Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Syria, Pandora's Box and a Game of Chicken

Most readers of this blog know it deals with primarily Newfoundland and Labrador
politics, the odd time national politics, and once in a while international topics. This post involves the latter.

Syria has been weighing heavily on my mind these days. In one way it is just another
implosion of a middle eastern political system - unrelated to the uprisings from the Arab Spring. In another way, it is the most dangerous manifestation of the Spring. Like Tunisia, and Libya it has a colonial past. Like Egypt it is focused more on religious rule than actual freedom.

It seems that western politicians and press consistently make the same, very strategic
mistake when they portray these uprisings as an awakening of a spirit of freedom in the
Arab peoples. In fact, when the Arab people rise up they are seeking a religious resolution not a political solution. There lives center around their religious ideals, not political
ideals. For them the revolution is a means to institute Islamic government, which is
central to their core values. The freedom achieved by the Spring gave them the
opportunity to replace secular governments and replace them with Islamic governments.
In fact, that is happening in every case. Furthermore, not one Islamic government has
been overthrown. So yes, they now have governments that reflect their beliefs, but their
beliefs are not necessarily aimed at peace.

The other commonality that keeps rearing its head is the Sunni - Shia blood-letting.
Whether it be the war in Iraq or the Arab Spring, and now Syria, this 1300 year old blood feud has been let out of Pandora's Box. Whether by design or coincidence this hatred has been used by NATO and the Russian bloc ( I include Iran in this one). While the old secular governments were notorius for their rights abuses, so are the Islamic ones. While the old secular dictatorships were controlled by one superpower or another, so are the new Islamic ones. Now, however, the evils unleashed from Pandora's Box are on Israel's door step. That is one primary reason why the Syrian war is dangerous. However, the biggest reason why the Syrian war is dangerous is the game of poke-in-the-chest that has been reignited between the United States and Russia.

Some media have attempted to portray Syria as a proxy war between the US and Iran, or
Iran and Israel, or even between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The truth is Russia controls the
Syrian government. It also controls the Iranian government. It does this with business, but just as importantly by arms sales. It also claims these countries as entities in its "sphere of influence", and therefore crucial to its national interest. The US claims the defence of Israel, and more "moderate" Arab countries as in its national interest. The difference really is geographic. While Syria, and Iran essentially border Russia, the US has no such argument. The old spheres of influence from the cold war days crumbled with the Berlin Wall, and the US has aimed to take advantage. What happens though when Russia decides it must make a stand, and refuses to retreat any further? The answer is Syria.

Frankly, NATO abused the United Nations resolution authorizing a no-fly zone in Libya - a very serious abuse. Instead of keeping Libyan planes and choppers out of the air it became the air force for the rebels. It took sides and determined the outcome. Now the Russians and Chinese no longer trust that option. The only option NATO has is to impose a unilateral no-fly zone. Russia answered that option with the transfer of state-of-the-art S300 anti-aircraft missile systems. It also heavily reinforced its only naval base in Syria. For every move the US makes (Patriot missiles systems in Turkey and Jordan, etc), the Russians counter. There is no backing away from this game of chicken.

Unfortunately for Israel, it is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. It can't directly
intervene as that would provoke Russia, and cause moderate Arab governments to
become neutral or even hostile toward Israel. It doesn't want the Syrian rebels armed as
those arms would most certainly end up in the hands of Hezbollah and other Islamic
extremists. And, despite the anti-missile umbrella, Israel would almost certainly be
targeted with missiles from Hezbollah, Syria, and likely Iran. The one country that has no good options is Israel. Likely, and very ironically, the best case scenario for Israel is a victory by the Syrian government and a return to the status quo.

What is needed in all of this is a sense of place. The US needs to realize its place in the
world is not that of overlord. It needs to reject the single most dangerous doctrine it has
ever adopted - Bush's pre-emptive strike doctrine. It needs to adhere to the principles of
international law - even when it may not suit its interest. Obama's arming of the rebels
against another state is considered an act of war under international law, yet it is treated
as if it were nothing more than a policy decision. That is the kind of arrogance that causes instability and tragedy. Frankly, the Syrian government is fighting an armed insurgency according to international law. It is using force. That is legal under international law.

There have been civilian casualties and displaced people as a result. That has been the
case in every war since the beginning of time - ugly as that truth is. The Syrian
government is not fighting unarmed civilians. It is fighting an armed force that got its
arms from somebody, and is often not even Syrian citizens. If a similar situation were to
occur in Canada or the US, you can be sure there would be a similar response.

Were chemical weapons used? Who knows. Maybe they were. However, does it really
make sense that the Syrian government would use chemical weapons to kill between 100-150 people and thereby invite the US to intervene? In a war that's seen tens of thousands die? That simply doesn't make sense on any level.

What the Syrian situation needs is for both superpowers to pull back. Quit upping the
ante. Allow the Syrians to finish it between themselves. It's not a great way to look at it,
but it's a lot less dangerous than a game of chicken between the US and Russia.


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