Monday, February 24, 2014

Russia and The Ukraine

Russia is not done in the Ukraine, not by a long shot. This is where the land of Rus was founded. This is where the Russians picked up their Orthodox faith. The memories of the splendors of Kievan Rus are still a point of pride to Russians today. When some of our Anglo-Saxon fore-bearers were still wallowing in filth, and London was a nondescript hell-hole of 10,000 souls Kiev was one of the jewels of the medieval world. It all came to naught with the Mongol onslaught, but the memory still shines to this day.

The loss of the “near abroad” in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet empire, the loss of Central Asia, much of the Caucuses and the Ukraine were a bitter blow to the Russians pride. The loss of Ukraine, the “little brother” of the Russians was especially hurtful. With the recovery of Russia via Petrodollars and other natural resources exploitation Russia, and especially Putin, wants to recover what is rightfully theirs, at least in the minds of Russia and Putin.

A little history here. With the fall of Kievan Rus the Ukraine became a borderland. From the west Catholic Poland, or to be historically accurate, the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania, gained primacy. From the east came the Cossacks, Orthodox Christians who could fight the Mongols on their own terms. And from the north, came the ethnic Russians, attempting to escape the yoke of Muscovy and serfdom. With the Russians came the Russian Empire, which was not about let a all those valuable surfs get happy feet and shirk their responsibilities to the Tzar. The Russians found a way to strong-arm the Ukrainian Cossack leaders in to joining the great Orthodox brotherhood. After a few nasty revolts, the Russians got back to the business of putting the yoke back on the surfs until Alexander II. Alex was not keen on serfdom, had no real use for it, found it an embarrassment, and got rid of it. But he kept the Ukraine. Meanwhile, Poland, remember them?, former overlords of  the Ukraine, got absorbed by Russia, well at least the part of Poland / Ukraine  that concerns our history. And then came the Soviets. Uncle Joe and the Soviets took this ethnic mix of Poles, Jews, Lithuanians, random Mongols and Turks still floating about, etc. and made an unholy mess of it.

The unfathomably brutal rule of Stalin, the mass killings, the gulags, the ethnic cleansing, the shear horror and insanity of it all, impacted all of the peoples of the Soviet Empire, but except for maybe the Chechens, the Ukrainians got the worst of it. The epic disaster that was collectivization fell on the Ukrainians the hardest. It was so bad that there is a very special word for it, Holodomor (Голодомор) Hunger-extermination, and it ranks right up there with the butchering of the Armenians by the Turks and the Extermination of the Jews by the Nazis as one of the great crimes against humanity.

Then came WWII , the collaboration with the Nazis by some, and the eventual reconquest of Ukraine; which was just as ugly as modern warfare and ideology could make it. Lets just say Uncle Joe was not happy when so many Ukrainians bolted from the Soviet Union and then took up arms against the Worker’s Paradise. There was a ferocious guerrilla war in the Ukraine that went past the end of the Nazi occupation, well past VE and VJ day and only sputtered out in the late forties.

The upshot of WWII is Poland got moved west and all the pesky non-Poles got kicked out, the Ukraine got moved west and all the Pesky Poles got kicked in to Poland, the Russians stayed put and the the ethnic Germans got tossed all the way to either to the gulags or East Germany.

 Uncle Joe finally died, there was a brief flurry of reform and general madcap misadventure under Khrushchev until he got tossed out for being a little bit too unruly. The Soviet Union then got down to the serious business of slowly rotting away under Brezhnev and his cronies. This gets us to the present rule of Putin and the Oligarchs, with an independent but with deeply divided Ukraine now front and center.

To really understand what is going on in the Ukraine, it helps to go not only into the deep past but into more recent history of the Stalinist era and the horrors of the “Great Patriotic War” which for the Ukrainians is a very dark and bloody chapter indeed. The ethnic Ukrainians have many unresolved grievances with the Russians especially for the crimes inflicted upon them by Stalin.

