Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: This time it's Syria

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  • BenWilson, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    Sure, never said it wasn’t, but it’s still not the design to poison people.

    This is significant why?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg, in reply to BenWilson,

    It’s certainly not borne out by any recent history.

    Somalia?

    Americans, if current polling is any pointer, are war weary. 11 years of unwon wars and mounting casualties seem to have had an effect on the national psyche and it won't be the first time either – witness the national military torpor after 1975. It took the best part of a decade to get the gung-hos back, and they did that only by invading fortress Grenada (where they lost more men to friendly fire than anything else).

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Simon Grigg,

    Sadly it won’t deter the usual neo-con suspects who’ll always be at war with Eastasia – people like Pam Geller and even Anders Breivik take it to its logical conclusion. Either it’s die fighting the ‘savages with AK47’s’ at any cost, or go Big Brother in the name of weeding them out. Compromise is not in their dictionary, even if the ICBMs start flying.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5441 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Simon Grigg,

    11 years of unwon wars

    I don't know that they see it like that. They took out Hussein, the Taliban, Bin Laden and Gadaffi, installing democracy in each place (how they would see it).

    They're tired of ground war, I'm sure, and having trouble finding recruits by accounts. But I was talking about an air campaign, probably mostly using remotes. It could even be an assassination campaign, Obama's main contribution to American militarism. It's not a threat any dictator can take lightly, considering just how dangerous being a Middle Eastern dictator has become. It could, of course, backfire horribly - it's not like any of these dictators has just given up. I'd expect it to, in fact. It shouldn't be done. But it could be done.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I'm struggling to believe that the French have entirely fabricated their dossier on the attacks. They were happy enough to call out the bogus intelligence presented in support of the Iraq invasion. The Iraq case was directly contradicted by the inspectors who'd been combing the country for years. In this case, the on-the-ground evidence, at the least, confirms the fact of chemical weapons being used. The evidence that the weapons were used by rebel forces rather than the regime seems very, very thin.

    This doesn't mean a military attack on Syria is wise or moral, but I think it's prudent to acknowledge the evidence that an attack has taken place. The Guardian's latest story suggests that the preferred option may be to put pressure on Putin to accept that Al Assad must go. And maybe he might: Russia has now stopped shipping weapons to Syria. Which raises the question of who might replace Assad.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Puttin pressure on Putin - if it's possible- is the only way this can get untangled. Makes a lot of sense, but I have no sense of what might make him change his stance. Not moral suasion, anyway.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Russell Brown,

    known knowns...

    ...but I think it’s prudent to acknowledge the evidence that an attack has taken place.

    Totally, the stakes have been raised immeasurably in the public's reaction, it's just how good they all are as poker players , bluffers and double bluffers...
    My main worry is that perception is everything, the region has had many instances of embedded sleepers or people being turned, striking suddenly from within, to obtain either massive damage, death and or deception...
    I guess finding a signed order from Assad would be unlikely, but I can also equally entertain the idea of a rogue officer or other false flag operatives being involved.
    The 24 hr news cycle assists the illusionist and their arts
    (whichever side is pulling the strings)

    When people are telling you stuff , I often find
    what they're not saying more telling...

    I defer to Damon Runyan in these matters:
    "One of these days ... a guy is going to come up to you and show you a nice brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken, and this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the Jack of Spades jump out of the deck and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not bet this man, for as sure as you are standing there, you are going to end up with an earful of cider."
    from Guys and Dolls

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7950 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen R,

    William R Polk is quoted extensively in
    http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/09/your-labor-day-syria-reader-part-2-william-polk/279255/

    Which provides more information than I've seen before. The summary could be "It's complicated, the evidence is mixed, and there are no good options".

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Stephen R,

    I like this man...

    William R Polk is quoted extensively...

    Polk dots the 'i's and crosses the 't's...

    I'm glad he raised issues of past US sophistry*
    in the same physical, and moral, area.

    According to the US military attaché working with the Iraqi army at the time, the US government either turned a blind eye or approved its use (see the summary of the documents in Shane Harris and Matthew Aid, "Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran," Foreign Policy, August 26, 2013) We were horrified when Saddam Husain used poison gas against the Kurdish villagers of Halabja in 1988 (killing perhaps 4-5 thousand people) but by that time we had dropped our support for the Iraqi government.

    A flashback to 2003 from the New York Times.

    Analysis of thousands of captured Iraqi secret police documents and declassified U.S. government documents, as well as interviews with scores of Kurdish survivors, senior Iraqi defectors and retired U.S. intelligence officers, show (1) that Iraq carried out the attack on Halabja, and (2) that the United States, fully aware it was Iraq, accused Iran, Iraq's enemy in a fierce war, of being partly responsible for the attack. The State Department instructed its diplomats to say that Iran was partly to blame.
    The result of this stunning act of sophistry was that the international community failed to muster the will to condemn Iraq strongly for an act as heinous as the terrorist strike on the World Trade Center.

    and another viewpoint on the US's bad track record in the region:

    The U.S. would later emphasize the chemical attacks as a fundamental reason to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam, but there was no such concern with Kurdish strife at the time of the bombings. At the time allied with Saddam, the U.S. was generally silent on the subject except to suggest Iranian complicity. The uncontroversial record, combining released U.S. documents and other sources, now proves what was already suspected at the time: the U.S. knew Saddam was responsible but actively ordered its government officials to point the finger at Iran.

