September 11, 2013

Playing politics with warmongering in Syria is always wrong

Update, Sept. 18: The UN investigation seems to tie the attacks to senior officers of President Bashar Assad. Whether they were following orders or not may still not be final, but the linked New York Times story indicates the answer is yes.

That said, per the oft-cited piece by William Polk at the Atlantic? His "cui bono" was, and still is, a good question. And, if part of why he wrote that piece was pushback, given America's generally poor history of regime change in the Middle East, the neocons leading the charge again on this one and Obama not having a Syria exit plan, the shoot-first warmongers can still look themselves in the mirror.

Now, back to the original blog post.

A day after President Obama's speech about giving time and a chance to the Russian idea of trying to round up Syrian President Bashar Assad's chemical weapons, we can reflect a bit on how this speech, and everything running up to it, is being politicized by wingnuts, the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, Obamiacs and other in between.

First is the radical right, with at least some factions claiming Obama planned the Damascus sarin attacks. (That's despite the "sarin" allegedly found in Turkey turning out to be antifreeze, per the reports of British blogger Brown Moses, who is becoming the go-to guy on Syrian weaponry issues and more for all mainstream media.) And, lest you think this is a fringe thought within the right-wing fringe, wrong. Moonbat Pam Gellar linked to the above; that's where I saw it.

From there, it's jumped to Rush Limbaugh and every other winger looking for a new excuse to justify ramping up the hatred of Obama.

It's bad enough to have irrational hatred of Obama because he has a funny-sounding last name, an Arabic-sounding middle name and ... oh, maybe because he's an African-American, in general. But to do so while also playing politics with the possibility of American military action is making innocent lives stand hostage.

That said, the possibility that said wingers are getting played like a cheap fiddle by Assad is about the only thing that Foreign Policy magazine gets right when it called Assad's claims not to have done it unbelievable

Really? I guess this pillar of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment didn't even ask around within the Beltway. Or else, it ignored I guess it ignored Anthony Cordesman, a pillar of said establishment himself:
Neither Kerry’s remarks nor the unclassified version of the U.S. intelligence he referenced explained how the U.S. reached a tally of 1,429, including 426 children. The only attribution was “a preliminary government assessment.”
Anthony Cordesman, a former senior defense official who’s now with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, took aim at the death toll discrepancies in an essay published (on Aug. 25).
He criticized Kerry as being “sandbagged into using an absurdly over-precise number” of 1,429, and noted that the number didn’t agree with either the British assessment of “at least 350 fatalities” or other Syrian opposition sources, namely the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has confirmed 502 dead, including about 100 children and "tens" of rebel fighters, and has demanded that Kerry provide the names of the victims included in the U.S. tally.

“President Obama was then forced to round off the number at ‘well over 1,000 people’ – creating a mix of contradictions over the most basic facts,” Cordesman wrote. He added that the blunder was reminiscent of “the mistakes the U.S. made in preparing Secretary (Colin) Powell’s speech to the U.N. on Iraq in 2003.”
As usual, McClatchy, far more than other mainstream media, cuts through the bullshit of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment. That's why, even more than I've said before, we'd be stupid to go to war.

Or, Foreign Policy ignored German intelligence, whose findings are reprinted by McClatchy from German weekly paper Bild im Sonntag.
The report in Bild am Sonntag, which is a widely read and influential national Sunday newspaper, reported that the head of the German Foreign Intelligence agency, Gerhard Schindler, last week told a select group of German lawmakers that intercepted communications had convinced German intelligence officials that Assad did not order or approve what is believed to be a sarin gas attack on Aug. 21 that killed hundreds of people in Damascus’ eastern suburbs. ...

The newspaper’s article said that on numerous occasions in recent months, the German intelligence ship named Oker, which is off the Syrian coast, has intercepted communications indicating that field officers have contacted the Syrian presidential palace seeking permission to use chemical weapons and have been turned down.

The article added that German intelligence does not believe Assad sanctioned the alleged attack on August 21.
So, it's plausible that some generals took action into their own hands.

If so, an attack on Assad destabilizes Syria even more, while increasing the possibility Assad might be replaced by folks even worse.

Oops!

