Tag Archives: war

Kalashnikov’s Remorse

The creator of the AK-47 assault rifle seeks mercy; regrets its use

66 years later, the Avtomat Kalashikova remains the world’s most ubiquitously used weapon, estimated in contributing – even in relatively “quiet” years – to the deaths of a quarter of a million of the world’s population per annum. Developed in the Soviet Union in 1947, used by its forces in 1949, the AK-47 assault rifle will undoubtedly endure for many decades more – a solemn fact that certainly contributed to its creator seeking mercy and forgiveness for his contribution to its existence. Mikhail Kalashnikov died late last month, two days before Christmas, at the age of 94. He lived to see and feel and weigh the horrors his invention was used to inflict; he lived with the astonishing fact that Kalashnikovs make up more than one in ten of all firearms, and are the weapon of choice for armies made up of drugged, deluded and manipulated child soldiers. In 2010, the then 91 year old Kalashnikov wrote the Russia Orthodox Church to ask a question I think he regrettably knew the answer to: was the blood shed by the weapon over the more than half a century since he created it, on his hands? “My spiritual pain is unbearable,” he wrote. “I keep having the same unsolved question: if my rifle claimed people’s lives, then can it be that I… a Christian and an Orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?”

The church told him not to dwell on the matter too heavily in his twilight years. Its press secretary, Cyril Alexander Volkov, wrote in a reply to Kalashnikov that, “The Church has a very definite position: when weapons serve to protect the Fatherland, the Church supports both its creators and the soldiers who use it.” The press secretary was later quoted as saying, “He designed this rifle to defend his country, not so terrorists could use it in Saudi Arabia.”

800px-Afrimil-ethiopiansoldier

The church’s position is, I think, correct. It’s difficult to impart much guilt on Kalashnikov for his creation, meant for the safeguarding of his country against the better-equipped Nazi invaders, especially since he could not have foreseen the abominable future misuse of it, and feels obvious regret and remorse for that misuse. It’s noteworthy to remind ourselves that Kalashnikov is not the first – nor will he be the last – weapon inventor who has expressed regret and remorse for their contributions. The namesake of the Nobel Peace Prize, Alfred Nobel, expressed similar remorse when his creation of dynamite – meant to be used as an instrument of peace – was used to wreak untold havoc throughout the breadth of the First World War. The nuclear scientists that developed the nuclear bomb(s) dropped on Japan during the Second World War pleaded with President Truman to not use the weapon to such effect. Even Albert Einstein, who famously consulted with President Roosevelt to urge his continued research on developing the bomb, expressed remorse: “Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I would have never lifted a finger.”

Still, as RT.com notes, “AK-47s have caused more deaths than artillery fire, airstrikes and rocket attacks combined.” It’s easy then to understand why the man responsible for that creation feels such pangs about the millions who have lost their lives because of something he invented. In 2007, Kalashnikov was posed a question of the state of his conscience, and confidently replied, “I sleep well. It’s the politicians, who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence.” It seems obvious that Kalashnikov is in some ways morally responsible for the weapon he created, but it’s perhaps unfair of us to depart on him much blame for the horrors perpetuated by the Avtomat Kalashikova. It was a weapon created for the defence of a people; it was meant for bringing about the end of a terrible war against a terrible foe. But wars were waged long before 1947, and will be waged for the entirety of our species’ time on this planet. We are all culpable for the millions who have given way to our frightful waging of war, not just Mikhail Kalashnikov.

Photo Credit: (Above) AK-47 assault rifle courtesy of Flickr user Brian nairB; (Below) Ethiopian National Defense Force 1st Lieutenant Ayella Gissa takes aim with an AK-47 assault rifle on a simulated enemy during a practical exercise as part of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa’s train the trainer course in Hurso, Ethiopia, December 27, 2006, courtesy of wikicommons.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Society

Exposing The Horror and Disgrace Of America’s Drone War

Green for Growth & Peace

After carefully reading the new human rights reports issued by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on America’s drone war, I can best describe my mood as equal parts nauseous and horrified. The reports are, in a word, gruesome. And while I have problems with various aspects of both – among them the overreach of each in conflating unintended collateral civilian casualties as war crimes – I nonetheless have to consider the fact that a great-many innocent people (up to 900 in Pakistan alone) have been killed, and their deaths seem to have come at the hands of my country’s government.

