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Crossing the "Red Line"?
May 2, 2013 10:45 AM   Subscribe

Syria Options Go From Bad To Worse
As reports have surfaced of possible use of sarin gas in the Syrian civil war, calls by long-time proponents of U.S. intervention on behalf of the anti-Assad rebels have grown to a fever pitch. These same voices, both at home and abroad, have evoked the administration’s previously stated “red line” on use of chemical weapons. But even assuming that reports of WMD usage in Syria turn out to be true, the Obama Administration’s position may be far more nuanced than previously thought.

Why would the US get involved in Syria? Civilian deaths, chemical weapons use (and proliferation), and mounting refugee crisis, and unrest in Lebanon are reasons for intervention.

But should it? Obama Appears At A Loss To Define The Way Forward In Syria
Why Obama Doesn't Want To Intervene In Syria and Obama's Case Against The War In Syria. Sentors Graham and McCain respond: "There are many options at our disposal, including military options short of boots on the ground in Syria, that can make a positive impact on this crisis, which is destabilizing the region. The President must act now or risk squandering U.S. credibility in Syria and around the world."
Is Barack Obama A Republican Realist?

Various groups have attached themselves to factions in the conflict. Hezbollah announced that Syria has "real friends in the region and world" and that they support al-Assad. Opposition group the al-Nusrah Front has "merged" with Al-Qaeda In Iraq. Al-Qaeda's battle for control of Assad's chemical weapons plant - "A battle near a factory believed to be one of the Syrian regime's main chemical weapons plants shows just how close such weapons could be to falling into al-Qaeda's hands."

Intervention isn't guaranteed to work. The "Libyan model" or "Malian model" for foreign military support may not be repeatable in Syria.
Even With US Guns, Syria's Rebels Still Might Lose.
But what might intervention look like?
Drone strikes? Boots-on-the-ground? Safe havens? No-fly zones? "Decapitation strike"? Simply material support? Or are there just no good military options?
The question has been, and remains:
Does the U.S. have the capacity to end the violence, in any meaningful way, within the immediate future?
The conflict and the weapons of war aren't limited to Syria. Repercussions and implications extend through the region:
The Syria-Iran Red Line Show
Want to fix Syria? Talk to Iran
Syrian Conflict Casts Long Shadow Over Iraq
More Syrian Refugees Will Cause Crisis In Jordan as Jordan Weighs Syria Buffer Zone
Israel Sees US Respons As Gauge for Iran.

The Onion Goes To War
posted by the man of twists and turns (289 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is Barack Obama A Republican Realist?

I am confident that the answer to any rhetorical question asked by a headline in The American Conservative is "no."
posted by Jahaza at 10:48 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Betteridge's law of headlines. tldr; the answer is always no.
posted by furtive at 10:52 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


The question has been, and remains:

Does the U.S. have the capacity to end the violence, in any meaningful way, within the immediate future?


This is also not a very good rhetorical question. There are many goals one might pursue with military force other than trying to end the violence. For instance, one might attempt "raids" to destroy the Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles, or part of them, without the broader goal of toppling the Syrian regime.
posted by Jahaza at 10:53 AM on May 2, 2013


The Daily Show did a piece on this the other day which I found weirdly deaf to Obama's actual words and to what we currently know about Syria's chemical weapon's use. What Obama said about a red line was:
We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.
And what we currently know is, essentially, "some sarin gas may have been used in a few isolated cases by someone; we're not sure whom." The notion that Obama laid down a "line in the sand" AND that that line has clearly been crossed is pretty much total BS.

It's not at all clear to me what the appropriate steps are at this point for the administration. Some sort of UN intervention would, perhaps, be the best option, but Russia is never going to come on board for that, so...what? There are lots of voices out there saying "now is the time to ACT!" but none of them seem to have any very clear proposals for what those actions should be.
posted by yoink at 10:53 AM on May 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's possible we should consider the viability of appointing a committee to evaluate the possibility of potential U.S. intervention as some unspecified future point. Maybe.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:54 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm glad to see that last link about The Onion. It's been weird to see its coverage become so interventionist.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:54 AM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


What on earth is a "Republican Realist"?
posted by Flunkie at 10:54 AM on May 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


The US should not get involved in Syria. Maybe the UN should and the US should contribute to that, but the era of the US acting like world police needs to come to an end. The international community has to take on the costs and burdens involved together.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:55 AM on May 2, 2013 [18 favorites]


Interview With Dr. Saqid Lalal Al-Azm
Yes, I fear political Islam, before and after the fall of the regime.
In our culture and society there exists ample elements of authoritarianism, criminality, paternalism and vendetta, that make the reformulation of a despotic regime, in one form or another, a likely and formidable possibility, which calls for extreme caution and utter vigilance.
Syria’s “Wretched of the Earth” are participating in a revolution against a government, a party, and an authoritarian financial-military junta, and against a “nationalist” leadership of divine eternality.
If the revolution brings us somehow to the ballot boxes, then I will be a satisfied citizen.
Among the characteristics of secularism and democracy is that they provide a neutral ground for the meeting of the various religious doctrines and beliefs that are exclusionary by nature, allowing them to interact in the public space, the national arena, and the political landscape
Arts And Culture: Lessons From The Minaret (piece by same author: previously)
And the Assad regime itself spent so much money rehabilitating the Old City. They even brought in a German organization that does restoration, and they did massive projects with it. That was their ‘thing.’ And now they’re destroying the Old City they helped preserve without thinking. Nothing is sacred to the regime anymore. Nothing means anything.” (As told to Karen Leigh.)
A Writer's Lament For The Female Musicians Of Aleppo
She said that the regime had planted a sniper in the neighborhood, and that he targeted men, and sometimes women as well. She needed to go out to buy food, but she was so terrified of the sniper that she had decided that starving to death would be better than leaving the house.
Is there a name for the phenomenon of Western news organizations focusing on Western-educated, English-fluent expats and intellectuals for an "inside view" of what is happening around the world? It really drives the perception of what is happening in places like Syria, Indonesia, Pakistan...
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:55 AM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


The US should not get involved in Syria.

It's probably important to emphasize that this question is now moot. The U.S. is involved in Syria. It may be that we should stop that involvement, but it's too late to not get involved.
posted by Jahaza at 10:56 AM on May 2, 2013


Jahaza: read the link! You may be surprised.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:56 AM on May 2, 2013


It's possible we should consider the viability of appointing a committee to evaluate the possibility of potential U.S. intervention as some unspecified future point. Maybe.

You're right. Unilateral US intervention cheered on by people like McCain and Graham has never gone poorly for the US, certainly not in the last decade. Missions Fucking Accomplished, all of them.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:56 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


What on earth is a "Republican Realist"?

Whoever painted this.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:57 AM on May 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


What on earth is a "Republican Realist"?

Start with an Idealist then remove any ideas.
posted by hal9k at 10:57 AM on May 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


For instance, one might attempt "raids" to destroy the Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles, or part of them, without the broader goal of toppling the Syrian regime.

We might. How good is our intelligence on the location of these stockpiles? How far are these "stockpiles" from civilian populations? Assuming that the likelihood of Syria claiming that any such raid resulted in high numbers of civilian deaths approaches 100% and that the likelihood that it would entail some civilian deaths approaches, say, 50% what are the costs of increasing Arab world sympathy for the Syrian regime vs. the benefits of potentially reducing the Syrian chemical weapon arsenal?

None of these seem to me to be easy questions to answer.
posted by yoink at 10:57 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


What on earth is a "Republican Realist"?

Most Democrats in office from 1992 to present.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:58 AM on May 2, 2013 [13 favorites]


Jahaza: read the link! You may be surprised.

Which link? The "Republican realist" one? No, I am not surprised.
posted by Jahaza at 11:02 AM on May 2, 2013


For instance, one might attempt "raids" to destroy the Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles, or part of them, without the broader goal of toppling the Syrian regime.

Outside of The Rock, one does not simply drop a bomb on a chemical weapons stockpile and call it a day. A "raid" to destroy such a stockpile involves taking, securing and holding the ground around it.
posted by Etrigan at 11:03 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is Barack Obama A Republican Realist?

To borrow from a comment I posted in another thread: Barack Obama has followed Eisenhower's labor policies, Nixon's environmental policies, Reagan's tax policies, Bush's foreign policies, and the Heritage Foundation's health care policies, some of them to the letter. He is essentially a Republican, or at least the ones that existed through 1994, but by modern Republican standards he is a facist socialist, and people who agree with even part of what he talks about are radicalized liberals.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:03 AM on May 2, 2013 [53 favorites]


Does the U.S. have the capacity to end the violence, in any meaningful way, within the immediate future?

When has stopping violence ever been a American foreign or domestic policy goal?
posted by srboisvert at 11:05 AM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Does the U.S. have the capacity to end the violence, in any meaningful way, within the immediate future?

When has stopping violence ever been a American foreign or domestic policy goal?


NATO.

Yugoslavia.

The Middle East (we haven't been good at it, but "stability" has been a watchword for a long time).
posted by Etrigan at 11:07 AM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


The notion that Obama laid down a "line in the sand" AND that that line has clearly been crossed is pretty much total BS.

AUG 2012: CNN: ""We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people," Obama told reporters at the White House. "We have been very clear to the Assad regime -- but also to other players on the ground -- that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized."

Be very wary of people trying to promote a "shifting" or a "walkback" or anything like that.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:08 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yup, the chickenhawks are in full cluck - it's shocking them that we're not rushing in all Bush Doctrine at the drop of a hat. A president taking great care and deliberation before embroiling us in yet another unwinnable war for ambiguous reasons to achieve undefined goals? Filthy Peacenik!
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:15 AM on May 2, 2013


Absolutely not. Sorry, we spent all of our money, broke our military, and destroyed our credibility in Iraq. Let's focus on getting Americans jobs instead.*

*I know that's not going to happen because the corporate interests that control congress are benefitting tremendously from oppressing labor, but that should be the government's priority right now.
posted by vibrotronica at 11:15 AM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


the man of twists and turns did you notice that in the very comment of mine that you are quoting from that I quote the comment from Obama you seem to think refutes my point?

We do not currently know that "a whole bunch of chemical weapons [have been] moving around or [that they are] being utilized." If that's the "red line" then we do not currently have certain information that that red line has been crossed. If you can find a comment from Obama to the effect that "if we get any evidence whatsoever that chemical weapons appear to have been used by anyone one either side of the conflict in Syria, then a red line will have been crossed" you'll be in a position to talk about "walkbacks."

Be very wary of people trying to promote the notion that some Rubicon has been crossed which constrains us to take military action.
posted by yoink at 11:19 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


A "raid" to destroy such a stockpile involves taking, securing and holding the ground around it.

And that's assuming that you first a) know where it is, and b) know it's not located next to anything sensitive.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:20 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is Barack Obama A Republican Realist?

I am confident that the answer to any rhetorical question asked by a headline in The American Conservative is "no."


I dunno. If I had to define "Republican realist" it would probably come pretty close to Barack Obama. Thing is, Republican realism in foreign policy is something that doesn't seem to exist, outside, perhaps, the Rand Paul cohort, of which I'm pretty skeptical. This is an environment in which Republicans see Obama as some backward head-in-the-sand isolationist.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:20 AM on May 2, 2013


Outside of The Rock, one does not simply drop a bomb on a chemical weapons stockpile and call it a day

Wait, what if we call on the flying eagles?
posted by yoink at 11:22 AM on May 2, 2013


I do hope something is done before another 80K die.
I'd prefer Arab nations /neighbors take the lead, and we just provide logistical support and help with the no-fly zone. While I don't want boots on the ground or another proxy-war with Iran/Russia, but while I don't think of myself as hawkish, and I realize it's complicated, I really am fine with us playing a support role like with Syria.
I just don't think Assad is ever going back to the modern, secular, benevolent dictator. That boat sailed. He's now in a permanent civil war, which perhaps we're using as mutual containment. I just don't know if that's for the best--especially if he loses to radical jihadists.
posted by whatgorilla at 11:24 AM on May 2, 2013


yoink: you seem to think refutes my point

I apologize for not being more clear. Let me be as explicit as possible.

There is a current narrative that has appeared that claims "Obama previously stated that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a red line. By not immediately commiting US military power to engage in Syria, Obama is moving the red line and enabling the Assad regime to use chemical weapons."

This narrative is false, as we can easily see in news reports from summer 2012. If people are promulgating, spreading, or repeating this narrative, they should not be trusted.

Is that more clear? To my eyes your statement "Be very wary of people trying to promote the notion that some Rubicon has been crossed which constrains us to take military action," means we agree in every respect, and it is in fact a simple restatment of my previous post.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:29 AM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is that more clear? To my eyes your statement "Be very wary of people trying to promote the notion that some Rubicon has been crossed which constrains us to take military action," means we agree in every respect.

Oh, I see. Sorry about that. The framing of your comment made it look like you were trying to disprove what I'd said.
posted by yoink at 11:33 AM on May 2, 2013


Ugh. That one sentence should read: "While I don't want boots on the ground or another proxy-war with Iran/Russia, don't think of myself as hawkish, and I realize it's complicated, I really am fine with us playing a support role like with Libya."
posted by whatgorilla at 11:35 AM on May 2, 2013


We already let this slaughter happen in Rwanda, and we did nothing to stop it. Now the world is set to again watch and do nothing as civilians are slaughtered. No one thanks you for doing the right thing most of the time. And we shouldn't expect that the right thing is easy to determine, or without costs once we do figure out what it is. But we've already let an Assad do this once before with no consequences, and we let Saddam do it in Iraq, again without consequences. Sometimes the only way to build credibility is the old-fashioned way, by just doing what you said you were going to do, what you claim to believe in, one incident at a time.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:37 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's doing the right (ethical) thing, doing the politically expedient thing, and doing the profitable thing--not holding my breath.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:39 AM on May 2, 2013


No one thanks you for doing the right thing most of the time.

It's kind of funny how the speed with which we do the "right thing" seems to correlate proportionally with our financial or geopolitical interest in the country doing the slaughtering.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:40 AM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Want to fix Syria? Talk to Iran

Pretty much. Iran defeated the US in Iraq, and they can do it again.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:49 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Assad has allies? Seriously? This is the thing that perplexes me the most. Who the hell thinks Assad is doing a great job here?
posted by GuyZero at 11:51 AM on May 2, 2013


Assad has allies? Seriously? This is the thing that perplexes me the most. Who the hell thinks Assad is doing a great job here?

"Ally" does not mean "guy who thinks you are doing a great job." Sometimes, it means "enemy of your enemy."
posted by Etrigan at 11:53 AM on May 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Great, more calls for adventurism in the Middle East. We're barely out of the last disaster. Why don't we try, just once, not blowing the shit out of some people and see how that works out? Because the whole killing people with the machine guns of liberty hasn't been going so great.
posted by Justinian at 11:54 AM on May 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


Sometimes the only way to build credibility is the old-fashioned way, by just doing what you said you were going to do, what you claim to believe in, one incident at a time.

That sounds nice and warm and fuzzy. Now try to turn that into explicit prescriptions for action. Tell us exactly what we should do in real, practical terms. Invade Syria? Ship vast quantities of arms to anyone who puts up his/her hand and says "I'm anti-Assad!"? Establish a "no-fly" zone? I can tell you a hundred ways any one of those actions could go horribly wrong and lead to more deaths and more suffering than would happen otherwise. I can also construct plausible scenarios in which they greatly mitigate net deaths/suffering, of course. What I can't do, at this point, is place even rough odds onto the likelihood of the different outcomes. Can you? Can you show your work?

One factor you need to count into your analysis, by the way, is just how radically opinion swings once the US is actually seriously involved in an ongoing military action. Deaths that get prevented don't make headlines: you can't show photographs of hundreds of bodies that didn't get killed. But you sure can show photographs of US soldiers occupying a country that isn't theirs, that's Islamic, that's in the Middle East. You sure can show photographs of the dead civilians who will inevitably be part of the toll of any US military intervention.

Look at Afghanistan. For all that the US intervention there has in many ways been a clusterfuck, there's pretty good grounds to argue that overall Afghanistan is actually better off for the US intervention than otherwise. When the US leaves there's a pretty good chance that that will lead to ghastly and brutal slaughter and repression as the Taliban fight their way back into power (I assert neither of those claims as inarguable, simply that the case can be made for both of them). You won't find many takers left, though, for an argument that the US has a moral duty to stay on in Afghanistan to prevent the potential humanitarian disaster that will follow in the wake of their withdrawal, will you?

I'm by no means an anti-war absolutist; I think there are clear cases where US intervention has been, on balance, a clear moral good (WWII, the Balkans etc.). But you need to be able to say that there is some reasonably high probability of the outcome of the intervention being better than that of non-intervention. Right now, I'm not seeing such a path in Syria. If you can, I'd appreciate it if you'd spell it out.
posted by yoink at 11:54 AM on May 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


Outside of The Rock, one does not simply drop a bomb on a chemical weapons stockpile and call it a day. A "raid" to destroy such a stockpile involves taking, securing and holding the ground around it.

No kidding. But it doesn't mean occupying the entire country for years.
posted by Jahaza at 12:01 PM on May 2, 2013


Guide To The Syrian Opposition
In March, Syrian opposition group turns down leader's resignation as Moaz al-Khatib tried to resign in favor of newly-elected Ghassan Hitto who was elected leader of the interim government.
Syrian Opposition Gets Support From US Allies - "Brig. Gen. Salim Idriss, the commander of the Free Syrian Army umbrella group that’s receiving the aid"
Syrian Rebels Hope To Win The War By Selling Oil
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:02 PM on May 2, 2013


intervening in syria = war with iran... every article should begin and end with those words.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:02 PM on May 2, 2013


Is there an option, possibly, for a quick strike to remove chemical weapons, publically destroy them in a reasonably verifiable manner, and then step back? It seems to me that while too much interference in Syria is a bad thing, stepping in to grab the contentious piece (the sarin) and then leaving may not be quite so.

Please poke holes in my idea. I'm not really big on geopolitics or military action, and deeply underinformed on the region (like, I fear, most Americans), and would like to have it shot down if at all possible, just so I understand better.
posted by mephron at 12:12 PM on May 2, 2013


I have two sons, and I would hate for them to end up in the army or whatever group of assholes, fighting the sons of other men fighting under a group of assholes. Fuck war.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:13 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's doing the right (ethical) thing, doing the politically expedient thing, and doing the profitable thing--not holding my breath. posted by BlueHorse

What is the ethical thing?

Any US/Western intervention is unlikely to end the conflict, and between Iran/Syria/Hezbollah and Qatar/SA/UAE, it is getting pretty close to a straight up sectarian conflict.

The civilian deaths are abhorrent, and someone else above referenced Somalia, but I find it unlikely that any intervention will do anything other than widen the conflict.
posted by rosswald at 12:13 PM on May 2, 2013


It would be a lot easier to hold to our interventionist policy if we could clearly tell which side's success would guarantee the Muslim Brotherhood's accession to power. This isn't North Africa though, so the hesitation is understandable. Maybe if we let them Pyrrhic it out, that'll clear the way.
posted by perhapsolutely at 12:17 PM on May 2, 2013


Outside of The Rock, one does not simply drop a bomb on a chemical weapons stockpile and call it a day. A "raid" to destroy such a stockpile involves taking, securing and holding the ground around it.

No kidding. But it doesn't mean occupying the entire country for years.


Not necessarily, no. But getting all of the stockpiles (if that's what you want to do) of an actual active chemical weapons program (bought or manufactured) will likely require occupying a not-insignificant portion of the entire country for long enough to identify (as Cool Papa Bell pointed out), take, hold and secure those sites. That takes administrators (to make sure that Securer Team A is at the right place at the right time with the right skill set), logisticians (to make sure that Securer Team A and the administrators have the right gear and food and vehicles and showers), a not-inconsiderable amount of other support functions, more security for the administrators and logisticians, more administrative and logistical support for the security, and so on and so forth.

In short, on preview:
Is there an option, possibly, for a quick strike to remove chemical weapons, publically destroy them in a reasonably verifiable manner, and then step back?

No. There really isn't. Best-case scenario is a year, and that's assuming that the regime cooperates and that the various anti-regime and tribal factions don't take the opportunity to continue the war in ways that endanger the Chemical Weapons Removal Force.
posted by Etrigan at 12:19 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is no debate to be had. The United States has interfered in the sovereign affairs of Syria without end after WWII, and it's suffered for it since the first American and first military coup in 1949.

The legacy of that coup is the beginning of a series of coups and counter-coups that brought the Assad regime to power. Now they are just another pawn in the larger proxy war being waged in the Middle East between the alliance of Hezbollah, Iran, and anyone else in the Middle East who believes in self-determination versus the Gulf States that rely on America for their continued dominance of regional politics and oppression of their citizenry with American made weapons, as well as American political and military support. The monarchies we prop up in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are as corrupt, misogynistic, anti-semitic, and anti-democratic as the other side, but they play ball. That's what separates them from the bad guys: obedience.

The continuation of the Bush policy of regime change in Syria has nothing to do with the well being of Syrian citizens. It has to do with America continuing to try and control the direction of the middle east by undermining sovereignty and imposing their master plan for the area.
Thus far, Washington seems reluctant to weigh heavily into this issue. In May 2012, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta publicly accepted al-Qaeda's presence in Syria (Guardian). And in July, the State Department's counterterrorism chief, Daniel Benjamin, rather incredulously suggested that the United States will simply ask the FSA to reject al-Qaeda. The unspoken political calculation among policymakers is to get rid of Assad first—weakening Iran's position in the region—and then deal with al-Qaeda later.
Yes, that's correct: we are helping Gulf states flood Syria with Islamic militants, and hoping we'll find a way to chase them out after we're finished reducing Syria to rubble just as we did to Iraq. I don't imagine Syria will fare any better after we've chewed them up and thrown them away.

There is no saving our soul now. We destroyed Afghanistan. Twice. We helped the Gulf states finance Saddam and participated in the death of one million people on the border of Iran and Iraq. Then we returned not fifteen years later to impose our will on Iraq again, and instead touched off a series of wars that have never stopped since we set foot on the ground there in 2003. Millions displaced. Hundreds of thousands dead. And yet Iraq is still rife with corruption, sectarian violence, and operates the same torture chambers that we used for torture during the occupation. The same torture chambers that Saddam used before us, both with and without our support, which once more depends on obedience and not principles of due process or any of the things we don't even pretend to believe in anymore.

We have no moral or legal business in the Middle East. Any benefit of the doubt we once had is now erased by the largest foreign policy fuckups since Vietnam. We obviously don't know what we're doing there, and I'll be damned if I'm going to saddle future citizens with another 3 or 4 trillion dollar tab so some overgrown children can play with their armies in the Middle East while they bloviate about moral obligations on one side of a border, and talk about the 'enemy of the enemy is my friend' for the other. It's pathetically transparent: America does not give a fuck about any regular citizens in the Middle East. We help those who serve our interests. If millions of innocent people suffer and die in the process, so be it.
posted by tripping daisy at 12:21 PM on May 2, 2013 [12 favorites]


I don't even think criticism of Obama's Syria policy from the Republican party is deserving of the "chickenhawk" appellation and the accompanying due respect that philosophies like those that got us Iraq would merit.

More likely, it's a lot like the discussion over What To Do About Libya™ was: over the months where the administration moved from studied caution to measured intervention, you could watch the GOP position evolve in real time from "we should be getting more involved!" to "we shouldn't be getting involved and Obama is a dictator!" -- and then into where-there's-smoke-there's-fire questions about Benghazi and who knew what and when did they know it about nothing that's ever really specific, because specifics are hardly the point.

Iraq was based on policy. Badly flawed policy, but policy nonetheless. Right now, the GOP doesn't do policy at all.
posted by weston at 12:21 PM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


As far as who supports Assad, I would mention all 4 Syrian students I've had over the last two semesters and many of my fellow liberal friends who think he's the best of all the bad options--again, I think his time has passed and now it's just civil war UNLESS countries get together and help stop it.
posted by whatgorilla at 12:26 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yup, the chickenhawks are in full cluck

Calling John McCain (a retired Navy Captain) and Lindsey Graham (a serving Air Force Reserve Colonel) chickenhawks rather stretches the definition.
posted by Etrigan at 12:29 PM on May 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


mephron: "Is there an option, possibly, for a quick strike to remove chemical weapons, publically destroy them in a reasonably verifiable manner, and then step back?"

Step back from bombing a governments facilities you mean? Flip it around and imagine if Syria flew a precise bombing run on say, one of the US's breeder reactors, then "stepped back". Do you think that would be clean?

I'm pretty sure in either case the government would be quite pissed off, as would their allies.
posted by Static Vagabond at 12:35 PM on May 2, 2013


Calling John McCain (a retired Navy Captain) and Lindsey Graham (a serving Air Force Reserve Colonel) chickenhawks rather stretches the definition.

You weren't asking me, but I say a chickenhawk is anyone who's not personally volunteering to be on the front lines. Doesn't matter to me what they did in previous conflicts if it's not their ass on the line this time around.
posted by echo target at 12:38 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


You weren't asking me, but I say a chickenhawk is anyone who's not personally volunteering to be on the front lines.

I'm pretty opposed to military intervention in general, and in Syria in particular, but the idea that Congress (which has the constitutional responsibility to declare war) shouldn't be opining on this seems like an affront to civilian control of the military.
posted by dsfan at 12:41 PM on May 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


War? You mean like old-timey war? I thought we were talking about police actions. Congress can rubberstamp that from a trench as well as from anywhere.
posted by perhapsolutely at 12:46 PM on May 2, 2013


Republican realist? The last Republican realist was Bush I. Republican foreign policy in the past decade has not been realist. At all.

There is a case to be made that chemical weapons are worse than conventional explosive weapons, even if one poison gas airstrike killed the same number of people as bombs on average. Chemical weapons are like landmines, more of a threat to civilians than they are to soldiers.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:49 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


You weren't asking me, but I say a chickenhawk is anyone who's not personally volunteering to be on the front lines.

Of course - that sounds like a great definition. In fact, maybe we could take it a step further and disallow people from voting unless thay've done military service. That would certainly help curb military adventurism, don't you think?

"They're doing their part. Are you? Join the Mobile Infantry and save the world. Service guarantees citizenship!"
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:49 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I bet that poster that suggested chickenhawks should not be allowed to vote feels silly now.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:52 PM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


A realist would not even contemplate involving themselves in Syria.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:53 PM on May 2, 2013


MisantropicPainforest:
A realist would not even contemplate involving themselves in Syria.
Yes, that's kind of the point. The American Conservative is not what you would call a pro-war magazine.
posted by charred husk at 1:04 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


but the idea that Congress shouldn't be opining on this seems like an affront to civilian control of the military.

Fair point. I just get sick of people who love to volunteer to send someone else off to war. Seems a lot of people who say "we must do something!" really mean "someone else must do something!"
posted by echo target at 1:21 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ugh, Syria is such a fucking shitshow and there are absolutely zero good options outside of Assad suddenly realizing that he's become truly evil and repenting. Outside of slipping him some MDMA at a rave, I don't think that's very likely. But US intervention, sanctions or arming rebels all have very modest upsides and very significant downsides, to the point where you can almost hear Holden asking us why we're not helping.

And I say this as someone who supported the Libya intervention, and would have supported an intervention in Dafur.
posted by klangklangston at 1:25 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


So how do others here feel about us contributing logistical support, and using drones or cruise missiles on Syrian artillery/anti-aircraft sites, and enforcing a no-fly zone (which I think would save the most lives)? As long as we don't take a lead in anything except perhaps logistics and medical.
Or is that just paving the way for anti-American jihadist groups settling in for more infighting and bloodshed?
posted by whatgorilla at 1:26 PM on May 2, 2013


enforcing a no-fly zone is an act of war.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:28 PM on May 2, 2013




Even with our guns they could lose, but not with Europe, Qatar, Jordan, etc., all sending in aircraft, etc.
posted by whatgorilla at 1:36 PM on May 2, 2013


So how do others here feel about us contributing logistical support...?

Contributing logistical support to whom?

Not just snarking -- that's the question that must be asked. Setting up any sort of support to a particular group means that we're setting that group up not just to topple the Assad regime but to be the next regime, for good or ill.

The follow-up (and probably more important) question is How? if we fly C-5s full of small arms and antiaircraft and antitank weapons and ammunition (which is the really critical part) into an area currently held by the group we've chosen to support, that's boots on the ground. If we just take it to the border and wait for them to cross, that's essentially allowing Assad to declare Turkey a combatant country, which means NATO, which means Russia. If we do the same thing in Jordan, that's turning a civil war into a regional war, which means Iran, which means Russia.
posted by Etrigan at 1:37 PM on May 2, 2013


So how do others here feel about us contributing logistical support, and using drones or cruise missiles on Syrian artillery/anti-aircraft sites, and enforcing a no-fly zone

So going to war then. I would say I feel somewhat negative about going to war again.
posted by Justinian at 2:04 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]




And what we currently know is, essentially, "some sarin gas may have been used in a few isolated cases by someone; we're not sure whom." The notion that Obama laid down a "line in the sand" AND that that line has clearly been crossed is pretty much total BS.

Bingo.

Here’s the thing. Politicians are human. Humans trade words and thoughts around by osmosis (call it ‘memes’ or what have you) and these little snippets get bandied around and caught up in a mélange of concepts relating to whatever whole you have going on.
So, Iran and Syria are related.

Not to Gevaltwin’s law the thread by saying “Israel” but, y’know, they’re related to U.S. foreign policy mostly through Israel.

You have someone say “red line” and then it gets bounced around everywhere. Netanyahu for example, literally drew a red line on a poster board to a speech to the UN general assembly about Iran’s nuclear program (nifty little cartoon bomb graphic print too – Netanyahu, high tech motherfucker …. I mean not to mess with the guy but his Saville Row suit and 7 fold silk tie costs more than my Jeep and his people can’t set up something on Powerpoint?)

So the rhetoric sticks in people’s head because of its positional relation to the topic and Obama says “red line” – albeit perfectly cogently and in a reasonable context – but other people relate to the words and the topics in different ways - some like Pavlovian subjects thanks to the endless media drumbeat.

Which is one of the things that allows tens of thousands of people to be killed by conventional means in scores of small unit actions with nary a whisper, but some people show up in hospital with Sarin gas injuries, people flip right the fuck out.

It’s not a matter of principle vs. practical, but rather the psychological vs. the practical.
WMD’s & the GWOT still stick in people’s heads in a certain way even though Sarin, and chemical weapons in general, are persnickety weapons at best and more people are killed by their home furnishings than by terrorism (seriously, take a look at your shower, it’s an f’ing deathtrap in comparison).

So the idea is to flex at Syria, reprogram the general mindset that crossing the “red line” won’t be tolerated – whether it’s Iran with nukes or Syria shunting chemical weapons to terrorists/alt. govt. forces like Hezbollah who use cat’s paws or don’t care about the consequences or seek to exacerbate the problem (which, for some reason no one factors in – I mean, isn’t it obvious that some people start shit in order to get more shit started and polarize factions, hell, you go to a bar or a party and watch the dynamics before a physical conflict and you can see how that flows – but international politics, whoa, suddenly you need a complexity bonanza in order to figure out how the exact same primate behavior is going to shake out).

So it’s in Joe Terrorist’s interest to use gas or whatever is most likely to provoke a response – exactly because he wants a response to force people onto his fanatic asshole side. Even barring that, chaos only benefits his position, mostly because of the nihilism involved in the first place, but also because of passion and sublimation of the ego within the cause. So death too is victory. But I digress.

Right now there are a number of conflicting forces trying to make this split prism into the same light. On the Iran side there are some new players, most of whom – one in particular but I don’t want to get too far afield – saying essentially “We’re not saying we want to destroy Israel first, but if someone else starts to destroy Israel we’ll jump right in,” and with Hezbollah having drones, that, I’ll readily admit, can make someone’s morning commute in Sha'alvim feel like their balls have been pickled in saltwater.

So if I’m Israeli Military Intel, let’s say Itai Brun or Moshe Ya’alon, I’m going to want to tie the two concepts to one tail: Iran-Nukes, Syria-WMDs, especially if the U.S. is looking to expand involvement (Guns ‘n Cash, etc.).
There is evidence chemical weapons were used, but again there are agendas as to interpretation and context.

Iran is looking carefully at how we deal with negotiations, sure. What ‘red line’ means. Beyond, of course, a signal from Obama that we’re buddy-buddy with Israel (because we use the same language regarding the same topic. Again, primate 101).
But, smartly, Obama equivocated (not prevaricated), and took a sort of buddy - “dude, let it alone, let’s just party” role (to extend the party analogy).

Of course, there are agendas in the U.S. as well. And the media likes to jack things off just generally. If showers had any teeth there’d be reality shows sponsored by “safe” shampoo and “extra protection” body washes that you can’t slip and fall on.
But, c'est la guerre.

The conundrum here is that Iran is going to want to test that. Where the “red line” is. What is everyone’s resolve?
If I’m Iran I wouldn’t want my own people to do it. I’d find some goons and have them push the lines. Not too far over the line, but enough to get the skinny.
So – actually transfer some chemical weapons. Hang some egg on someone’s face – someone they can plausibly deny or someone already dirty (Yasin al-Suri (Khalil) maybe - Al Nusrah and Ahrar al Sham being too on the nose)
Gas drone attacks would just really be delightful as all hell. And Syria’s anti-air is better than Libya (thanks Russia!).

Our best move would be to desensitize ourselves to non-nuclear terrorist attacks in general. People in other countries live with it, we can too.
This would eliminate the perception that we absolutely need to attack when, for example, we find out someone has/is using chemical weapons.

That is, the chemical weapons themselves should not be the motivator, rather mass-murder and genocide by whatever means should be. Although historically neither has really lit a fire under U.S. asses. Indeed, we didn’t recognize the Halabja gas attack (Iraq gassing the Kurds) until 20-odd years later, it wasn't a military matter until it became a political/economic expediency (intervention in provide comfort notwithstanding).

So any incursion on our part has to be mitigated by our assessment of an asymmetric response, potentially against otherwise innocent people – but most certainly by proxy.
Where it gets dicey is where a connection is potentially provable – for example, Iran backing Hezbollah and it shows and…now what? Because that plays into a number of agendas some of which are on opposing sides.

What so few people are backing is having patience and aggressively pursuing diplomatic measures. Understandable when it’s your neck and your people are being killed.
But there is no level at which to militarily engage the transfer of chemical weapons without serious risk of escalation of force and almost everyone else at the party is shouting “Fight! Fight! Fight!”

