Category Archives: Syria

Basically A Rant

 

The correct strategies for America are not always the most selfish ones. It’s not all about us all the time. Sometimes we must look at the big picture because everything is interconnected. Some string that is pulled somewhere else can unravel or re-knit our future.

And, then there is the truth that, at this point in time, the Republicans will not allow Obama to pass any new laws that improve the economy, the infrastructure, or jobs. If we don’t elect Democrats in 2014 we have almost 3 long years to concentrate on foreign affairs. If we truly do not want to get involved in any more wars, I would trust Obama much more than I would trust the Republicans to admonish a dictator without getting us involved in a foreign war. The only way the war in Syria can escalate and suck in the world is if a powerful force like Russia joins in. If Putin is serious about helping get rid of the chemical weapons in Syria, then he probably is not interested in starting World War III. If we stay civil and Russia stays civil then perhaps we can pull this off. Americans do not appear to be too fond of civility right now, sad to say. Instead all the little voices fall in line echoing the charge that Obama is a weak President. I repeat; if Obama can end the use of chemical weapons in Syria without starting a new war, then he is anything but weak.

If there is anything this President does that is weak it is to give Republicans another opening to tout his weakness and force him to bargain when these Republicans know all along that they will say “no” to him again and again and again. This does not make Obama seem weak to me. It makes him seem like a President who respects the Constitution and who tries to give Republicans every opportunity to cut out the partisan politics and do their jobs as outlined in that very Constitution that describes how our government is supposed to work. Nowhere in the Constitution I read does it say that people outside the government should be promised a stronger allegiance than is given to a fair consideration of the laws that build a stronger America.

Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers should be like the rest of us. They are citizens with one vote each. But they have found ways to pull the strings of large numbers of Americans turning them into disenchanted citizens and puppet voters who repeat, like mantras, arguments drummed into them by skillful pundits. These pundits know the fears some Americans hold in their hearts and minds and they stoke the fires lit under these fears, bank the coals, and then stoke them again. They have fostered a bunch of conspiracy junkies and they will ruin America if we let them. These pundits have been primed to serve the interests of Grover Norquist, the Koch brothers, the Tea Party and whatever other shadowy figures are in the Conservative Cabal.

So we have plenty of time to take the big view, the long view, while we wait for America to wake up and throw off the strings of the mind controllers who have taken over the GOP.

What would we like to see happen in the Middle East? Perhaps we would like to see strong, healthy Middle Eastern countries where government and religion are separate. Perhaps people in the Middle East will chose peaceful coexistence and tolerance over hate and aggression; these nations’ peoples will find a balance that will allow the citizens to live stable and productive lives in which there is no dictator holding on to all of the nations’ wealth. What can we do to encourage this? Wouldn’t such an outcome have a profoundly positive effect on us and the world? Playing a bit of referee doesn’t seem too much to ask from the rest of the world community. After all we have plenty of time right now to keep an eye on the violations of war behavior which result in the horrors of genocide. If we allow these practices we will never achieve that real peace, tolerance, and prosperity we wish for the Middle East and the world.

If you want Obama to accomplish our goals for our domestic future then you had better raise your voice and tell Republicans to stop obstructionism in Congress, to stop encouraging red states to pass laws that challenge the current laws in America, and to stop brainwashing and scaring gullible Americans. We need to elect Democrats in 2014.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

 

This blog post is also available at www.brissioni.com

 

What is it with Men?/Syria

 
What is it with men? Do women draw “red lines”? I have never heard a woman draw such a line, a line in the sand, a line on the playground; a line which everyone understands means “cross this line and there are consequences”, physical consequences, unpleasant consequences (well maybe women do that with their offspring). Netanyahu drew a red line about nukes and Iran. This red line has not been crossed yet but Israel lives in the hood and is used to lobbing bombs at neighboring aggressors. Obama also drew a red line that implied America would punish Assad in Syria if he used chemical weapons against his own people. Is this a testosterone thing? But in the case of Assad, a totalitarian monster who will fight in the face of millions of refugees (his own people), and who will make them flee their own country; a little thing like a “red line” won’t stop a man like this. It acts like a red cape acts on a bull. But the red line has been drawn, the gauntlet has been laid down, and Assad has challenged Obama to a duel. Dueling has been illegal for a long, long time. A red line can be redrawn. That is one option. Just redraw the damn line. It doesn’t really matter if we look weak because we aren’t weak. It shows wisdom to be able to back down from a position when someone is baiting a trap, baiting a trap with dead children. How does a decent man beat a monster? He uses his brain, not his muscle.

If you can remember back far enough to remember the movie Dangerous Liaisons then I think we could find a way to register our deep, deep disapproval without lobbing bombs at a leader who is just waiting to have us lob bombs at him. (What if all hell breaks loose?) If you remember, in the movie, an aging countess (Glenn Close) had learned to use men as pawns to give to herself the independence and the power to well live without a husband. She had affairs, as many as she wanted and she manipulated the guilt and the fear of exposure the men felt in such a way that when she ended the affair, they found they could not tell. She lived above gossip and although women knew she was not quite the thing, they had no proof and she was accepted by society. Until she fell in love. She sent that young man (John Malkovich) on his way too, but as the film opens we meet a woman who is now showing her age. She is still handsome, but not beautiful. When that young man she fell in love with comes back and implies that he is still interested, she plays her last and most dangerous game, which she loses, rather badly. She still thinks that she has kept her secrets and has enough social cachet to go on. When she appears at the opera and everyone boos her, her reaction is visceral and I’m sure that from that time forward her social isolation is complete.