Like many others Americans my age, my formative years were consumed by a seemingly never-ending conflict between “good and evil” or “us vs. them”, aimed at justifying America’s engagement in I-don’t-know-how-many conflicts and moral crusades in order to “safeguard our freedom and way of life”. I was a kid (13) when the towers fell and we began this continuing trend of extremist-eradication at-all-costs. But then, in 2008, Barack Obama ran for President, and I’d never seen anything like it. I was too young and uninterested to remember the Clinton years, really. Everything I knew about Presidential power, and the exercise of it, I knew from George W. Bush and Dick “Chancellor Palpatine” Cheney. So when, in 2008, Obama ran on principles of transparency, honesty, accountability and justice, I was naturally inspired; hopeful that the world Bush and Cheney created would finally be jettisoned for something good.

As much I would like to follow the lefty herd and blindly claim that somehow, someway, we’ve gotten ourselves out of the same rut that consumed us during the breadth of Bush’s term(s), the truth is that we haven’t. The truth is we’ve replaced open evil with closeted evil.

Obama visits Pentagon

For years now the president and his senior advisers have made public claims about America’s drone program that have been found to be categorically false. We know, for instance, from top-secret intelligence documents, that “contrary to assurances it has deployed US drones only against known senior leaders of al-Qaida and allied groups, the Obama administration has targeted and killed hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified ‘other’ militants in scores of strikes in Pakistan’s rugged tribal area.” (Jonathan Landy) These revelations don’t just illustrate that the drone program is out of hand or that the Obama administration has become incapable in accounting for it, but that the Obama administration knowingly misleads the public about the scope of who can be legitimately targeted by unmanned aerial vehicles.

Here’s a crucial point: the Obama administration/US military/intelligence agencies often have no idea who they are killing. Even the CIA – whose intelligence reports are basically the means by which targets are chosen – often has zero idea of the identities of many of the people they target for death. President Obama, much like his predecessor, approves of the use of something called “signature strikes”, where the least important factor in the decision making process to target someone for a drone strike is who they are. More important to the decision making calculus the government employs – and the reason many are targeted for death despite their identity being unknown – is intelligence gathering suggesting that the individual is a ‘militant’ if he engages in a pattern of life more commonly engaged in by ‘militants’. The NY Times reported that “the joke [at the State Department] was that when the CIA sees ‘three guys doing jumping jacks’, the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp”.

Chinook flight

I should note that the Obama administration has – prior to the reports – signaled its intention to embrace a policy shift away from drones towards various other counterterrorism measures. But because Americans are largely agnostic towards the use of drones in far-away places like Pakistan, and since that ambivalence means neither Republicans nor Democrats will pressure the President to make good on his campaign promises of accountability and transparency, there’s little chance he will.

Photos: Kashif Mardani; US Army

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Even When The Chemical Weapons Are Gone, Violence And Despair Will Endure In Syria

A man bleeds in a northern Syria hospital after a ricochet bullet went through his foot. In a sense, he was lucky that the bullet did not stay in his body, which would have required surgery to remove. The hospital staff told us that until very recently th

Notwithstanding my remarkably horrendous coping with jet-lag, I have been following along — as best I can — with the developments in, around, and regarding Syria. From the hasty deal struck between Russia and the U.S. to account for Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, to the draft resolution currently underway — and meant for an imminent Security Council resolution — involving diplomats from the U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain, it seems like the Obama Administration has been able to avert a war, save face, and reinforce everyone’s favourite international norm.

