Tag Archives: Obama’s Mideast policies

Obama’s Syrian legacy


It would be hard to exaggerate the mess in the Middle East that Pres. Barack Obama is leaving his successor.
While the five-year Syrian civil war continues unabated, pitting a number of different armed groups against each other with their foreign sponsors, Washington is caught in its own contradictions. In August American special forces assistance and bombing was given a Turkish incursion into northern Syria even though Ankara’s target was the American Kurdish Syrian ethnic ally most effective in the contest, and Washington’s target the Islamicist rebels now involved in the anti-regime movement.
Ankara fears Syrian Kurdish ethnics are attempting to set up a ministate, perhaps aiming to link up with its own Kurdish armed guerillas it has been fighting for three decades, often with Soviet assistance. The Turks fear America’s autonomous ally, the Syrian Kurds, the Kurdish region in Iraq, and ultimately, Iranian ethnic Kurds may try to form a new secessionist state with their own huge Turkish Kurdish minority.
Meanwhile, Turkey accuses Americans of having been involved in the recent failed coup against an elected Turkish government, one that under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is steadily headed toward an authoritarian Islamicist regime. Erdogan blames Fethullah Gulen. Muslim cleric and politician, once his closest infiltrating the state judicial and security system, for leading the coup and has formally asked for his extradition from the U.S.
Turkish airmen at the NATO-Turkish-U.S. base at Incirlik air base near the Syrian border were accused by Erdogan of implication in the failed coup, and U.S. operations there aimed at the Daesh [ISIS or ISIL Islamic terrorists] were halted temporarily. Not a comforting thought for Washington planners with nuclear weapons deployed there.
Erdogan’s leaky southern border has seen Islamicist support move south from Ankara and hundreds of thousands of migrants — some refugees from violence, others economic immigrants – moving on to Europe. His effort to blackmail German Chancellor Angela Merkel for additional aid and free movement of Turks inside the European Union in exchange for blockin the migrants has collapsed. Germany is hiccupping violently from the more than a million “refugees” it admitted last year with Merkel’s welcome.
Meanwhile, Obama courts Tehran’s mullahs. He signed what many believe was a no enforceable pact to halt Iran’s nuclear weapon, even though within weeks they publicly bragged of their firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile for carrying such a weapon. The American president went through secret contortions to pay $400 million – originally part of earlier arms purchases by the government of Reza Shah Palevi which Washington helped unseat – to free hostages. Billions more apparentlyis on its way.
The mystery is, of course, what Obama [and supporters of his Persian policy] think they are buying: Iran is already the world’s leasing sponsor of state terrorism and has lined up Mediterranean satellites in Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Both, of course, threaten Israel. One of the troubled aspects between Jerusalem and Ankara, once close military allies, is Turkish support of Hamas, a common enemy now of Egypt and the Israelis.
Obama didn’t create the bitter and explosive Mideast animosities, of course. But he has built on that inheritance, antagonizing America’s tradition Sunni and Israeli allies in the region. In Syria, the crux of the conflict, Turkey is ostensibly an ally of the U.S. is seeking to oust the Damascus regime under Basher al Assad, supported in turn by the Russians as well as the Persians. Moscow, despite its still a crippled relic of Soviet power, is creating naval and air bases in Syria – culpable in mass bombing of civilian populations – aiming at the old Soviet influence.
Whether Obama’s original threat to intervene in Syria, then withdrawn, would have made the difference in controlling the Mideast chaos, is an unanswerable question. But there is no doubt that his policies have helped create the current chaotic situation, increasingly involving the major powers, that could be the beginning of a regional conflict spreading beyond its current confines.
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Hold your horses!


