Clarify This

You had me up until “al-Assad’s departure”:

David Cameron tried at the G8 leaders’ summit to create “a clarifying moment” that would pave the way for a Syrian peace conference, by setting out the terms those present should agree on as the basis for a transition to a government after Bashar al-Assad’s departure.

A failure to reach consensus at the summit in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland, British officials warned, might well represent the last chance for a peace to end the bloody two-year civil war in Syria that has claimed more than 90,000 lives. It comes as pressure is mounting for western countries to arm the rebels.

Here’s my ugly American take on Syria, tell me where I’m wrong:

  • The biggest urgency here is the Brits’ desire to appear as a relevant player in world affairs.
  • Assad has nowhere to go, so he’s fighting to the death, with help from his buddies Iran and Russia.
  • This is an urban conflict so no-fly zones, tanks, heavy artillery and all the other GI Joe fantasies aren’t going to make much difference.
  • The group that replaces Assad will probably hate the US and Israel as much as Assad did, or more.
  • Nothing we do will change the fact that more Syrians are going to die.

It’s not a pretty picture, and I don’t see any smart move other than keeping out.






98 replies
  1. 1
    raven says:

    RE No-fly. Their air defense system is light-years beyond Libya.

  2. 2
    fuzz says:

    The Europeans have been more hands on about this because they’re worried about the estimated 100s of European citizens fighting in Syria. They seem to think that the longer it goes on the more likely it will affect their countries directly with terror attacks. Our thinking seems to be that the longer it goes on the more Hezbollah fighters, Sunni and Shia jihadists (like the Iraqi shias fighting at the shrine in Damascus) and now apparently even Iranian soldiers die.

  3. 3
    El Caganer says:

    Yep, I think you’ve summed it up. Other than humanitarian aid for refugees, the USA needs to stay out of this.

  4. 4
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    As for hating us, strangely, us acting in the best interests of the Libyan people rather than the US seems to have actually made them like us. Is there anything in Syria that could be done that would lead to a similar outcome? Not if this really is a Civil war rather than a fight against the leadership.

  5. 5
    Betty Cracker says:

    Sounds about right, though I’d say that everyone, not just the Brits, is trying to appear as a relevant player.

    Regarding the smart move, watching Obama’s interview with Charlie Rose last night definitely reinforced my suspicion that he has no intention of engaging in this conflict in any significant way. Which is a GOOD thing.

  6. 6

    In a way we are still dealing with the bitter fruits of Britain’s empire. Look at most of the trouble spots in the world, you can trace it back to the decisions the British took after WWI and beyond. Redrawing maps and creating countries out of thin air does not end well in the long run, or the short run for that matter.

  7. 7
    RobertDSC-iPhone 4 says:

    I’ll go with the inverse of Cleek’s Law: what Lindsay Graham & old man McCain want, I don’t. We should stay out.

  8. 8
    CASLondon says:

    Not that I’m arguing one way or another, but a no-fly zone would be relevant, as air power is one of the main means of the govt. to suppress the insurrection. And I don’t see us allowing Stinger-type shoulder fired weapons loose in that conflict for fear of them ending up at Heathrow 3 years down the road.

  9. 9
    EZSmirkzz says:

    They have to try and bullshit us because the real reasons won’t convince anyone that has to shed blood that this is a good way to die. Follow the money. No one wants US trade dollars to China ending up as petro dollars in Iran.

  10. 10
    max says:

    The biggest urgency here is the Brits’ desire to appear as a relevant player in world affairs.

    Well, this is totally separate from the issue of Syria but Cameron’s ratings are in the toilet because the UK economy sucks, and a bunch of right-wingers want out of Europe (for once, sensibly). Thus he needs are the distractions he can get, but he can’t swing the cash to fund any intervention on the UK’s part, so he’s not important here.

    Assad has nowhere to go, so he’s fighting to the death, with help from his buddies Iran and Russia.

    He definitely has nowhere to go. The Iranians don’t want him to go down because he helps hold the US at bay. The Russians don’t want the US all up in their near-abroad and they definitely are down on more fundamentalist states to the south of them, because they have enough problems with muslim terrorists as is.

    The group that replaces Assad will probably hate the US and Israel as much as Assad did, or more.