The administration rejects such theories under this idea:
“The material was used in the eastern suburbs of Damascus that have been controlled by the opposition for some time,” (White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough) said. “It was delivered by rockets, rockets that we know the Assad regime has, and we have no indication that the opposition has.”
That proves nothing.

We know that Syria's chemical weapons resources are, for the most part, mobile, and for the most part loosely controlled. It would be easy for rogue officers to do this.

Or, if you believe the Free Syrian Army or another rebel group is behind this, it would be possible for it to attack its own people. Or given that rebel forces aren't unified, for a jihadi Sunni group like the Al-Nusra Front to have attacked other rebels, eliminating opposition within the rebel movement as well as making Assad look bad. After all, Iran reportedly told the US that these folks had chemical weapons. That said, backing Shi'ite rebels in some way, Iran has reason to make such claims whether they're truthful or not.

If much of our vaunted bipartisan foreign policy establishment is too stupid, too myopically warmongering, or otherwise inhibited from considering these possibilities, America's worse off than even I think in some ways.

And by that, I mean both its failure to consider the idea that somebody besides Assad did this, and the idea that intervening in Syria against Assad if somebody besides Assad did it could make Syria even worse.

But, a good chunk of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment appears to have coalesced around the idea of intervention, facts be damned. That includes, per William Polk, the fact that, recently, Assad appears to have stemmed, if not partially turned, the rebel tide. If he's winning, it would be stupid to use chemical weapons. And, if German intelligence is right, that's part of why he told his generals no.

That failure of brainpower is just like that alleged inside-the-Beltway political master, Ezra Klein, and presumably, other members of the Brat Pack inside-the-Beltway commentariat (they're not journalists) when he claims Dear Leader is at another brilliant game of 11-dimensional chess and has no intention of anything warlike. Klein's now doubled down on teh suck-up, acting like this is the outcome Dear Leader wanted. Only problem? As I've blogged before, Obama usually gets his hat handed to him when Ezra, Matty Y and the rest of the Brat Pack Smart Set claim he's playing 11-dimensional chess. This time, it will be others than the GOP in Congress holding said hat, possibly.

Because, while I like the Russian idea, I'm still skeptical of the chances of it being realized. And if, per the latest claims, it's been talked about for months, why didn't either we or the Russians or both of us get closer to a deal sooner.

And, just as the likes of Rusty Limbaugh hold American lives hostage by playing politics over this issue, so do Klein and the rest of the Brat Pack when they tout Dear Leader's brilliance.

That includes the question of whether the idea of getting Syria to agree to a chemical weapons roundup and quarantine was the Russians bailing John Kerry out on an off-the-cuff comment or whether, as Huff Post claims, it's a deliberate idea that was on the burner for some time.

Also on that Huff Puff piece, Fineman, in claiming Zionists like AIPAC are leery of a missile strike, also ignores that they'd like ... er, boot on the ground!? instead.

Beyond all this, although the UN hasn't weighed in yet with its determinations on the chemical weapons attack, as far as general thuggery, it says they're all pretty much alike. That's yet another reason to be very wary about who we attack as well as why, and what results we expect.

The bottom line, though, is whether it's Rusty Limbaugh and Pam Gellar for one reason, Foreign Policy for another, or Ezra Klein for a third, all of those who are playing politics off this situation are little more than vultures.





That's the bottom line to remember, before John Kerry or anybody else on Team Obama gets to sounding so much like Bushies that soon we hear a chemical weapons equivalent of Condoleezza Rice's "smoking gun ... mushroom cloud." (Of course, they're taking their talking points from those of Dear Leader, so, who knows what will happen next.)

But, that leads us to the question of: Who did it? As Aum Shinrikyo showed in Tokyo, sarin is  relatively easy to produce and weaponize/distribute.

There's essentially six possible answers, the way I see it, with thoughts on motive.

1. Bashar Assad, though in The Atlantic, William Polk, after raising the "cui bono" question (right up there with the "follow the money" warning as two of the most important things to know when pulling on strings), said that Assad doesn't benefit. Why? He's been rolling back the rebels the last few weeks without chemical weapons.

