syria will be inviting the bells to toll for all us, just as did more than 70 years ago.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Ah, I see. It needed to be more obvious. A few felafels short of an enchilada, something like that. It was a worthy attempt, though. Great visionaries are seldom appreciated in their time.

SnoopyTheGoon said...