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Joining the Howitat

August 26th, 2013 - 4:35 pm

Max Fisher, writing in the Washington Post says that if you’re worried about war breaking out in Syria, don’t. “Obama wants to punish Assad, not win the Syrian civil war.”  Obama will only pretend to military action. In reality he will just be sending expensive smoke signals. Fisher writes:

Every signal so far suggests the United States is planning something very limited, most likely a series of finite cruise missile strikes against Syrian government infrastructure, perhaps some aircraft strikes, as well. One criticism you will hear over and over is that this sort of response is unlikely to change the course of the war in Syria, which President Bashar al-Assad appears to be slowly winning. And that’s correct. But it also misses the point.

If the Obama administration does go through with these strikes, then its goal, as both Kerry and White House press secretary Jay Carney made clear, is not to shape the course of the war or force out Assad. Its goal is to punish the Assad regime for using chemical weapons, both as a deterrent against using then again and as a warning to any future military leaders that they’d better not use them, either.

It’s a public relations exercise. But as always in these cases the question must be asked: what could go wrong? First, here’s the specific message Fisher thinks Obama is trying to send. Dit da dah da, only this time spelled out by Tomahawk missile impacts.

The Obama administration also wants to uphold the norm against any nation’s use of chemical weapons. The idea is that, when the next civilian or military leader locked in a difficult war looks back on what happened in Syria, that leader will be more likely to conclude that the use of chemical weapons isn’t worth the risk.

Gary Gambill at the Middle East Forum describes the analytical framework behind this messaging.  Gambill says the whole point of sending arms to Syrian rebels, indeed the of bombing Assad to this point is to create peace. According to this point of view peace is in outcome of making victory impossible. You don’t want your enemy to win. Neither do you want to win either. You want a draw. Victory is an evil to be avoided at all costs. Gambill writes:

As the Syrian civil war rages on with no end in sight, many advocates of U.S. intervention are claiming that an infusion of Western arms to carefully vetted rebel factions will help bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Though hardly the first time that tools of war have been recast as instruments of peace, this curious proposition has gained unprecedented currency across the ideological spectrum, from liberal internationalists to conservative hawks.

Unfortunately, the magic bullets theory doesn’t hold much water. Arming the rebels might bring the war to a close sooner by helping “good” guys kill “bad” guys more efficiently, but there’s no compelling reason to believe it will entice them to stop fighting.

The superficial logic of arms-for-peace is elegant, to be sure, rooted in the classic diplomatic axiom that a political settlement to an armed conflict is possible only when, for all relevant players, the expected utility of a negotiated peace, E[u(p)], is greater than the expected utility of continued war, E[u(w)]. There are several arguments as to how a calibrated infusion of arms into Syria will help produce this rare condition (presumably absent from the large majority of civil wars in the modern era that ended in the military defeat of one side or the other).

People in the modern peace business are familiar with this logic. For example when the Tamil Tigers were on the verge of complete defeat in Sri Lanka, Marie Colvin, writing in the UK Times described how tragic that development would be. “Now that their military hopes are dashed, the fear in western capitals is that the Tamil Tigers will again turn to terrorism. If the Tamil leadership goes ahead with their threats of suicide will there be anyone left to negotiate with? ”

People from the Old School may scratch their heads, but their befuddlement is easy to explain. They are not yet enlightened. So we must sit at the feet of the Master and consider the coming chastisement of Assad as simply another “teaching moment” in the President’s illustrious career.

What none of Fisher’s arguments address is the possibility that Obama’s Syria strategy is fundamentally wrong.  Hence any messaging based on an error is also an error. Suppose the use of chemical weapons is viewed, not as a result of Assad’s hard headedness, but as a sign the region is falling apart? Then we come to a completely different interpretation of what may follow the strike.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States were never great fans of doing things Washington’s way. The Kingdom never supported the invasion of Bush’s invasion of Iraq but opposed to it. “Saudi Arabia has warned the United States against a possible war against Iraq in an exclusive interview with the BBC.” Nor was the KSA ever part of the Coalition of The Willing. Indeed, part of Obama’s critique of Bush’s approach was that it was not invented in the Islamic world, and therefore doomed to fail. Obama may then have concluded that his Middle Eastern policy should essentially be written by partners in the region. That is, he would let the Gulf States and the Kingdom, and possibly Turkey craft it.