    File under nobody knows: but groups back by Saudi Wahhabists are probably bad news on the democracy front. But really, the Russians feel you, dude.

    This is an urban conflict so no-fly zones, tanks, heavy artillery and all the other GI Joe fantasies aren’t going to make much difference.

    Hrmm. The issue is that all the densely populated areas are stacked up to the immediate west of Lebanon. Can’t fly over Lebanon. The Turks don’t want to get a real war started, so they aren’t going to allow us to use their airbases to bomb Syria. Bonus points, Assad is holding the cities – the rebels are in the countryside, so we have to bomb cities to get anywhere. That leaves Jordan for airbases (which we don’t have there) and Israel, and boy, wouldn’t lots of bombing runs from Israel go over well.

    If you were actually trying to minimize casualties, a straight armored drive from the south (i.e. Jordan) along a line to the west of the Lebanese border ending at Tarsis (on the Med coast, where the Russian base is) would probably be the best solution. Of course, then you’re occupying the country and the people who don’t like Assad will commence to not liking you. (Of course, you could just pack up and go, but once you won one of these, you can’t get the fucking politicians to let go – they wanna run the whatever place you’ve invaded for a profit – to get payback for the costs of the war, not that you ever end up in the black.)

    Nothing we do will change the fact that more Syrians are going to die.

    That’s a gimme.

    max
    [‘In a perfect world, a hit and run on Assad would take care of the problem, but alas, our world is far from perfect.’]

  11. 11
    cleek says:

    their military success in Libya has emboldened those who wish to maintain their self-image of superiority over the browns.

  12. 12
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @cleek: To the extent that Libya was a success, it was so because the US was very careful about both what it did and how it did it. I sincerely doubt that Syria offers the same opportunities.

  13. 13
    Joey Maloney says:

    @max:

    wouldn’t lots of bombing runs from Israel go over well.

    Bibi just came in his pants. Don’t forget that’s another element complicating the mess further, keeping Netanyahu from popping the cork and attacking Iran, or some group being armed by Iran, or some group that likes Iran, or some group that can find Iran on the map. His own generals have managed to restrain him so far, but there’s no guarantees.

  14. 14
    MattF says:

    Another thing– there’s been some ‘realpolitik’ talk about how the correct strategy would be to make the Syrian war as bloody as possible because that would kill a lot of bad people and impoverish Iran. This was the German strategy at Verdun, and it turned out badly in just about every possible way.

  15. 15
    gVOR08 says:

    Agree. And given your second bullet, why leave it a fight to the death? Why don’t we ever just buy these people off? Tell Assad and a short list of key subordinates they and their families can have asylum on some third world beach, they can have their bank accounts, we’ll throw in a couple bucks, we’ll provide secure transport. All they have to do is leave.

  16. 16
    Forum Transmitted Disease says:

    Assad is a no-good murdering son of a bitch. He is also the best option for the interests of the West, and for those Syrians – I don’t know how many of them there are – who don’t want to live under a theocracy.

    We need to stay out of it totally. Let the Russians fuck it up if they feel they must, but this is not our business. When are we going to learn? This isn’t that hard. STAY OUT OF OTHER PEOPLE’S BUSINESS. See, six words. Easy to follow.

  17. 17
    Forum Transmitted Disease says:

    RE No-fly. Their air defense system is light-years beyond Libya.

    @raven: This is the core of the problem regarding any meaningful intervention. The Syrians have a First World air defense system, send in some fighters and bombers, and unlike previous American conflicts since WWII, most of them won’t be coming back.

  18. 18
    The Red Pen says:

    Syria is primed to Balkanize, much like Iraq. The Ba’ath Party has Jeffersonian roots (seriously) and officially embraces freedom of religion (and women as full citizens). Syria has a bunch of different Muslim factions, Christians and others (some Jews, Ba’hai, Zoroastrians, etc.). Look for one of the Muslim factions to try to assert dominance if Assad falls. It will be ugly.

  19. 19
    pluege says:

    you forgot a one:

    * short of dropping a nuclear bomb, anything obama does will be wrong according to republicans: not enough, too much, or just plain wrong; nevertheless, obama will do everything he can to satisfy republican/conservative bloodlust.