But while it’s a very good thing the international arena is acting in unison over Assad’s use of chemical weapons, it makes little difference to the everyday Syrian — either fighting in the streets, or fighting to stay alive at home. The sad truth is, we’re in the early stages of a bloodletting in Syria that began nearly 94 years ago when one Brit (Sir Mark Sykes) and one Frenchman (Francois George-Picot) divided the Arab provinces — once belonging to the Ottoman Empire — between their two respective colonial powers. The Sykes-Picot Agreement (also known as the Asia Minor Agreement) of 1920 created the modern state of Syria as we now know it. 20130918-110243.jpgNo one living in Syria ever got a say in how their “nation” was constructed — both in terms of territory, and control. Syria was purposefully devised to pit the Shiite Alawite minority against the Sunni Arab majority, with a side-show consisting of Christians, Druze and Kurds (who are also Sunnis). The same principle (divide-and-rule) applied to Iraq, except the minority Sunnis were used to control the majority Shiites. The reason colonial powers constructed these cynical divisions is simple: appeal to the minority, train them, arm them, and use them to control the majority out of fear, oppression, and obligation. It’s how empires are made, and how they endure.

It should come as no surprise, then, that from Syria and Iraq we had (and have) two of the most brutal, horrific dictators of all time: Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad. They were (and are) manifestations of colonial manipulation; the products of two nations created under the weight of permanent warfare, oppression, and sectarian strife.

“Why do we have a brutal civil war in Syria?” is not the question we should be asking. We know why it’s happening. It’s the same reason we still have one raging in Iraq. The brutal and callous decades long oppression of the majority groups in both states broke free, at long last, with the Arab Spring. For better or worse, and due in large part to the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, the bloodletting in Syria has only just begun. It won’t stop if and when the chemical weapons stockpiles are accounted for. Nor will it stop if and when Bashar al-Assad is removed from power. Notice for example how when the United States argues that it’s justified in arming the opposition, they make it plain that they intend to only support “moderate” rebels. What about the not-so-moderate rebels? What role will they play in a post-Assad Syria? The quixotic idea that any two sides in this conflict could reach a political agreement, untainted by blood and terror, is as likely as it was in Iraq — where a decade of occupation and trillions of dollars could not prevent 100,000+ deaths.

Innocent men, women and children are being murdered at staggering rates. Some have been gassed, but 99% have lost their lives to the real “weapons of mass destruction”: small munitions. The images of dead children, and the videos of crying mothers holding their lost loved ones are unbearably heartbreaking. But for every image of an innocent life lost, there’s a video of a rebel, or one of Assad’s soldiers, reminding the world through barbaric savagery that this is a sectarian fight to the death.

And no UN Resolution is going to change that.

(Photo: Freedom House)

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Best Of The Week

20130913-142805.jpg

Apologies to my readers for the lack of posts these past couple of weeks. I’m moving to London for grad school this weekend, so it’s been difficult to keep up with the blog, but mostly because I didn’t want to do a half-ass job for all of you who regularly keep up with Left and Center. I’m not sure what this blog will look like when I live in London. School will take up a considerable amount of my time, and the time-change will undoubtedly be an obstacle. What I imagine happening is that I’ll shift from a number of posts per day to one or two longer ones.

But back to the matter at hand. It’s been one hell of a week for news, and while I wish I could have written more, I’m happy about what’s been put out. The most popular post of the week was my reaction to where we now stand in regards to Syria: A Better Solution. Close behind in terms of traffic was my breakdown of Russian President Vladimir “KGB” Putin’s op-Ed in the New York Times, Putin, Troll.

Other popular posts (mostly because they were the only posts!) included The Astonishingly Bad Arguments For Another Middle-East War; Could This Kerry Gaffe Save Us From Another Middle-East War?; and, but of course, Forget The Pill, Meet The Pullout Generation.

Back soon.