2. The Syrian military, without an explicit order from Assad, as German intelligence reportedly thinks. In hindsight, I kind of berate myself for not thinking of this earlier as a theoretical option, if nothing else. Maybe, as some of them thought when he took over from his dad, some generals, or below them, some colonels and majors, think Assad fils isn't tough enough. Answer? They destabilize Syria further then mount a coup when he doesn't respond.

Now, I'm going to sort out various groups of rebels who could have done this.

3. "Secularists" like the Free Syrian Army. Given that they're the ones in US good graces, they arguably have the most to gain from US intervention if Assad is starting to turn things around versus all the rebels as a lump.

4. Kurdish nationalists. Theoretically possible. Given that the Kurdish Workers' Party, the PKK, has announced it has stopped its withdrawal from Turkey, Kurds in Syria might have a lot to gain. The Turkish economy is slipping again and Iraq looks like it could still possibly disintegrate, leaving Iraqi Kurds some choices.

5. Shi'ite rebels, presumably getting help from Hezbollah or directly from Iran. A variety of winners here. Hezbollah might hope it sucks Israel into sending ground troops into Syria, or otherwise bollixing things up. Iran could use a chemical weapons threat as a bargaining chip on economic sanctions against it.

6. Al-Qaeda type rebels. Name recognition for people that are largely "wannabes."

As for who would have had the ability to either produce or acquire chemical weapons?

1. We know the Assad government has them.

2. Army officers reportedly have indicated that control of said weapons might not be that tight, so No. 2 is viable.

3. "Secularists" might include disgruntled former civil servants. If the Army officers are right about loose control, theft is possible.

4. The PKK might have made sarin. Would it have already used it against Turkey at some point if it had, though? That might be a "tell" against it.

5. I don't know about Hezbollah, but an Iranian stockpile of sarin is certainly possible.

6. Not likely unless by theft, I'd say. That said, Iran reportedly told the US that these folks had chemical weapons. The same story notes that the Turks allegedly found sarin in "jihadi" rebels' homes in May.

That said, most of the possible players have at least some benefit from using chemical weapons.

Meanwhile, if it WAS Assad, or rogue generals, it looks like the Russkies are going to try to remove Dear Leader's excuse for warmaking. Yes, technically, John Kerry made the statement in what is being called an "offhand comment."

That said, looking at it below, no offhand comment. It's warmongering with a definite timetable, and a relatively short one, attached. And, if it wasn't Assad, or his generals, who did this, Mr. Heinz 57 Varieties (of Neoliberalism) could wind up being Just.Another.Bushie.™:
Lavrov's comments came after Secretary of State John Kerry suggested earlier in the day that if Syria gave up its chemical weapons by the end of the week an attack could be avoided. 

"He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow a full and total accounting," Kerry told reporters during a press conference in London with his British counterpart. 
Oy. Again, where did we hear these words before? And, if Kerry says "we know you have more than that"? Again, where did we hear that before? Good thing sarin doesn't come in aluminum tubes.

Of course, he's just agreeing with the boss:
(Obama) said that “if we don’t maintain and move forward with a credible threat of military pressure, I do not think we will actually get the kind of agreement I would like to see.”
Wait, wait? Aren't we supposed to "negotiate with our enemies," or is that 2008 campaign statement now inoperable.

No, we're not. I present your Warmonger in Chief:
“The U.S. does not do pinpricks,” (Obama) said in the NBC interview. “Our military is the greatest the world has ever known. And when we take even limited strikes, it has an impact on a country like Syria.”
Wow. The O-bots would crap their pants if Bush had said this.

Now? Per Ezra Klein, below, this is11-dimensional chess brilliance.

Meanwhile, Syria has accepted the proposal. Well, sort of. The foreign minister and prime minister has, but Assad himself hasn't yet commented. And, France is looking to put more teeth into the proposal.

So, if Obama still wants to warmonger, what straw does he grasp at next? (And, if this was rogue generals, Assad has good reason for accepting the idea, and making at least half an effort on following through.)

Anyway, contra Team Obama's blathering, we don't actually know who the hell did this. (More on that below.) 