The old cliché has it that history is written by the victors. But the victors’ historians, too, are human. In an effort to write a narrative which the rest of us can follow, they pick up what we diginicks call a “thread”. Until someone identifies a major theme and writes [and rewrites] that narrative, much of the important peripheral events get lost in the shuffle. Or they may get exaggerated beyond their eventual importance. All of this to say that in our world just now of instantaneous communication, everyone and his brother is grasping at straws in an unfolding crisis and drawing conclusions that will not stand the test of the coming historical narrative.

If that sounds wordy and pretentious, dear reader, you are right. What I want to say is, simply, the old-fashioned, “Hold your horses!” Wait out developments because we do not know what is happening or what will happen next before making final or even partial judgments.

I am appalled that radio and TV talking heads – as well as friends – grab a piece of this infinitely complicated geopolitical and humanitarian puzzle and run with it.

At the risk of seeming glib myself, may I just throw out a few of what I hope are helpful if not saving interpolations:

No, I am not an “Arabist” nor have I done more than stick my foot across the Israeli-Syrian Golan Heights truce line toward Damascus only 40 [all downhill] miles away. But I have watched the Mideast for half a century out of the corner of my eye and if for no other reason, do think I have some semblance of historical perspective.

Yes, there is a general consensus that the U.S. should not intervene further in what began as a civil war in Syria unless “American national interest” is threatened. But like so many other political concepts, “national interest” is defined in many different ways: the fact that Basher al Assad is increasingly kept in power by the mullahs in Iran while developing their own weapons of mass destruction and a Russian UN Security Council veto camouflages Putin’s arms sales to Assad has changed the nature of the conflict.

No, Pres. Obama does not need a vote in the Congress in order for him to take military action in Syria in pursuit of American national interest and without a declaration of war. Almost every recent U.S. president has done just that. It irony that many of today’s opponents trace their opposition to foreign intervention as “progressives” to Pres. Woodrow Wilson who “unilaterally” used American military power repeatedly including intervention in the Mexican Revolution and, indeed, its civil war..

Yes, there isn’t much chance the U.S. or any one else can stabilize Syria, an artificial state created in the last gasp of British and French colonialism in the 1920s. Before the murdering al Assads arrived on the scene in the mid-1960s with their domination of its airforce by their Alawaite minority, there were some two dozen Syrian [mostly failed] coup d’etats. The Assads established whatever stability the country has had by brute force – including a 1982 month-long artillery shelling of a civilian population in Hamma that killed tens of thousands.

No, there is nothing new about the reluctance of America’s ostensible allies to join in what they generally say is a worthwhile military effort. After years of lobbying the British and the French whose citizens like those of the infant American Republic’s were being held for ransom, Pres. Thomas Jefferson [who had originally opposed any kind of permanent military] in 1802 went to the Congress for permission but no declaration of war to go for a military “strike” against the Barbary pirates.

Yes, there is no telling where Pres. Obama’s request to the Congress would lead were his “strike” against Syria with or without Congressional endorsement to be carried out.  [Please note all the essential subjunctives!]  I recall the old generals’ adage that all war plans and strategies go aglimmering with the firing of the first shot in any military engagement Assad, for example, has chosen not to respond to Israel’s three raids wiping out Russian munitions intended for Hezbollah, Assad’s ally in Beirut and southern Lebanon, who threaten the destruction of Israel, and he might try to ignore any American attack however effective.

No, Washington cannot back away from the Mideast whatever the decision Obama/Congress makes on this current issue. The U.S. has too many interests there including the region’s essential role in the world economy producing about two-thirds of the oil necessary to keep European and East Asian economies afloat even though the U,.S. is now approaching fossil fuel self-sufficiency [no thanks to Obama Administration policy but] because of the new shale technological revolution.

Yes, there is an overriding issue in Basher al Assad’s use of chemical warfare because for a hundred years the world has largely abided by an international agreement not to use this merciless of all weapons in combat, even with occasional violations by such monsters as Saddam Hussein and the Assads. That prohibition has been observe red in no small part because “poison gas” – used by both sides — turned out to be a dubious weapon in World War I for both its user and its victims. That evaluation could be hanging by a thread because of new delivery systems [i.e., medium and long-range missiles].

