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.
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