  20. 20
    Cacti says:

    You left out that this conflict is also a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with the latter financing the rebels, including some fairly nasty Islamist factions.

  21. 21
    Soonergrunt says:

    Well, tanks can actually be very useful in cities. The problem is for them to be that useful, you need lots of dismounted infantry. The thing about fighting in cities is that there’s only way that ever ends–with the victor standing on huge piles of rubble.

  22. 22
    cvstoner says:

    We may need to step in if things degrade to genocide. But, other than that, let them fight it out. Pouring in more weapons will just add fuel to the fire.

  23. 23
    jamick6000 says:

    I almost 100% agree. I’d just add that there’s a decent chance of the country breaking up, as other people have pointed out

    It’s not a pretty picture, and I don’t see any smart move other than keeping out.

    I think we’ve been in this since the beginning. We probably helped instigate the uprising and have been arming/training the rebels, either directly or through the gulf states. Syria is one of the few allies of our current hitler, Iran. Crippling or overthrowing the government of an Iranian ally “benefits” us, as does watching sunni jihadists and Hezbollah kill each other.

  24. 24
    Hawes says:

    If you wanted to “punish Assad” for chemical weapons, make a punitive strike on his air defenses and his air force, then leave. You haven’t committed to anything, you’ve allowed the War Lobby to enjoy in their masturbatory fantasies and you get out.

    You’ve backed your “red line” mistake. You haven’t picked sides except against the use of NBC weapons.

    Of course, everyone will still be upset because you went too far/not far enough, but…when has that not been true?

  25. 25
    El Tiburon says:

    Does anyone believe for one second that President Obama has the strength of character and resolve to stay out of this conflict?

    Or President Hillary Clinton? Or President Edwards?

    We are the United States of America. We go to war. We go to war because we like going to war. It will never fucking stop until we are knocked off our perch. And that day, my poor grandkids, will be bloody ugly.

  26. 26
    Todd says:

    Syria has so very many ramifications that it is frightening. Part of having an Arab Spring is to give the peoples of the Arab world some self-determination and to get away from the usual set of mostly secularized, corrupt, nepotistic hereditary dictatorships which seem to characterize so many places in the ME for the past 50 years. So far, aside from some short term instabilities, the policy is working.

    If you’ve paid attention, there’s a lot of quiet diplomacy engaged in on this with European partners, and they seem to be encouraged to take the lead. No longer is Washington dictating – it is cooperating, and therefore making a huge difference right there.

    As to Syria itself, there are a shitload of factors, including:

    1. A decent working relationship between Assad’s regime and the Russian government, linked in great part to maintenance and updating on what is generally an old line Soviet arms suite (including aircraft);

    2. Assad is pretty secularized. He gets along well with the Maronite and Orthodox minorities there, which are pretty sizeable, and they facilitate his financial moves;

    3. There is a large Syrian expat community spread throughout the United States and the Anglosphere. They’re both Muslim and Christian and politically active out of large congregations in pretty much every city in the country. Further, there is a high degree of clan affinity between the Lebanese and Syrians in those urban centers, and a number of politicians in city councils, statehouses and even in Congress claim Lebanese heritage.

    4. One of the larger religious groupings of Orthodox Syrians and Lebanese has a Patriarch that sits in Damascus and is very friendly to the Assad regime. His guy in North America is Metropolitan Philip Saliba, whose See is in New York. Philip is Lebanon born, and educated in both Lebanon and Syria. He is also friendly with the Assad regime, and at any given time has a number of congressmen in his pocket due to the number of votes he can sway in urban centers. Under Saliba, his See is encouraged to a politically moderate approach.

    5. There are a number of American citizens of Syrian and Lebanese extraction living and working in Damascus and Beirut. They are fully part of the populations there.

    6. Due to conscription, there are a number (unknown) of dual citizens serving in the Syrian Army.

    7. There are major problems with Turkey, Israel, Kurds and Iran. There’s water issues in the South related to control of the Golan Heights, Kurds are restive, and everybody is trying to control everybody else.

    It is messy. From appearances, it seems that the goal is to encourage the installation of a more representative government without destroying existing institutions or civil society. Assad could survive in theory, but government would have to become more open to those from outside his circle.

