Posts Tagged ‘ Syria ’

The Empire Strikes Back

The partisan rhetoric about Syria speaks as much as anything to the deep ideological and illogical divide in American politics. President Trump and most Republican members of Congress have blasted President Obama’s handling of Syria as “weakness” and repeatedly asserting vaguely that the President was somehow to blame for the whole mess of the Syrian war and its undesirable outcome on the world stage.

To be sure, Obama–typically measured and striving for prudence–did not want to get involved in Syria. It was a classic debacle in the making. Even our limited support for anti-Assad forces has come back to haunt us as material support meant to weaken the repressive Syrian regime has ended up in the hands of ISIS, the most repellant ideological blight of the twenty-first century. But the coverage in the media towing the Trump-Republican line that the current president is “breaking” with the last belies the real, muddled history of Obama’s almost-intervention in Syria.

Let us not forget that when chemical weapons were last used in this civil war, breaking Obama’s “red line,” the president did call for a vote authorizing military action in Syria, one that never came. Instead, Russia brokered a deal to stave off American intervention in Syria, saving us from direct involvement in this quagmire and preventing us from the unenviable position of weakening the Assad regime and, as a consequence, strengthening ISIS.

Though his political opponents have spun this moment as one demonstrating Obama’s weakness, in actuality it is a testament to American strength and shows how the threat, if not promise, of American military action changed the behavior of other state actors to abide by international law.

No, it was far from an ideal outcome, but in Syria, there are no ideals.

Now, in 2017, the landscape in Syria has changed considerably. ISIS is wrecked and, hopefully, doomed. But on the other hand, the Assad regime has pulled itself back from the brink and in the past weeks, most everyone has acknowledged that that regime would remain in power whenever this horrible war was finally resolved–whether through peace talks or exhaustion.

Which is why it is so galling that Assad would authorize a chemical weapon attack now. Clearly a completely cynical demonstration of naked aggression against any domestic forces who would oppose him, it is difficult to conceive of Assad’s reasoning. The war is all but won. Why now? Part of that answer must surely be that Assad and his enabler-in-chief Putin must have believed that Trump would indeed “break” with Obama and not deliver on the previous threat of American military action.

Trump, after all, has said that Assad’s ouster is no longer in the cards and has praised Putin’s “strength,” while urging for less American engagement when our interests weren’t directly served, promising to put “America First,” in a sickening echo of the American isolationists and Nazi sympathizers who argued for keeping us out of WWII. So it seems likely that it is their perception of Trump’s weakness, not Obama’s that led to the chemical weapon attack, assuming an American president who would buy their obvious lies about the nerve agent being released by the rebels or at the very least, triggered accidentally by an attack on rebel-held positions.

Assad and Putin may also have done the math and calculated that America has nothing to gain from striking Syria now. There is little chance of dislodging Assad as a key regional ally for Putin and Iran. From a real politik stand point, there is nothing to argue in favor of American involvement now. Assad and Putin played nice through Obama’s tenure, avoiding American wrath, so they might have guessed the coast was clear for Assad to send a harsh message to his enemies without having to worry about the short-term fallout in the international community. Trump, after all, had absolutely nothing to gain by attacking now.

And that’s why I think it may have been the best thing for us to do.

Intellectually, I still lean toward Obama’s reticence, and away from involving ourselves any further in a messy–very messy–civil war. But if Obama was still in office and this attack had happened, this is clearly what he would have done. By the accounts now coming out, it appears that Trump’s team consulted with our allies and even warned the Russians, balancing out the concerns about this being merely “lashing out” by an irrational and unpredictable president out of his depth.

There are plenty of critiques to be leveled at President Trump at this hour–many point out that his sudden sympathy for the Syrian people should also lead him to reverse his policies on refugees and still others suggest a wag-the-dog distraction from Russiagate. Only history, as it unfolds in the next few days and over the course of the next several years, will be able to judge whether this action turns out to be bold or simply brash, but in this difficult hour, we may owe this wildly ineffectual president the benefit of the doubt and accept that maybe, just maybe, in response to a horrible human atrocity, the President of the United States made the difficult decision to seek justice for the innocent victims of a war crime.