It avoided the high-handedness ascribed to Bush, but that outsourcing of policy created a separate set of issues. The virtue of Bush’s hegemonic approach was that it did not existentially divide the region. But by giving his Arab patrons their head, Obama let them get into trouble. Allowing the Saudis and Gulf people to dictate policy and thereby settle their ancient quarrels with Obama’s imprimatur may have ignited a civil war in Islam and across the region. Remember the Saudis and the Gulf people are themselves faced with the same schisms at home. Obama essentially let them export their ambitions under an implied flag and it’s blown back.

That may have been a fundamental “miscalculation” on Obama’s part. He Arabized and Islamized American foreign policy. And now he’s caught up in the tribal and sectarian quarrel; trapped in a vise of his own making with each increasingly more desperate attempt to extricate himself tightening the screw one more turn.

Firing purposely ineffectual missiles into Syria to send a message may or may not be immoral (a good nihilist doesn’t believe in morality) but it indisputably stupid. If Fisher is right, the administration’s military actions are being designed to be intentionally useless, crafted to do nothing significant. Thus they have a huge downside without the slightest upside. Does this make sense? It does in a world where logic is not required and the Narrative rules all, then it may make sense.

But Obama is trapped in maze of his own making and he’s too vain to even admit that he’s lost. In the film “Lawrence of Arabia”, TE Lawrence resolved the question of civil war by acting as the hegemon. But that was back when acting on your own behalf was OK.

T.E. Lawrence: The Law says the man must die… If he dies, would that content the Howitat?
Auda abu Tayi: Yes.
T.E. Lawrence: Sherif Ali. If none of lord Auda’s men harms any of yours, will that content the Harith?
Sherif Ali: Yes.
T.E. Lawrence: Then I will execute the Law. I have no tribe and no one is offended.

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Top Rated Comments   
Do they still give you cigarettes under Geneva before they shoot you? Or is it herbal tea these days? "Ack! Cigarettes, a violation of the Geneva convention!".

That grim faced CBS reporter saying in all seriousness that the legal justification for bombing Syria was going to be because of a violation of the Geneva Conventions was surreal. And yet I'm sure that nearly all those MSM pundits are going to nodding like dashboard dogs in somber agreement before the day is out.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Bonaparte famously once wrote: " if you start to take Vienna, then TAKE VIENNA." Failing once you start a military action is the one thing worse than taking no action at all. Obama is saying in effect: " I will attack you because you have used chemical weapons, but I will inflict no decisive damage upon you. I just want to send you a message."

Obama's message will be: The US is not a serious nation, and if you want to use chemical warfare you will suffer no significant consequences. This will reninfoce other lessons that Obamas actions have taught:

1. In Libya, the experience of Colonel Qaddafi was that giving up his own chemical weapons proved to be a Very Bad Idea, as it did not stop the US from acting to overthorw his regieme. By deliberately taking the opposite track in Syria Obama sends the message that chemical weapons will help you stay in power - thereby making them more, not less, attractive.

2. Chemical weapons are bad but nuclear weapons are ok? Obamas silence about Irans nuclear weapons certainly leads one to think so. Surely Obama is not so naive as to actually think economic sanctions are going to stop an oil-producing country? By ignoring Iran Obama is in effect giving the Mullahs the green light to go full speed ahead on their nuclear program.

3. More broadly, Obamas signalling will mean that the world is now safe for chemical warfare - and by extension, other weapons of mass destruction as well.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
“Syria is too far gone to pick sides,” said Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who taught at West Point.

Read more:

"Obama’s Guns of August
President Obama will likely bomb Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. Here is the logic—and limits—for the president’s plan of attack.

It seems likely that President Obama will bomb Syria sometime in the coming weeks.

His top civilian and military advisers are meeting in the White House on Saturday to discuss options. American warships are heading toward the area; those already there, at least one of which had been scheduled for a port call, are standing by. Most telling perhaps is a story in the New York Times, noting that Obama’s national-security aides are studying the 1999 air war in Kosovo as a possible blueprint for action in Syria."

So the plan is to do nothing decisive. Telegraph everything in advance. Have no one in mind who you want to win. But above all, demonstrate your moral superiority. The Slate Article is titled "Obama’s Guns of August". It's like getting aboard a cruise ship actually named the "Titanic" and not realizing that something may go horribly wrong.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (81)
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Well there is no backing down now is there? Somethings are going to get blown up in Syria. So much hoopla and discussion.