    Frankly, I’d say his best bet would be as an exile in a European capital, or as a used car dealer in Dearborn.

  27. 27
    oldster says:

    Your assessment is the same as mine, Mistermix.

    The amazing thing is that 70% of all Americans agree with us, too. (A shame none of them have weekly seats on the Sunday talk-shows.) It restores my faith, ever so slightly, in the American public: after two wars in the last decade that cost us about 10,000 Americans dead, about 50,000 vets with life-altering injuries and disfigurements, and about 6 Trillion dollars in utter, catastrophic, no-silver-lining, nothing-gained, cost to our common treasury, the American people are not eager to do it again this week. Let’s hope they remember next week as well.

    Re Assad:

    It’s not quite right that he has nowhere to go–as someone upthread says, he could always retire to a beach house somewhere.

    But he knows that if he did that, the rest of Syria would combine to wipe out the Alawite minority. I mean, literally: kill every Alawite in the country. They are only 12% of the population, and right now they are not so popular.

    What is keeping Assad there, I suspect, is his tribal allegiance to the Alawites as much as his own allegiance to his skin. He may have places to go, but they do not.

  28. 28
    Todd says:

    @oldster:

    But he knows that if he did that, the rest of Syria would combine to wipe out the Alawite minority.

    Hence the Rwanda fears that figure so prominently to Bill Clinton’s eternal chagrin.

  29. 29
    Soonergrunt says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: While your larger point is correct, Syria was actually run by the French. And while they and the Brits did the colonialism thing roughly similar (draw national borders through the middle of major tribes, give the relatively limited power to a minority, etc) the telling difference is that in many cases, the Brits at least tried to create local bureaucratic structures for the local governments that were officed by local bureaucrats. So when indpendence came, bloody or not, there were at least people who knew how to keep the lights on and something vaguely resembling a functioning government with a justice system and so forth. In the former French colonies, those jobs were usually given to Frenchmen. Colonialism was as much a jobs program for middle-class Frenchmen as anything else. When the French left, there was almost never much in the way of a functioning government left behind. The chaos that followed was usually very effectively exploited by the most organized of the resistance movements or local political groups. In Syria’s case, that was the Ba`athists.

  30. 30
    Comrade Jake says:

    I think Dan Drezner had a post up awhile ago about Syria, in which he indicated that our current involvement (amounting to providing small arms) makes sense if the goal is to simply prolong the civil war, and have all these bad doods expend their resources.

    I don’t like it but I can see the argument.

  31. 31
    Honus says:

    “Assad has nowhere to go, so he’s fighting to the death, with help from his buddies Iran and Russia…

    The group that replaces Assad will probably hate the US and Israel as much as Assad did, or more.”

    Hence Assad’s much ballyhooed brutality. If/when Assad falls, the ascendant faction will no doubt be just as brutal with the factions that supported Assad in consolidating its power. The slaughter is the result of war itself, not necessarily the inherent evil of one side or the other.

    This may have been all easily avoidable. Anyone remember when the Syrians approached the US shortly after 9/11 with an offer of intelligence to help track down the perpetrators? The Syrians wanted to show cooperation and moderation to foster a better relationship with the US. They were sharply rebuffed by the Bush administration because they were the next logical neocon target for invasion after Iraq.

  32. 32
    Hoodie says:

    @Forum Transmitted Disease: Maybe not quite that bad, but you’d have to use your first-and-half world offensive capabilities to take out those defenses so that most of them do make it back. You don’t want to do that with the Russians and the Chinese looking on from a ringside seat, especially if it doesn’t provide a decisive end to the conflict, which it won’t.

    Obama is trying to thread the needle again. He’s done that before, so I have more confidence in him than I would have in others in the same position. Interesting story this morning on BBC about how public opinion in the Arab world about Hezbollah has dramatically reversed because of their involvement in Syria. Obama has gotten on the right side of that issue without committing to a big involvement.

  33. 33
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @max: Along those lines, Cameron was being interviewed on the BBC recently and the questioner was saying that there was no way Parliament was going to permit UK weapons to be sold/transferred to the Syrian rebels. So other than non-lethal aid, there’s not much more that Cameron can do other than jaw-jaw.