Publius

(Photo: via wikicommons)

Leave a comment

Filed under Best Of The Week

The Astonishingly Bad Arguments For Another Middle-East War

130903-D-KC128-339

During the absurd Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing featuring three senior American officials — Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense, and John Kerry, Secretary of State — on why the Administration is justified in seeking Congressional approval for a strike against Syria, Kerry argued — with a straight face — that, “We don’t want to go to war in Syria either … The President is not asking you to go to war.”

Except that’s exactly what he’s asking. What is Kerry trying to argue? That just because the ships launching the missiles will be safe from retaliatory fire, it’s not war? Do we only label something as war when other nations kill Americans, not the other way around? I get that it’s kind of been an American thing to launch bombs against other countries, but have we become so jaded about the seriousness of war that we hesitate in labeling a massive bombing campaign against another state’s infrastructure (and people) as such?

The rest of the arguments for intervention — heard during the hearing — were just as illogical, and because I don’t want you to have to sit through the same excruciating video I did, here’s my summary:

    • Assad used chemical weapons, so we should make an example of him to deter other dictators from using chemical weapons in the future. BUT, we don’t mean we should punish him to the point of removing him from power, since Syria would “implode”. Instead, the punishment would focus ONLY on his chemical weapons capabilities. So, while our policy is that Assad has to go, we won’t force him to go. In that case, we’ll launch surgical air strikes directed at his chemical weapons capabilities, but not his ability to rule over Syria. And, we’ll just have to live with the fact that we’re NOT accounting for the other weapons that have killed 99% of Syrians during this conflict. Please vote yes.

Here’s the video (it’s really long):

While reinforcing some abstract international norm — that nations like the United States have willingly broken themselves by allowing Saddam’s regime to use chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War — sounds good as a talking point, it hardly motivates anyone to throw their support behind another war. According to The Independent, about 80% of the British people oppose exactly what Obama’s proposing. A Washington Post/ABC News poll found nearly 70% of Americans are likewise against it.

But even while Obama enjoys considerably less domestic support than Bush had with Iraq, as well as no British backing, and open condemnation from much of the UN for immediate intervention, his proposition for air-strikes against Syria may very well pass — by the skin of it’s teeth — in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Our only hope is that — as we saw in the House of Commons — the representatives of the American people will actually listen to their constituents, and save us all from yet another bloody, costly, unjustified and unpopular sectarian war in the Middle East.

(Photo: Chair. Joint Chiefs)

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Where Is The Anti-War Movement?

SF Peace Protest

Rosie Gray reports on a troubling trend we’ve been noticing here on Left and Center: as we gear up for yet another intervention, the anti-war Left is nowhere to be found:

Activists who turned out thousands of protesters during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq say they’ve been unable to effectively organize or raise money since the end of the Bush years, and that newer causes like drones have seized the space on the left once occupied by opposition to conventional warfare. And some acknowledge that the energy has leaked out of the movement because a Democrat is now in office. Though some groups have organized online petitions and some real-life protests, the antiwar crowd that was on fire before the war in Iraq has made hardly a dent in the conversation surrounding Syria.

Reihan Salam buys into the partisan angle:

Democratic success hasn’t just weakened the antiwar movement. Though the Obama administration has been criticized by environmentalists and civil libertarians for various failures, real and perceived, the energy behind these movements tends to wane under Democratic administrations, and not just because Democratic administrations are more likely to accept the legitimacy of environmentalist and civil libertarian claims. Similarly, conservative calls for fiscal consolidation and abortion restrictions have tended to be more muted under Republican administrations, though it is possible that this will change in the future.

So, it’s an interesting observation, but not entirely fair. Anti war movements take time to really gain traction, and it’s barely been a week since Obama first signaled his intent to intervene militarily in Syria.

Joshua Keating notes some other reasons why criticisms of the anti-war left may be premature:

…a major premise of the anti-Iraq movement was that the Bush administration was hyping the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. Yes, Saddam Hussein had also used chemical weapons (with the U.S. government’s knowledge), but that was years earlier. In this case the attack happened last week and the photos of its aftermath are still being plastered on the news. You can argue that Assad’s use of chemical weapons is a bad reason to attack, but it’s harder to argue that the Obama administration is simply inventing a reason to invade a country it has been wanting to invade for years.