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Aleppo

Did you see the news?
Yeah, read the headlines.
(Who has time for the whole article?)

We’ve got
zero fucks to give
here in memeland
got our own problems
what can we do
about the blood in your streets
(and yeah, what can we do)

we live in the epilogue
history’s done
finito
this is all just
a bad sequel
retreading the same
tired plotline

the world’s nothing
but
wrath and semtex
and the Guf
is empty

The Impossible Presidency

Jim Young

It seems like poor President Obama can do no right these days. His poll numbers are way down. The Republicans are preparing for a battle over the budget, again. The target this time? Same one as last time: Obamacare. Now, they want to use the budget fight to “defund” the Affordable Health Care Act. Seriously, how many times do these schmucks want to fight this battle?

The twist this time, though, is that polls show that more Americans are coming to view Obamacare negatively. Recently, I heard a piece on the radio about how a conservative think tank’s latest study shows the law will raise insurance premiums for some elderly people in their 60s.

What’s this? But Obamacare was supposed to lower health care costs?!? How could this be?

Disengenous reporting, that’s how this could be. It was designed to lower actual healthcare costs. Yes, some premiums may go up, but overall healthcare costs will go down. In fact, they already have.

Yet, America is starting to buy the malarkey. And who knows, the Republicans may just succeed in destroying the crowning achievement (other than putting one through Bin Laden’s brainpan) of Obama’s first term and, in the process, set back the struggle for decent, affordable health care in this country by decades.

It’s clear now that the lens through which Obama’s presidency is evaluated is so warped  that it’s become farcical.

Take Syria as an example.

CNN today boasts that Putin has had a major “diplomatic victory” by thwarting (hopefully) the deployment of American military might in Syria. Sure, I’ll grant you that. Putin’s gain, though, is not necessarily Obama’s–or America’s loss.

One of the main reasons everyone who has been saying that America must act in Syria has given is simply that American credibility is on the line (which sounds kind of like a juvenile pissing contest, but I won’t elaborate on that because John Stewart has already  illustrated that point too brilliantly for me to want to retread it).

So if Russia coaxes Syria into giving up its inventory of chemical weapons, not only are we spared the awful responsibility of causing loss of life in Syria with our own hands, but we get to keep our precious “credibility” to boot.

Win-win.

Yet if you listen to the blowhards at Fox News and other punditry mills, this is some kind of setback for Obama. The accusations are flying fast and furious (and predictably) from the television proxy of the Republican party. Obama’s been “played” they say. Keep in mind these people were, of course, criticizing Obama the day before for wanting to intervene at all. Now they’re going to slam him for finding a way not to have to.

Let’s just make this crystal clear:

Obama says the use of chemical weapons is a “red line” and when they are used, he goes to the American people and Congress to argue that we must act to uphold “international norms.” When Secretary of State Kerry is asked how high the Syrians would have to jump to avoid military action, he offers up what he thinks to be so far fetched a suggestion that they would never comply. But lo and behold, Russia gets out the meter stick and holds it up for Syria to do the jump.

Essentially, our threat of military force worked so well that Syria is willing to do exactly what we said we want them to do (even when what we said was really kind of a joke) and that is somehow a black mark on Obama’s record?!?

If this deal goes through, then it’s Obama’s win. But as with every other issue since 2008, expect the right-wing propaganda machine to grind on and on–as it did with Obamacare–until nobody in this country knows which way is up and which is down and suddenly Syria becomes yet another failure for this president.

I ask, in all sincerity, what other president has had to put up with this absurdly partisan opposition? I mean, they hated Clinton, but it was nothing like this. Nothing.

But go ahead, tell me again how it has nothing to do with him being black.