    Of course, it was not the first time the Kurds had been betrayed by the U.S. In 1971, the Shah of Iran asked President Nixon and Henry Kissinger to assist him in giving weapons and support to the Kurdish population in Iraq as a means to divert Iraq's attention and military from Iran. Iran was engaged in a border dispute with Iraq. The U.S agreed enthusiastically and began encouraging Kurdish rebellion, with both verbal assurances and military aid. When Iraq and Iran finally reached an agreement of sorts, the Kurds were immediately abandoned by both Iran and the U.S.

    *or 'Soft History' as the Mainstream Media seems to think of it, such malleable and mutable information...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7950 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg, in reply to BenWilson,

    Attachment

    I don’t know that they see it like that

    There’s clearly some dissention in the ranks.

    I think the biggest loser here in all likelihood stands to be Obama and the next Democratic candidate unless he/she is well distanced from the current POTUS. The likes of Fox will turn on Obama instantly there isn’t an immediate response.

    And 90 days? Assad can likely survive that without blinking as long as he bunkers down. Once again – as is the norm – American military cockiness stands ready to trip them up. It’s a pattern that’s repeated itself in every war since 1945.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I’m struggling to believe that the French have entirely fabricated their dossier on the attacks.

    Me too, but Kerry may have been caught out fabricating parts of his dossier, not least the photo of bodies he used, with questions over the intercepts he quoted.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    Oh good: World War III

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Stephen R,

    Which provides more information than I’ve seen before. The summary could be “It’s complicated, the evidence is mixed, and there are no good options”.

    The part about the disastrous drought and crop failures was interesting, and news to me.

    But what’s he saying here?

    Why did the investigators not do a more thorough job? The doctor at the site told the Guardian reporter that the Assad regime warned the investigators that they should leave because it could not guarantee their safety but the newspaper’s headline says that the Syrian government authorities ordered them out. Which is true? Is there another explanation? And why did the inspection team not have the means to retrieve parts of the delivery equipment, presumably rockets? Were they told by the UN or other authorities not to retrieve them or were they refused permission by the Syrian government? We simply do not know.

    Is there really that much conflict between the regime ordering them out after 90 minutes and the regime saying it couldn’t guarantee their safety? Is he implying the UN – contrary to all appearances – had an agenda to frame the regime for the attacks?

    And here, why does he suddenly drop in a report from April as if it’s related to the recent attack? Is it really strong enough to help his conclusions?

    Much was made of the belief that the gas had been delivered by rocket. However, as The New York Times correspondent Ben Hubbard reported (April 27, 2013) “”Near the attack sites, activists found spent rockets that appeared to have been homemade and suspected that they delivered the gas.” Would the regular army’s chemical warfare command have used “homemade” rockets? That report seemed to point to some faction within the opposition rather than to the government.

    But we have much stronger reports indicating earlier use of smaller-scale chemical weapons by the regime – or, at least, against rebel forces – that he ignores. I couldn’t find the text he quotes by Googling or searching the New York Times site, but another Hubbard story notes that forces fighting on the government’s behalf have been using homemade rockets:

    At least one photograph posted on Facebook by an activist showed what looked like a makeshift rocket. But loyalist militias and Hezbollah have both fired makeshift rockets at rebel positions in this war, and could presumably be suspects for any attacks with improvised rockets on rebel-controlled neighborhoods.

    If the chemical attack was mounted by loyalist forces, rather than the Syrian military itself, that might explain a few things. But Polk doesn’t even try and go there.

    But yet another Hubbard report, full of on-the-ground reporting, says this:

    Shortly after Wednesday’s rocket barrage began, rebel fighters spread the news of the assault by shouting, “Chemical attack!” into their walkie-talkies while loudspeakers affixed to minarets on the top of mosques blared warnings to residents to flee or to seek fresh air on their rooftops.

    As in many rebel areas, residents had grown used to dealing with government attacks, instincts that this time only increased the death toll.

    According to local doctors, some people took cover in basements, where the gas settled and suffocated them. Medics and photographers who had become accustomed to rushing to the site of attacks arrived too quickly, succumbing to the gases themselves.

    The attacks appeared to fit into a pattern of continued escalation by government forces throughout the war, with large strikes on residential areas that appear to serve no immediate tactical purpose.

    Hubbard notes that both sides seem to have been making tactical use of chemical weapons, but emphasises the difference in scale of this attack.

    The evidence put forward by France, the UK and the US (summarised here by The Guardian) is not conclusive. But the evidence that the other side inflicted this on their own towns as a provocation currently seems thin to non-existent.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Simon Grigg,

    Oh good: World War III

    Cold War II, perhaps. Superpowers flex and glare at each other while grinding their proxies to bloody dust in the middle.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen R, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Is there really that much conflict between the regime ordering them out after 90 minutes and the regime saying it couldn’t guarantee their safety? Is he implying the UN – contrary to all appearances – had an agenda to frame the regime for the attacks?