So into this mess both the EU and Russia have now embroiled. Russia is deeply invested in the area for reasons of pride, history and the ethnic Russians now residing in the area. The EU is also tied to the area if only by the affinity of the western part of the Ukraine to Western Europe. It was not that long ago, 1939 to be exact, that parts of the Ukraine were Poland. And it is to a place that was once part of Poland I will look to now.

Before the present rioting made a mess of things you could stroll Lviv and still marvel at ( and be heartbroken for) the ancient city Lwów. When you think of it Lviv is the Ukraine in a nutshell. Lwów, in 1939, was Polish, but it was so much more. It was the beating heart the Pale of settlement for one. Yiddish was lingua franca here. The high and low culture of the Jewish Despora, grown in the hothouse of Lwów was a marvel not only of Eastern Europe but the whole of Europe. It was a culture grown in rich soil and allowed to flourish, mostly unmolested, for centuries. But when it became Lviv, that part, with so much else, was gone. The cosmopolitan, East European infrastructure built by the Poles and Russians was still there, but the Jews and that glorious culture, with so much else, had been wiped out. By design. Lviv remains, as a part of the the whole, a confused sliver of Ukrainian history. It is a city founded by the Poles, inhabited by Jews, Ukrainians, and Russians,   gifted–by fiat at the end of a bloody war –to the Ukraine. It is a very mixed bag. It is anchored in the west but it also looks to the east, a part of the east, a part of the west, and part of neither. It is a place deeply steeped in history, but uncertain of its future. It is a place that has known the worst kind of tragedy and if we are not careful this beautiful city along with the nation of Ukraine could know tragedy again.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

"Ariel Castro, who kept women captive at his home in Cleveland, Ohio, has died after being found hanging in his cell."

Gross incompetence or worse from Ohio.

"  A spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, JoEllen Smith, said: 'He was housed in protective custody which means he was in a cell by himself and rounds are required every 30 minutes at staggered intervals.' "

So somehow in a half hour, the man was able to set up a noose and then hang himself before the next guard came round. No suicide watch, no special cell, no removal of items that could be used to for self-execution. This for a man who was just sentenced to 1,000 years in prison. Someone let this man off himself. Someone was grossly negligent.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Congress "debates" Syria.

As stated before I dread the “debate” that will occur in Congress on the subject of Syria. Instead of doing its Constitutional mandated job, i.e. engaging the Executive’s policy and giving all due consideration to that policy. Instead of offering cogent criticism, or providing principled opposition based on serious and well reasoned, if heart-felt, values; instead of that we will get is a clown car.
It will be the old Blue Team / Red Team divide.

The Blue team will rally round the flag boys (and girls) shouting the battle cry of freedom. They will defend their President against all comers-- no matter what their doubts may be. They will trot out the party line like good little Bolsheviks, undeterred by any pesky facts that might intervene. They will be nauseating in their sycophancy, their fawning obsequiousness. “Our guy do or die,” will be their battle cry.

And what of the Red Team? They will, of course, be worse. It will be one long, pointless primal scream for the Red Team. One long temper tantrum about the president having the gall to be a Democrat, and worse yet, black. Every trope of the last six years will be trotted out, every last despicable dog whistle will be blown–at full volume. The usual bloviators of the right will make the usual talking points with all the usual thinly disguised racial venom.

There might be a few defections in the ranks, Senator McNasty, er McCain, will support the president; mainly because he never met a military action or war he did not like. Bernie Sanders will also play to type as a squishy Peace, Love and Granola Hippie Surrender Monkey. Rand Paul will go to great lengths to prove his Libertarian bona fides. But no real substantive debate will occur the hallowed halls of Congress. Most of the Senators will play to type and to party affiliation.

In the House, the whole thing will degrade into the mother of all food fights. I would not be the least bit surprised if the TEA Party crazies will demand cuts to social welfare spending as a condition of supporting the bombing. Check that, the TEA Party crazies will demand those cuts before they even consider discussing the matter in the first place. The debate in the House will be about as edifying as a Steel Cage Match on Pay Per View.

