Excellent WaPo blog primer on the Syrian mess

With this blog post, Max Fisher has written an excellent non-partisan primer on the Syrian quandary for the average American reader.

Explains why Russia and Iran Support Assad, why the civil war got so very much out of hand, why the use of chemical weapons is a big deal, and why the USA is so reluctant to become involved.

Great article/blog post. I liked these 2 quotes especially.

This was almost a verbatim explanation I just gave someone. Syria is a country of mixed sectarian groups in a border artificially drawn by Europeans a century ago and run by a brutal minority. There is no singular opposition group. Russia objects to interference because Syria is their only external military port.

The article left out one important item. If the government falls then the nerve gas falls into the hands of groups who are less stable and more likely to export the weapons to terrorists.
Oddly enough, this applies to a lot of countries in that area.

Good article, thank you.

As far as point 8, I don’t really know where I stand. It seems there are certain ‘rules of war’ that the more enlightened nations try to agree on within documents like the geneva convention that include among other things:

  1. No theft of national treasures
  2. No rape or sexual abuse in conquered territories
  3. Allowing conquered territories to engage in self determination rather than making them into vassal states
  4. No targeting of children or family members
  5. No chemical or biological weapons
  6. No unnecessary destruction

I don’t understand why chemical weapons are any different. If anything, the opposition to targeting children and family members (which is done in Syria and North Korea, and was done in Iraq under Hussein) is just as big a humanitarian crisis. Yet we do nothing about that.

They also left out US credibility in our actions in that article, if we say we aren’t going to allow WMD, then we do then that gives a signal to places like Iran and North Korea that what we say and what we do is not the same thing.

This is sad, it is probably just Iraq 2.0. A dictatorship followed by a civil war fought on religious and ethnic lines.

  1. says missile strikes should be punishment for using chemicals, and they aren’t supposed to change the course of the war. Yet, McCain says he won’t support military strikes unless it is intended to change the course of the war. Hm.

The WAPO explainer is indeed recommended.

Chem, bio and nukes are different because there is an existing taboo against them which is in the interest of the US to maintain. It’s not that chem weapons are biggest atrocity (though they are pretty bad). It’s that we’ve maintained a taboo on them reasonably well since WWI (with exceptions) and humanitarians and militaries would prefer for them to be off the table. This norm is worth fighting to maintain.

I am highly dubious about the credibility argument though. Here’s a link to a much shorter set of observations on Syria from Josh Marshall. I’ll quote number 4:
4. Whether the US attacks Damascus or does not attack Damascus won’t have much effect on whether the US can in the future, under whatever circumstances, threaten or use force wherever else it wants to, to buttress or enforce whatever other international norm it chooses to. The entire concept of ‘unitary credibility’ is flawed to its core. Treating international relations as a pissing contest is a deeply flawed strategy which is prone to produce quagmires. This sort of thinking needs to be curbed.


I’d like a cite for these two.

According to this article the US does actually have a long term plan for Syria - who’d have thunk it?

How in the fuck are we even distinguishing between “legit” rebel forces and “Al-Qadea terrorist” ones?

I have very little faith in whitebread USA to make such a distinction. So in other words, funnel arms to the “non-Al-Qadea” rebels, suppress the “pro-Al-Qaeda” rebels, and smack Assad on the nose JUST enough to deter him from using chemical weapons again without ousting him from power?

Jesus. There really are no good options here.

In other words: do nothing. Ignore the whole “red line” stupidity by Obama. Make it clear we support nobody in this civil war but IF Assad uses them again we will strike without warning and with impunity. That seems to be the best course of action to me.

Lessons learned aka the Iraq War (and/or the “enemy of my enemy is my friend”): while Saddam Hussein and his sons were bastards and murderous and raping thugs, removing them from power created a huge power vacuum that Iran was only too eager to fill. Even the threat of Saddam having non-existent WMD’s was enough to keep Iran in check.

But no, we had to remove that natural buffer. Now we have what we have. It’s not going to get better. Quit meddling with these fucks and take a stance that represents our best interests! People argue that a stable Middle East is in the best interests of the world writ large because of the energy situation WRT oil.

I’d argue that it would be MORE stable without so much foreign interference, and even if it wasn’t, it couldn’t be much worse than what we have already. Let these fucks fight it out amongst themselves if we must. Don’t take a side. Deal with whomever is left with any means necessary after it’s over.

It does seem extraordinary that vetting of the type described should be possible. And even if it is, I often get the feeling that alliances are fluid enough that it might be of limited value down the road.

Who are “these fucks” and why exactly is Iran “worse” than Hussein.

For rather obvious reasons, I’m not a fan of the Mullahs, but they’ve never been nearly as brutal, oppressive of aggressive as the Al-Tikriti crime family or the Assad crime family.

Read it. Well written, reflects reality, and its conclusions are largely, IMO, correct. He does make a (weak) case for US lobbing a few symbolic missiles over. I think symbolic gestures are useless, unless backed up by a robust potential military response if not heeded, and no one, either in ME or here, expects such a thing from Obama and US.

How do you think it will play out when they revolt in Iran? Spirited debate at the polls, streets painted red, or something else?

Well the problem with it is Syria doesn’t really matter. The symbolism of looking strong is not aimed at Syria, it’s aimed at Iran because of previous red lines drawn over their nuclear weapons program.

I know that’s how this action is being sold in Congress, and I can see how Israelis would think that US is not serious about preventing Iran nuclear weapons (US really isn’t), but current Syria and Iran are two COMPLETELY different animals, so I don’t think lobbing a few missiles at Syria would convince anyone of US being in any way serious about Iran nuclear prevention. It would be a pretty good indication that US wants to be seen that way. But everyone that counts (that is, Iranians and Israelis) can see through it.

The current situation just reminds me of that “iceberg, Goldberg, what’s the difference” joke.

If the US *does do *something in Syria, Iran might not take us *more *seriously, but if we don’t, I think it’s likely they’ll take us *less *seriously.

You crossed our red line, so…I’m going to draw another line, in front of your current position.

Do the same thing you’ve already done, and boy will we be mad!

Well, there’ve been two revolts in Iran in my lifetime. One was unfortunately crushed while the other succeeded in ways I’d have preferred it didn’t.

At the time of the Iraqi war (part deux) Saddam had the 3rd largest standing army. It’s defeat was measured in hours.

President Obama probably shouldn’t have drawn a red line in the sand but he did. Something is going to happen and it’s got to look impressive. The alternative is for Congress to kick the can to the UN knowing they won’t do squat.