Then there’s the issue of casualties. There’s no discussion at the moment of ground troops in Syria, and so the likelihood of U.S. troops dying is less. Anti-war groups do obviously care about Iraqi or Syrian civilian casualties, but as they’ve learned in trying to organize opposition to U.S. drone strikes, it’s much harder to excite public passion when Americans themselves aren’t dying.

(Photo: Ed Johnson)

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Tweet Of The Day: Britain Stands Above

The story can be read here. Long live competence.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

What The Rest Of The World Thinks Of US

U.S Military Forces in Bosnia - Operation Joint Endeavor

Paul Waldman provides timely perspective on how the rest of the world feels about U.S. military action since 1963:

Some of these operations worked out very well, others didn’t. And just to be clear, this history doesn’t tell us whether bombing Syria is a good idea or a bad idea. But if you’re wondering why people all over the world view the United States as an arrogant bully, reserving for itself the right to rain down death from above on anyone it pleases whenever it pleases, well there you go. It doesn’t matter whether you think some or even all of those actions were completely justified and morally defensible. From here, we tend to look at each of these engagements in isolation, asking whether there are good reasons to go in and whether we can accomplish important goals for ourselves and others. But when when a new American military campaign begins, people in the rest of the world see it in this broader historical context.

If you take a longer look at the list he provides (and do some basic math), you’ll find that the United States has launched one significant overseas assault every three years since 1963 — or every 40 months. Kevin Drum laments how little of this resonates with the American people:

Too many Americans have a seriously blinkered view of our interventions overseas, viewing them as one-offs to be evaluated on their individual merits. But when these things happen once every three years, against a backdrop of almost continuous smaller-scale military action (drone attacks, the odd cruise missile here and there, sending “advisors” over to help an ally, etc.), the rest of the world just doesn’t see it that way. They don’t see a peaceful country that struggles mightily with its conscience and only occasionally makes a decision to drop a bunch of bombs. They see a country that views dropping bombs as its primary means of dealing with any country weaker than we are.

Considering the rate at which we’ve launched bombs against foreign states the past 50 years, we’re actually ahead of schedule for the next round. It’s only been two years since Libya.

(Photo: U.S. military forces in Bosnia — operation Joint Endeavor, by Expert Infantry)

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Society

Representatives Urge Obama To Consult With Congress Over Syrian Intervention

20130828-130157.jpg

Kevin Drum has the developing story:

Rep. Scott Rigell (R–Virginia) reports that as of a few minutes ago his letter urging President Obama to consult Congress before launching an attack on Syria is “Inching…toward…100… 81 Republicans and 16 Democrats have signed on to our letter so far…” That’s good. But I sure wish more Democrats were willing to get on board.

Why so few Democrats would get behind something as common-sense as this is perplexing, and perhaps telling of how much of Washington is motivated by Partisan hackery. But given that the proposed intervention is widely unpopular (even more unpopular than Congress, if you can believe it), why wouldn’t the President want to get Congress behind him here? Firstly, it would legitimize the action, but it would simultaneously protect both the President and his party from taking on all the blame should it go badly. Even David Cameron called a special Parliament to openly debate Britain’s involvement.

And what will it mean as precedence for this President — who once vowed to never use military force without congressional approval — to circumvent Congress in such a way not even seen during the hellish years of his predecessor?

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Map Of The Day: Sectarianism In Syria

20130828-113522.jpg

Max Fisher breaks down the map above, provided by Columbia University’s Gulf/2000 Project, which “shows the different ethnic and linguistic groups of the Levant, the part of the Middle East that’s dominated by Syria, Lebanon and Israel”:

Ethnic and linguistic breakdowns are just one part of Syria’s complexity, of course. But they are a really important part. The country’s largest group is shown in yellow, signifying ethnic Arabs who follow Sunni Islam, the largest sect of Islam. Shades of brown indicate ethnic Kurds, long oppressed in Syria, who have taken up arms against the regime. There are also Druze, a religious sect, Arab Christians, ethnic Armenians and others.

