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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)

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Poll: Americans Would Rather Drone Syria Than Arm It

A BQM-74E aerial drone launches from USS Thach

Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to the Obama administration’s decision to provide arms to Syrian rebels, but according to a new Quinnipiac University national poll, nearly half would be totally fine with using drones and cruise missiles to attack Syrian government targets.

The poll found that 61 percent of Americans say that it is not in the nation’s best interest to be involved in Syria, while only 27 percent say otherwise, and 59 percent think that providing arms to anti-government groups is not such a hot idea.

But 49 percent of respondents, when asked if the U.S. “should or should not use weapons which don’t risk American lives, such as drones and cruise missiles, to attack Syrian government targets”, said it should, while 38 percent stood opposed.

With polling, every single word matters, and the phrasing of the question can go a long way to determining the outcome. It’s true that American lives will be spared if drones are used, but arming Syrian rebels won’t necessarily put American lives in danger either. My guess is that Americans are more worried about rebel groups getting their hands on weapons, than the actual use of them against the Syrian government. Fair enough, I have the same worry. But imagine a scenario where an American drone mishits a target, and kills an exorbitant number of rebel soldiers, or worse, innocent civilians. At that point, we’ll have succeeded in creating another Egypt, where both sides of the coin hate the U.S. and rally behind that sentiment.

(photo courtesy of U.S. Navy

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Another Iraq? Experts Question Whether Assad Actually Used Chemical Weapons

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President Obama had a lot of things to cover when he spoke to Charlie Rose this week. He had to address NSA surveillance programs leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, create a distinction between his foreign and domestic national security policies and those of Dick Cheney (he’s still working on that one), argue that Syria is not Iraq, and finally, justify the arming of rebels inside Syria. To account for the latter, the president cited that U.S. intelligence, British intelligence, and even French intelligence (sure) have “high confidence” that Assad’s regime used chemical weapons, thus passing his (Obama’s) red-line.

But many are skeptical that the evidence actually exists, or if it legitimately points to actions taken by the Syrian regime — it’s totally unclear how the data was obtained or analyzed. A former U.S. senior official expressed those concerns to the Washington Post:
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Americans Still Say ‘Hell No’ To Syria

YouGov provides even more proof that Americans seem to have a better handle on the Syria question than the President and his administration:

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So a plurality of Americans do not agree that there is a moral obligation to do something about Syria, while a fourth of respondents aren’t sure. So much for McCain’s crusade of moral shaming.

How about arming the rebels?:
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Obama Caves On Syria, Betrays Us All

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President Obama is finally giving John McCain the war he always wanted:

The Obama administration, concluding that the troops of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria have used chemical weapons against rebel forces in his country’s civil war, has decided to begin supplying the rebels for the first time with small arms and ammunition, according to American officials.

The officials held out the possibility that the assistance, coordinated by the Central Intelligence Agency, could include antitank weapons, but they said that for now supplying the antiaircraft weapons that rebel commanders have said they sorely need is not under consideration.

Supplying weapons to the rebels has been a long-sought goal of advocates of a more aggressive American response to the Syrian civil war. A proposal made last year by David H. Petraeus, then the director of the C.I.A., and backed by the State Department and the Pentagon to supply weapons was rejected by the White House because of President Obama’s deep reluctance to be drawn into another war in the Middle East.

Great, so we’re arming the rebels now? Let’s take a look at this handy graphic and guess which one of these will be the lucky winners in the “US Weapon Lottery”:

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Just who are we supposed to arm, exactly? And to what end? The President was elected to keep the country out of these hellish, unwinnable sectarian wars and now, he’s more or less declared that the United States is involved. President Obama didn’t just cave to the neocons, to McCain and Graham and, yes, even to ex-President Bill Clinton (whose war criminal record is one to truly behold) — President Obama betrayed all those who voted him into office on the promises of pragmatism, humanism and common sense.

And to follow the advice of McCain — who, let’s not forget, traveled to Syria recently and took photographs with rebel leaders who happened to also be vicious criminal scum — is the most perplexing of all of this. McCain has been begging for another war since Iraq started coming to an end. Does he give a shit about the history of sectarian violence in Syria? Of course not! He comes from the same school of lunatics that believe that no matter how complex a conflict, all you need are some bombs. It’s a disgrace.

What do we really have before us? 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.

But forget that now, because we have a president that cowers under the weight of his office and betrays even his most basic principles. Take 5 minutes and listen to Fareed Zakaria explain in detail why intervention in Syria will be a bloody disaster for the United States.