Beyond that, even the death count is disputed.
Neither Kerry’s remarks nor the unclassified version of the U.S. intelligence he referenced explained how the U.S. reached a tally of 1,429, including 426 children. The only attribution was “a preliminary government assessment.”
Anthony Cordesman, a former senior defense official who’s now with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, took aim at the death toll discrepancies in an essay published Sunday.
He criticized Kerry as being “sandbagged into using an absurdly over-precise number” of 1,429, and noted that the number didn’t agree with either the British assessment of “at least 350 fatalities” or other Syrian opposition sources, namely the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has confirmed 502 dead, including about 100 children and "tens" of rebel fighters, and has demanded that Kerry provide the names of the victims included in the U.S. tally.

“President Obama was then forced to round off the number at ‘well over 1,000 people’ – creating a mix of contradictions over the most basic facts,” Cordesman wrote. He added that the blunder was reminiscent of “the mistakes the U.S. made in preparing Secretary (Colin) Powell’s speech to the U.N. on Iraq in 2003.”
As usual, McClatchy, far more than other mainstream media, cuts through the bullshit of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment. That's why, even more than I've said before, we'd be stupid to go to war.

You'd also be stupid to believe that alleged inside-the-Beltway political master, Ezra Klein, when he claims Dear Leader is at another brilliant game of 11-dimensional chess and has no intention of anything warlike. Klein's now doubled down on teh suck-up, acting like this is the outcome Dear Leader wanted. Only problem? As I've blogged before, Obama usually gets his hat handed to him when Ezra, Matty Y and the rest of the Brat Pack Smart Set claim he's playing 11-dimensional chess. This time, it will be others than the GOP in Congress holding said hat, possibly.

Besides, the more Dear Leader pushes, the more one like me gets cynical about other moves. Like this six-month waiver on not importing oil from Iran for some EU members for being "good sanctions kids." Is this done to give them a bit of economic boost for getting on board with Syria? 

At least Ezra's better than the wingnuts, who claim Obama planned this. Though the idea that the Free Syrian Army did this, if you take away the anti-Obama conspiracy theory, is plausible. That, in turn, is better than the Religious Right's Amen corner for the neocons, at least the nuttier of them,  starting the Gog, Magog and End Times talk about Syria, per this YouTube video

But, I did my analyzing, and didn't make my wager, or offer odds.

I'll now address that.

1. Assad? 15 percent chance.

2. Assad's generals as mavericks? 40 percent.

3. Free Syrian Army? 25 percent 

4. Kurds? 5 percent.

5. Shi'ites? 5 percent.

6. Al Qaeda? 10 percent. 

I swapped the original percentages on the last two after reading the Iran warning story above. Folks like the Al-Nusra Front would "gain" by provoking the US into a "martyr-creating" response. I have since updated the odds to reflect some of "joshuaism" in his third comment.

Those odds should show you just how much I see just how convoluted this situation is. So should the fact that I just changed them.

That said, how much of a gap is there, really, between Assad's generals, if they are that maverick, and Assad's former generals running the Free Syrian Army? Given that the Free Syrian Army opposes the Russian proposal, one could argue that it has a vested interest in keeping a pipeline open to loosely guarded chemical weapons, and that the gaps about the same as Team Obama's "before" and "after" Kerry's comment stance.

Sadly, it seems that people who should know better are at least uncritically buying the "Assad did it" line, if not Ezra's line. 

I wish people who say "Assad did it" would admit the possibility, and the not totally unreasonable possibility, that others did it.

Even if you triple my probability of Assad doing that, that's still just 37.5 percent, or 3-in-8, odds that he did. And, none of you have answered Polk, as extended by me, on "cui bono" if Assad was starting to gain the upper hand in conventional fighting.

That said, per the third comment below, I'd buy 60 percent odds of rogue generals doing it. 

Update, Sept. 10: The warmongers are monging tonight, in light of Obama's speech. On NPR just now, Richard Haass, head of the Council on Foreign Relations, was claiming out of thin air that Assad has crossed Obama's red line a dozen times since he made that statement a year ago.

Foreign Policy mag has its mind made up, calling Assad's claims not to have done it unbelievable. And, it goes on to claim that this has all brainwashed right-wingers into trumpeting Assad's claims.

Really? Anthony Cordesman's a winger?

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