Syria is run by Alawites, a minority sect of Islam whose members include President Bashar al-Assad and many in his inner circle. They’re indicated in a greyish green, clustered near the Mediterranean coast. Although Alawites make up only 12 percent of the Syrian population, they are playing a crucial role in the war, fighting to prop up Assad’s regime.

He also uses the map to further this argument made by the great Fareed Zakaria, which we’ve featured several times here on Left and Center:

Zakaria’s thesis is that what we’re seeing in Syria is in some ways the inevitable re-balancing of power along ethnic and religious lines, with the Sunni Arab majority retaking control from the Alawite minority. He compares the situation to post-2003 Iraq, when members of the Shiite majority violently took power from the Sunni minority that, under Saddam Hussein, had ruled them. That would explain why so much of the killing in Syria has been along sectarian lines. It would also suggest that there’s not much anyone can do to end the killing because, in his view, this is a painful but unstoppable process.

(Map courtesy of Gulf/2000 Project)

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

We Used Sarin

Warriors

Newly declassified documents from the CIA show that Saddam Hussein relied heavily on U.S. intelligence and satellite imagery when he used mustard and sarin gas against Iran during the long and bloody Iran-Iraq war:

“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” [retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona] told Foreign Policy.

According to recently declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials like Francona, the U.S. had firm evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks beginning in 1983. At the time, Iran was publicly alleging that illegal chemical attacks were carried out on its forces, and was building a case to present to the United Nations. But it lacked the evidence implicating Iraq, much of which was contained in top secret reports and memoranda sent to the most senior intelligence officials in the U.S. government. The CIA declined to comment for this story.

The disclosure is timely, considering the United States is set to launch a military strike against another dictator who probably definitely used chemical weapons:

If, as is looking increasingly likely, the U.S. does conduct a military intervention in Syria it is worth remembering that the U.S., while condemning the use of chemical weapons now, once supported a dictator knowing that he intended to use chemical weapons on his enemies, another example of how policy makers too often justify ugly and obscene policies in order to pursue what are considered desirable ends.

Ah, perspective.

(Photo: by Kamshots — Painting of the Iranian soldiers during the Iran-Iraq war, outside walls of the Ex-US embassy-Taleghani street in Tehran.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Syria Is Not Iraq. It’s Much Worse.

Nic6089782

The big news today is that we should expect limited air strikes against Bashar al Assad to commence within the next few days, aimed at sending a clear message to the embattled dictator — and to the next civilian group or military leader locked in a terrible war — that the use of chemical weapons is just not worth it.

A nation’s credibility is important, if indeed that nation needed credibility in order to operate its foreign policy effectively. The United States has the biggest and strongest military since forever, and that should be credibility enough.

But ultimately, this isn’t about chemical weapons or about reinforcing some abstract international norm that nations like the United States have willingly broken themselves. It’s about stopping a brutal man from slaughtering thousands of his own people. It’s about removing him from power (eventually) and replacing him with someone who will operate under the guidance of the West. That’s why the CIA overthrew Mossadeq; why we invaded Iraq; why we engineered Gaddafi’s demise; and why we supported the overthrow of Mubarak. That’s what we do.