Probably a cruise missile attack against military targets. Sure, not a big fix because no such solution is possible in Syria. The idea is to take chemical weapons out of the list of things Assad can use.

Why? Well the US has good reasons for keeping a tight lid on use of WMD no matter which side is using them. Readers of this blog should know them well.

So today in Israel, which has been threatened with retaliation with "big stuff' from Syria and Iran if the US attacks (you see the logic here, "one step closer and the Jew gets it") started school this week as normal.

No call up of reserves but you can be sure that the IDF is on top alert and knows more than they are saying. The beach bars and cafes in Tel Aviv, will be just as normal as always. Business went on as usual.

The faithful in Jerusalem will show up for the afternoon prayers. There is no sense of panic in the country. Just one more crisis. More people showed up to collect gas masks at the Post Office, that is where you get them. Also time to get ready the bomb shelters that you have been using for the family storage room...just in case.

Some Americans on the other side of are afraid of what? Syria? Really? The biggest a** military on the planet, a continent away, is afraid of Syria.

If Israel were running this show it would have been done with already. We gotta listen to these endless public debates.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The US has ALWAYS advocated that victims of chemical attack are entitled to retaliate in kind.

In the case at hand, al Nusra has ALREADY initiated chemical warfare -- and uploaded their videos of such attacks to the Web. (!)

By doing so, al Nusra is carrying on in the tradition of unlawful warfare that the US Army experienced defending the innocent of Baghdad.

The American Army captured opfor weapons loaded with CHLORINE GAS, glass, nails, ball bearings -- all as boosters -- to be launched by rockets or mortars slapped together on a perverted truck chassis. All of this must still be in the files of the DoD. (See the Long War Journal for specifics.)

This EXACT same style of ordnance is visible in the uploaded videos provided by al Nusra/ FSA/ et. al.


Why in Hell should the West take sides in the ultimate dirty war?

Al Nusra has been firing off dirty weapons for weeks.

Might this be the basis for Assad's retaliation?


For something so fraught with consequence, I demand absolute proofs.

I do not want a Gulf of Tonkin emotional justification -- to find out that we were boxing shadows.

I do not want to find out that we're taking sides in a filthy war where the original sinner was, and is, AQ's franchise: al Nusra.

I'm especially wary because the call to action is coming from TOTUS: the script is in charge!

It's 2013 and the Wan is already in campaign mode -- and he can't even run again -- for kingship.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Zerohedge has a post on prince bandar and Putin. Seems they had a meeting a couple months back. Threats were made. The saudi's say they control the Chechens And they turkey and Qatar to something akin to pakistan's relationship to afghAnistan. My typi g a mess - from
My iPhone
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
ZeroHedge in every way appears to be an SVR asset.

Certainly, its principal is from the East Bloc.

And has already been spanked by the SEC.

Which is weird. The SEC spanks practically nobody.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What if the message is Assad attack Israel?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In the Navy I remember the adage: "When the elephants dance, get off the dance floor." The elephants back then were flag officers, but it applies to anyone that can conceivably hurt you.

Looking back at the big picture, Obama puts Israel in a very bad position if he bombs or cruises Syria. Israel is then like the 'only white guy' in a ghetto after two white police officers brutally kill a black man stopped for a brake light malfunction. Even an AR and a couple hundred rounds would not be enough insurance.

No matter what happens in a two or three day attack (Sen. McCain has offered that that is too wimpy), more than likely, many innocents will be maimed or killed. Do they not understand the irony in THAT reality?

Not only that, how many will die in middle America if Hezbollah sleeper cells are called out to the malls strapped with murder bombs or AK-47s and grenades?

The Won certainly has a plan for that - Martial Law and firearms confiscation...right when we need the 2nd Amendment for our own desperate personal survival at home.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This situation raises the question, would we have been well served to develop the Conventional Trident?

Assuming we know where Assad's chemical weapons storage facilities are, we could hit them with the conventional next-best-thing to a nuke. Vaporize the chemicals for the weapons in one bold stroke. No worries about the target being underground, no feet on the ground, no worries about Syrian defenses, no extended campaigns and no local beneficiaries.

Wham Bam, Thank you ma'am!

A literal bolt from the blue does the trick. And it is unique to America. Sort of like shooting the gun out of the outlaw's hand.

One can dream can one? The audacity of hope and change and all.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The following is Russian propaganda but it's interesting propaganda:

Having someone consistently lie to you is almost as informative as someone telling the truth.