Andrew Sullivan captures the anger and frustration we should all be feeling:

We are damn lucky to have gotten every GI out of Iraq, and the notion of being sucked back into that region again – and to join sides in a sectarian conflict – is a betrayal of everything this president has said and stood for. It’s a slap in the face for everyone who backed him because he said he wouldn’t be another Bush or McCain or Clinton. If he intervenes in Syria, he will have no credibility left with those of us who have supported his largely sane and prudent foreign policy so far. Libya was bad enough – and look at the consequences. But Syria? And the entire Middle East? Is he out of his mind?

And can you think of a dumber war than this one?

The man who said he would never engage in a dumb war is apparently preparing to join the dumbest war since … well, Iraq. And by the way: who would you rather have in control of chemical weapons – Assad or the al Nusra brigades? Because it will be the al Nusra brigades who would seize the country if Assad falls. And you think those fanatics have the slightest loyalty to us?

US involvement in Syria will likely only deepen. Once you’ve set the precedent that you’re willing to give arms to rebels (some whom have proven to be as cruel and barbaric as Assad’s thugs), you’ve more or less declared yourself a part of the war. So, stay tuned for Obama’s capitulation to the hawks when they ask for more advanced weaponry. Then buckle your seat belts as he folds again when they demand a no-fly zone.

And should the day ever come where Americans are once again ordered to fight a war they have no business dying for, you’ll know the president that sent them there.

(Photo by Greg Elin)

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Daily roundup – April 11

Today on BaddiesBoogie I began the day with a look at a really cool laser weapons system to be used by the Navy in order to shoot down drones, then shared some cold hard facts showing that actually, President Obama is one heck of a deficit reducer and should his budget be passed, the trend will only continue.

Our Photo of the Day featured a beautiful floating cinema in Thailand that everyone should have the privilege to check out. It’s certainly on my bucket list.

Elsewhere on the blog I took serious offense to Rep. Duncan’s (R) callous allusion of the Rwandan genocide as an example of things to come if indeed background checks are made viable, then ended with another “Laugh Break!”, this time featuring some hilarious segments from the film “Step Brothers”.

Tune in tomorrow for some more stories!

Publius

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Gun control disaster exposes how Washington really operates

“If our democracy’s working the way it’s supposed to, and 90 percent of the American people agree on something, in the wake of a tragedy, you’d think this would not be a heavy lift.” – President Obama

Since the terrible disaster of Sandy Hook, we’ve watched as our elected leaders have fumbled and folded under the pressure of a controversial interest group and minority incentive. The entire saga has been a clear indication for how our Congress really operates. It’s difficult, in all honesty, to refer to it as “our” Congress any more. There are two sides to consider: on one you have public opinion, the horrors of Sandy Hook and Colorado, the President and common sense. On the other side, you have the NRA, a lot of money, a lot of pressure, and minority incentive.

The latter is winning. Badly.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would join a group of Senate Republicans threatening a filibuster to oppose a cloture vote if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moves a gun bill to the floor this week…McConnell joins a group of 13 senators who have already vowed to block any gun legislation.

Benenson and Connolly show in the NY Times that the majority of Americans have shifted to prefer stronger enforcement of our existing gun laws, rather than new laws. Here’s the problem they illustrate: most Americans have no clue what existing gun laws are. 6 in 10, to be exact:

A large number think that federal laws require a background check for every gun purchase and that they ban high-capacity magazines. If these Americans knew that we didn’t have such laws — laws they so fervently wish to enforce — their beliefs about the correct course of Congressional action might be very different.

All this really reinforces is that congressional action is rarely predicted by the majority support of a particular measure. There’s not much more to be done to be fair to inform the uninformed when there’s already been overwhelming media coverage of the issue, constant use of the bully pulpit by the President, and the horror of a national tragedy like Sandy Hook.

But this also shows the way in which Congress operates, disconnected from the majority. Gun control isn’t the first issue that’s been unsuccessful despite majority public opinion, the bully pulpit and a national tragedy lending themselves to the cause. Since 2009, The Affordable Care Act passed despite it lacking in the polls. Income tax increases on the wealthy failed despite massive public support. The public option failed even though it was by far the most fancied measure in the health care bill, and lauded by Republicans in particular. Bank bailouts passed, everyone hated it. Medicare and Social Security cuts will almost certainly be apart of any Grand Bargain between the two parties, despite it being widely unpopular and opposed.

“I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home.”
– Ronald Reagan

Congress has been working like this for years now. It’s driven by the fear of conservative activists who would raise hell for these elected people’s fundraising campaigns should they agree with any measure of the President’s gun control bill. And why shouldn’t they be more fearful of a powerful and vocal minority than a checked out and lazy majority? Polls don’t move Congress. Actions move Congress.

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