But in the end Obama will get his rubber stamp, no serious discussion will happen. Congress is quite happy to be a spectator, to toss peanuts at the Executive from the peanut gallery. Instead of advice and consent, Congress will go back to its real job; that of carving out more goodies for the 1% and their special interests.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

War Power Rangers.

Forget War Powers for a minute and take a look at what is the Constitutional responsibility of the Congress. The President maybe The Commander In Chief but only Congress has the right and the responsibility to declare war. That prerogative has been handed over lock, stock, and barrel to the Executive. It has been gladly abandoned so individual Congresscritters can fence sit on the issue of war and peace. Thus, if the conflict goes south in hurry they wash their hands of it,but if all goes well they can hop on the victory train as it pulls from the station.
Please note how irresponsible Congress has become by looking at our policy in Libya. Congress was almost not consulted at all, and then had nothing germain to say even when it was grudgingly consulted. Even after the policy in Libya was demonstrating serious holes and a general lack of cohesion, the only thing the opposition could do was put on a side-show about: Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi!
Not a serious critique was murmured, no after-action musings, no rethink of the Libyan adventure and definitely no re-examining of the interventionist logic that was the ultimate cause of the disaster. No, the deaths of brave men was used as a partisan football in the most craven way imaginable.
Instead of serious criticism of the policy there was a pointless food fight about who said what when and what, if anything, said was true. The opposition could only see the screw up in Libya from a narrow, distorted and ultimately useless partisan lens focused on transitory electoral politics. And when people who were not part of the hermetically sealed Fox News world ignored the high dungeon of the Elephants, the Republicans blew a gasket and continued to beat that dead horse until it was an unrecognizable pile of goo. So instead of doing their job as the opposition, e.i. offering not only a worthwhile critique of the Administration, but also offering a viable alternative, the Right flew off the rails, into the deep weeds, and then proceeded into the deep, dark jungle of fevered McCarthyite fantasy.
Thus I am of two minds here. Congress, in its role as the representative of people, should not only be asked “mother may I” it should be deeply involved in shaping the policy in Syria. It should be debating not when we should bomb, but if we should bomb at all. It should not be some superannuated rubber stamp to the executive. But with the lot of thumb-sucking mental midgets infesting the halls of Congress, especially in the House, we will not get the debate we need. We will instead get a political food fight with Team Red and Team Blue waving their flags, and the proceedings quickly degrading into a rugby scrum.
With Congress showing all the decorum and responsibility of a bunch of hyperactive five year olds fed large doses of Jolt Cola, even if Obama wanted the Legislature to perform its Constitutional mandate, and by that turn reverse the default of every president who ever drew breath, he could not in good conscious surrender to Congress his extra-Constitutional prerogatives. But, of course, Obama is unwilling to surrender on jot of his prerogatives, extra-Constitutional or not. He probably resents having to cede anything to Congress, as the “decision is his alone.”
Thus I look forward to the asinine grand-standing of Rand Paul and other base fools who have been able to get even more base fools to vote for them. I'm quite certain that Rand will be in full Tarzan yell when he approaches the dais to excoriate Obama for being a Black Democratic President. It will be great theater, totally besides the point, but a great chance for all the Paulites to drool over the son of their great prophet. It will be a wonderful dress rehearsal for Rand’s future role of sacrificial lamb to Hillary. I’m sure others will have their turn in the clown car that will be the debate over the bombing. Maybe Bernie Sanders will save the day with a modicum of gravitas, but that will be about it. Team Red and Team Blue will take their respective positions and the no-hold-barred-steel-cage match will commence. And you wonder why we can't have nice things.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The March On Washington And Our National Pastime Of Historical Amnesia

I’m beginning to dread anniversaries. I’m particularly dreading 50 year anniversaries. They seem to be an excuse for hazy remembrance, unjustified back slapping and putting on extra-strength rose colored glasses. The pabulum being pushed out about the March On Washington in all is sanitized and homogenized glory is particularly irksome.