 
 
Maybe we could all; in every city and town all around the world, play, over very large loudspeakers,  at a certain time, like midnight at the Prime Meridian on Monday, a sound track of people booing with all of the loudspeakers pointed in the direction of Syria. I wonder if the sound would carry all the way to Syria. Then everyone in the world could turn his/her back on Assad and send Assad into a social isolation that would put him out of commission for the rest of his life. Now that would be retribution and it would feel really fine. I don’t imagine words or even world-wide approbation could affect someone like that. You know what; I don’t even think bombs will do it.

I don’t really know what Obama should do on behalf of America anymore than it sounds like anyone else does, but this situation seems to call out for a creative and global strategy. People who do monstrous things, I’m thinking, often have very hard shells.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

This blog post is also available at www.brissioni.com

 

Who Should the President Listen To?

 
 

I find it hard to believe that we can find anyone who wants to be President of the United States even if you do get a jet and a cool code name like POTUS. The dialogue around the issue of what the President should do about Syria will give you whiplash if you really listen. First we have Assad crossing Obama’s red line by using chemical weapons against his own people (observers believe). Is he deliberately goading America? We have used chemical weapons against our foes in war, but, so far, not against our own people. Using chemical weapons, we have come to believe, is abhorrent and we find that they should be banned on moral grounds. However if other countries have such weapons we feel we must keep some also.

So as soon as Assad crossed that red line reporters began interviewing persons who harangued Obama to do something to punctuate our disapproval of Assad’s behavior. They are the hawks. They believe America must fight on the side of the downtrodden especially if they are striving to be free and that we must do this every time authoritarian monsters refuse their people justice. Some of the hawks doing the verbal prodding are the usual hawks like John McCain, but this time we also have Richard Engel, who we respect, urging America to get involved in Syria.

So President Obama announced that he will bomb certain key military targets in Syria and he will do it soon. He is looking for some support from other nations. It looks like there will be a few takers but not the UN, because Syria has big allies there. Perhaps Obama is remembering World War I where big nations allied to a small nation started a huge war over a small incident. Perhaps bombing a smallish country which has giant allies, who are not our friends, makes Obama a bit nervous, as it should.

No matter, as soon as the President announced what he planned to do the criticisms came in from the other side. They complained that it is not enough. They said it will either have no effect, or it will drag us into a new Middle Eastern war. They said that it is a declaration of war and requires the approval of Congress. Is it a trap to furnish the GOP with grounds for the much heralded impeachment of Obama if he acts without consulting Congress? Whatever, it sounds like the fallout will be far more negative than positive and yet if Obama doesn’t back up that red line statement the fallout may also be negative, because then Obama will appear weak, they say (feckless is the new preferred insult and applies equally, it seems, to both Obama and to members of Congress).

Our actions in war no longer have the unified support we experienced prior to Vietnam and which we have never really experienced since the end of World War II. A President must walk his own line and ignore the siren calls from both sides of the aisle, but it must feel like arrows to the soul, especially when the right thing to do is not absolutely certain or clearly apparent. At least if we decided to back the path our President chooses, those actions would have the weight of America behind them, but this way we just look like a bunch of cats in a canvas bag clawing each other. I don’t want America to lose the weight it carries in the world of nations. I hope Obama has a good idea of what decision to make, because I don’t have a clue.

This blog post is also available at www.brissioni.com
 

US Involvement in Syria

 
 
Drat! Those American ideals are pulling us back into conflict in the Middle East, this time in Syria. Obviously, when nearly 100,000 people are killed anywhere on the planet we are grieved and angered. We want the carnage to stop and we all think about whether America should help stop it. In this case we have people who are also fighting against an authoritarian leader who they want to be free of. It is written in our DNA that we will feel sympathy for the rebels. We are always the Rebel Alliance fighting against the Empire in our hearts. But – we have just slowed down the devastating parade of maimed soldiers arriving back in the US everyday from our recent endeavors in the Middle East. These soldiers have not even been processed by their government to receive their benefits. We have not yet finished mourning our dead soldiers who still arrive under their flag-draped caskets. We have hardly given a breather to our soldiers who have been at war seemingly forever. Our heads and our guts say that we should help this rebel army; our hearts can’t bear to do it.

There is a question of whether or not we will make America irrelevant in the Middle East unless we stay involved with freedom fighters and offer military support. Humanitarian support does not count apparently. We only get points if we put blood and guts in the game. But we haven’t earned any points by bleeding on the sands of the Middle East so far. The opinions of both Iraq and Afghanistan seem distinctly tinged with anti-Americanism. Perhaps this “revolution” in the Middle East is not as far along as we would like to think it. Deposing an authoritarian leader does not mean that Syria is ready to be a democracy or that the country ever will want to be democratic. There is also the point that we could make our democracy look a bit more appealing if we want to persuade people that our form of government works best. That might be a good place to start. Although our politicians often give us idealistic reasons for entering a war, their real reasons are often quite a bit more pragmatic. I’m not sure what those pragmatic concerns are but they are the ones that make us less than proud sometimes.