    If "the regime ordered them out after 90 minutes" is being used as evidence that the regime did it and they're trying to stop the investigation, that seems to me to be distinctly different to "They were in rebel held areas and the army said they weren't going to stop fighting the war just for them". Practically speaking, it might not be that different for the people on the ground, but the conclusions that can reasonably be drawn are different, no?

    But the evidence that the other side inflicted this on their own towns as a provocation currently seems thin to non-existent.

    Yeah. I'd agree with that. My current best guess is that the regime ordered it, with second place coming in to "the army did it without telling the political leaders".

    I'm still having difficulty with the end-goal of airstrikes. What can they do that's useful?

    I could almost imagine the US putting drones overhead and toasting anything that looks like a chemical weapons delivery platform with hellfire missiles, since some of the stories about the information gathering possibilities of the drones are quite impressive - loiter over this area and video everything that happens, so we can track back from them loading that missile launcher to see whether it came from the explosives bunker or the chemical weapons bunker, then decide whether to explode the launcher.

    The Syrians do have radar and anti-air missiles that the Afghans and Pakistanis lack so I'm not sure if that's really practical.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Is he implying the UN – contrary to all appearances – had an agenda to frame the regime for the attacks?

    From reading the same quote, I thought he was saying

    We simply do not know.

    a fair position in this fluid and dynamic situation...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7950 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Stephen R,

    Yeah. I’d agree with that. My current best guess is that the regime ordered it, with second place coming in to “the army did it without telling the political leaders”.

    I'd place these two in the opposite order but both well ahead of any other explanations.

    There have been incidents in the past where it's appeared as though the military has taken matters into their own hands independent of Assad, opening fire on protestors etc. That may just be plausible deniability at work but it does seem as though the military in Syria are a strong political entity.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Rich Lock,

    Cold War II, perhaps. Superpowers flex and glare at each other while grinding their proxies to bloody dust in the middle.

    One hopes. The recent lack of certainty about MAD being so mutual means that it's more likely, rather than less, that nukes will fly.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Stephen R,

    I’m still having difficulty with the end-goal of airstrikes. What can they do that’s useful?

    Oh, me too. What's the achievable goal?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Alex Coleman, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I think the stated point is that it will punish Assad for CW use. So 'just airstrikes' is something you could, in theory, calibrate to do that but not affect the civil war.*

    But mission creep is already creepy creeping in with talk of regime change as a 'collatoral effect', So I'm suspicious that when people start getting hurt, the administration's stated determination not to respond to what Assad does next in the civil war will be tested quite firmly.

    So maybe (big maybe), that mission creep *is* the plan, and a much bigger involvement is planned than what is being talked about now.

    *(as an aside, if I had to suggest a target list to achieve that I'd say "His navy. Sink it")

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 247 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Alex Coleman,

    So maybe (big maybe), that mission creep *is* the plan, and a much bigger involvement is planned than what is being talked about now.

    I get the impression that regime change was the price of Republican support in Congress. Lord knows hey they think they're going to achieve it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Russell Brown,

    e evidence put forward by France, the UK and the US (summarised here by The Guardian) is not conclusive. But the evidence that the other side inflicted this on their own towns as a provocation currently seems thin to non-existent.

    Well, sure. But I don't think Assad live-gassing a kitten on You Tube would be "conclusive" enough for Putin.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Alex Coleman,

    “His navy. Sink it”

    The Russians may not be too happy about that, as they putatively share naval facilities at Tartus and supplied many of the navy’s vessels, as well as being Syria’s major arms provider… that might ‘creep the mission’ a tad too far!
    (Unless of course Putin is keen to resell them a bunch of new ships… business is business)

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7950 posts Report Reply

  • Alex Coleman, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    There’s no such thing as a perfect plan :)

    The senate authorisation is pretty ‘creepy’ compared to what Obama was saying just a few days ago. Lots of shifty language, and the goals now include changing the civil war:

    The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution Wednesday saying a goal of U.S. policy will be to “change the momentum on the battlefield’’ in Syria’s civil war and speed a negotiated removal of Mr. Assad. The measure would ban the use of ground forces in Syria “for the purpose of combat operations” and sets a 60-day limit for Mr. Obama to launch strikes. It includes a possible 30-day extension if Mr. Obama determined that was needed to meet the resolution’s goals.

    Wonder how much attention the ‘non-vetted’ opposition groups are going to be getting. If the US is planning on tipping the balance of the war in favour of ‘moderate’ groups who are currently losing ground to Islamists…



    Edit: oops, linky http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324577304579054973488682120.html?mod=WSJ_hps_LEFTTopStories

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 247 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Russell Brown,

    regime change was the price of Republican support

    Be careful what you wish for.

    I think that has to be the major issue here. It's easy to identify Assad as "bad". It's much less easy to identify who is "good". And an order of magnitude more difficult to ensure that the "good" gain power.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

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