I’ve just got to ask, and moms and dads, send the kiddies to their rooms because I feel compelled to use some profanity here:

What kind of bullshit world is this exactly? I mean, we have everything–absolutely everything we should need. We’ve got the tech to fit libraries on the head of a pin. We’ve got medicines to keep us going even after we cut out thyroids and kidneys and god-knows-what-all. We’ve got fields and fields of grain to stuff every mouth on the planet.

We should be frickin’ masters of the universe here. We should be clasping hands and singing kum-bay-ya or something, celebrating how we’ve overcome everything that ailed us–having stamped out the darkness and made life pleasant and full.

But no. We’re trying to figure out whether we should use cruise missiles to blow up some shit in Syria because we’re pretty, relatively, almost sure that some jackass with a title there let some generals who may or may not have been following his orders use sarin gas to exterminate a bunch of civilians.

Civilians! These are people who should be, you know, worrying about whether or not the soup is going to come out well for dinner not, gee, is that sarin I smell? Oh wait, no, it can’t be because it’s an odorless harbinger of death!

What does Bassar or Bashar or whatever his dang name is really want? What does he want power so badly for? I mean, I get Saddam Hussein and Qaddafi. They’re fucking monsters who raped pretty girls because they could and convinced themselves they were demi-gods on Earth because people had painted giant portraits of them (at gun-point).

I can actually understand that. Monster are monsters.

It’s the men killing other people that really gets under my skin. Why? Why do this to people? Is there some end game in their heads where they’re going to be like, yeah, I had to gas some people, but it’s all good now. Is this a political office you can ever feel really secure in after that? Does your ship of state seem to be sailing straight with that little ripple in the ocean behind you?

See, for me, I wonder how people live with themselves when they steal my credit card number (I mean, you’re a fucking parasite on the ass of society, so yeah, you enjoy that four hundred dollar shopping spree at Lowe’s, why don’t you) but this–this is gassing little kids to death. How in the hell do you rationalize that shit to yourself?!?

We’re victims of inertia. Us, them. Syria, America. Iran, Russia. Israel, Palestine. We’re just stuck on a course plotted by archaic and arcane traditions and divisions that are as arbitrary as they are indelible.

I feel like if we could package all our knowledge and wisdom into a capsule and tuck it away with some fresh, unspoiled human seed–some little Clark Kent (and, I guess, a bevy of infant Lois Lanes for him to breed with) that we could blast off toward a new world away from all our mental detritus, all our toxic culture, then maybe, just maybe something beautiful and worthwhile could come from human civilization.

Then maybe it would all be worth it–all these tragedies that can’t be stopped with cruise missiles or with stern talks from presidents about red lines–because it would have just been prelude, like loose skin sloughed off.

Pupae. Nobody worries how ugly, and foul a chrysalis was…once it’s all used up.

No Doubt?

Vice-president Biden says there is “no doubt” who is responsible for the chemical weapons attack in Syria.

No doubt, he says.

I have doubts. Doubts a plenty. I think Mr. Obama must, too, if it’s taken us this long to act in Syria. Doubt made heavy by our collective memory of adventurism in Iraq.

I’m forced to doubt that our military machine can actually achieve human progress at the cost of human lives. I doubt that in a situation as muddled and confusing as Syria is today that we can be confident of who fired what at who. After all, Bashar had everything to lose and the rebels had everything to gain through his use of chemical weapons. Yes, it sounds like a Bond villain move–launch a chemical attack on civilians to frame the government you want to overthrow. It’s something out of a bad Tom Clancy novel, but then Tom Clancy novels pretty much predicted 9/11, so you never know.

You never know.

There is always doubt. Yes, we should doubt whether sitting by and watching 100,000 die in Syria was the best move as surely as we should doubt that launching missiles against its regime is the right move now.

There must always be doubt, Mr. Vice President.

We live in the dusky afternoon–always. There are no precise times. No sharp times. That was the previous administration’s illusion: a world of good vs. evil.

We live in the befuddled world, and we should all shudder at whatever comes next…