I’m not exactly expressing an unpopular opinion here when I say that intervention in Syria is the worst idea in the last decade or so. For the American public, congress polls higher than this war. But Jonathan Chait raises an important point that I think needs to be addressed. His premise is that younger neoliberals whose formative years came during the Iraq war are mistakenly juxtaposing that war and it’s consequences on every other conflict that comes around. In short, he argues that Syria is not Iraq:

The merits of intervening in Syria strike me as both a closer call and a lower-stakes matter than what we think of as “major wars.” The apparently forthcoming operation has much more modest ends than the intervention in Libya, which I supported and that succeeded in its aim. We will not be toppling a brutal regime or preventing an imminent massacre. The purpose of air strikes is to impose a cost on regimes that deploy chemical weapons against civilians. Attacking the Syrian regime won’t stop all future massacres of civilians, or even all chemical attacks on civilians, but it does strike, on balance, as better than doing nothing at all.

I would have liked Chait to highlight that entire section and type “yet” off to the side. Sure, the “proposed” air strikes are a heck of a lot more lower-stakes than full scale intervention in Iraq was, but does he really think that the United States can bomb a country at war, exacerbating a conflict to who knows what, and then just shrug and walk away?

He ends with this:

I don’t like killing Syrians. And a lot of Syrians are getting killed. I don’t see any plausible way to stop that from happening. I do think that killing some of the Syrians who are soldiers wantonly killing civilians will probably lead to a net decrease in killing. As I said, it is not an easy call. But I continue to be amazed that some of my younger liberal friends find it so easy to dismiss any weighing of pros and cons by venturing arguments structurally identical to ones that, in a domestic context, they recognize as absurd.

The point is, there is no plausible way to stop the killing from happening, and I fail to see how killing Syrians who are killing Syrians will lead to a decrease in killing Syrians. If anything, this will invigorate pro-Assad Syrians to kill more, and will lead to a dramatic increase in the already staggering number of Iranians and *enter-your-foreign-terror-group-here* already imbedded in the war. I’ve said it before, exhaustingly, that we have before us a regional, sectarian war that has been brewing since the Iraq debacle severed the region’s fragile stability – further severed by the barrage of change unleashed by the Arab Spring. Beneath the Iran-Israel stand-off, we also have a Shia-Sunni struggle, in which Assad and Khamenei and Hezbollah and Maliki are fighting off Sunni Jihadists and democrats trying to depose Assad. The point is that this cannot be our problem to solve. It cannot become our fight. There are no good options when it comes to Syria, but the least worst option is to surely stand aside and let the conflict resolve itself.

(Photo: Freedom House)

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

The Arguments For (And Against) Intervention In Syria

Members of the Free Syrian Army, an armed opposition group made up largely of defectors from President Bashar al-Assad’s army, attacked a column of government tanks passing through the town of Saraqib, Syria.

We still don’t know for sure if Bashar Al Assad used chemical weapons against his own people in the suburbs east of Damascus. Considering the lengthy list of barbaric atrocities carried out by his regime, and given that UN inspectors were — just today — targets of sniper fire while attempting to gather proof that could possibly exonerate Assad if indeed he’s been telling the truth, I don’t think I’m going out on any limb by saying that I think he almost certainly used chemical weapons.

I’ve long argued that there’s no good option when it comes to Syria, but non-intervention is the best-bad choice. Despite that, it looks ever more certain that intervention of some sort is brewing, and so if involvement is the worst option on the table, then air strikes have to be considered as the best worst option of the worst option.

Over at Wonkblog, Max Fisher provides the most basic arguments for and against intervention by air strikes. The case against air strikes is pretty damn good: they won’t change the trajectory of the conflict; civilian casualties will increase; and there will almost certainly be an escalation of hostilities.

The case for air strikes is a little less persuasive:

1) A “punishment” strike against Assad’s forces for this month’s suspected chemical weapons attack would make him think twice before doing it again….

2) The international norm against chemical weapons matters for more than just Syria….When the next civilian or military leader locked in a difficult war looks back on what happened in Syria, we want him to conclude that using chemical weapons would not be worth the risk.

3) Even just the (apparently earnest) threat of U.S. strikes could change Assad’s behavior.