I do not know how much more of this nonsense I can tolerate. The worst part of this exercise it the continued mummification of one of the truly great figures of the late 20th Century, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Yes, he now, like Lincoln, belongs to the ages, however the enshrinement of the man has done a great disservice not only to the man but to the nation.

Look, when the usual gang of idiots on the right side of the political spectrum can cough up the a-hisorical fur ball that Dr. King was a Republican and not be called out on that whopper of a lie, the record must be set straight.

Reverend King was no cuddly teddy bare, he was no sainted martyr preaching peace, love and granola. He was a major thorn in the side of racist, complacent and self-satisfied America. He was a radical who used the tool of non-violent civil disobedience to effect change.

And because of this he was slandered, attacked, and abused; not only by the troglodytes of Dixie but by “reasonable” people in good standing. King was denounced by the good, righteous and practical. He got grilled to no end about being a good for nothing Commie or being at least a Pinko sympathizer. He got spied upon by the Kennedys via J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. He got major flack from the other Negro leaders of the time for going too far, too fast.

If you actually listen to or read that great speech King made half a century ago you can still hear a clarion call, not for mere brotherly love and tolerance, but for radical change. It was call not merely for integration but for transformation, for a more perfect union based on economic, cultural and political justice. It was heady stuff and well outside of the mainstream of status quo America then or now. The Right had a cow, the muddled middle was aghast, and those squishy liberals of the day could barely offer even the most tepid support to the program.

For all of his life Dr. King faced the strong headwinds of what was then called the Establishment. He was at best ignored, or told he was pushing too hard too fast. At worst he was vilified, his life put in real peril. And then there was the attempted blackmail by J Edgar, a black a day in the history of democratic governance as any. The powers that be wanted King gone, they wanted his movement dead and gone. Eventually they got their wish thanks to a racist nobody and scum of the earth whose name will not grace these pages.

So when you read some happy-clappy bit of drivel about The March On Washington, on how much “progress” we have made since then, go back and read the real history, not the mawkish, Disneyfied pseudohistory that has been spoon-fed to you by the usual suspects. Read about the real man and the real philosophy of that man. Read about the challenges he faced and the ever-present danger that was part and parcel not only of his life but every civil rights activist. And yes, read about the all too human foibles and failures of the man; how the high moral tone did not match the sexual appetite. Get the whole narrative, warts and all, because it is only in understanding the temper of the times and the challenges faced does one understand why the March On Washington deserves its iconic status.

It is only then too that we, as a nation, can reclaim our history, the true history, from the sanitized and homogenized fable that has been handed down to us. Real risks were run gentile reader, real danger lurked, real-- neigh ferocious-- opposition, internal as well as external, was faced down and overcome. People where beaten down, some out-right killed in protests similar to this pivotal moment. D.C., lest anyone forget, was very much part of the deep south as Mississippi or Georgia. The message being put out was scandalous, it was dangerous, it challenged the entirety of the status quo, not just Jim Crow. It was not just about little black boys playing with little white girls.The vision of racial, social, and economic justice was the the reason for the final coda of King’s speech. When final justice was achieved, only then could the people, all the people, finally sing “free at last” because only then would they be finally free of all oppression. Only then would they achieve full and meaningful liberation.

If there is anything you take away from this date in history is should be not how far we have gone but the work that still needs doing. Jim Crow, legalized segregation, is dead but his bastard son Jimmy Crow, is thriving:  in gerrymandered congressional districts, voter ID laws, safety net cuts, birtherism and in a thousand other bits of toxic sludge sloshing around the political landscape. Jimmy Crow is ever-present even on the airwaves, actually especially on the airwaves maned by Fox News and the other usual suspects of the WingNut right. The back-patting we are indulging in on this anniversary is way too premature. Time to remember the real call to action. Time to get busy again.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Road To Damascus, We Are Not In Kosovo Anymore.

“Obama’s national-security aides are studying the 1999 air war in Kosovo as a possible blueprint for action in Syria.”

“[T]he No. 1 objective of a U.S. air campaign against Syria would be the seemingly limited one of deterring or preventing Assad’s regime from using chemical weapons again. However, Obama’s top generals and intelligence officers would likely tell him that they can’t do much to fulfill this mission.”

So even on the narrow confines of military tactics the Administrations notions don’t hold much water. But the policy fail goes much deeper than this. Shall we gentle reader? I’m afraid we must.

Syria is not Kosovo. Look at a map one of these nations is in the Near East, the other is in the Balkans. But geography and history aside there is much more to this. Take Russia for one. The Russia of today is not the enfeebled Russia of the late 1990’s when the nation was being run by the lovable lush that was Boris Yeltsin. That Russia had just face-planted in the badlands of Chechnya, loosing the First Chechen war in 1996. Russia could not even hold on to it’s own territory back then, no way it was going to be able support its Slav brothers in Serbia.

Plus Russia’s strategic interest in the Former Yugoslavia was not nearly as critical as its interest today in Syria. First, the Russians do have a history of folding in the Balkans when the odds are stacked up against them. Secondly, because Russia did loose face in Kosovo  then they have a lot more invested in Syria now. The happy talk about Russia backing down in Syria, where it has its only presence in the Near East (plus the always desired warm water port) is suspect at best and dangerously delusional at worst. Russia has both National Pride and National Interest riding on this. And if you payed attention to the Second Chechen War it will pursue both with a bloody mindedness that will take your breath away.

But Syria also has very different neighbors and allies than Serbia did. By the time the bombs flew in Kosovo, Serbia had exactly zero allies who would stand by her. Syria, on the other hand has its neighbor to the north Iran, plus the Iranian allies in Lebanon as an assist. Besides that twosome there is China and if you haven’t noticed China is on a bit of a tear as a world player these days. And China has its own foreign policy goals. Mainly those goals are to frustrate US attempts a hegemony whenever and wherever the Chinese can. With the US overextended and unfocused the Chinese have a rather easy time of accomplishing that goal.

Then there is the small problem of what happens next. A post Milosevic Yugoslavia was not a real security threat to Europe. The nation of the South Slavs had already imploded into just Serbia and Montenegro, not exactly anyone’s definition of a international powerhouse. Besides time had passed the Balkans by. The Balkans had become an international backwater again with Europe safe, secure, peaceful and not really caring who was doing what to whom in the area. The great power game of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was long dead, the result of two disastrous world wars. Via NATO the nations of Europe could intervene in the Balkans without any zero sum considerations. So, not at all like Syria.

Syria sits in one of the most dangerous corners of the world. What happens there matters. And unlike the Balkans, this is the playground not only of great powers but local powers too. Plus in the Near East, they take their religion seriously. Thus not only are great power calculations part of the equation but there is the matter of a thirteen hundred year old food fight between Sunnis and Shias. Thus the Gulf States do have a dog in this fight as do the Iranians. Without a strong center, without Assad holding, however tenuously the reigns of power, the chance you could create a playground for Radical Salafalist Jihadi Terrorists of all types is excellent. No way Israel is going to tolerate having such a state of affairs on its doorstep dear reader.

The pressure to just do something in Syria is getting immense. And with that meme growing day by day, the notion that the US must intervene, really bad thinking is happening. The view that Kosovo is applicable to the situation in Syria is ahistorical. It is laughably bad.  It is to compare not apples to oranges but to compare  grandmothers to  blue whales.

If we intervene, if we use air power to put God back in his heaven and make all right with the world again, it will end in tears. No good will come of this. We have already been exposed as hypocrites all the way back in the glory days of Saddam Hussein. Not only did we look away while our man in Baghdad gassed the Kurds, we (and our allies) sold him the goods to make the poison gas in the first place. Who are we trying to kid with this new-found moral superiority? All of a sudden we have issues with a regime we sent so many poor wretches to be tortured by? We are worse than Lady McBeth in this regard.  What’s the moral here, it’s ok to gun down peaceful protesters from helicopters in Egypt by the hundreds but not to gas people in Syria? You can be a bastard, but not too much of a bastard, is that the message? Our interventionist foreign policy has zoomed right past incoherence and strait past farce. It  will end in tragedy if we don’t get real smart real soon.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Just Do Something!