Sorry about making too many comments. We are approaching a historical branch point and it's difficult not to write about it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The One whose nickname is ''O''
Likes to put on a show
He struts mighty pretty
Ignores nitty-gritty
And doesn't know which way to go.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Peters is very good, as always. Here's another article from Stratfor that perfectly summarizes the situation The Golden One faces:
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The President could discover that Sarin nerve agent was NOT used.

That would allow him to climb down -- as the pink line in the sand would not have been crossed.

No-one has accused Assad of using phosgene, etc.

It's entirely possible that Assad actually DOESN"T have the capability of launching a non-nerve agent attack. Once they were discovered, nerve agents have entirely displaced all other chemical weapons in the arsenals of the advance militaries.

Whereas, AQ has shown a propensity to use commercial grade poisons atop improvised rockets and mortars.

Pictures of them doing EXACTLY THAT have been uploaded to the Web -- by THEMSELVES.

Their contraptions wouldn't fly with Assad's troops. They're too crude, too short ranged, too unsafe for the artillery troops.

Al Nusra is rigging what appear to be the local version of propane tanks/ Freon tanks atop unguided rockets/ grenade dischargers.

If anyone is using chemical agents -- it's the anti-Assad crowd.

And, they're not too shy to film themselves doing so!

So, the Wan can talk himself right back on down. Strangely, he is not doing so.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The symptoms in Syria described by the MSM where consistent with nerve agents, e.g. contraction of pupils, profuse salivation, convulsions, etc. Those symptoms are not consistent with phosgene.

A funny thing about the smell of chemical weapons: I've heard it said that phosgene smells like "rotting fish" (the Wikipedia article says it smells like "musty hay"). I've also heard it said that if you can actually smell phosgene then you're dead (the concentration necessary to smell is deadly). Supposedly, VX nerve gas has a pleasant fruity smell (also deadly if you can actually smell it). How do people know this? As the guy is flopping over dead, is he saying "Oh what a pleasant fruity smell!".
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Stratfor article was interesting and information.

The Russian premier Dmitry Rogozin made a funny comment referring to the West (Obama) as a "monkey playing with a hand grenade".

The Russians have been playing a clever agit-prop game through the Internet in support of their Syrian client (ZeroHedge is the good example of this).

If the monkey pulls the hand grenade's pin, the grenade will probably turn out to be a cigarette lighter. The moonbats in the MSM put Obama in office. If Obama launches a cruise missile attack against Syria, it will have almost no strategic impact and fully alienate the moonbats.

I'm reminded of an old joke:
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
THAT'S our monkey, alright.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I wish there was an edit function. For the above comment, please replace "information" with "informative" and "premier" with "deputy premier". On the subject of Obama and excrement, here's a funny story that seems oddly appropriate:
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Guys! Guys ! Guys! We need to recognize how bad the downside from Barry's Excellent Adventure could be.

Where does Soetero get his targeting information? Not from his Ambassadors, who rarely leave the cocktail party circuit. From informers, most likely. And for whom do the informers really work? Do we really want to find out? There is a reasonable likelihood that the collateral damage from Barry's assault will be huge.

And what about Russia & China, who have had US cruise missiles to take apart since Bubba's attack on the asprin factory in Sudan? They are led by hard men who love their countries and would dearly like to test (in someone else's back yard) the anti-cruise missile technologies they have been quietly building for years now. Any new military weapon gives its holder a great advantage -- but only temporarily. Then creative people on the receiving end start to find ways to reset the balance, whether it is chain mail to resist the sword or Serbian cell phones used to identify incoming stealth fighters.

Most likely scenario remains that Soetero will posture & eventually do nothing. He knows he will win no friends in the Democrat Party by presiding over the highly probable slaughter of women & children at his hands. And he realizes that too many Democrats know where his dirty laundry is stored.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Kinuachdrach said:

"Most likely scenario remains that Soetero will posture & eventually do nothing"

My guess is Obama is bluffing.

There are no good guys in Syria. Destabilizing Assad creates the possibility of replacing him with Islamic fascists. Who knows with certainty that Assad authorized the use of sarin? Murdering innocents with sarin to draw in the United States and Europe is exactly the sort of tactic one would expect from Islamic fascists.

Obama is doing nothing because he is clueless and incompetent. However in this specific case, doing nothing maybe the best coarse of action.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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