It’d be nice to use the U.N. to enforce the Geneva Protocols against poison gas in a non-partisan, humanitarian way. To do that we’d have to develop more transnational networks at the grass roots level and open greater communication, but that takes a commitment beyond the Guns ‘n Cash resources we typically provide. The ROE would be tough too.
We just don’t have the open eyes/ears presence there. And the western world hasn’t been willing to have one.
Fixing Syria will take long term diplomatic engagement and enforcement of international law in an even handed manner. That will establish true credibility and opposition not to a given sect, but barbarism and lawlessness.

As it sits, yeah, patience let the inspectors do their work, etc. All the stuff that looks like doing nothing but is in fact laying foundation.

I dunno man. I mean, what is “gardening” to most people? Heaving dynamite into the yard, loading a shotgun with seeds and then blasting a fire hose into the mud?

This stuff takes time, commitment and most importantly communication. Not that it’s great that we lose diplomats but that’s the big job. Anyone can heave ordinance at a problem.

One of the most ancient civilized lands in one of the most heavily contested pieces of real estate over the last 10,000 years, been fucking up foreign policy decision since Vespasian and, what, we gotta get something done TOMORROW or we won’t look cool?

The alloy of nuclear weapons in Iran as the topic just makes open lines of communication all the more important.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:19 PM on May 2, 2013 [15 favorites]


"Contributing logistical support to whom?"
-- France, Qatar, Jordan, whomever else joins in. Again, I don't know who will make up a coalition, but I'd like for their to be one.
posted by whatgorilla at 2:47 PM on May 2, 2013


So, basically, you don't know what should be done nor who should do it nor what the effect will be, but gosh darnit something must be done.
posted by Justinian at 2:50 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was having some browser problems earlier, the phrase "Decapitation strike" should go to this link: Why Not Kill Assad?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:53 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


imposing their master plan for the area

I don't see any [master plan] at all
posted by fatbird at 3:13 PM on May 2, 2013


Outside of The Rock, one does not simply drop a bomb on a chemical weapons stockpile and call it a day. A "raid" to destroy such a stockpile involves taking, securing and holding the ground around it.

No kidding. But it doesn't mean occupying the entire country for years.



"It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months." -Donald Rumsfeld on the Iraq occupation.
posted by dirigibleman at 3:54 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


"It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months." -Donald Rumsfeld on the Iraq occupation.

If you read it in context, he's explicitly referring to the invasion phase against the Iraqi Army and explicitly recognizes that the occupation will last longer than that. Is it dumb? Yes, but he didn't expect all the U.S. forces to be home in six months.
posted by Jahaza at 4:19 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


greg djerejian on syria from over a year ago: "Ultimately, however, I believe the Assad regime has crossed various red-lines and the international community must become more proactive in its approach. To me, in the main, this largely rests with the Turks..."

here's the economist on turkey (and the kurds)
Soon after Mr Ocalan announced that the Kurds would pursue their rights through purely peaceful means and that any thoughts of a separate homeland had been abandoned. The PKK promptly declared a ceasefire and is instead gathering force in Syria where it has begun fighting forces loyal to Bashar Assad, the president. In the immediate term this is a strategic coup for Mr Erdogan who has been openly supporting armed opposition against the Syrian dictator.

Until recently the PKK had been quietly siding with Mr Assad who last summer gave the rebels control over a string of Kurdish towns along the Turkish border. The move set off alarm bells in Turkey amid fears that under PKK tutelage Syria's Kurds would establish an autonomous zone along the lines of the semi-independent Kurdish statelet in northern Iraq. In a counter-move Turkey egged on its Syrian rebel allies to start fighting pro-PKK forces in the town of Ras-el Ain opposite the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar.

Getting the PKK to switch sides in Syria appears to be part of the deal struck with Mr Ocalan... This in turn begs the question of what the Kurds will get in exchange for a definitive peace.
i'm guessing here, but an oil pipeline thru turkey that would help secure an independent kurdistan?

Despite assertions to the contrary, Iraq's Kurds are inching towards outright independence - "The KRG expects a pipeline to Turkey to be complete by September... This prospect alarms the government in Baghdad, and not only because Mr Maliki tends to see Turkey through sectarian lenses as a meddling Sunni behemoth. If Kurdistan secures independent oil wealth, other parts of Iraq could follow. This is a fear shared, oddly enough, by Iraq's two biggest allies, Iran and the United States. The Americans have repeatedly moved to curb Kurdish ambitions while encouraging Baghdad to accommodate them. But the prize for both Kurds and Turks is starting to look too big for Iraq's future to be settled with yet fuzzier compromises."

recall: "Western governments, fearing that Iraq's disintegration would strengthen Iran, are siding with Mr Maliki. The Americans are pressing Turkey to tone down its support for Iraq's Kurds."

but, events: Kurd Troop Advance Overshadows Iraq Talks - "prospects for ending a worsening feud between the Kurds and Arab Iraqis were clouded as officials in Baghdad raised an alarm over a recent advance by Kurdish troops. Over the weekend, military forces from the semiautonomous Kurdish region expanded southward into the Iraqi region of Kirkuk, which has been roiled by sectarian fighting. Kirkuk is at the center of clashes in between security forces and Sunni protesters..."

anyway, i'm not sure what any of this means (or that anyone does) but getting back to syria and to reiterate djerejian
Given these grim realities, we are facing an onslaught of elite opinion that 'something must be done' to remedy the increasingly intolerable situation... The longer the denouement, the bloodier it will prove. So why not act now? To be frank, I agree, but with many reservations... Syria's strategic location in the Levant implicates far more complex regional dynamics implicating at minimum its immediate neighbors of Lebanon, Turkey (particularly with respect to Kurdish areas of Syria emboldened amidst the chaos to pursue irredentist claims), Iraq, Israel and, lest we forget, Jordan (heretofore a reasonably stable, reliable ally amidst the Arab Spring despite widespread dissatisfaction among its Palestinian majority with the Hashemite throne)...
also btw
-A Kurdish Spring on Many Fronts
-C.J. Chivers: On The Ground In Syria
-Israeli Apology Resets Alliance With Turkey [1,2,3]
posted by kliuless at 4:33 PM on May 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


"So, basically, you don't know what should be done nor who should do it nor what the effect will be, but gosh darnit something must be done."

-- Precisely. I don't know how, but I DO know I don't want another 70K dead. I recognize their are a lot of bad options; I propose we help stop the slaughter by at least helping to enforce a no-fly zone.
posted by whatgorilla at 4:40 PM on May 2, 2013


The realist position would be to let Assad and the hard line Al Qaeda related groups kill each other until such time as we can build up the rebel faction that is more compatible with our values ans long term regional policy and development goals.
posted by humanfont at 4:46 PM on May 2, 2013


Enforcing a no-fly zone is an act of war. So, declared or not, you propose we go to war with Syria. It also can't be done by magic. We'd have to destroy Syria's extensive and well-established air defense network. That involves large scale airstrikes and many deaths. I'd also ask how effective you think previous no-fly zones were, like the one in Iraq, at accomplishing its goals.

I think there's a lot of "something must be done, this is something, therefore this must be done" going on when you talk about a no-fly zone.
posted by Justinian at 4:48 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I disagreed about Libya with Justinian (I wonder if the longer perspective has changed his mind on that), but there really isn't a good option here. Nothing short of all-out international war will remove Assad at this point, and Russia and China would have to support that for it to happen. It's a moment where the world is failing the people of Syria, but I just don't see a way for us to stop the failure without a miracle.
posted by klangklangston at 4:57 PM on May 2, 2013


It's my feeling that every intervention is a complete roll of the dice as to its effects and makes the next intervention easier to justify and enact. If you intervene in 3 places and two of them turn into disasters, that doesn't mean the third one wasn't a mistake. It means you might have gotten lucky. And then people will point to it as justification for the next bit of adventurism.

That said, just because Libya wasn't an absolute disaster doesn't mean it worked out great. Look at the embassy attacks and so on.
posted by Justinian at 5:08 PM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


"how effective you think previous no-fly zones were, like the one in Iraq, at accomplishing its goals."
-- while the post-94 no-fly zone did nothing, we could have saved over 100,000 Iraqis who we egged on to revolt, and then watched from our cockpits as Saddam's gunship helicopters came in and massacred them.
-- I propose we get a coalition to declare a safe zone in the north. Participating countries with means soften air defense with cruise missiles, then stay on the periphery unless Syria violates the air-space. I'm not saying it's a good option, but I think it's better than another 70K or twice that dead. But maybe you have a better idea or are okay with more dead--such containment and deaths might suit our needs better.
What was your proposition again?
posted by whatgorilla at 5:14 PM on May 2, 2013


I'd prefer to roll the dice and do something to save lives than roll the dice and not. We don't know the outcome of a post-civil war Syria, so I'd call that a dice roll as well. Obviously I don't want to roll the dice into an expanded proxy war with Iran, etc. Again, it's a complex and shitty situation--I'm not sure there are anything but guesses as to what's the least worst.
posted by whatgorilla at 5:16 PM on May 2, 2013


Precisely. I don't know how, but I DO know I don't want another 70K dead. I recognize their are a lot of bad options; I propose we help stop the slaughter by at least helping to enforce a no-fly zone.

You can't solve the problem of the United States introducing a proxy war in Syria by escalating the proxy war, unless you want to complete the transformation of Syria into the next Iraq/Iran/Vietnam.
posted by tripping daisy at 5:33 PM on May 2, 2013


I dunno guys, this feels more like Rwanda. Or like a Rwanda prior to a WWI. But I'm biased and probably alarmist.
posted by angrycat at 5:38 PM on May 2, 2013


I just want to note that I have now read Smedleyman's comment and am ashamed of my own.
posted by angrycat at 5:47 PM on May 2, 2013


What was your proposition again?

Not to start killing yet more Middle Easterners without any idea what the fuck we're doing.
posted by Justinian at 6:01 PM on May 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


Bush and his WMDs in Iraq has kinda soured us on going to help where it's actually needed. Assad will go soon enough, but I am sure that Iran or someone else in the region will get in who they want.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 6:10 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


More war? Inconceivable!!!!
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:17 PM on May 2, 2013


Remember when Bush didn't know the difference between Shia and Sunni?

How many of the bomb Syria types have heard of an Alawite?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:35 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Honestly, I can't really imagine there being a Syria after Assad. If the military/regime breaks, the Alawites and Shias will be against the wall and then all hell breaks loose. I just don't see even the remote possibility of a functioning state with empowered Sunni and Shia/Alawite populations mutually existing.

Perhaps I am pessimistic, but it seems one possible outcome of all this could be a Shia-Sunni war. Mass migrations, and new ethnic states.

Perhaps the current strategy is the best we can do? Just ensure the other side has enough arms to not make it a total slaughter, and hope eventually a cease-fire is declared (Syria is already used to this vis-a-vis Israel)? This isn't a great solution, though there seem to be only bad solutions.
posted by rosswald at 8:35 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, uh, maybe it's too obvious a question or something, but: what do average Syrians want in terms of US involvement or non-involvement?

Are we really 93 comments into the thread and this has only been addressed or brought up maybe in one or two links but not in the thread itself?
posted by eviemath at 9:54 PM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's my feeling that every intervention is a complete roll of the dice as to its effects and makes the next intervention easier to justify and enact. If you intervene in 3 places and two of them turn into disasters, that doesn't mean the third one wasn't a mistake. It means you might have gotten lucky. And then people will point to it as justification for the next bit of adventurism.

This is a great general point. I happen to think Libya was a well-considered intervention (the US didn't start or even really escalate the violence, wasn't ever the face of the enemy, cooperatively provided modest help that was able to bring the violence to a quicker conclusion, and probably prevented the slaughter of tens of thousands), but there was almost certainly some luck, too, and success can be a terrible teacher, particularly for the less than cautious student.

Fortunately it looks as if the current administration is pretty cautious. I say fortunately because everything I've read and heard tells me direct US military involvement is a much riskier bet -- that it's considerably less likely we can provide help that will bring the violence to a decisive conclusion, and likely enough intervention could escalate things into a wider war.

That said, just because Libya wasn't an absolute disaster doesn't mean it worked out great. Look at the embassy attacks and so on.

I don't really understand this. What about the embassy attacks? And what's the so on?
posted by weston at 11:50 PM on May 2, 2013


This Fresh Air interview with CJ Chivers is great. Not that Terry Gross is good here but* Chivers is great and makes two serious points to think about:

1) Syria learned from Lebanon: you don't make insane proclamations and immediately start dropping bombs and mowing down civilians along with impunity. You start small and as the world's attention turns away, you ratchet up the arms and attacks slowly until either no one's paying attention or everyone's inured to the situation and you're killing tens of thousands per month... with no one actually caring.

2) The Syrian population know of the so called 'redline' and the psychology of it is astounding. Imagine : towns and villages hit with random artillery shelling, bombs, and so on, 90000 people already dead, and the west says, well, if they start using "chemical weapons" on you - a civilian, not fighter jets, not guns, not missiles, not high explosives, but "chemical weapons." Then and only then, are they going to pay attention.

Can you fucking imagine?

She's actually quite awful for the first 30 minutes, I've never heard her so just single-note and tone-deaf in an interview. Seriously, question after question goes: WHAT ABOUT JIHAD?, JIHADISTS?, JIHADIS? ANTI-AMERICANS? HOW ABOUT BEARDS? ANYONE OUT THERE WITH MULLAH BEARDS!?!?!!!!! DEAR GOD JIHAAAAAAAADDDDDDDDIIIIIIS WITH BEAAAAARDS KEEP ME AWAKE AT ALL HOURS OF THE NIGHT, while Chivers keeps calm while point out the nuance and multi-faceted nature of the situation
posted by stratastar at 12:05 AM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


So, uh, maybe it's too obvious a question or something, but: what do average Syrians want in terms of US involvement or non-involvement?

Hard to poll a warzone. Hard to figure out who to trust to to lay it out for you without an agenda if there are no polls. One poll suggested 55% support for Assad, but was way undersampled and not meant to be representative.

As for the US: Only 5 percent of respondents said they would support sending ground troops to Syria, while 68 percent said they were opposed. And support for the military providing weapons to rebel fighters was only barely higher: respondents opposed doing so 51 percent to 12 percent. Conducting air strikes saw 49 percent opposed to 16 percent in favor. Opposition to each type of intervention crossed party lines, with Democrats, Republicans and independents largely in agreement that the U.S. should not intervene.

In Middle East, public rejects arming Syrian rebels

A Pew Center poll found that large majorities worry that an influx of arms – from Western or Arab sources – will increase violence and instability in the region.

posted by Drinky Die at 3:23 AM on May 3, 2013


“So, uh, maybe it's too obvious a question or something, but: what do average Syrians want in terms of US involvement or non-involvement?”

Part of the problem is it’s an agenda-o-rama. Right now you have Russia banning their civilian air traffic because one of their planes was targeted. So who did that? Who knows? It’s bloody chaos. On top of that anyone gathering intelligence or trying to communicate, etc., is part of the shooting gallery (what, 23 (?) journalists dead so far?).
For the most part Joe Syrian wants to go to work without being randomly shelled or car bombed.
We could do some nice humanitarian work by evacuating people and granting them security, either in camps or by augmenting Jordan’s
And Turkey’s resources to handle them.
Some of the fighting has spilled over into Lebanon, so we (the UNHCR) should move people out of there.
We (the U.S.) still have some beef in Iraq. It’s possible to set something up there.
We’d also need to have stronger partnerships with NGOs (the IRC f’rinstance).

No fly zones would not help much in what is essentially a straightforward small unit on small unit conflict. The best – that is, most life saving – move out of the Kosovo war was Europe hosting almost 1 million refugees when they were evacuated.

Right now the civilians are only bargaining chips – leverage in causing the most pain.
Alleviate that and you take away the fulcrum from the terror. Much MUCH more efficient, life saving, and ultimately cost effective than throwing a no fly blanket over the region which is ultimately going to add to the attrition because you can’t enforce the no fly without using some ordinance. And who do you use ordinance on?
And how many civilians are you willing to kill, to stop the killing of civilians?

So yeah, it’s like a fire triangle. Fuel, oxygen, heat. You start throwing munitions at the situation you’re only adding to the heat.
Targeting the terrorists is like trying to remove the oxygen – like air, they’re all around the environment.
So attack the fuel. Remove the civilians and there’s no one to ‘burn’ in order to make a point.

This really is a problem for logistics, not strategy.
Hell, it’d be worth it just for the practice in moving people, feeding them, doing the sanitation, mobilizing medical care, education, labor, etc. etc. – it’d be worth it just to give the UNHCR some exercise and funding. Kuwait recently slid $110 million into the kitty for the UNHCR’s Syrian refugee program.
Nice.
But they’re looking for somewhere around $300 million.
Contrast that with the cost of ongoing flight operations for the no-fly zone over Iraq at about $1 billion a year over 5 years. Or Noble Anvil in Kosovo – three months, $1.9 billion (2.5 billion adjusted for inflation). And what *kind* of no-fly zone do we run? Full? Limited? Stand-off?
We blew $100 million the first DAY of Odyssey Dawn with the limited no fly zone in Libya.
This is not to say I wouldn’t back a no-fly zone were it warranted regardless of cost. But I see no scenario in which civilians are not caused greater harm for it.
I do see that the human costs in providing security for evacuees could be much greater than a no-fly zone.

But the question is one of genuine credibility. Do we actually want to accomplish something or merely send a message regarding our military will and capability? Providing adequate shelter, medical care, protection, etc. for evacuees would bring hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people into goodwill for the United States and the west in general.