Our Hamlet in the White House in a jam. Only a year ago he banged his fist on the Bully Pulpit telling the bad boy of the Levant, Bashar Assad, that he’d better behave and not cross that red line if he knew what was good for him. Great theater gentle reader, with one tiny niggle, Obama was going to be called out on that little bit chest beating. Having called the tune, the president is now being asked to pay the bill. Barry has looked over the eye-watering cost of his blather and does not like the shape and size of the numbers. 

But he asked for this. He ran for the job and is being reminded what the full job entails. The pressure to just Do Something, anything to make those bad images on the TV and web just go away is reaching critical mass. A funny thing about things reaching critical mass, they almost run away from you in really bad ways, in melt downs of policy or worse, explosions of war.

The awful thing about Syria is that all our options there are plain awful. We could do what we are doing, which is nothing. The hope here is that Assad is able to crush all comers and reassert “stability” in Syria. That would be a rather nasty blood bath as the Baathist regime clears account with all the people who “betrayed” the “rightful rule” of the Assads. 

But poor Barack Obama, the other option is allowing the resistance to sweep all before it. And that gentle reader is another horror. It would result in the establishment of a fragmented failed state in the region. If you liked the Taliban crashing about in the bad lands of the Hindu Kush you’re just going to love the radical Salafi state that Syria will be in the Levant. 

The last option, the one that no one in DC wants, would be a full on occupation in Syria by NATO. That would be a commitment with no end point and counter productive results. In other words it would be Iraq on steroids. Still, that is just the results we might get. The minute our efforts get “kinetic” that is once the bombs and bullets start flying we are staring at a second Libya at best and a worse than Iraq endgame as the the bookends of our efforts. 

Yet the bobble heads of the Conventional Wisdom insist we, that is the US must Do Something. They will trot out cruise missile attacks or other “limited” options, forgetful of how much death and destruction just one Tomahawk can dish out. Or if they are really clueless, the bobble heads will yammer about a No Fly Zone. Well, that’s a great idea for your armchair general, but the reality is a hell of lot messier. No Fly means a total degradation of Syrian Air Power. It means blowing up a lot of stuff, missile defense systems, radar facilities, air fields, command and control facilities, and, by the way, innocent civilians. No Fly Zone are neither easy nor neat and clean. A lot of uninvolved, innocent civilians are going to get hurt, maimed and killed so we can all feel better about ourselves.

Gentle reader we did have a window of opportunity here, and we let blow past us. Instead of the foolishness of our efforts in Libya we should have instead focused on the main arena. The minute Assad started using his Air Force and Artillery against his own people we should have rounded up our NATO allies and intervened. We knew the capabilities of the Assad regime. We knew the history. We understood the larger history of despots, that they never, ever go gently into that good night. If you really believe in force as a solution, you go with the full Powell Doctrine. You go in fast, you go in hard, and you go in meaning business. No half measures need apply. You crush Assad like the cockroach that he is. 

But that means if you are Obama et al you fully explain the rational, and the need. You don’t just give a pretty speech and then bask in the applause. You gird the nation to do what must be done. You do this because the National Interest of the US and its reputation is on the line. If you make a case for intervention based on humanitarian reasons you better be consistent. You link Libya and Syria together because it really is one and the same thing. You can not play favorites, or try to split hairs. The logic is inescapable. You will be called out if you try to fudge. 

Yet Obama will fudge, and dawdle, and temporize. What else can he do? There are no good options, there are no half measures, there is no way to “calibrate” this mess. The big lie is that we can have some kind of limited response. There is no limit to this, one act will lead to another and we will blunder into a death by a thousands cuts the minute we reach for a military option. Syria is a black hole of chaos, get too close and the nation gets sucked into the vortex. 