No, the power vacuum created by Obama’s four year effort “to lead from behind” and his Administration’s flirtation with the terrorist Moslem Brotherhood cannot be used as an excuse now to quit and run. As the saying goes, we are where we are, and unfortunately for an American public tried of war, the U.S.’ overwhelming economic and  military power is as potent when it is not directed and applied as when it is engaged.

Yes, a victory in the civil war would embolden Assad’s principal backer, the mullahs in Tehran moving to dominate the area, and Russia’s Pres. Putin, trying desperately to reassert the Soviet Union’s gone-with-the-wind superpower status. Failure of American resolve to handle this crisis will likely lead to a new and more dangerous breakdown in world stability if and when the Iranians get their nuclear weapon for which “Syria” is their diversionary sideshow or Putin with his oil and gas revenues collapsing tries some new stunt to hang on to power.

No, the U.S. did not start it all when with the British the CIA toppled the government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. It was, indeed, about the nationalization of Anglo-Persian Oil Co. [ancestor of BP]. But it was also about the opening salvos of the Cold War with Mossadegh’s off-and-on-support from Moscow and its Iranian Tudeh-Communist Party. [Read my Christian Science Monitor pieces in mid-summer 1951 from Tehran when, by the way, I was subbing for their Moscow staff correspondent who later turned out to be a Soviet agent!]

Yes, Syrian Christians are caught in the crossfire as almost unnoticed by the U.S. mainstream media and the American mainstream churches 15 million Egyptian Coptic Christians were about to be slaughtered by the former Egyptian Brotherhood regime. But leftwing Christians [e.g., one of the co-founders of the so-called Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party which installed Assad’s equally monstrous father] have been Assad’s collaborators. So much for a propaganda video of a female Syrian Christian spokesman haranguing cornered, hawkish Sen. John McCain at a town meeting.

No, Assad will not be able to write off the effects of any American “strike” although, obviously, it has lost its surprise element and permitted him to move possible targets. Many if not most of the “hard” targets cannot be moved, and while he might fly his aircraft to Iran as Sadaam Hussein did when America attacked, moving his third world command and control operations centered on a family dictatorship won’t be that easy. The mere threat of a “strike” – or its further escalation under pressure from Congressional hawks such as Sen. McCain and Congressman Pete King– is already shaking the regime to its secret police torturing roots.

Yes, it would be a lot better if Obama had an overall strategy in the Mideast before setting out on a rather idealistic rectification of world morality which in a more perfect world should be left tothe UN. But that is not where we are, and the issue is whether the U.S. is to try to reinforce some international standards of decency. It is a question this country cannot escape with impunity any more than it has in the past. It is a choice that the American Republic has had to make, often to its chagrin, many times in the past.

No, historical analogies are odious as some dead white European has said, but it does seem that we are moving from the Spanish Civil War aspects of this conflict to the Munich era. Two oceans and six and a half minutes for an Iranian or North Korean ICBM to reach us no more protect us today than they did in 1939 – nor in 9/11 when a ragtag terrorist band planned and executed the death of some 3,000 innocents at long distance from their hideouts in isolated, backward, primitive Afghanistan.

Yes, we are under fire from propaganda [and conspiracy theorists] from various interests with their own agendas. But rest assured that the confusion is so rampant that just as the issue has cut across nominal Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative lines, it is rearranging normally Mideast and international European and Asian players. Russia wants to protect its old Soviet satellite Syrian Mideast legacy but its nominal UN Security Council partner vetoing American action, China, is more interested in keeping Mideast peace so its growing oil and gas import bill doesn’t go through the roof [as its economy slows].which, in turn, would profit their pal {Ras} Putin.. Ditto various U.S. domestic conflicts.

No, there are no easy explanations nor answers. This is a messy affair.

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