Someone protecting you with their lives to get you out of a war zone, a carpenter building you a framework for your tent, a sanitation engineer making sure your family is clean and has fresh water, a cook giving you meals, and the airmen and sailors carrying you back home when it’s safe to return all send an entirely different message than an impersonal aircraft blowing another chunk out of the neighborhood.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:38 AM on May 3, 2013 [19 favorites]


Smedleyman for Secretary of State.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:21 AM on May 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


" all send an entirely different message than an impersonal aircraft blowing another chunk out of the neighborhood."

Unfortunately, and I'm not sure how much of this is representative (though I was listening to it on Al Jazeera radio), there are a lot of angry young men in refugee camps that think the US is doing nothing because, feh, tents are OK but what they need is guns to fight. There were even a couple of folks voicing the idea that the US was only doing humanitarian relief because they secretly supported Assad and wanted to turn over the refugees to Assad once Assad had crushed the rebellion.

It's just preternaturally shitty all around.
posted by klangklangston at 1:28 PM on May 3, 2013


Obviously polling in a war zone is tricky. But does that mean we don't even try, or start a discussion on what to do by first reviewing available facts and data about Syrian opinion?

Better support for Syrian refugees would certainly help in giving them a voice, so they are not mere bargaining chips.
posted by eviemath at 2:33 PM on May 3, 2013


I can't imagine a worse idea than conducting military operations via polling.
posted by Justinian at 4:47 PM on May 3, 2013


CNN is reporting that Israel has launched airstrikes on suspected Syrian chemical weapons sites. CAVEAT: CNN.
posted by Justinian at 4:54 PM on May 3, 2013


Ah, they're clarifying that they appear not to have struck weapons sites but rather an attempted transfer of weapons to Hezbollah. CAVEAT: STILL CNN.
posted by Justinian at 5:02 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't imagine a worse idea than conducting military operations via polling.

There's a key distinction between using public polling to determine detailed strategic plans versus at least trying to take into consideration the opinions and desires of a group of people that one is supposedly making broad ethical decisions (eg. do we get involved or not? if so, with military force? financial support? refugee support? other broad categories of options?) on behalf of. What I am arguing is that, difficulties aside, trying to find out about and take into consideration the opinions and desires of a broad range of Syrian society should be our initial starting point in this discussion. Not something that comes in tangentially almost 100 comments in.
posted by eviemath at 12:01 AM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't imagine a worse idea than conducting military operations via polling.

I can imagine lots of worse ways.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:16 AM on May 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can't imagine a worse idea than conducting military operations via polling.

"We attack the Mayor with hummus."
posted by Etrigan at 4:47 AM on May 4, 2013 [6 favorites]






An enormous explosion just rocked Damascus. News is filtering out on Twitter right now. Here is video -- very large explosion, mushroom cloud can be seen.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:32 PM on May 4, 2013


Unreal (explosion around :21)

Syrian state TV is claiming that IDF are behind the attacks.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:57 PM on May 4, 2013




An enormous explosion just rocked Damascus. News is filtering out on Twitter right now. Here is video yt -- very large explosion, mushroom cloud can be seen.

Holy shit.
posted by homunculus at 6:28 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]




And whatever the fuck anyone else might have to say about it rendered moot in 3...2...
"...but we built the IDF and our security forces in a way that enables us to defend ourselves by ourselves. We have done this now for 65 years”

I'm totally tongue in cheek here. It is a serious situation. I just enjoy the "No, we're all doing this now" move.
All the analysts looking at it. Big hornets nest of a problem with no solution. 18 months of not really messing with this mess. And then "yeah, fuck all that" BAM!
Got shit to say about it? Didn't think so.

It's not like they didn't say, specifically we will airstrike shipments SA-17's whenever you have them, back in January.
And Iran, again, will probably say any attack on Syria is an attack on us.

Crazy dangerous.

Meanwhile Anatoly Isaikin keeps shipping.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:38 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


('dangerous' as in beyond the obvious physical. There's the potential for regional escalation. Which is hilariously perilous.)
posted by Smedleyman at 6:59 PM on May 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just in case people don't know, a mushroom cloud means the explosion was big. That's it.
posted by Justinian at 7:49 PM on May 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


So it seems like someone is intervening. Be careful what you wish for 'cause you might just get it.
posted by Justinian at 8:10 PM on May 4, 2013


More video of the explosion in Syria.
posted by rosswald at 9:58 PM on May 4, 2013


Haaretz paywalled : Syria chemical weapons may be an Israeli false flag op.
posted by stratastar at 12:25 AM on May 5, 2013


Yeah I heard people saying the Boston bombings were an Obama false flag op, too. Guess how much evidence there is for either proposition?
posted by Justinian at 1:15 AM on May 5, 2013


Jesus fucking Christ. I was in support of a no-fly zone, not bombing a city. I'm assuming a lot of civilians died. Fuck.
Israel, if you just started WWIII, fuck off.
posted by angrycat at 4:13 AM on May 5, 2013


I'm assuming a lot of civilians died.

The targets were military munitions and a military base. So far, I haven't heard of any reports of civilians being killed by the blast(s). I'm sure that if any civilians did die, Syria would and will be aggressively pushing that angle, both to rally support in the rest of the region, and to shift the narrative away from the scores of civilians getting slaughtered by roving government death squads.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:28 AM on May 5, 2013


A military base -- in a city, yeah? Also, I can't find much coverage on NPR or twitter, so maybe this is a case where Assad just hasn't responded yet?
posted by angrycat at 5:16 AM on May 5, 2013


No coverage on Twitter? There are about 100 tweets/minute flooding in for the #Syria hashtag. Much is speculation, but you will also find official statements and news coverage among the noise. The military bases were located in a suburb of Damascus called Jamraya, on the Qaysoun mountain range overlooking the city. As for Assad responding, apparently there has been a Syrian declaration of war against Israel. We'll see.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:19 AM on May 5, 2013


"Much" being the operative word. Yeah, I see the declaration of war talk, but beyond that, not *much*
posted by angrycat at 5:39 AM on May 5, 2013


Within the span of three comments you've gone from making assumptions about the number of civilians killed and telling Israel to fuck off, to decrying the speculative nature of information flooding in on Twitter.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:42 AM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


The target was a mountain top near Damascus which is the site if a significant military base and weapons depot. Syrian Television has described it as a research facility.
posted by humanfont at 5:53 AM on May 5, 2013


Wasn't Syria already at war with Israel, at least technically?
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:03 AM on May 5, 2013


Arsenio, you seem to want to fight with me, but I don't wish to, so let me just say 1) Yes, I assumed a hit to the Syrian capital would result in the death of civilians and 2) Yes, I am angered that Israel would unilaterally act, given the perilous state of the region. We cool?
posted by angrycat at 6:03 AM on May 5, 2013


We really don't have enough information at this point to know if this act was unilateral or not. There is also no evidence of civilian casualties. There are very complicated ties between the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia vs Iran and Hezbollah.
posted by humanfont at 8:27 AM on May 5, 2013


I guess what I'm saying is hold your grar.
posted by humanfont at 8:28 AM on May 5, 2013


It sure as hell wasn't done with the blessing of the U.N. I'm aware that there are sensitive feelings about Israel, so I will try to tone my remarks accordingly, but it seems like a lot of dangerous problems could result from these actions. Maybe Hezbollah was indeed about to blast Israel with rockets. If that's true, I have more of an understanding as to why Israel acted and thereby more sympathy. That doesn't mean I'm gonna give Israel a big thumbs-up.
posted by angrycat at 8:48 AM on May 5, 2013


On first reading it seems as if Israel has made a pre-emptive strike much as they did in the Deir ez-Zor region.
Historically Israel has shown itself very adept at this type of operation.
posted by adamvasco at 8:58 AM on May 5, 2013


Jesus fucking Christ. I was in support of a no-fly zone, not bombing a city.

Establishing a no-fly zone means taking out Syria's air defense network. Which would require... wait for it... a major bombing campaign of military sites located in and around Damascus.

I think people have no idea what they're asking for when they ask for a no-fly zone.
posted by Justinian at 10:36 AM on May 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


There were a lot if dangerous problems before. The open question is will the Israeli airstrikes mitigate some of them.
posted by humanfont at 11:31 AM on May 5, 2013


Yeah, as a comp instructor I don't know much about how to establish no-fly zones. That's why international consensus is nice; this shit gets spelled out on the floor of the UN or on the daily Sunday shows.

There were a lot if dangerous problems before. The open question is will the Israeli airstrikes mitigate some of them.

Oh, so, making it worse is a closed question, yes? What's the logic behind that?

And to preempt scolding: I am aghast at the atrocities in Syria. I don't know what should be done about it. I don't know how Israel's bombing helps.
posted by angrycat at 1:23 PM on May 5, 2013


Ok, the way you establish a no-fly zone is by blowing the shit out of anything that can shoot down your planes. Which are located near the areas they wish to protect. Which in this case is largely Damascus.
posted by Justinian at 1:51 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Israel's Huge Airstrike On Damascus Is As Much About Iran As It Is Syria (Business Insider); and 'Israel's aggression opens door to all possibilities' - Syrian Information Minister.
Lots of games within games here.
posted by adamvasco at 2:21 PM on May 5, 2013


Justinian: "Yeah I heard people saying the Boston bombings were an Obama false flag op, too. Guess how much evidence there is for either proposition?"

Well the latter is silly, but in this case you have a situation where there are pretty clear incentives : plenty of interested parties in Israel OR Syria want to pull the US into another conflict and there is ostensibly a clear path to achieving that NYTimes front page : "Off-the-Cuff Obama Line Put U.S. in Bind on Syria. President Obama surprised aides last year when he called the use of chemical weapons in Syria a “red line,” a move that has complicated the American response to evidence that such arms have been used."

Now does Assad actually want to tempt a full-western invasion because he's careless in how he wages this civil war? He clearly has ordinance to kill people just fine. Why the hell would he want to instigate the US with such an idiotic play?
posted by stratastar at 3:19 PM on May 5, 2013


There's still exactly the same amount of evidence for either case. A theoretical motive isn't evidence.
posted by Justinian at 3:31 PM on May 5, 2013


It's a stupid theory, based as it is on the idea that a few apparent cases of poisoning provide a motive for a USAn attack when tens of thousands of conventional deaths don't.

Events have proven it to be false, anyway. Israel just attacked Syria directly, with Obama basically saying that it was with the support of the USA. The reason the USA isn't attacking Syria is that it doesn't want to, and that wouldn't change even if Assad danced around in a chemical weapons suit singing "WE WILL ... WE WILL ... GAS YOU!"
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:13 PM on May 5, 2013


Has Obama done a presser on this and I missed it? Or is one in the works? All I've heard him say is a vaguely worded support of Israel.
posted by angrycat at 5:00 PM on May 5, 2013


That's almost certainly all he'll do. Speaking on the subject of Israeli attacks on Syria seems like a no-win proposition for him.
posted by Justinian at 5:13 PM on May 5, 2013


hmm, yeah, I can see that
posted by angrycat at 5:20 PM on May 5, 2013




This is what Obama said about Friday's attack:
What I have said in the past and I continue to believe is that the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. We coordinate closely with the Israelis recognizing they are very close to Syria, they are very close to Lebanon.
Once you strip out the geography lesson the key words are: "The Israelis have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry. We coordinate closely with the Israelis." That sounds as though Israel's operating within the confines of USAn instructions.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:46 PM on May 5, 2013


Me: Damn, Bibi's just handing the game to Assad.
My Friend Tim: he know's exactly what he's doing. He's Neutral Evil.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:16 PM on May 5, 2013


I think people have no idea what they're asking for when they ask for a no-fly zone.

Its exactly like Iron Eagle II.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:35 PM on May 5, 2013


Ironmouth, can you explain why you or your friend are upset with Israel's actions in this instance?
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:36 PM on May 5, 2013




It's very telling that one one of the paragraphs in that article begins "One possible way Hezbollah could retaliate against Israel’s air strikes ...": even the Christian Science Monitor is getting confused between Syria and Hezbollah.

Alternative headlines:
Iranian Interference in Syria Risks Widening War
Hezbollah Prepares for Massive Attack on Israel
Assad Not Satisfied with Killing His Countrymen, Seeks to Expand Slaughter
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:36 PM on May 5, 2013


This Twitter account has some interesting links. He says that the source for the sarin gas story is a UN investigator who was formerly accused of tainting war crimes evidence. I have no idea about any of this, and even an unreliable source wouldn't mean a false story, but I repost, you decide.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:59 AM on May 6, 2013


Report: Syria will strike Israel if attacked again
Any further Israeli aggressions on Syrian territory would issue a "declaration of war", Syrian President Bashar Assad said, a source was reported as saying Monday in the Kuwait daily Alrai.

According to the report, Assad notified Washington via Moscow that orders had been given to allow deployed ground-to-ground and ground-to-air missile batteries to be used against Israel without advance notice in the event of another attack.
I don't think this was meant to be reassuring, but that's certainly the way I read it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:44 AM on May 6, 2013


WaPo - McCain: Obama’s ‘red line’ on Syria written in ‘disappearing ink’


Also, reports are coming in that the UN found evidence that chemical weapons were used by the Syrian Rebels:

BBC - Syria crisis: UN's del Ponte says evidence rebels 'used sarin'
posted by rosswald at 4:55 AM on May 6, 2013


Israeli airstrikes may have exposed Syrian flaw, U.S. officials say
“The Russian-supplied air defense systems are not as good as said,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said on NBC’s "Meet the Press." Leahy, who heads the appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, said the Israeli defense forces were using American-made F-16 Fighting Falcon jets to launch the missiles against Syrian targets.
posted by rosswald at 5:02 AM on May 6, 2013


more on the kurds, turkey, iraq & syria: "The Iraqi and Syrian theaters are merging into one. Everything is related."
posted by kliuless at 5:56 AM on May 6, 2013


Weird:
What Happens When the Enemy of Our Enemy Is a Terrorist?
A Chicago teen is facing terrorism charges after trying to join an al Qaeda affiliated group to fight President Bashar Assad of Syria.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:04 AM on May 6, 2013


Iraq on the brink
THE REGIONAL sectarian war that has always been one of the greatest dangers of the crisis in Syria is alarmingly close to erupting. To the west of Damascus, Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah militia has publicly committed itself to defending the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and Syrian opposition sources say it has been instrumental in the regime's recent battlefield gains. Apparent Iranian attempts to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah have provoked at least one Israeli airstrike in Syria in recent days.

Even more disturbing is what is happening to Syria's east: the bloodiest confrontation between Iraq’s minority Sunni community and the Shiite regime since the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops nearly two years ago...

There are no U.S. troops available to tamp down the violence, as happened during the Iraq "surge"; and the fighting could easily merge with that in Syria and spread to Lebanon.

Already, the al-Qaeda organizations in Syria and Iraq have proclaimed a joint "emirate;" the strongholds of the two groups are adjacent to each other along the border. Shiite militiamen from Iraq are believed to be fighting on the side of the regime in Syria, and the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki has been turning a blind eye to shipments of Iranian arms and fighters to Syria, despite repeated demarches from the Obama administration...

Mr. Maliki’s behavior has been driven in large part by Syria. The Shiite leader fears that a victory by the mostly Sunni opposition in Syria, with support from the Sunni regimes of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, would lead to an attempt to restore Sunni dominance in Iraq...
Welcome to Erbil, Tourism Boom Town - "Erbil is preparing to greet visitors as the Arab Capital of Tourism in 2014, a singular honor for a non-Arab city. It won out over Beirut, Sharjah and the Saudi resort of Taif. Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, already plays host to tourists from the Arab world, not least Iraqi Arabs, who come north to escape the heat, and the violence, elsewhere in the country..."
posted by kliuless at 6:19 AM on May 6, 2013


And because life is not sufficiently surreal:
Israel may join defense pact with Saudi Arabia, UAE
Jordan and Turkey to also play role in US-brokered plan to contain, rather than thwart, Iran, London’s Sunday Times reports

No, I don't think it's going to happen either.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:49 AM on May 6, 2013


Fareed Zakaria: Should the U.S. Intervene in Syria
Would U.S. intervention--no-fly zones, arms, aid to the opposition forces--make things better? It depends on what one means by better. It would certainly intensify the civil war. It would also make the regime of Bashar Assad more desperate. Perhaps Assad has already used chemical weapons; with his back against the wall, he might use them on a larger scale. As for external instability, Landis points out that if U.S. intervention tipped the balance against the Alawites, they might flee Syria into Lebanon, destabilizing that country for decades. Again, this pattern is not unprecedented. Large numbers on the losing side have fled wars in the Middle East, from Palestinians in 1948 to Iraq's Sunnis in the past decade.

If the objective is actually to reduce the atrocities and minimize potential instability, the key will be a political settlement that gives each side an assurance that it has a place in the new Syria. That was never achieved in Iraq, which is why, despite U.S. troops and arms and influence, the situation turned into a violent free-for-all. If some kind of political pact can be reached, there's hope for Syria. If it cannot, U.S. assistance to the rebels or even direct military intervention won't change much: Syria will follow the pattern of Lebanon and Iraq--a long, bloody civil war. And America will be in the middle of it.
/em added...
posted by kliuless at 7:21 AM on May 6, 2013


Ironmouth, can you explain why you or your friend are upset with Israel's actions in this instance?

Because they are aimed at keeping Assad in power.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:36 AM on May 6, 2013


Weird:
What Happens When the Enemy of Our Enemy Is a Terrorist?
A Chicago teen is facing terrorism charges after trying to join an al Qaeda affiliated group to fight President Bashar Assad of Syria.

posted by Joe in Australia

How in the world is that weird, what was your rationale for such a statement without any FUCKING thought. Then you go on to say "If that don't rake ya lokky at this {Israel may join defense pact with Saudi Arabia, UAE}

"According to the U.S. code, any citizen who "enlists or enters himself, or hires or retains another to enlist or enter himself, or to go beyond the jurisdiction of the United States with intent to be enlisted or entered in the service of any foreign prince, state, colony, district, or people as a soldier or as a marine or seaman ... shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both." But a court ruling from 1896 involving U.S. citizens who fought with Cuban revolutionaries against Spanish colonial rule interpreted this to mean that it was only illegal for citizens to be recruited for a foreign army in the United States, not to simply fight in one." (Note to Libya's National Transitional Council: It probably wouldn't be wise to set up a recruiting station on the UCLA campus in hopes of attracting more fighters.)

No, I don't think it's going to happen either.
So said alot of people about peace between egypt and Israel or the relations between Jordan and Israel.



Me: Damn, Bibi's just handing the game to Assad.
My Friend Tim: he know's exactly what he's doing. He's Neutral Evil.
posted by Ironmouth

I always thought of Obama as chaotic neutral. Plus, your little cartoon is predicated on it being Bibis call.
posted by clavdivs at 7:45 AM on May 6, 2013


Because they are aimed at keeping Assad in power.
I too, have a bad habit of trying to fight soneone elses battles.
So, you and your friend are trying to keep the good Doctor in power or is Israel trying to keep the conflict going because...
posted by clavdivs at 7:48 AM on May 6, 2013


CNN - 42 Syrian soldiers dead in reported Israeli strike, opposition group says
The reported strikes killed 42 Syrian soldiers, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday, citing medical sources. It said 100 people remained missing.

The Syrian government warned Sunday's apparent strikes -- which followed one last week attributed by Syria to Israel -- "opens the door wide for all the possibilities."

Syrian ally Iran warned of a "crushing response" while Russia called reports of Israeli involvement "very worrying."
posted by rosswald at 8:04 AM on May 6, 2013


The incomparable Dexter Filkins, writing for the New Yorker 5/13 of this year:

In May, the senior American official .....got up from his desk and walked over to a large map of the country which was tacked to his wall. “You could have a situation where the more secular rebel groups could well be fighting the more Islamist-oriented groups,” he said. “We are already getting that in places like Deir ez-Zor, in the east. In Aleppo, they fight each other.” Pointing to an area near the Turkish border, he said, “We see fighting between Kurdish and Arab militias up in the north.” Elsewhere, there were Druze militias, members of a small religious community most often associated with Lebanon. “They have had some clashes with the Free Syrian Army. And here is my favorite. Christians are now setting up their own militia.

“What does that sound like? Lebanon. But it’s Lebanon on steroids .... I think there is an appreciation, even at the highest levels, of how this is getting steadily worse. This is the discomfort you see with the President, and it’s not just the President. It’s everybody.” No matter how well intentioned the advocates of military intervention are, he suggested, getting involved in a situation as complex and dynamic as the Syrian civil war could be a foolish risk. The cost of saving lives may simply be too high. “Whereas we had a crisis in Iraq that was contained—it was very awful for us and the Iraqis—this time it will be harder to contain,” he said. “Four million refugees going into Lebanon and Jordan is not the kind of problem we had going into Iraq.” In a year, he estimated, Lebanon alone could have four million refugees, doubling the population of the country. “Jordan will close its borders, and then you will have tens of thousands of refugees huddling down close to that border for safety.”

posted by angrycat at 9:25 AM on May 6, 2013


Because they are aimed at keeping Assad in power.
I too, have a bad habit of trying to fight soneone elses battles.
So, you and your friend are trying to keep the good Doctor in power or is Israel trying to keep the conflict going because...


No. I'd prefer it if Assad lost. But Israel helps him when it attacks him because Assad has proof for his assertions that the rebels are backed by Israel.

Furthermore, Israel's playing a deeper game. They want an alliance of convienence with Saudi Arabia and UAE against Iran. With the go easy on Israel re Palestine implications that creates.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:34 AM on May 6, 2013


So the UN is saying there is evidence the rebels are using Sarin gas. Are the people calling for intervention against Assad because he was using Sarin now going to call for intervention against the rebels? Or was it just a pretext?
posted by Justinian at 11:06 AM on May 6, 2013


Or, less obliquely, the whole situation is a disaster and getting involved is crazy.
posted by Justinian at 11:08 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


“Four million refugees going into Lebanon and Jordan is not the kind of problem we had going into Iraq.” In a year, he estimated, Lebanon alone could have four million refugees, doubling the population of the country. “Jordan will close its borders, and then you will have tens of thousands of refugees huddling down close to that border for safety.”

Couldn't the U.S. et al at least help Jordan out with the refugee situation so they don't have to close their borders?
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:34 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


“Four million refugees going into Lebanon and Jordan is not the kind of problem we had going into Iraq.” In a year, he estimated, Lebanon alone could have four million refugees, doubling the population of the country. “Jordan will close its borders, and then you will have tens of thousands of refugees huddling down close to that border for safety.”

Couldn't the U.S. et al at least help Jordan out with the refugee situation so they don't have to close their borders?


I can think of a dozen questions off the top of my head that would need to be answered first. Among them:
How do you feed and house millions of people? What does that do to the local economies and politics? For instance, do you buy food on the open market, thereby raising prices drastically for Jordanians? If not, how do you get it there, not far from an active war zone?
How will the refugee camps be governed? Will we have separate camps for the various ethnic, religious, family and political groups? What provisions will be made for religious beliefs in this governance, and in other areas (e.g., male doctors treating female patients)?
What will people be allowed to bring across the border into the refugee camps? Weapons? Knives? Food? Furniture? Heirlooms? What mechanism will be in force for checking whether anything brought over wasn't stolen?
How long will the U.S. et al or Jordan have to provide these camps and the resulting logistical support?
Will people be allowed to return to Syria while the fighting is still ongoing? Will they be allowed to move back and forth across the border?
What citizenship and other legal provisions will be made for people born on Jordanian soil to refugee parents? (This is a question that will have ramifications for the next hundred years.)

This is not to say that such assistance should not be offered; it is merely to point out that there are a lot of very difficult questions that need very precise answers, while "closing the borders" is a much easier thing.
posted by Etrigan at 11:47 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know if somebody has like a chart of the different countries in the area and their possible alliances, do they? I understand the Sunni v. Shia thing, but where does that leave, say, Turkey, a secular state?
posted by angrycat at 11:54 AM on May 6, 2013


where does that leave, say, Turkey, a secular state
Maybe not for long: Debate Over National Drink Reveals Turkey's Muslim/Secular Split.

That Dexter Filkins piece, linked above, emphasizes the US's role as the only nation-state capable of power projection over such distances. Mali and Libya show the gaps in EU airpower, and our role was much more complicated than a "simple" no-fly zone.

Power Projection is an area in which we easily are the most powerful State, more powerful than comparably-sized transnational insitutions.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:17 PM on May 6, 2013


Juan Cole: Israeli, Hizbullah Proxy War in Syria
posted by homunculus at 1:23 PM on May 6, 2013


I have serious doubts that there is anyone left in Syria whose position on the Assad or the rebels will be changed by the Israeli airstrike. This is a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. I don't think that there will be any impact on the revel's political legitimacy in the wake of this airstrike. The major notable item from this airstrike is that it hit a major mountaintop air defense radar system. This radar could have provided information to Iran and its allies about the movements of the Israeli Air Force.
posted by humanfont at 1:28 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Israel's strike on Syria - "Imagine a foreign military bombing Washington. Would we not regard that as an act of war?"

Syria and Israel - "Israel's bombing raid suggests that in some ways the government has already ceased to be... Israel's actions describe what has become of Syria more precisely than any talk of red lines can. The Syrian government has ceased to be the government of Syria. Nothing has yet taken its place. Within this vacuum, things that were once unthinkable now seem permissible. There will be more killing before it is filled."

Israel in Syria - "For over two years, Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has studiously sought to steer clear of the Arab awakening, preferring a posture of splendid isolation. 'We wish success to both sides,' was how Amos Harel, the military correspondent of Haaretz, an Israeli daily newspaper, described Israel's approach of letting Syria's multiple forces debilitate and weaken each other. In an attempt to uphold the policy, Mr Netanyahu's officials played down the attack... Signs of nervousness inside Israel have grown more apparent: its generals have ordered two anti-missile Iron Dome batteries to the northern front."

The Syrian Risks Holding Back Obama - "Three big concerns are weighing on the administration, enough that they've so far convinced President Barack Obama not to get more involved."
As a superpower, the U.S. can't afford to go in small. If America exerts force, this argument goes, it has to be enough to be decisive. Otherwise, the U.S. risks appearing to be a hobbled superpower, which has broader implications in places such as Iran or North Korea. Other nations have the luxury of simply dabbling to show they are doing something; American does not.

That means, for one thing, that if the U.S. chooses to help arm the opposition, it has to be willing to provide enough weaponry, and powerful-enough weaponry, to turn the tide and guarantee the departure of Mr. Assad and his regime. That leads to concern number two:

If the U.S. goes in big, it inevitably will end up indirectly arming some of the bad guys in the Syrian opposition. This group is a somewhat unappetizing mix of military leaders who have turned their backs on the Assad regime, sectarian foes of the Assad's Alawite sect and Islamic forces tied to the al Qaeda movement.

The problem now is that those Islamic forces seem to be ascendant within the opposition. Mr. Hadley argues that problem is the direct result of the American decision not to get involved earlier in bolstering moderates in the opposition. Still, he argues, there's still time to arm the good guys by directing aid to the forces led by Brig. Gen. Salim Idris, a former Syrian army officer...

When you go in big as a superpower, you own the problem forever. This may well be the broadest administration concern. The lesson of America's incursions in Iraq and Afghanistan is that once the U.S. steps in, other nations tend to step back and leave it to Washington to clean up the mess after the fighting ends.

And in Syria, an unnatural concoction of mismatched sectarian groups pieced together by the British and French a century ago, the job of cleaning up and putting things back together could take years—or even be destined to bloody and expensive failure.

All of these are plausible concerns—though they may trumped soon by fears Syria's sectarian violence could spread to destabilize Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel's borders.

One thing seems likely, though: If the Obama administration overcomes its qualms about getting involved, it won't be doing so alone. The president's reluctance strongly suggests he wouldn't leap into Syria solo, but with some allies (Britain, Turkey, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) at his side.
posted by kliuless at 2:22 PM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Imagine a foreign military bombing Washington. Would we not regard that as an act of war?"

Of course it would be an act of war. Israel's bombing of Syria was clearly a similar act of war. An American imposed no-fly zone would be an act of war. The question is not whether any of those things are an act of war, it's whether they are justified and, if justified, a good idea.
posted by Justinian at 3:13 PM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dissolving Iraq - "The steady implosion of Iraq as a unitary state has been eclipsed – by historic upheavals across the Arab world; by the pitiless conflict in Syria; and by the growing fears of failure in Afghanistan, a collision with Iran, and the death of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [The US and its allies] had better concentrate their residual influence to prevent the dissolution of Iraq. At a time when Syria also risks break-up, even the smallest possibility of a cross-border Sunni jihadist emirate linking western Iraq with eastern Syria should be treated as a strategic nightmare."

Signs US attitude to Syria is hardening - "Despite the tough anti-regime rhetoric, the US has been far behind its allies, holding them back from deeper involvement in backing Syria's rebels... That is not to say that the US has remained distant from the crisis. It has played an indirect role in the provision of weapons from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and is believed to have helped Jordanian intelligence train some rebels. There are signs that the American attitude to Syria is changing, as the conflict enters yet another complicating phase... The administration is probably hoping that a more robust display of American leadership – and the mere consideration of the arming option – might persuade Russia to rush for a diplomatic settlement."

Turkey Fears Russia Too Much to Intervene in Syria - "The Turks suffer from a deep-rooted, historic reluctance to confront the Russians. The humming Turkish economy is woefully dependent on Russian energy exports: More than half of Turkey's natural gas consumption comes from Russia... Russia helped set up the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)..."

enter kurdistan? recall...
Kurdistan turns out to have a lot of oil. Proven reserves are now put at 45 billion barrels, a third or less of Iraq's total, but still nearly double America's. Kurdish production capacity is rising fast. It should reach 1m barrels a day by 2015 and possibly 2m by 2020, says an executive at Genel, a British-Turkish firm that is Kurdistan's biggest operator...

Turkey, meanwhile, is keen to diversify away from reliance on Iran and Russia. It helps, too, that many of Turkey's energy firms are politically close to the ruling Justice and Development (AK) party, which has, not coincidentally, lately made headway in securing peace with Turkey's own Kurds. Officials in Ankara, the Turkish capital, hint that a deal is in the works, covering exploration, production and transport of both oil and natural gas.
-Turkey launches military exercise near Syrian border
-Turkey choosing between 'bad and worse' in Syria crisis
-If Turkey Does Not Change Its Syria Policy...
posted by kliuless at 3:14 PM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


In Sept of 2001 a group closely associated with the defacto leadership of Afghanistan bombed the Pentagon next to Washington, DC using a commercial airplane. We don't need to imagine what would happen if Syria tried to bomb Washington. Syria does not have the capacity to mount a similar response. They lack the international allies and military capabilities necessary to mount that level of response. Obviously this went into the Israeli's decision to bomb them.
posted by humanfont at 3:25 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Kliuless: excellent collection of links.

Here's a point that seems obvious in retrospect: Lawmakers: Israeli strikes show Syrian air-defense vulnerability

You would expect military sites near Damascus to be well defended, but Israel apparently attacked them with impunity. Now the USA looks weak and cowardly for having suggested that Syrian air defenses were too strong to impose a no-fly zone. There are really good reasons for the USA not getting involved in yet another war, but they're strategic and political reasons, not because the USA couldn't do it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:15 PM on May 6, 2013


The strikes have shifted some sort of political intervention overton window. They could do it "easily," so why don't we?
posted by stratastar at 4:52 PM on May 6, 2013


Now the USA looks weak and cowardly for having suggested that Syrian air defenses were too strong to impose a no-fly zone.

Alternately, the U.S. understands that a single bombing mission is significantly harder than establishing and maintaining air supremacy over an indeterminate period of time.

Also, there is a difference between "too strong to impose a no-fly zone" and "too strong to impose a no-fly zone with an insignificant number of friendly casualties.
posted by Etrigan at 5:02 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Right I meant in the ears of politicians like McCain. Clearly can and should are worlds apart.
posted by stratastar at 5:04 PM on May 6, 2013


Significantly easier! I know thats what you meant.
posted by Justinian at 5:29 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gah. Indeed I did mean significantly easier. I cast and recast that sentence so many times that I forgot which way the little bird's beak should be pointing.
posted by Etrigan at 5:47 PM on May 6, 2013


I totally agree that a no-fly zone is harder than a single mission, even one that apparently involved precision bombing of multiple military targets in the heart of enemy territory. But now it isn't a sufficient answer - or at least it doesn't look like a sufficient answer, which is a problem.

Basically, there are good and bad arguments against US intervention:
Good Arguments
There is no clear legal basis for intervention;
No group of rebels is clearly more legitimate than any other;
Most of them seem pretty terrible and don't deserve support;
No-fly intervention is unlikely to be sufficient;
Intervention is likely to embroil the USA in a long-term regional war;
The US is already over-extended.

Bad Arguments
There is no evidence of the use of sarin gas;
to which must now be added:
It is very dangerous or perhaps impossible to impose a no-fly zone.

I think it's a great pity that public discourse revolves around the bad arguments when the good arguments are both nujmerous and obvious.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:52 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now the USA looks weak and cowardly for having suggested that Syrian air defenses were too strong to impose a no-fly zone.

The United States has never suggested this. I don't know why you would even think anyone would say such an absurd thing. It has been stated that it will be more expensive, prone to civilian casualties and slightly more complicated that Libya, but the idea that Syria's Air Defenses were too strong for the USA is absurd. Seriously Joe WTF crappy news are you getting down there in Australia.

The same old John McCain gang is talking the same shit they always talk. Americans don't want another war in the Middle East. American's don't care if you think we look weak. We know we are strong. American's are over-confident, arrogant and cocky. Swagger is our defining national trait.
posted by humanfont at 7:41 PM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


The strikes have shifted some sort of political intervention overton window. They could do it "easily," so why don't we?
posted by stratastar at 4:52 PM on May 6 [+] [!]


Which would have been one of the considerations the Israelis were factoring in in undertaking the raid. As Humanfront explains it plays into the hands of the intervention faction.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 5:21 AM on May 7, 2013


Would it be correct to say that Israel's attack plays into Assad's hands because it shows him to be an enemy of Israel; and it plays into the hands of the interventionists because it shows how easy it would be to attack; and it plays into the hands of the rebels because it made Assad look like an idiot? Or would it be more correct to say that it was a blow for Assad, having destroyed a good chunk of his matériel; a blow for the rebels, who will now be accused of being allies of Israel; and a blow for the interventionists, who will now find it harder to form an alliance?
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:49 AM on May 7, 2013


Yeah, I think so.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:36 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, on all accounts. Thank you for for playing.

You would expect military sites near Damascus to be well defended, but Israel apparently attacked them with impunity. Now the USA looks weak and cowardly for having suggested that Syrian air defenses were too strong to impose a no-fly zone.

I see you have been reading Clauseswitz and JANES... You would expect, so why Joe WHY was it just left WIDE open for "impunity strikes" When we make war some russian AA batteries and missles won't stop BIG SAM. Hell, if we attacked them I would give Assad a day or two...see, thats fucking power baby, to wipe assad and co. in a matter of days. But you see Joe the real power is not to use it or have someone else do it.

OPPS, what humanfont said.
oh and Iran is next.
posted by clavdivs at 6:40 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


From what I have seen it is the current Top Brass of the US Armed forces that think a 'no-fly' zone carries considerable risk (and cost). No-one says we can't do it, just that it won't be a "walk-in-the-park."

Also, reports are that Israel struck Syria from Lebanese airspace, which may work for some AA sites, but certainly not the whole country.
posted by rosswald at 6:55 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Civil War in Iraq has Already Begun
Iraqi leaders fear that the country is sliding rapidly into a new civil war which "will be worse than Syria". Baghdad residents are stocking up on rice, vegetables and other foodstuffs in case they are prevented from getting to the shops by fighting or curfews. "It is wrong to say we are getting close to a civil war," said a senior Iraqi politician. "The civil war has already started."

[...]

A Kurdish delegation led by the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Nechervan Barzani, went to Baghdad to discuss a host of divisive issues including security, oilfields and the Kurds' share of the federal budget. Mr Maliki has promised to visit the KRG in 10 days and Kurdish ministers are ending their boycott of the cabinet, but the Kurds do not expect progress on most matters in dispute.

Speaking of the incipient Sunni revolt, Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of the KRG President Massoud Barzani, said that "the western part of the country is caught up in an uprising against the government. We don't want to have a second Syria here and we are heading in that direction. The fire is very bad and we don't have many firemen." He believes the present crisis is worse than previous ones because there is nobody to mediate.

The last American troops left at the end of 2011, President Jalal Talabani is ill in hospital in Germany, and the Kurds themselves are too much at odds with Baghdad to play a moderating role between Shia and Sunni. Mr Hussein fears that if the present crisis deepens there is nothing to prevent it exploding into a bloodbath.

The crises in Iraq and Syria are now cross-infecting each other. The two-year-old uprising of the Sunni in Syria encouraged their compatriots in Iraq, who share a common frontier, to start their own protests. These began last December and, until the army killed and injured scores of protesters at Hawijah, were largely peaceful.

The Iraqi Sunni drew strength from the fact that, while they are a minority in their own country, they are a majority in the region.

The revolts in the two countries are ever more running in parallel... Iraqi leaders in Baghdad and Erbil are convinced that the whole region is on the edge of being convulsed by a sectarian war between Sunni and Shia...

In consolidating his support among the Shia, Mr Maliki has permanently alienated the Sunni who view him with distrust. "He may have won over the Shia but he has lost Iraq," says Ghassan al-Attiyah, a political scientist in Baghdad.

He believes that the key to defusing the present crisis is for Mr Maliki to step down and be replaced by a more neutral figure as prime minister until the parliamentary elections next year.

It is not likely to happen...

The uprisings in Syria and Iraq are coming together with explosive results for Iraq, the region and the world. An Iraq only recently stabilised is becoming unstable again.
As Kurds Gain Power, Baghdad May be Ready to Deal
What is often left out of this story on a mainstream media level is the clear division between Kurdistan's two key political parties—the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by the Talabani family. While the PUK largely controls disputed Kirkuk and the eastern part of Kurdistan, Barzani's KDP controls the west, and the lucrative border crossing with Turkey.

The KDP sees a chance for independence that is economically viable—and growing more so by the day. The PUK's economic interests lie more in keeping Iraq together. So when we talk about Kurdish independence, this is a highly polarized notion, both politically and geographically. And talks with Baghdad falter on this point.
Iraq-Kurd oil talks break ice, long-term fix unlikely - "Even if a compromise were to be found, Kurdistan is already pursuing an increasingly independent oil policy and is building the last leg of its own export pipeline, in defiance of Baghdad and the United States, which fears it will precipitate the break-up of Iraq."

Kurdish rebels confirm they will start retreat from Turkey to Iraq on Wednesday - "Kurdish rebels reaffirmed on Tuesday that they will start withdrawing guerrilla fighters from Turkey to bases in northern Iraq this week."

Kurds eager to announce state, activist suggests confederation
Kurds in Iraq's Kurdistan region underlined that the dream to have a state of their own has become closer than ever, urging their leaders to unify their stances and to include other Kurds-majority areas to the region before declaring the independence.

Others believe that to have an independent state you have to get strong economic, political, social and institutional basis, as well as guaranteeing the support from major countries to protect the new state from foreign dangerous and threats, stressing no state for Kurds is possible without a recognition from the rest of the world...

Kurd leader Massoud Barzani hinted on Tuesday at a possible break with Iraq's unity government, complaining that premier Nouri al-Maliki was monopolising power and building an army loyal only to him.

His remarks raised the rhetoric between his autonomous regional government in Arbil and the central government in Baghdad, with several key disputes festering between the two sides.

Barzani said the partnership that built a national unity government formed at a meeting he had hosted was now "completely non-existent and has become meaningless."

"There is an attempt to establish a one-million-strong army whose loyalty is only to a single person," Barzani, president of Kurdistan, said in a speech in Arbil, according to an English transcript.

He claimed that Maliki and the government were "waiting to get F-16 combat planes to examine its chances again with the Peshmerga (Kurdish forces)," referring to a government order for 36 warplanes from the United States.

"Where in the world can the same person be the prime minister, the chief of staff of the armed forces, the minister of defense, the minister of interior, the chief of intelligence and the head of the national security council?" he asked.

Barzani said that while he was committed to an alliance with Iraq's majority Shiites, he was not committed to one with Maliki.

Barzani continued, "We are committed to our alliance with the Shiites but not with this group of people who have monopolised power and with their policies have even marginalised other Shiites."

"It is time to say enough is enough. The current status of affairs in unacceptable to us and I call on all Iraqi political leaders to urgently try to find a solution. Otherwise, we will return to our people and will decide on whatever course of action that our people deem appropriate."
Will Iraq be the Next Syria? - "What is actually the most ironic, sarcastic and completely insane quality is what likely lies just over the horizon for Iraq, the distinct possibility that Iraq will end up splitting into three states, Shiite Iraq, Sunni Iraq (also could be called Southern Iraq and Northern Iraq), and Kurdistan, just as Joe Biden had suggested it should have been divided up to start with."
posted by kliuless at 8:42 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


AJE - UN peacekeepers seized near Syria border
Four UN peackeepers are being held in the so-called Area of Limitation between Syria and Israel, where neither Israeli nor Syrian forces can operate.

[...]

He said there are no details of the missing peacekeepers' nationalities, adding that the force comprises personnel from Austria, India, Morocco and the Philippines.
posted by rosswald at 8:47 AM on May 7, 2013


I think it's a great pity that public discourse revolves around the bad arguments when the good arguments are both nujmerous and obvious.

Joe, perhaps you could spend your time convincing the armed forces of Australia to dive in. Our men and women have been doing a lot of fighting and our citizens 65-25 don't want to get involved.

Seriously. America doesn't want this fight. Libya was dumb enoungh.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:06 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think Syria is a trap for which ever country decides to get directly involved. It is like Lebanon, Afghanistan, Vietnam or Iraq.
posted by humanfont at 11:35 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Syria: The True Chaos Will Begin After the Fall of the Regime.
As rosswald indicated that as the US weighs whether to back the rebels, UN officials say the rebels may have used the chemical weapon. If Assad’s use of sarin should call forth U.S. air strikes, ought not the use of sarin by the rebels, if confirmed, cause this country to wash its hands of those war criminals?
posted by adamvasco at 12:06 PM on May 7, 2013


Time Magazine: What If Al-Qaeda Gets Syrian Chemical Weapons?
More whipping from a middle-of-the-road mass media group.

WIRED: Why Israel’s Interceptors Can Stop Syrian Missiles — And Why It Attacked Anyway
This one specifically mentions the movement of Fateh-110 missiles, a larger and longer-range threat than the relatively small missiles that Israel's Iron Dome system has handled in the past. We saw tactical evolutions in the types of mortar, rocket and missile attacks from Gaza into Israel last winter, so reducing the number, variety and complexity of possible weapons is a big priority for the Israelis.

The National Interest: When Bombing Syria, Remember Lebanon
Riedel is a Brookings Institution guy. His "lets be careful (but really not get involved)" stance is very much in line with their flavor of analysis and recommendation.

Foreign Policy: The Case For Slow War, or, Why We Should Emulate The Brits.
I'm not so much convinced on this one. First, it's the British who are partly(mostly, but that's an argument)
responsible for the state of the MidEast today. And then there was an FPP about the fallout from the Empire. Maybe that's not a great idea for the US.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:06 PM on May 7, 2013


I have to add but to say this is fucking terrifying.
posted by angrycat at 2:03 PM on May 7, 2013


Joe, perhaps you could spend your time convincing the armed forces of Australia to dive in.

Why would I want that? As I said above, the arguments against intervention are "numerous and obvious".

As far as I can tell, almost everybody wants to deal with the crisis as it affects them: Turkey is worried about losing part of its territory to a nascent Kurdish state; Israel is worried about the flow of arms via Syria to Hezbollah; Jordan is worried about unsustainable numbers of Syrian refugees; Russia is worried about its access to the Mediterranean; the USA is worried about its "war on terror". Nobody is actually interested in Syria per se except Iran, which tells me that we're going to see the same outcome as in Iraq: - it will end up as a weak or ineffective state governed largely upon ethnic lines and dominated by Iran.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:55 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]




[Syria]it will end up as a weak or ineffective state governed largely upon ethnic lines and dominated by Iran.

Isn't Syria already in the Iranian orbit. If the state fractures on ethnic and sectarian lines why would the Kurds and Suni Arabs end up as Iranian allies? Regional actors like Turkey and Saudi Arabia will not let Iran maintain its power in Syria and Lebanon without paying a significant price.
posted by humanfont at 5:39 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Iraq's dominated by Iran, and its Kurds and Sunni Arabs have had to accommodate that relationship. And Lebanon is dominated by Hezbollah, which is somewhere between a client and fellow-traveller of Iran, and neither Turkey nor Saudi Arabia have done anything about it. So why - and how - will they interfere in Syria? Turkey has a particular problem, because opposing Iranian influence means supporting a nascent Kurdistan on the Turkey/Syrian border. Saudi Arabia's problem is that it's Saudi Arabia, and if a problem can't be solved with cash then they don't know what to do about it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:37 PM on May 7, 2013


Hamas police in Gaza disperse anti-Israel protesters, allegedly assault pro-Assad news team

Well, if Hamas is for it I am now against it. No, wait a minute, that won't work ...

Saudi Arabia Condemns Israeli Airstrikes on Syria

And you can see why, as the article cites Hezbollah saying that Israel's actions are designed to help Sunni rebels. Oops, no, those are the same people Saudi Arabia is helping. Damn, these news stories are getting too confusing; when will they learn that they need to quote one side at a time.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:52 AM on May 8, 2013


And from NPR, home of the poorly-considered position: Two Syrian Women, Two Very Different Perspectives On War
BLOCK: So, you now see Israel as the enemy even though Israel was targeting the Syrian regime that you're fighting against.

AHAMD: It is an enemy actually. Let me tell you something. I don't think that Israel is going to do us a favor. We have been like fighting the regime for two years, and this is the first time Israel do such a thing. So it is not for the sake of the Syrian people.

And something else, for many years we thought that Assad regime is, let's say, the enemy of Israel or the first one who resist the occupation (unintelligible) and so-and-so. We were like fool - actually they were just fooling us. It seems though that Assad is the best ally of Israel, because he always kept the Israeli borders safe.

BLOCK: Wait a minute, Ms. Ahmad, let me stop you there. Are you saying that the Israelis colluded with President Assad to bomb his own military?

AHAMD: It is one of the options actually, yes.

posted by Joe in Australia at 2:55 AM on May 8, 2013


Syria conflict: Envoy Brahimi hails US-Russia accord
The UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has hailed a US-Russia commitment to work together to end the conflict in the country.
[...]
"The statements made in Moscow constitute a very significant first step forward. It is nevertheless only a first step."
[...]
Mr Brahimi also stressed that the US-Russian accord meant that the UN Security Council would now be able to function again.
[...]
The forum will try to convince both the Syrian government and opposition to accept a solution based on the core elements of the final communique issued on 30 June 2012, after the UN-backed Action Group for Syria meeting in Geneva.
Action Group for Syria Final Communiqué - 30.06.2012 (PDF)
To secure these common objectives, the Action Group members (i) identified steps and measures by the parties to secure full implementation of the six-point plan and Security Council resolutions 2042 and 2043, including an immediate cessation of violence in all its forms; (ii) agreed on guidelines and principles for a political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people; and (iii) agreed on actions they would take to implement the above in support of the Joint Special Envoy’s efforts to facilitate a Syrian-led political process. They are convinced that this can encourage and support progress on the ground and will help to facilitate and support a Syrian-led transition.
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:47 AM on May 8, 2013


Kerry Appeals To Russia To Help End Syrian Civil War - "They plan to convene a meeting by the end of this month of Syrian officials and opposition leaders to decide on a transitional government."
KERRY: It should not be a piece of paper. It should not be a forgotten communique of diplomacy. It should be the road map, the implemented manner by which the people of Syria could find their way to the new Syria and by which the bloodshed, the killing, the massacres can end.

KELEMEN: The two glossed over the fate of Assad. Lavrov would only say Russia is not interested in the fate of certain people, but rather of all Syrians. He's calling for a more inclusive dialogue. And Kerry says it's not up to the U.S. to decide who's in any transitional government in Syria. Asked why Syrians would have any confidence in this new effort, Kerry says the alternative is the breakup of Syria.

KERRY: The alternative is that there's even more violence. The alternative is that Syria heads closer to an abyss, if not over the abyss, and into chaos.
Syrian rebels react coolly to Russian-US proposal for peace conference - "Moaz al-Khatib, who resigned last month as head of the National Opposition Coalition (NOC), the main western- and Arab-backed grouping, warned: 'Syrians: be careful of squandering your revolution in international conference halls.' "
Colonel Qassim Saadeddine, a spokesman for the rebel Supreme Military Council, said the armed opposition would not get involved. "Unfortunately I don't think there is a political solution left for Syria," he told Reuters. "I think that is clear by now. We will not sit with the regime for dialogue. And frankly, I don't think Assad's decisions are really in Russia's hands. Right now he is only looking toward Iran."

In other developments, rebel sources reported the fall of Khirbet Ghazaleh, a key town in southern Syria, to government forces, because weapons the rebels had hoped would be delivered from Jordan had not arrived.
posted by kliuless at 9:33 AM on May 8, 2013




Syrians: be careful of squandering your revolution in international conference halls.

I doubt Syrians as a whole want the revolution. It seems the majority of "moderate" Syrians would rather see the violence stop and their country not destroyed.

PKK begins formal withdrawal from Turkey
In a sign of continuing mutual suspicion and a lack of agreed rule, however, the exit itself remains deeply contentious – with Mr Erdogan calling for the fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, to give up their weapons as they leave, and the militants refusing to do so.

In turn, the government has refused PKK calls for international observers and a new law to guarantee the safety of the withdrawing fighters.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:51 PM on May 8, 2013


From NOW Lebanon:
Want to stop Iran's takeover of Syria? Ground the Syrian Air Force.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:14 PM on May 8, 2013


“How do you feed and house millions of people? …”
It’s not a problem. The logistics, engineering, security and operations have all been done before. (e.g. Shining Hope (the U.S.’s element of Allied Harbor) took care of ½ a million people inside of two weeks). The UN world food program can airlift stockpiles anywhere. Distribution might be a problem, but not if you airlift refugees. There are plenty of international legal precedents as well.
Returning is a problem, granted. Depending on the circumstances. Although Armenians (in this case Syrian Armenians) seems to be one of the groups that takes beatings historically no matter who’s in charge.
It’s just a matter of political will. Which isn’t to say that isn’t a major conundrum unto itself. And of course, money. Why people are willing to blow $109 million on a single fighter but get stingy when it comes to sanitation systems to make people less willing to fight I don’t know.
It sounds silly but I’m in earnest. You provide the opportunity to take a good crap in comfort for someone, they’re way less likely to want to shoot at anybody. As much as politics, money, especially religion has such an influence, even the most sacred buildings and spaces have toilet facilities nearby.
The hell of it is so many people really do want to fight. Except “fighting” is this constant low-intensity bullshit, a mélange of rock-fighting, harsh words, religious rules lawyering and skirmishing.
The genuine issues aside, I don’t think anyone in the region really wants an end to it. Not peacefully, but certainly not an open war. Even one that destroys the possibility of insurgency, I mean – just eradicate the enemy, level the infrastructure, burn the crops, salt the earth, etc. because it would lead to disunity within their own ranks.
So this “moral” imperative to get involved really burns me up. Everyone and his brother in the conflict is citing the high ground, God, Allah, Zarathustra, Islam Unitarians, sacred Peacocks, probably a few Jedi in there as well. Part of the argument itself is what moral framework? Even a secular one adds to the argument. And implicit in the moral imperative is the idea that it will end though some kind of involvement. I don’t think it will.
I mean, if a humanitarian intervention – focused solely on enforcing international law and preventing suffering and allowing people to live in secure conditions – if that worked fine, great. No guarantee they’d ever get back to Syria though. Additionally, if that perfect humanitarian intervention turned into a full scale war – even then, yeah, hell with it, fine. Turn the place into a bullet festival as long as something gets finalized. Colonize Syria. Turn it into the 51st state – swell. Only that’s not going to happen either. It’s going to be the same ½ ass sort of war with the ongoing arguments people DEMAND to have while hurting themselves and each other and it will go on and on like someone’s grandmother falling down an infinite series of steps in which she can slow the process by grabbing the rails but never truly stop being on the brink of breaking her hip and bowling over the kids who must run down to evade her but can’t run fast in part because they didn’t tie their shoes which means inevitably they will fall eventually but also because they refuse to let go of their cups of punch which will stain the nice hall carpet and Uncle and Dad can’t get past them to help grandma without bowling the kids over and/or tripping themselves up and doing potentially worse damage to grandma.
It’s already a Sartre play about chaos and the abyss. No one is ever going to just leave or change.
So the only real way to deal with it is to level everyone by equal dispensation of international aid. Be present but don’t get drawn in.
Not that this is going to happen. A big part of the problem for the U.N. in any event is keeping other powers from influencing the situation to suit their own agendas.


Kerry's really taking the soft line with the Russians. But I think it calls for a soft touch, so...

Still, y’know, you don’t want your Spetsnaz blowed up, don’t f’ing send them there.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:21 AM on May 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


U.S. Fears Russia May Sell Air-Defense System to Syria
News of the possible Russian sale, which was first reported online by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday evening, came less than a day after Secretary of State John Kerry sought to enlist Russia’s help in facilitating a political transition that would supplant President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:23 AM on May 9, 2013


“How do you feed and house millions of people? …”
It’s not a problem. The logistics, engineering, security and operations have all been done before. (e.g. Shining Hope (the U.S.’s element of Allied Harbor) took care of ½ a million people inside of two weeks).


There is a distinct difference between "problem" and "unsolvable problem." The fact that it can be done doesn't mean it would be easy.

So the only real way to deal with it is to level everyone by equal dispensation of international aid.

Let's define "equal." Everyone gets the same amount of food and shelter? What about families? Small children? Pregnant women? The infirm?

Again, these are not unsolvable problems, but they are things that have to be addressed, and addressed across millions of people, some of whom are pretty angry.
posted by Etrigan at 10:29 AM on May 9, 2013




If he wants a no fly zone let him enforce it. "Let's you and him fight" is bullshit.
posted by Justinian at 2:37 PM on May 9, 2013


In pretty site that the Turkish PM would like the US to take the lead; but that Turkey as a bordering state and NATO ally would be heavily involved in the operation.
posted by humanfont at 2:42 PM on May 9, 2013


Great, let's also be heavily involved by sending our best wishes in their future endeavors.
posted by Justinian at 2:47 PM on May 9, 2013


Enforce a no fly zone so we can protect the Al-Nusra Front while they blow up innocent people and enforce an "Islamic" state? No thank you.
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:55 PM on May 9, 2013


We might be able to enforce our no-fly zone and provide close air support in such a way that Free Syrian Army brigades were more effective this reducing the relative amount of geographic control for Al Nusra. Also while Al Nusra has some abhorrent guys, it also has a number of veterans of the Suni awakening in Iraq iirc. We might be able to wean out the bad actors with a more active role. These are the kind of difficult choices that the President faces. It may be a choice of least shitty out come. Doing nothing might not get us there.
posted by humanfont at 4:37 PM on May 9, 2013


Iraq, Syria and the death of the modern Middle East - "The nations of Syria and Iraq today are little more than political fictions, crushed underfoot by foreign military and political intervention and devoured from the inside by politically-fomented sectarian hatreds."

In Syria's war, the lines that matter aren't red - "Borders don't define allegiances."

Take away Syria's chemical weapons - "A U.N. Security Council resolution mandating an inspection and disarmament process for Syria could open the door to wider negotiations on a political resolution."
posted by kliuless at 5:00 PM on May 9, 2013


Syrian civil war is going regional - "The UN-backed peace plan agreed at Geneva last June is a tentative wishlist, reliant on the Assads to volunteer for early retirement. As it stands, it is only a device to keep Russia engaged... Russia needs reassuring it is a full partner whose concerns, from regime change to regional influence, are dealt with at top table – provided it dumps the Assads, and readies itself to help if or when necessary to secure their chemical arms dumps. US secretary of state John Kerry's meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday reportedly over-ran to three hours. Hopefully it was for a purpose." [1,2,3]

Doubts Over U.S.-Russia Push for Syria Peace - "New plans for another global summit on the Syrian crisis represent modest progress, but the real question is whether the Kremlin is willing to withdraw support for the Assad regime... And another problem is the United States has to persuade the Saudis and the Gulf States to get the rebels, whom they are arming, to the table."

also btw...
-Ending Syria's Agony: Lessons from Other Civil Wars
-Syria's Crisis and the Global Response: Political motives of the international community
-U.S.-Turkey Relations: A New Partnership: Full Text of Report (1.2 MB PDF)
-Iraq rejects sheltering Turkey's Kurdish fighters in north, key point in deal to end conflict
posted by kliuless at 5:43 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


oh and...

Baghdad government says PKK not welcome in Iraq - "but Baghdad has no control over its northern border which is run by Iraqi Kurds"
The first fighters are expected to arrive at PKK bases in Iraq's Qandil Mountains within a week, monitored on the Turkish side by Ankara's MIT intelligence agency and across the border in Iraq by Iraqi Kurdish authorities.

As well as controlling Iraq's border with Turkey, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is fiercely defensive of its internal boundary with the rest of the country run by Baghdad. The central government's ability to intervene directly in the northern enclave is therefore extremely limited...
KRG to train Syrian Kurds to stop extremists gaining ground - "The Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq is to train Syrian Kurds as part of efforts to stop extremist groups from gaining ground in their territory as fighting in the two-year-old conflict intensifies, Nechirvan Barzani, KRG prime minister, has said."
The KRG have previously said that they were training Syrian Kurds in anticipation of a "vacuum" in Kurdish areas as regime forces retreat. But in what appears to be a more sharply defined concern, Mr Barzani said that the KRG's priority now was "for the [Syrian] Kurdish areas not to turn into a battleground for [extremist rebel group] Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist elements"...

Syrian Kurds, who make up ten per cent of the Syrian population, have an uneasy relationship with the mainly Arab rebels. Late last year there were clashes between Kurdish and rebel groups, including the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, in the ethnically mixed town of Ras al-Ayn near the Turkish border.

Mr Barzani stressed that the training in northern Iraq was for defensive, not offensive, operations. "We have done some training but I want to be clear – this is not to interfere in the internal affairs of Syria. We want the Syrian problem to be solved through dialogue," he said. He also insisted that Erbil was not pushing for Syrian Kurdish autonomy, wanted unity of the Syrian Kurdish community – there have been fears of a split – and was neutral towards Damascus.
posted by kliuless at 6:24 PM on May 9, 2013


Ending Syria's Agony: Lessons from Other Civil Wars
Meanwhile, the country has become a battleground for regional rivalries between Shiite Iran and Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and Turkey, with each funding their local proxies. Finally, at least some Alawites, fearing eventual collapse of the Assad regime, appear prepared to carve out a secessionist enclave of their own in western Syria, while Syria’s Kurds have their own secessionist ambitions.
Maybe this could be part of a least horrible solution. Allow the creation of separate Alawite and possibly Kurdish+Christian states, and hope the FSA (and not Al-Nusra) is able to take control of the rest of the country without carrying out massive retaliations.

Syria’s Ethno-Religious Complexity – and Potential Turmoil (3/31)

Haaretz: Time to put an Alawite state on the map (3/20)
It appears that Iran, too, is becoming involved in the Alawite Fortress project. Iran’s active involvement in Syria is intended not only to defend the Assad regime but also aimed at bringing this future Alawite mini-state under Iran’s protection. The Assad government could transfer its huge non-conventional weapons arsenal to this territory to serve as an ultimate insurance policy against a massacre of the Alawites.
[...]
To hamper the formation of such a clearly dangerous Alawite entity, the United States and Russia need to agree a “grand bargain”. Such an agreement would need to include the following:

The U.S. and Russia guarantee the security of an Alawite statelet as well as the safety of the Alawites elsewhere in Syria;

The two powers guarantee Lebanese territorial integrity;

No Iranian/Hezbollah military or para-military presence would be allowed within this statelet;

All Syrian non-conventional weapons (chemical, nuclear and biological) that may have been transferred to this statelet will be removed and destroyed under international supervision (in the same manner as the Gadhafi regime’s chemical weapons were destroyed after the regime’s fall);

The United States and NATO will recognize the legitimacy of the Russian military presence within the future Alawite territory;
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:51 PM on May 9, 2013


Allow the creation of separate Alawite and possibly Kurdish+Christian states

Isn't that sorta what was done with Israel? Seems like that worked out just peachy for everyone, though.
posted by Justinian at 9:37 PM on May 9, 2013


Kurdistan Borders.
posted by adamvasco at 11:35 PM on May 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


that sorta what was done with Israel? Seems like that worked out just peachy for everyone, though
Not to derail but in the grand schema of things the answer is yes.
The butchers bill is relatively low as opposed to the other mid east conflict of Iran vs Iraq which left more that 1,000,000 dead.
posted by adamvasco at 12:44 AM on May 10, 2013


Thanks for that link adamvasco. Pretty striking how large Kurdistan is/could-be. Especially those '45 lines.
posted by rosswald at 7:25 AM on May 10, 2013


It's nice that Turkey, which shares a land border with Syria and has the second-largest Army in NATO, thinks that Syria has crossed a "red line" and would support a US run no-fly zone.

But I guess they have a few problems of their own.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:08 AM on May 10, 2013


Exactly. If Turkey wants a no-fly zone they are perfectly capable of attempting to impose one. They don't want to bear the costs but they're perfectly okay if we do.
posted by Justinian at 12:26 PM on May 10, 2013


If Turkey wants a no-fly zone they are perfectly capable of attempting to impose one.

In fairness to Turkey, if they impose a no-fly zone, that is likely to trigger a lot of NATO activity, whether directly or when something happens in the conduct of that no-fly zone, so the U.S. would likely end up involved anyway.
posted by Etrigan at 12:58 PM on May 10, 2013


Turkey is a major ally and if they want to drag us into this we will have a hard time staying out of it.
posted by humanfont at 1:57 PM on May 10, 2013


I'm not shy when it comes to being mean about Obama, but in this instance I think his diplomatic ineptitude and vacillation may cause him to fall into taking the right action by default. There, I said something nice about him.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:33 AM on May 11, 2013


The "Kurdistan Borders" map is interesting. It includes South Ossetia, recognised by basically nobody; it marks a distinction between the Republic of Cyprus in the island's south and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, even though the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is literally recognised only by Turkey. It doesn't name either of these entities; instead the geographic entity ("Cyprus"), uniquely, appears on the map. It punctiliously marks those parts of Israel recognised by the bulk of the international community, but doesn't name it on the map. All in all, a weird set of controversial choices, and ones which are quite unnecessary - none of these are part of the mooted Kurdistans, or even adjoin them.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:04 AM on May 11, 2013


Wait are you saying a map of Cyprus shouldn't mark the difference between North and South? It's not like it's an imaginary demarcation dreamt up by Turkey, and there's a pretty heavily fortified UN DMZ to prove it. Kind of a strange nitpick.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:15 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


How many billion dollars and how many Australian lives are going to be committed to this adventure in Syria? I havn't noticed a single Australian carrier battle group moving to the region.
posted by humanfont at 8:35 AM on May 11, 2013




It really is an imaginary demarcation dreamt up by Turkey. Turkey is occupying northern Cyprus, and the line on the map differentiates the area it's occupying from the rest of Cyprus. If it's important for people to know that then fine, name each area. If it's not important, then just name the island (or don't, whatever). But choosing to remind us about the line of occupation and then just giving the whole area a name is silly.

Anyway, I just raised it because it was one of several odd decisions made by the mapmaker, none of which make the Kurdish situation any clearer. Personally, I'd have named the countries incorporating or adjacent to Kurdistan and left the other ones blank: I can't see that we're helped by knowing where Lebanon is, or where Abkhazia and South Ossetia may or may not be. As it is, my reaction on seeing the map was to wonder if I should know something about Ossetian separatism and Kurds.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:59 PM on May 11, 2013


It really is an imaginary demarcation dreamt up by Turkey.

LOL ok I didn't know that a UN buffer zone was imaginary; when I was there I could have sworn it was real.

choosing to remind us about the line of occupation and then just giving the whole area a name is silly


It's . . . just a map of the area?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:50 PM on May 11, 2013


Joe your observations/criticism of the map seem trivial and pointless. Egypt wasn't labeled either. Are we supposed to assume some secret anti-Egyptian bias from the cartographer.
posted by humanfont at 6:26 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


More to the point, it generally follows the cartographic customs of the neighbors of Kurdistan, with whom Kurdistan is hoping to negotiate friendly borders. Flattering Turkey makes sense; pissing off Georgia is less important than flattering Russia.
posted by klangklangston at 7:33 PM on May 11, 2013


From what I can tell the map was created by a cartographer / journalist at Le Monde, not a Kurdish group. It seems that there is a population of Kurds in the Rep of Georgia, but not in the breakaway regions under Russian control. That seems important when considering how a Kurdish state could impact existing regional conflicts.
posted by humanfont at 7:48 PM on May 11, 2013


VIDEO: Lebanese TV shows Gaza luxury, slams Hamas (EoZ exclusive)
Lebanon's OTV is owned by a Christian party that is allied with Hezbollah, so this very interesting video shows Iran's displeasure at Hamas' non-support of Bashir Assad's regime in Syria.
As best I understand it, Hamas and Hezbolllah were previously friendly in a guarded way because they had the same enemy. Hezbollah is bound to support Assad for several reasons: they're both clients of Iran; by being non-Sunni they're both effectively Shiite (although Assad is actually Alawite and this video is apparently from a Christian party!); and Hezbollah's best route from Iran is via Syria. These aren't reasons for Hamas to support Assad, though, and in fact Hamas abandoned its Syrian offices some time ago, when the writing was on the wall.

Anyway, so this is a pro-Hezbollah, anti-Hamas video, presumably because a lot of Lebanese aren't impressed with the way Hezbollah has been shown to be a puppet of Iran and has brought the conflict across the Syrian borders and into Lebanon. Because it's produced by a Christian party it also shows that Hezbollah retains a broad base within Lebanon. Anyway, I thought it was interesting.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:42 AM on May 12, 2013


National Post - Palestinian militants say Assad has given them ‘green light’ to attack Israeli targets

-------

BBC - Syria denies Turkey Reyhanli car bombs role
Syria has denied being responsible for two car bombs which killed 46 people in a Turkish border town.

Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi told a news conference on Sunday his country "did not commit and would never commit such an act because our values would not allow that".

Turkish police say that nine people have been arrested in connection with Saturday's attacks in Reyhanli.

Ankara has said that it suspects the involvement of Syrian intelligence.
posted by rosswald at 9:51 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


What's important is that thus far Turkey has not called for a NATO meeting. They seem to be waiting for China and Russia to come a bit further along.
posted by humanfont at 10:44 AM on May 12, 2013


I'm really impressed by this photo essay. I'd probably have tried to make a FPP out of it under different circumstances: The Shiite crescent eclipsed
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:36 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Only marginally on-topic, but I thought this was interesting too: Syrians take up backyard refining of crude oil
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:45 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Alright, so I was drifting off to sleep and clicked on this 'most-read' article on talks between Russia and Israel, which are focusing mostly on Syria.

But then the folks over at the Beeb hit you with a sucker-punch about heart-eating rebesls:
Meanwhile, a video has emerged that appears to show a Syrian rebel cutting out and eating the heart of a soldier.

"I swear to God we will eat your hearts and your lives, you soldiers of Bashar the dog," the man says as he bends over a body and cuts out the heart with a knife.

He then stands up and proceeds to place the organ in his mouth.

The authenticity of the footage, posted online on Sunday, cannot be authenticated, but Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch identified the man as Abu Sakkar, a well-known rebel from the city of Homs and founder of the Farouq Brigade of the Free Syrian Army.
Don't think I'll be going to bed all that soon...
posted by rosswald at 8:13 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


And remember, these are the good rebels, not the bad rebels.
posted by Justinian at 1:20 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Let's define "equal." Everyone gets the same amount of food and shelter? What about families? Small children? Pregnant women? The infirm?
Again, these are not unsolvable problems, but they are things that have to be addressed, and addressed across millions of people, some of whom are pretty angry.


It's not even a real problem in terms of what's practical. There are straightforward logistical solutions to food and water distribution, delivery of medical care, etc. It's extremely simple to run in terms of security and administration. Everything is simple when it's essentially a benevolent dictatorship. It's been done, is what I'm saying. Plenty of humanitarian work along these lines.

Politically - entirely different story. The will to do it. See it done. Do it cooperatively, without forcing an agenda beyond enforcement of international law and preventing more harm from being done. That, as far as I'm concerned, is the unsolvable problem.


"I swear to God we will eat your hearts and your lives, you soldiers of Bashar the dog," the man says as he bends over a body and cuts out the heart with a knife.

So there's this recent story - true story - about trying to talk to some people like that in that general region.
Doesn't matter in the particulars. It was important enough to not get wrong. Lives at stake and all that. But not important enough to arouse the media, and while not exactly secret, semi-clandestine as so many important but small matters are.

All the more important to be handled carefully.

Funny thing, you can talk to almost anyone anywhere about sports - usually football (soccer), fast cars (or traffic in general) and barbeque.

It's weird. You can't always agree on what to eat or drink or wear or not wear, almost everything can start an argument.
No matter how fanatic someone is, they'll talk BBQ.


So these dicey talks over a subject were made less so by BBQ (not helicopter pilot heads of course but y'know chicken, lamb, potatoes, garlic, etc.)

So things are moving along thanks to the BBQ talk. And everyone is getting hungry. BBQ stuff gets set up. Food is brought out, and the spirit of communal cooking which goes back to when man discovered fire is slowly warming everyone's cockles.
Mutual understandings are being reached in little drifty sentences related, but also unrelated, to the topic at hand.
And the stuff just smells delicious. Salivary glands are working away in anticipation. You can feel the mutual hunger around the table and so feel the common humanity we all share.

And then a group of vultures each the size of a small dog, habituated to the smell of burning flesh near a war zone, wheel, and - as though choreographed by Busby Berkeley - dump a rain of birdshit all over the BBQ and everyone there.
Some people near the place, they don't like vultures either and they shoot at them out of the sky adding to the mess and general chaos.

People scatter - but still they return, timorously at first. Feces and gunfire will do that to people.
But such was the strength of their commitment to reaching a common understanding and avoiding an international incident that return they did.

Until the poop started to steam on the metal surfaces and in the fire and stinks like only burning vulture feces can.
Which, by the way, is also surprisingly flammable.

And everyone gathers to extinguish the stinking, burning filth covering the meat which had only moments ago had drawn such praise and conviviality, and now was being cursed as the nuisance inedible burned and befouled and now soggy meat which eventually must be carried and dumped, that it is.

And it strikes me that this event - less ferocious than the violence, less fearsome than the fanaticism - is more of an apt metaphor for Syria.

Not merely for the more concrete fact of it.
Not merely because in contrast the helicopter pilot and cannibalistic threat and photo(s) exist in an uncertain propaganda/actuality eiganstate.

Rather because the truth is that there are some problems which cannot be cut by swords because they aren't knots.

And the truth is that the things that force us apart often cannot be overcome by the forces that bring us together, no matter how much we augment them or look to add spice. And sometimes you just can't recreate the circumstances of the past no matter how much you're all willing to get together to put out a fire.

And too, not only should you not shit where you eat - the truth is you can't eat where anyone else shits either.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:01 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


CJ Chivers: Battlefield Update: The Fight for Isolated Government Outposts in Northern Syria.

Focus on chemical weapons distracts from conventional fight. An interlocking network of strongpoints, bases and government-held towns can support itself with artillery, and will probably only be rooted out with combind arms (air and land units working together) or internal strife and mutiny.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:16 AM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham
(warning - graphic execution)

Translation:
"Thanks to Allah, Lord of all mankind, and peace and blessings on leader of all fighters, all combatants, our Prophet, his family, companions, and all those who follow him with kindness till the day of judgement.
Allah The Almighty says "Fight them; Allah will punish them by your hands and will disgrace them and give you victory over them and satisfy the breasts of a believing people."

The crimes committed by the tyrant Bashar, are still on the rise day after day, and he is showing most torture and harassment to People of the Sunnah.
He didn’t differentiate between children or woman, young men or elderly, with the hands of his troops and his criminal Shabihas, of the Alawites sect, and those of the Sunni Apostates, and their allies.
And not last of their atrocities committed in Banyas, And our answer to their crimes committed, and in revenge to the Free women of Banyas and Homs and doing with what The Almighty said "and whoever wrongs you, wrong him in a similar way"

And so with our intention to get closer to Allah, with those coward Alawites, so I ask Allah, The Great, to accept our and your deeds.
And we ask the Almighty to grant his peace and blessings upon his prophet, Muhammad, his family and companions."

So, Jabhat Al Nusra is now, more officially, the Islamic state of Iraq and Sham.

Meanwhile, here's a little girl selling bread from in the rubble.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:54 AM on May 16, 2013


An Atrocity in Syria, With No Victim Too Small
Nadim Houry, the director of Human Rights Watch in Beirut, said he sensed “a complete disconnect between diplomacy and events on the ground.”

“The conflict is getting more visceral,” he said. Without concrete confidence-building measures, he said, and with more people “seeing it as an existential struggle, it’s hard to imagine what the negotiations would look like.”

The recent executions, reconstructed by speaking with residents and human rights monitors, unfolded over three days in two Sunni enclaves in the largely Alawite and Christian province, first in the village of Bayda and then in the Ras al-Nabeh district of the nearby city of Baniyas.

Government troops and supporting militias went house to house, killing entire families and smashing men’s heads with concrete blocks.

Antigovernment activists provided lists of 322 victims they said had been identified. Videos showed at least a dozen dead children. Hundreds more people are reported missing.

“How can we reach a point of national forgiveness?” said Ahmad Abu al-Khair, a well-known blogger from Bayda. He said that the attacks had begun there, and that 800 of about 6,000 residents were missing.

Multiple video images that residents said they had recorded in Bayda and Ras al-Nabeh — of small children lying where they died, some embracing one another or their parents — were so searing that even some government supporters rejected Syrian television’s official version of events, that the army had “crushed a number of terrorists.”
Video Shows Women and Children Among Hundreds Killed in Baniyas
This graphic video posted online shows 20 members of one family, including nine children, said to have been killed by government forces in al-Bayda, a village in the Baniyas district. Rebels said the government killed at least 322 Sunnis in Baniyas last week, and hundreds are missing. This video shows dead women and children in a darkened room. One woman's body is surrounded by five children, while another woman's head slumps back, a baby on her shoulder.
Note that videos linked above by Smedleyman claim to show the execution of three Syrian government army officers, in retaliation for the horrific genocidal massacre in Baniyas.
posted by metaplectic at 2:43 PM on May 16, 2013


From Smedleyman's link, quoted for surrealism:
Using similar language to the August resolution, the proposed new resolution stresses that 'rapid progress on a political transition represents the best opportunity' to resolve the Syrian conflict peacefully. [...]

The draft resolution would reiterate the General Assembly's call 'for an inclusive Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations or ethnicities or beliefs.'

It says this should be done by starting 'a serious political dialogue between credible, empowered, and mutually acceptable interlocutors representing the Syrian authorities and the Syrian opposition.'
I should point out that the proposed resolution is a non-binding one; the various militias are in no way obliged to interrupt their rapes and internecine forays to conduct a "serious political dialogue", but if they fail to comply there is a very real chance that they may be called upon to do so once again.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:58 PM on May 16, 2013




New York Times - Pressure of War Is Causing Syria to Break Apart
On Thursday, President Obama met in Washington with the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and once again pressed the idea of a top-down diplomatic solution. That approach depends on the rebels and the government agreeing to meet at a peace conference that was announced last week by the United States and Russia.

[...]

But as evidence of massacres and chemical weapons mounts, experts and Syrians themselves say the American focus on change at the top ignores the deep fractures the war has caused in Syrian society. Increasingly, it appears Syria is so badly shattered that no single authority is likely to be able to pull it back together any time soon.

Instead, three Syrias are emerging: one loyal to the government, to Iran and to Hezbollah; one dominated by Kurds with links to Kurdish separatists in Turkey and Iraq; and one with a Sunni majority that is heavily influenced by Islamists and jihadis.
posted by rosswald at 8:31 PM on May 16, 2013




Syrian opposition considers sacking its U.S.-backed interim leader

Ghassan Hitto has lived in the US for the last 30 years. Hardly "Our Man In Damascus."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:49 PM on May 17, 2013


A recent interview given by: an ‘anonymous’ Qatari security official, has shed further light on CIA-led covert arms shipments to militants fighting in Syria.
posted by adamvasco at 12:57 AM on May 18, 2013




WP: Iranian soldiers fighting for Assad in Syria, says State Department official
Iran has sent soldiers to Syria to fight alongside forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militia, a senior State Department official said Tuesday.

But with the British, French and American governments considering providing arms to the Syrian opposition on a scale not yet seen in the civil war, the U.S. official’s allegation was a tacit acknowledgment that the two-year-old Syrian conflict has become a regional war and a de facto U.S. proxy fight with Iran.
posted by Golden Eternity at 4:43 PM on May 21, 2013


Will this turn into Iran's Vietnam? Proxy wars stayed proxy wars during the Cold War because direct engagement was too risky. However the opposite forces are at work here. There are many, including the editors of the Washington post, who would like the US to attack Iran.
posted by humanfont at 5:03 PM on May 21, 2013


A better parallel may be Korea.

Heh, parallel. In other news, Israel warns Syria to halt attacks after exchange of fire in the Golan Heights.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:42 PM on May 21, 2013


Speaking of Iran: Iran cracks down on activists in runup to election
posted by homunculus at 6:41 PM on May 21, 2013




#3: You think globally and speak, um, globally. You are quick to condemn human rights violations by other governments, but American abuses (e.g., torture, rendition, targeted assassinations, Guantánamo, etc.) and those of America's allies get a pass. You worry privately (and correctly) that aiming your critique homeward might get in the way of a future job.

If there's a liberal who does this, I ain't met it.
posted by Etrigan at 4:27 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Christopher Hitchens.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:32 AM on May 22, 2013




Christopher Hitchens may have claimed liberalism, but I can call myself a zebra without even wearing striped pants.
posted by Etrigan at 9:52 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hitchens started his political life as a Marxist. I suppose that's not especially liberal, per se, but it's certainly left-wing. A lot of people seem to think of him as right-wing because of his support of the war in Iraq, but even that was based on liberal principles.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:39 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I started my political life as an Episcopalian. It doesn't mean I still am one. Hitchens claimed -- before the Iraq War -- to be a capitalist who still believed in Marxism. Charitably speaking, he was an independent thinker who cannot be labeled "conservative" or "liberal."
posted by Etrigan at 6:45 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it your contention that anyone who is not a Marxist is not liberal? Because here's Hitchens; anti-clericalist, anti-monarchist, against drug laws, one of the plaintiffs in ACLU v. NSA, litterateur and bon vivant. And he's not a liberal because he's not a Marxist? I think you might be astonished to find out how very, very illiberal Marxists tend to be.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:00 PM on May 22, 2013


No, it is my contention that Christopher Hitchens is not a liberal. In addition to your points, he's also anti-abortion, pro-birth-control, anti-abstinence-only-sex-ed, virulently Islamophobic and pro-war. Several of those are why he's not a liberal, and why (to circle back around to the point) that "You Might Be a Liberal Imperalist..." Foxworthy manque article is a blunderbuss looking for a straw man to blast.
posted by Etrigan at 4:16 AM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


You see those sorts of arguments every time a liberal President is debating intervention. (and also on things like Iraq and Afghanistan) It's not a strawman. I also don't think anything in your list there disqualifies someone from being a liberal. His Islamaphobia was more an atheist hatred of religion in general that is present in more than one liberal atheist I've encountered. It's really easy for liberals to go overboard on disliking the religion based on things like how woman are treated in the more fundamentalist countries.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:14 AM on May 23, 2013


I also don't think anything in your list there disqualifies someone from being a liberal.

If saying "capitalism is the only revolutionary system," saying "[an] unborn child seems to me to be a real concept. It's not a growth or an appendix," saying "all religious belief is sinister and infantile" and coining the term "Islamofascism" (all examples from the Wikipedia page that Joe in Australia linked to) doesn't at least slide one slightly away from being An Example Of A Liberal, then the word has descended to the True Scotsman level of usefulness.

I don't think you can really say, "Well, Hitchens was a liberal except for his support of the Iraq War, his love of capitalism, his anti-abortion views and the religious fervor of his atheism." Not just his disbelief in a deity or pack of deities, but his active hatred of all religion. That's not liberal, it's just a different flavor of conservatism.

As I said, he defied easy categorization.
posted by Etrigan at 8:01 AM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]




Asia Times: Assad Talks, Russia Walks
So Bashar al-Assad has spoken - exclusively, to Argentine daily El Clarin (there's a huge Syrian diaspora in Argentina, as well as in neighboring Brazil).

Cutting through the fog of Western hysteria, he made some valuable points. The record shows that, yes, the regime has agreed several times to talk to the opposition; but myriad "rebel" groups with no credible, unified leadership have always refuted. So there's no way a ceasefire, eventually agreed on a summit - such as the upcoming US/Russia Geneva conference - can be implemented. Assad makes some sense when he says, "We can't discuss a timetable with a party if we don't know who they are."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:37 AM on May 23, 2013


support of the Iraq War (Hillary), his love of capitalism (every mainstream democrat), his anti-abortion views (My Democratic Senator, Bob Casey) and the religious fervor of his atheism. (His atheism was cheered on by liberals all the time, for instance when aimed at the Catholic Church)

True Scotsman level of usefulness.

Yes.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:12 AM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hillary Clinton, mainstream Democrats, and Bob Casey are not liberal by any definition other than a crazy Overton one.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:21 AM on May 23, 2013


They are liberal by the standards commonly used in the United States. I think we can assume that is how the author of the article was using it since it was a discussion of US foreign policy. If you are using a standard with a higher level of purity that is fine, but you have to make an effort to understand how words are commonly used.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:32 AM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, you can find individual liberals with certain non-liberal beliefs and still call them liberals. But when you add up several of them, you have to ask yourself at what point you're talking about Liberals In Name Only. Look at the beliefs Joe cited as evidence of Hitchens' liberalism: "anti-clericalist, anti-monarchist, against drug laws, one of the plaintiffs in ACLU v. NSA...". That describes a libertarian pretty efficiently too; lump in the ones I added and you'd have someone who was farther right than Ron Paul.
posted by Etrigan at 9:42 AM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's fine, Libertarian is probably the best choice for where Hitchens was by the end and what he claimed to be. The article is not aimed at Hitchens. I still disagree that things like being pro-life or supporting Iraq are not liberal, but this isn't really the thread to hash out the exact purity standards on the positions necessary for the most totally accurate definition of liberalism since the article wasn't even talking about those paragons.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:50 AM on May 23, 2013


So have you met a liberal who is "quick to condemn human rights violations by other governments, but [for whom] American abuses (e.g., torture, rendition, targeted assassinations, Guantánamo, etc.) and those of America's allies get a pass."?

Because, as I alluded, that's where that article lost me. I feel pretty comfortable saying that I've never met anyone who either self-identifies as liberal (except in that "Well, the GOP is the party of Lincoln!" disingenuous way) or whom other people would identify as liberal based on the totality of their political views (aside from the one described above) who does that; rather the opposite, in the majority of cases. Maybe we know different people, but we seem to agree that the only counterexample anyone has provided wasn't really a counterexample.
posted by Etrigan at 10:05 AM on May 23, 2013


Apparently from an alternate universe, here's a PDF of last week's submission from Syria to the World Health Organization [via]. It is concerned about "the health conditions of the Syrian population in the occupied Golan".
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:25 AM on May 23, 2013


So have you met a liberal who is "quick to condemn human rights violations by other governments, but [for whom] American abuses (e.g., torture, rendition, targeted assassinations, Guantánamo, etc.) and those of America's allies get a pass."?

Yes, tons of them.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:30 AM on May 23, 2013


Hitchens a libertarian? Can you explain what leads you to that assertion. Afaik he remained pretty committed socialist his whole life. His hawkishness came from the threat to socialism from the reactionary religious fanatics in the Middle East.
posted by humanfont at 11:40 AM on May 23, 2013


To paraphrase Tolstoy, Conservatives are all alike; every liberal is liberal in their own way.

"Apparently from an alternate universe, here's a PDF of last week's submission from Syria to the World Health Organization [via]. It is concerned about "the health conditions of the Syrian population in the occupied Golan"."

Assad is worried that if Syrians die from Israeli occupation, Assad won't be able to kill them himself.
posted by klangklangston at 11:43 AM on May 23, 2013


Hitchens a libertarian? Can you explain what leads you to that assertion.

As noted above: in favor of drug legalization, against the NSA's warrantless domestic spying program, against religious intervention in the public sphere, said "capitalism is the only revolutionary system." Those are all comfortably libertarian stands.

Afaik he remained pretty committed socialist his whole life.

From that Wikipedia article above:
in a 2006 debate he remarked that "I am no longer a socialist, but I still am a Marxist"... "I still think like a Marxist in many ways. I think the materialist conception of history is valid. I consider myself a very conservative Marxist".
His hawkishness came from the threat to socialism from the reactionary religious fanatics in the Middle East.

He supported a war to topple the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party of Iraq, the one that had nationalized the oil industry and ran the country as a centralized regime. The Iraq War could not have been spun by anyone as a fight against the threat to socialism from reactionary religious fanatics.
posted by Etrigan at 12:17 PM on May 23, 2013




Despite word of split over al Qaida, Nusra Front still key in Syria fighting
Jabhat al Nusra, the al Qaida-allied Syrian rebel group that’s also known as the Nusra Front, remains integral to efforts to topple the government of President Bashar Assad despite reported rifts within the group over its terrorist ties and claims by other rebels that Nusra’s assassinated rebel leaders in eastern Syria to consolidate its hold on oil fields and other strategic infrastructure there.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:55 PM on May 24, 2013


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