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Belmont Club

The Syrian Civil War

June 13th, 2012 - 7:51 am

When Barry Rubin called the Syrian Civil War the “Spanish Civil War of our time” he neglected to emphasize that Spain in the 1930s was the precursor to a larger war. That danger was underscored by car bomb attacks in neighboring Iraq which killed 65 people. “BAGHDAD (AP) — A coordinated wave of car bombs struck Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad and several other cities Wednesday, killing at least 65 people and wounding more than 200 in one of the deadliest days in Iraq since U.S. troops withdrew from the country.”

It was further emphasized by indications that Damascus might allow the transfer offensive missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Jerusalem Post reports that “concern is mounting in Israel over the possibility that Hezbollah will try to move sophisticated weaponry, including Scud missiles, from Syria to Lebanon to protect them in the event of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s downfall.”

If this happens and Israel becomes aware of the transfer, the government will have to decide if it should attack and intercept the transfer or ignore it to prevent such a strike from escalating into an all-out war with Hezbollah and Syria.

An Israeli strike in Syria could provide Assad with the opportunity to use Israel as a scapegoat and divert attention away from his violent crackdown, to Israeli violence.

At the moment the United States seems to be talking from a position of impotence. As Lee Smith wrote in the Weekly Standard, “the Obama administration can’t do a damn thing.”

Maybe Assad will listen to Russia. Maybe Russia will force out Assad. Clarity is the outward expression of resolve, but Clinton’s uncertainty is the rhetoric of impotence, a condition the White House has imposed on itself. It signals to both adversaries and allies that they are free to act on their own because the White House is unable to shape outcomes.

If the Syrian conflict turns into a full-scale civil war, says Clinton, it’s Russia’s fault. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, fears the crisis may spread to the rest of the region and that the international community therefore “had better do something” about it. Obama’s secretary of defense, meanwhile, can’t imagine how the United States could take military action in Syria without U.N. authorization. “My greatest responsibility,” said Leon Panetta, “is to make sure when we deploy our men and women in uniform and put them at risk, we not only know what the mission is, but we have the kind of support we need to accomplish that mission.”

In other words, the administration believes America is incapable of acting on its own to defend and advance its own interests. The White House has come to see the U.S. role in the region much as the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran did. To paraphrase the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the Obama administration can’t do a damn thing.

Not a thing to help any good guys in Syria. Rubin seems to share that view: “the democratic outside world is, for all practical purposes, standing passive. The Iranian regime is helping one side with huge amounts of money and arms, as Nazi Germany did for the Franco forces; the Turkish regime and the Saudis are helping the other side a bit, but giving disproportionate assistance to the Muslim Brotherhood, like the USSR gave to the Communists in Spain. Indeed, U.S. policy is aiding the Brotherhood, too.”

despite all the smug “pro-democracy” rhetoric coming out of the Obama Administration and others, nobody is helping the moderates who are doomed either to being crushed by the repressive regime or being overwhelmed by the totalitarians on their own side. This is a tragedy but it is a tragedy in which passivity is as powerful a force as is evil. That the Obama Administration is mouthing platitudes about human rights and supporting democracy makes the situation altogether more sickening. The debate should not be over whether or not to intervene but how to help natural allies against the inevitable enemies on both sides of the war.

Nor can it do anything to keep outside powers out. Russia has been accused by Hillary Clinton of arming its allies with attack helicopters. “A shipment of attack helicopters is “on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday. But it is unclear what the administration, having given its warning, will do for an encore.

All it can do, for the present, is lead from behind, a strategy which is looking and less and less effective.  Former CIA agent Charles Faddis thinks that in just a little while politicians will be asking themselves, “who lost Egypt”? That would be just one of their worries if the Syrian civil war spreads into Iraq and destroys the fruits of America’s expensive victory there; if it pushes hundreds of missiles into Hezbollah hands and forces the hand of Israel; if it results in a full-scale confrontation between Sunni and Shia across the Middle East based on a conflict fueled by Russia, which could turn around and sell Europe the fuel it need but can no longer get from the region. There may be a nuclear confrontation between Iran, whose WMD program has but been barely inconvenienced by the administration and the Saudi-led Sunnis, with the entire Pakistani atomic arsenal at their disposal.

None of this is inevitable. But those catastrophes are now distinctly within the realm of possibility and palpably nearer. The bulk of America’s forces are in landlocked Afghanistan, dispatched by a genius policy that sought to ‘end the war where it began’. Those forces have scant means of resupply through Pakistan, which has finally manifested its open hatred for the United States. Nor can American forces be withdrawn from Afghanistan except through Russian controlled territory — the same Russia which Hillary Clinton must now face off against in Syria.

The administration has checkmated itself in such an epic manner as to beggar the imagination. Ordinary stupidity could hardly have effected such a comprehensive disaster. Mere imbecility would have been insufficient to the task. Only an arrogance that mistook ignorance and incompetence for “smart diplomacy” could have achieved such a train wreck.

And the most astonishing thing is how they are proud of it. Just how poorly the West has been served by its leaders is the shown by the smug satisfaction with which they’ve destroyed its wealth; corrupted its culture and embarked on a fantasy energy policy. What threat? What problem?

Earlier this year, Susie Buell Tompkins, John Kerry’s fourth-biggest money-raiser in 2004, picketed outside an Obama fundraiser at San Francisco’s W Hotel to protest the pipeline. She wanted Obama’s State Department to block it because she thinks tar sands production hurts the environment and the planet.

Our neighbors the Canadians, who are not unconcerned about the environment themselves, disagree. The pipeline’s promoters say it would produce 20,000 American jobs and would tend to lower U.S. gas prices.

Obama came out on Tompkins’ side and blocked the pipeline.

It’s full speed ahead, like the court at Versailles in its final days, with amateur skits of aristocrats playing at shepherd and shepherdess. “President Obama is quoted in a New Yorker column by hooked-in journalist Ryan Lizza as believing the most important issue to address in his second term would be climate change.” And why not? After all the economy is doing ‘just fine’.


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