We never had a dog in this fight. We do not have one now. We can only add to the tragedy. Will our reputation be damaged by doing nothing now? Yes it will. But it we will suffer worse if we rush in like fools were angles dare not tread. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Oh Goody, More Pointless Saber-Rattling

US boosts naval presence amid Syria tensions.

Fourth vessel ordered to the Mediterranean as pressure rises on White House for action after reported gas attack.


The US is now stacking up Arleigh Burke Destroyers like cordwood in the Med. Al Jazeera now reports four of the vessels doing donuts in the area. One, the USS Mahan, got held over in sort of a big grey stop-loss. I'm sure the Sailors and their families are just thrilled that the ship won't be coming home as planned.

So with each ship possibly configured to launch up to up to 90 cruise missiles (your milage may vary) there is not an inconsiderable amount of flying death aimed at the Assad regime. But with Syria having a rather healthy air force it is not as impressive as one may think. Those ships are rather slow and easy targets for any jet pilot worth his wings.

I'm scratching my head over this move, who, if anyone, is this supposed to impress? I doubt that Bashar Assad will take too much notice or be too concerned. Now if those ships are the support for an Aircraft Carrier or two, (perhaps even three) then we have taken the saber out of the scabbard and are swinging it around briskly.

With the investigation of the possible gassing going the way of the last investigation, slow, convoluted, and constrained, I'm wondering what the whole point of all this diplomatic heavy breathing may be. The Russians have a Naval Base in Syria and if they put their minds to it, they too can have some big grey bruisers trolling the waters of the Med as well. We could create quite the impressive and obscenely expensive regatta off the shores of Tyre if that is the aim. And there is the added bonus for the crews that they can do this in the dog days of summer in one of the hottest places on earth.

I sincerely hope Obama gets a notion in his head, a plan, instead of this Ad Hoc nonsense. So far he has been the perfect brain-dead follower of the oxymoronic DC Conventional Wisdom. The man needs to get out of his contemplative comfort zone. He made an foolish, if politically savvy, statement of the "Red Line" because that is the default set in D.C. Now that he actually has to back up his words with action he has found a serious disconnect between theory and reality. It's easy enough to act tough, to act determined, to stand tall. It a whole different thing to follow through, to perform. All sorts of real world complexities rear their ugly head when theory becomes "kinetic" i.e. when the bombs and bullets start flying.

I'll believe Obama is serious about his military options when I see not just a few Arleigh Burkes bobbing in the waters, but a full on Carrier Groups-- plus ramp ups in Turkey and Italy of NATO airbases. But first Obama has got to snap out of his present funk. He is in Deer-in-the-headlights mode right now, unable to follow through on the fine words he spoke only a year ago. Maybe he should have kept his mouth shut about red lines? Just a thought.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Kicking In Of A Rotten Door. The Road To Damascus Part Eight: Paul Get Gassed

The Arab Spring was fun while it lasted but now that it impinges on the prerogatives of the Global Elites it just has to go; by any means necessary. Ah the salad days when clueless politicians were all goo-goo eyed and dreamy about democracy finally coming to the Near East. Fun times no? The oppressed multitudes of the Arab lands were going to throw off their chains and we we would all walk off in to the sunset, arm in arm, munching on a hotdog and washing it down with a coke. But then, suddenly, we remembered the Demos part of Democracy, that is the inconvenient truth of the actual people who live in the area.

From our elites down we all forgot the history of these people. We had amnesia about the one hundred years of Colonial and NeoColonial rule. We forgot how many of these alleged nations were made out of whole cloth by the victors of WWI and had no legitimacy to speak of. We forgot how warped and twisted the polity of these lands became due to the long, hard, freeze of the cold war. We forgot that the only viable counter to the despots was not Liberal Democratic movements but hard-edged, reactionary, anti-modern Islamic fundamentalists of the Salafi sort. We might have killed the functionality of Al Qaeda but we did not kill the ideology of the movement.

The history of the region has come to bite us hard in Syria. Syria is exactly one of those lands whose existence is due to muddle-headed Colonialist jury rigging. It is the results of France wanting a play toy in the Region. Nothing good could have come of a mostly Islamic people being ruled over by Roman Catholic Europeans. The French came, they conquered, they departed-- leaving a hot mess.