There are several complexities to consider when it comes to jumping into the conflict with Syria on the side of the rebels and we have heard those before. The rebels are not one unified group and, in our experience, which has recently become very personal, we have learned that once the rebels win the war a new civil war will often have to be fought among the various rebel groups to decide which group will get to formulate the new government, or perhaps a coalition will arise (not likely). And in Syria we also have elements of terrorists groups which we have no desire to support; not to mention that we would be pitting ourselves against Putin and Russia.

Call me crazy, but it seems as if there is a preponderance of reasons not to involve ourselves in the revolution in Syria but that word revolution has such a pull on the American psyche that we are almost powerless to resist the siren call of people who are oppressed and longing to be free. I am glad that I am not the President. I don’t want us to get more involved in Syria, but I understand why we probably will.

 

Into the Fray, The Red Line

 
 
 
Everyone is up in arms. Obama made the use of chemical weapons in Syria a red line. Late last week the news came across the seas that some chemical weapons “may have been used in Syria”, and “that there is some physiological evidence that some people exhibited symptoms of a chemical agent having been deployed in their vicinity.” It is all very tentative and not at all what we would imagine a full-scaled chemical weapons attack to be like. I think Obama’s red line depended on a getting a little more solid evidence than this about a chemical attack. However that may be, there have been rabid people all over the media taunting Obama to deliver on his promise and to declare that the red line has been crossed and to get more aggressively involved in helping the Syrian freedom fighters gain their independence from Assad. Of course, John McCain is the loudest and most strident of those who are apparently (they think) calling Obama’s bluff.

But I have to wonder what it is that they want Obama to do and I kept asking that of my TV on Sunday, which is Politics Day. I kept saying, “Do we want a war? What exactly is it that you want Obama to do? Surprisingly enough, after some initial difficulty getting through to my flat screen I did get some answers. Everyone agreed that they did not want “boots on the ground”. One suggestion is that we establish a no-fly-zone. Another is that we get more involved in the care of the refugees in Jordan and Turkey and elsewhere around the edges of Syria. There were also some caveats since this group of freedom fighters is not one unified group but is rather a collection of sectarian groups and even perhaps terrorist groups who may be at each other’s throats once hostilities end.

There is also the “no good deed goes unpunished” rule. We are likely to end up being hated and vilified regardless of what path we decide to take. This is not a real win-win situation for us. We do like to treat victims of abuse with compassion and the Syrian people looked pretty well abused right now. And we do like to back freedom whenever possible. Will we feel good enough about ourselves if we accomplish these goals, whatever the cost, and whoever we offend? These are all questions Americans and our American President must answer. Meanwhile all you hawks, stop acting like bullies. Stop yelling at the President.  You imply that the President and the US will look weak if we don’t act, but the President may also appear weak if he lets people goad him into precipitous action.  Show some understanding of how difficult it is to deal with the complex issues America faces in the 21stcentury. Let’s let there be a little time to collect better evidence of chemical weapon use and time to make a careful decision before we throw ourselves into the fray.
Here’s a link to an article that gives some clear and up-to-date information on this red line issue:

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/implications-of-possible-chemical-weapons-use-in-syria

This article appeared in the Daily Beast today, April 29, 2013:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/04/27/leslie-h-gelb-obama-is-right-on-chemical-warfare-in-syria.html

 

 

When Winning Might Not Be Winning

I cannot understand what al Assad hopes to achieve in Syria. I know he hopes to hang on to power, but what kind of power will it be? He will have to enter a state of constant vigilance and on-going retaliation. He will be the leader of a truculent population which takes no joy in either his leadership or in being Syrian. How will he keep his foot on the neck of every Syrian, and what satisfaction will it bring if he carries it off? Perhaps he imagines that there are only a few rebels and that once they are cowed, captured, or jailed the rest of the population will go back to being loyal subjects. Maybe the group of rebels in Syria is actually quite small, I don’t know. However, I bet the number of rebels continues to grow as the troops loyal to Assad continue to kill innocent civilians.
This is obviously not about a leader who loves his people and his country, unless the leader sees himself as a stern father who needs to punish his misbehaving children. It must just be about power and the drive to hold on to it at all costs. It must be about not knowing when the political dialogue in the world had moved beyond your antiquated form of governance.
There were moments when Assad could have held on to his power and been the prime mover of change in Syria. I can only believe, after the terrible things that have been done to the Syrian people, that those moments have passed. North Korea has become a nation that maintains a high level of secrecy and isolation. I’m not sure that al Assad would be able to replicate that model or even that the rest of the world would allow it. Closing off Syria and locking out the rest of the world would probably be the only approach that would allow him to stay in power, but that would be an empty victory. A great warrior (and a great leader) knows when to bend.