The three arguments are interchangeable, and call for the exact same outcome: make sure chemical weapons are never used again. But would surgical air strikes against military targets deter Assad — or any other future-dictator in a fight for his existence — from using chemical weapons against those attempting to depose him? Unless the air strikes are devastating, I doubt it.

Make no mistake here: the United States would be declaring war against Assad if air strikes commence. There’s only one way to change Assad’s “behavior”, and that’s by removing his government from power.

(Photo: Freedom House. Members of the Free Syrian Army, an armed opposition group made up largely of defectors from President Bashar al-Assad’s army, attacked a column of government tanks passing through the town of Saraqib, Syria.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Did The Worst Chemical Weapons Attack In Decades Just Happen In Syria?

20130821-103116.jpg(YouTube Screenshot)

Syrian rebels claim that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons against “women, children”, and themselves in the suburbs east of Damascus, affecting at least 1,300 people:

BEIRUT/AMMAN – Syria’s opposition accused President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of gassing many hundreds of people – by one report as many as 1,300 – on Wednesday in what would, if confirmed, be the world’s worst chemical weapons attack in decades.

George Sabra, one of the leading opponents of Assad, said the death toll was 1,300 killed by poison gas released over suburbs east of Damascus.

“Today’s crimes are … not the first time the regime has used chemical weapons. But they constitute a turning point in the regime’s operations,” he told a news conference in Istanbul. “This time it was for annihilation rather than terror.”

An opposition monitoring group, citing figures compiled from medical clinics in the Damascus suburbs, put the death toll at 494 – 90 percent of them killed by gas, the rest by bombing and conventional arms. The rebel Syrian National Coalition said 650 people had been killed.

If the cause of death and the scale of the killing were confirmed, it would be the worst known use of chemical weapons since Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Kurds in the town of Halabja in 1988.

It’s always difficult to figure out exactly what happened, or who to believe, but Foreign Policy reports that videos “showed Syrians lying on the floor gasping for breath, medics struggling to save infants, and rows of bodies of those who had reportedly died in the attack.”

https://twitter.com/lizobagy/statuses/370209257569804288

But it has to be noted that all of the information coming out of the Ghouta region, where rebels enjoy broad support, has yet to be confirmed by independent observers. The videos do suggest some sort of attack, but some have expressed doubt that the released footage shows enough of the symptoms that would follow a chemical weapons attack of this kind.

So we’re really left with one option here: dispatch the UN observers who are already in the country to the affected areas ASAP. If they find that chemical weapons were indeed used, then we can verify what the rebel groups have been saying and go from there. If they aren’t allowed into the area by the Syrian regime, then we have Assad basically admitting guilt.

The interesting question here is what will happen if the reports are confirmed and the worst chemical weapons attack — let’s just call it a good old fashioned war crime — since Saddam in 88′ just took place. Will Obama finally be moved to intervene? Would intervention be the sort of disaster I’ve been saying it would be? Or will the U.S., and the UN, simply turn a blind eye yet again to Assad?

Probably the latter. But let’s wait and see.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

The Founding Fathers Were Younger Than You Think

20130820-110451.jpg(Photo: Via Wikicommons)

When we think of the leaders of the American Revolution, how many of us actually consider the ages of the men and women involved in securing our liberty from Britain? In doing research for his book, author Todd Andrlik compiled as thorough a list as he could to show that in fact, many of the founding fathers were younger than 40, some even in their twenties. The average age of those who put their names to the Declaration of Independence was 44, and more than a dozen of those were 35 or younger.

    “We tend to see them as much older than they were,” said John Adams biographer David McCullough in a 2005 speech. “Because we’re seeing them in portraits by Gilbert Stuart and others when they were truly the Founding Fathers—when they were president or chief justice of the Supreme Court and their hair, if it hadn’t turned white, was powdered white. We see the awkward teeth. We see the elder statesmen. At the time of the revolution, they were all young. It was a young man’s–young woman’s cause.”

Check out the list after the jump: (asterisks mean that there is evidence the person’s age is not precise — only the birth year is known)
Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics