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Politics Middle Eastern power shifts

Discussion in 'Tilted Philosophy, Politics, and Economics' started by Remixer, Aug 30, 2012.

  1. roachboy

    roachboy Very Tilted

    at the same time, i understand the administration's argument on its own terms. it was outlined best in the press conference obama did in sweden. and, if you exclude other factors, it is a strong argument.

    i suppose my main objection to the air strike option as it is currently on the table is that i don't think about syria with the same frame around it that the administration assumes is in place when it restricts its arguments to the matter of the 21 august attack. whence the matter of 1/4 the population of syria displaced, many people internally...i cannot see how bombing infrastructure is going to do much beyond make a bad situation worse.

    i support the arab spring (for want of a better term) and have watched with disappointment leaning toward cynicism as it's been contained by the national-security state, especially in egypt. i was initially behind the intervention in libya, thinking it was necessary to prevent a massacre in benghazi. as did the security council. but the way in which things unfolded there afterward plays no small role in my suspicion of this particular action. it does not appear that the west in general has taken anything away from what they left behind in libya. one could argue that it was in that situation a result of the "mission design"---but if you accept that (and i do) then it is the mission design itself that is a problem.

    at the same time, politically, i would like to see asad regime brought down and something like a democratic state put into motion in its place.

    on the one hand, asad is clearly an ass, but not as big an ass as was his father. he tried to play the neo-liberal game, and was interested in agricultural reforms. the revolt started because he was perceived as being arbitrary in how this program was implemented from the viewpoint of folk in homs. but he did not apparently do much relative to the deep state in the military and the police--and that deep state is what appears to me to be running the show for the government at this point. on the other, the remarkable and consistent brutality of that military noxious.

    the us has played lip service to supporting the aspirations of the people of north africa and syria in their aspirations for a kind of freedom that goes beyond the post-cold war arrangements. at the same time, the us has left a trail of fiasco where it has intervened---iraq. libya. (leaving aside afghanistan).

    so there is the mission itself. i am ambivalent about it. i am not at all convinced that military action like this is going to do anything but contribute to a continuation and intensification of the carnage. it will weaken asad's position, but not fatally so. it will likely increase the sense of desperation. with no parallel negociations going on, i can easily imagine things taking a turn so that the state, to mobilize support as its position weakens, will start to tell the alawite community that this is a life and death matter for them. that, folks, would not be good. at all.

    that's the center of my position, i think.
    it's not a reflexive opposition to action. it just seems to me that the emphasis on this kind of military action is not a great plan. even as i understand in the abstract the need for some response to the gas attack---but that argument would be a whole lots stronger if i did not also know about the dozens of other reports of gas use by the army.

    what differentiates 21 august, they say, is that the gas was shot into an area that included a displaced population. they say that these folk did not recognize the gas munitions, while the fighters in the area did. so the civilians reacted as they would to a conventional weapon and retreated into basements. that's where most of them died.

    so i don't know.
    a pox on all their houses is a reasonable response from a chair in my living room.
    but it seems to me frankly that the entire approach to syria adopted by the united states and others is basically fucked up and that the space we find ourselves in, contemplating an ill-considered strike on grounds that work best when you exclude everything about the actual situation and think only of abstract principles---is an expression of it.

    if the strike goes forward, i suppose i would have to see how it goes.
    this is not a matter of principle.
  2. redux

    redux Very Tilted

    Foggy Bottom
    We know with absolute certainty that Obama has not surrounded himself with a cadre of neo-con war hawks.

    Three of his top advisors, VP Biden, Sec of State Kerry and Sec of Defense Hagel while in the Senate, have been anti-war. Two of whom (Biden, Hagel) voted for the Iraq AUMF (Kerry voted against) with all three also expressing concern over the Iraq invasion and occupation for fear of a long protracted engagement, and Hagel being nearly drummed out of the Republican party for his opposition to Bush policies. He and Kerry, both Vietnam war vets, have been vocal for years on the dangers of long protracted wars.

    We know that two other top foreign policies advisors, Anthony Lake, a former Clinton National Security Director (and now exec director of UNICEF) and Mark Lippert, a former Navy Seal (and now Hagel's top staffer), also oppose putting US troops on the ground unless the most dire of circumstance.

    These guys are not the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz Project for a New American Century.

    Thanks for your closer perspective to the scene.
  3. roachboy

    roachboy Very Tilted

    this action is being contemplated in the absence of an accompanying political process.
    that absence is reflected in the official us perspective which prefers on-going war to a politically uncertain outcome.
    so does the logic of the air strike, in a horrible way.

    the scenario i outline that in which the air strike would precipitate a rapid and violent devolution of this conflict by transforming it into what superficial western observers imagine it already is--an ethnic conflict---seems to me clear. obvious, even, once you spell it out.

    i really hope i am wrong.
  4. redux

    redux Very Tilted

    Foggy Bottom
  5. roachboy

    roachboy Very Tilted

    the resulting ethnic conflict will serve to legitimate the policy failure that's already in place. intractable age-old conflicts, they're not civilized, nothing to be done, that kind of huntington thesis stuff you see floating about even now in the discursive environments around syria.

    the actual policy logic, its preference for open-ended conflict with a gradual deterioration of asad's position because there is no viable political process....you cannot ignore it.

    because this is an actual place with actual human beings whose already quite bad situation will likely be made a whole lot worse by this action, which will accelerate the logic that's already actually in place---the one that conditioned the design of the air strike plan itself.

    all the while enabling a certain self of self-congratulation over "doing something" standing up for international norms etc.
  6. Remixer

    Remixer Middle Eastern Doofus

    Frankfurt, Germany
    While I wouldn't profess to know much of the past, or present, attitude towards war by either Biden or Hagel, I would question your assessment of Kerry. He is known to have voted for the Iraq war when it was proposed by Rumsfeld, and now appears to be a proponent of military intervention in Syria.

    John Kerry sells a war that Americans aren't buying - Opinion - Al Jazeera English

    Last edited: Sep 6, 2013
  7. Bodkin van Horn

    Bodkin van Horn One of the Four Horsewomyn of the Fempocalypse

    I understand the desire to point out all of the people in the administration who appear to be antiwar and say "These people don't like war, so why would they propose a solution that will result in a war?" I understand it. But appealing to these particular authorities presumes that 1) people who were previously antiwar aren't going to be prowar in the right circumstances (Kerry voted for it before he voted against it, or was that the other way around?), and that 2) people are in complete control of the consequences of their choices.

    I think Kerry et all believe in just wars, rather than no wars, and I think history is littered with bodies created by the military misjudgments of its leaders.
  8. roachboy

    roachboy Very Tilted

    i tried to clarify what i take to be the likely outcome of the air strike:

    Here's what I think is going to happen in Syria if the air strike goes forward.

    1. One of the remarkable facts about this situation is that military action is being contemplated in the absence of a political process. This absence represents a wholesale breakdown of political imagination. The result is that the overthrow of the Asad regime would produce unpredictable outcomes. The United States prefers the war that is happening to that unpredictability for geo-political reasons.

    2. The strike plan is conditioned by actual US policy toward Syria, which is a preference for on-going war with a gradually weakening Asad regime.

    3. The plan has a precedent in Libya. Consider what NATO action left behind. Clearly the West has taken away nothing from that experience. The military alternative--this incoherent nonsense called "nation-building"---has produced similar outcomes in both Iraq and Afghanistan. An internationally based political process is the only alternative in making the outcomes of the overthrow of Asad predictable. There isn't one. What would change this is the formation of a post-Asad coalition within Syria. This would follow from the recognition of the possibility that the revolution might win.

    4. Air strikes in the absence of a political process will weaken the military's position but not fatally so. The result is predictable for an authoritarian military-police state: increased violence in the face of a sense of eroding position. Whether it tips toward desperation or not will follow from whether this erosion of position is seen as precipitous.

    5. A likely response is for the state to reframe the conflict as a life-and-death struggle for the Alawite population, which is the community from which Asad and his father come. The disadvantage of that would come from ceding the construction of the state as representing Syria.

    6. If this happens, it will play to the fatuous discourse of intractable ethnic conflicts ages old--which is patently false in the case of Syria. This will, in turn, justify the absence of a political process. No-one will take any responsibility for the resulting intensification of conflict. Nothing to be done, you see. They're just like that.
  9. redux

    redux Very Tilted

    Foggy Bottom
    You are correct about Kerry voting for the Iraq AUMF. I was thinking Ted Kennedy, the other Mass. senator at the time.

    As to the Al Jazeera column by the Code Pink founder, I watched most of the three hours testimony from earlier this week and I take away an entirely different perception of Kerry's reiteration that the intent was limited in scope and goals.

    I dont recall him or anyone in the current circle of advisors being supportive of a Bush doctrine type foreign policy -- regime change and preemptively identifying and destryoing a threat to the US before it reaches our shores. Personally, based on his comments and demeanor at the Senate hearing, I dont think he supports acting unilaterally, even if Obama might choose to act in such a manner.
    --- merged: Sep 6, 2013 at 11:02 AM ---
    Why dont you think the Geneva Communique could serve as a foundation for a political process?
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 13, 2013
  10. roachboy

    roachboy Very Tilted

    the point is that as of now there is no viable political process.
    that could change. but the driver of it would have to be the formation of a coalition inside syria that envisioned the possibility of winning, and, by extension, of governing. this would enable a group to emerge that could be integrated into such a process. absent that, it can't really get started.

    it is a recurrent problem...in egypt the 25 january movement was entirely oriented around not-mubarak. it didn't have either a vision of what was wanted in a positive sense, nor an organizational structure that would allow it to be integrated into something like a conventional democracy-lite process.

    current us strategy toward syria presupposes the absence of a political process. from there, i think it goes as i've characterized it.

    this seems to me an important context in terms of which what's being talked about should be situated.

    it allows for seeing likely outcomes. exclusive focus on 21 august as an unpleasant transgression of international norms set against a horizon of ugly background noise does not.
  11. redux

    redux Very Tilted

    Foggy Bottom
    By suggesting the focus has been exclusively on Aug 21, it seems to me you are dismissing the Geneva Communique /Action Group for Syria, in which the US has been actively engaged for more than a year, as meaningless.

    I think the foundation, while hardly perfect and shaky to some extent, is there.
  12. roachboy

    roachboy Very Tilted

    i agree that the foundations are in place. but the process isn't.

    i can understand the problem this raises, though. it allows for a context to come into play that could change the meaning of the action that's being proposed. personally, sitting in a chair in massachusetts, i can hold both narratives in play simultaneously. it's just that i see quite ugly consequences unfolding on the ground based on the context of on-going us policy assumptions about syria to this point.
  13. redux

    redux Very Tilted

    Foggy Bottom
    I think the Geneva Communique is more that just a foundation. It puts a process in place (from the UN article):
    And in the meantime, as part of that process:
  14. roachboy

    roachboy Very Tilted

    us policy, however, presupposes that this isn't operative. i can dig up cites if you like (am busy at the moment, so just let me know and i'll try to get back soon...)
  15. redux

    redux Very Tilted

    Foggy Bottom
    I would suggest that it is operating on separate, but overlapping tracks to some extent, with the intent of a Geneva II to focus on a political transition plan.
    (and now I have to get ready for a conference call).
  16. roachboy

    roachboy Very Tilted

  17. Remixer

    Remixer Middle Eastern Doofus

    Frankfurt, Germany

    I do appreciate your take on Kerry's statements and explanations.

    At the same time, I also appreciate the escalating rhetoric and that appearances suggest an increasingly expansive pro-conflict agenda is being pushed by a particular group. Who, I wouldn't know, but the element is clearly there.

    Source: Report: US strike on Syria to be 'significantly larger than expected' | JPost | Israel News
  18. redux

    redux Very Tilted

    Foggy Bottom
    The quandary in protecting the resistance is the necessity to identify with some level of confidence that the groups funded are pro-democracy before the US, western allies and neighboring Gulf states provide more significant military and civil funding (as opposed to humanitarian funding) to the opposition groups. It seems to me to be a no-win situation with criticisms for potentially providing arms to extreme elements and, at the same time, criticisms for the slow response.
    --- merged: Sep 6, 2013 at 7:14 PM ---
    I always assumed it would be more than just lobbing a few cruise missiles if the goal is to effectively and significantly deter and degrade Asssad's chemical weapons capabilities.

    But I am now hearing that it is less likely that Obama will act w/o Congressional approval and as of now that approval is not even close in the House. It may well come down to the planned speech to the American people next Tuesday.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 13, 2013
  19. roachboy

    roachboy Very Tilted

    redux...i think the misunderstanding is that i am simply looking at the current state of affairs without trying to fill in gaps and trying to understand what the implications of the proposed strikes would be.
    i understand the rationale being floated, and sort of accept it on it's own terms, except that i don't think it's being floated with reference to very much of that pesky reality business in syria.

    there are certainly options going forward. i'd like to think that report would indicate the one-dimensional nature of much current thinking about the syrian opposition.

    insofar as iran is concerned, just a couple points. 1. iran has indicated that it awaits the results of the un inspection team investigations and that, if they reveal the chemical weapon, would likely not object to some sort of action. 2. this is not surprising given the nature of iranian co-operation with the west in a back channel kinda way, including with the iraq war. realpolitik makes curious bedfellows. 3. rohani is obviously interested in a kind of rapprochement with the united states because 4. the sanctions regime is still in place and iran would like that to go away. so i don't see iran as particularly a geo-political wildcard.

    russia is more interesting. but they've also indicated they await the results of the un inspection team.
    and this afternoon, france announced that it would await them as well.
    i assume that the administration also did, but in a face-saving way, by talking in terms of a 2-week delay.

    the g-20 summit did not produce awesome results in coalition building.
    the action would be much better with a un sanction.
    perhaps the delay would allow for a better plan that was initially floated.
    things are clearly in motion, given the ramping up of fire power.
    whether that makes sense or not is something that deserves consideration.

    all this hurry hurry hurry do this now nonsense seems to diminish rather than enhance credibility, as if all that's at stake in the syrian crisis is american credibility in the region.
    the idea that the united states has credibility in the middle east is kinda surreal, given their israel policies.
    but hey, what do i know?
  20. Bodkin van Horn

    Bodkin van Horn One of the Four Horsewomyn of the Fempocalypse

    On Syria Vote, Trust, but Verify - NYTimes.com

    The Obama admin is saying "Trust us." Even though they've been spending the last several months showing themselves to be completely untrustworthy.

    Say the US does help tip the scales and Assad goes down. What will prevent one of the rebel factions from seizing power and telling all the other factions to fuck off? If the rebel groups are getting a lot of funding from Islamist groups, does that imply that the more powerful (via external funding) factions will be beholden to groups who would not want a secular government in Syria? This scenario seems especially like if we go in unilaterally and swearing to keep boots off the ground. The UN isn't all that effective in dealing with situations like these, especially if opposing players have seats on the security council.

    I agree with roach. The US's goal has to be to prolong the civil war. Keep these folks fighting each other. This is consistent with the admin's hands off approach for the last couple years. They don't care if Syrians die. It is in their strategic interest to have Syrians keep dying.