The Post Colonial history of Syria is the unification of disparate people by force major. Before the weird mix of the Assad regime came to fore, that of Alawi sectarians ruling via a Arab Nationalist and Socialist Baathist structure, Syria was in Chaos. The Syrians changed their government about as often as they changed their underwear. But give the murdering bastard and founder of the Assad Clan his due, he put an end to all that.

But death comes to us all and his son and the successor did not have the chops of dear old dad. Well, he did not until now. But at first he seemed shocked to find that his oppressed masses were not all that into him. When the protesters took to streets he was rattled and willing to at least talk about reform. But the masses did not want reform, they wanted  Bashar Assad, actually they just wanted his head--preferable on a pike.

Bashar took exception to this and began the long, slow counter revolution that is bulldozing its way across the land. It started badly with the Government losing lots of ground to the rebels and damn-near losing the whole thing. But the indiscriminate use of air power and a helping hand from the Iranians turned the civil war around.

Of course the Hamlet of the White House was shocked, shocked I tell you, that Assad would resort to such behavior. He drew a line in the sand telling Bashar to be a good boy and not use any kind of WMD or he would be in real trouble. But before Obama could pull the belt from his pants RealPolitik reared its ugly head. Seems those oh so wonderful freedom fighters had a few scurvy dog pirates among them. Oh bother, there seemed to be a passel of Radical Salafi Jihadi tearing around doing some rather obnoxious things in Syria. And look over there, our buddies, our pals, the Saudis are funding this lot in furthering the old Sunni-Shia feud that had gone on since the year 680 of the Common Era. (61 AH for the fans of the Islamic Calendar.) And look over there, it’s the Chinese and the Russians supporting Assad in the UN in furtherance of their interests. And what’s that? The Gulf States have joined the Saudis in support of undermining Iran? And Iran along with “liberated” Iraq have come to aid of the Assad to prevent the Sunni encroachment? Where are the guys with the white hats again? Sorry, it’s Black Hats all around. Right. Great. What to do with that line in the sand again?

Well if you’re Obama you fudge. Red line, I don’t see any red line. Did the Syrians really cross it? Uh, let’s, er, Investigate. Yes, that’s the ticket, we’ll have the UN investigate! The Russians and Chinese won’t object-- oh, they did? How does that great power game go again?

If the results of Obama’s flopping and twitching were not so serious this would be hilarious. But because real people are dying in horrible, painful ways it is no longer funny; if it is still a farce. I thought I never have to surrender a talking point to the Right, but the facts require me to do so. Obama is clueless on foreign policy, he lacks the chops. The man could not find the long term national interests of the United States if you painted it fluorescent orange and lit the whole mess with a hundred thousand watt black light.

The only cold comfort I have is that Obama shares this lack of vision with every other denizen of the fever swamps of the Potomac. Our government, as Dan Carlin keeps pointing out, is utterly corrupt. It serves only the limited interest of the upper .1% of the land. It serves crony capitalism, the corporate elite, the financial elite, and no one else. This is a subset that only cares about preserving and expanding its outsized power and damn the consequences. All around the world it is the same rotten, corrupt and amoral gang. It is the same bunch of egomaniacs and borderline sociopaths running the show.

Assad will most likely get away with this war crime. Obama will let him because he values short term stability over long term justice. More to the point Obama’s Wall Street backers, who own him lock-stock-and-barrel value that stability and are willing to hurt, maim and kill to get it. All for the greater glory of a 20% return on investment.

But the kindling is only getting larger dear reader. The fire may be put out this time, but the fuel remains, and grows. If you follow history dear reader you know this song. You know the lyrics by heart. It is the death song of a civilization. It is the long slow dirge that ends in instruments being smashed and the stage set on fire. The next time we will pass Spring and go straight into the dog days of Summer. We will curse that day and the base fools that are our political and economic elites who allowed it to occur.