    Related BBC linky – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22903650

    All of us should never discount the domestic-politics aspects of foreign policy pronouncements.

    Cheers,
    Scott.
    (Who thinks jaw-jaw is much better than war-war, but too many people see it in their interests to keep fighting.)

  34. 34

    @Soonergrunt: OK point taken. I have been painting with too broad a brush. I think many of the colonial powers are to blame for many of our current messes. Since Britain had the largest empire, the messes they left behind tend to be a bit bigger.

    ETA: I also agree that the British were far better colonial masters than the most but that is a really low bar.

  35. 35
    burnspbesq says:

    @gVOR08:

    Why don’t we ever just buy these people off? Tell Assad and a short list of key subordinates they and their families can have asylum on some third world beach, they can have their bank accounts, we’ll throw in a couple bucks, we’ll provide secure transport. All they have to do is leave.

    That strategy is more likely to work when the leader in question is old and/or infirm. al-Assad is neither.

  36. 36
    Betty Cracker says:

    @El Tiburon:

    Does anyone believe for one second that President Obama has the strength of character and resolve to stay out of this conflict?

    Depends on what you mean by “stay out.” If you mean the US won’t send any fighting faction in Syria so much as an Army surplus boot? Then no, he won’t stay out in that sense.

    But if you mean does anyone believe Obama will avoid becoming involved in any significant way, i.e., seriously expending blood and treasure such as you describe in the rest of your post? I believe he WILL stay out in that sense.

  37. 37
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @gVOR08: They don’t trust us. It would have to come from China or some non-US aligned powerful place, and those places have no interest in removing him (as of yet).

  38. 38
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @jamick6000: Yeah, that’s the saddest thing about this. We’re dancing with the right-wing-nutjob-enabling oil sheiks wut brung us, and the hits just keep on coming.

    How is that ‘deadly enemies with Iran’ thing workin’ out, anyway?

  39. 39
    burnspbesq says:

    @Forum Transmitted Disease:

    The Syrians have a First World air defense system, send in some fighters and bombers, and unlike previous American conflicts since WWII, most of them won’t be coming back.

    Not necessarily. In order to believe that, you have to believe that our entire suite of anti-anti-air systems and tactics will be largely ineffective, and I’m not sure there’s any basis for that belief.

  40. 40
    Ted & Hellen says:

    It’s not a pretty picture, and I don’t see any smart move other than keeping out.

    Apparently Obama disagrees with you.

  41. 41
    Davis X. Machina says:

    ….the rest of Syria would combine to wipe out the Alawite minority.

    We’ve seen this movie before, with the Anatolian Greeks, ca. 1919-1923.

    They had a Greek Republic, though. Where do the Alawites go?

  42. 42
    scav says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: It’s also a bit complicated by the fact that there very well not exist any “clean” places (or ways) to draw borders in colonized areas — or anywhere, really. Any discussion of how to carve up the US even in jest is instantly full of “What About Austin?” or “But Bakersfield!” or etc exceptions. Not to excuse colonial powers for nada, but large chunks were likely near-impossible to begin with — they could manage to make the bad more or less worse. Moreover, when fighting for power, geographic coalitions emerge (often backdated for legitmacy) so there went any seemingly tidy borders again.

  43. 43
    Roy G. says:

    Of course, this same Syrian government was our ally in the original GWOT. Also, too, we are now siding with Al Qaeda. We have always been allies with Oceania.

    Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, as they say.

  44. 44

    @scav: Drawing borders is inherently difficult and to some extent arbitrary, but doing so without any input or consent of the people who actually lived there, makes the process even more arbitrary and difficult.

    e.g. Dividing the Ottoman empire as spoils among the victors after WWI.

  45. 45
    AxelFoley says:

    @El Tiburon:

    Does anyone believe for one second that President Obama has the strength of character and resolve to stay out of this conflict?

    Um, Libya, muthafucka? I’m pretty sure we didn’t get involved there.

    And the fuckin’ gall of you to question this man’s character, you firebaggin’ asswipe.

  46. 46
    AxelFoley says:

    @Ted & Hellen:

    And the other firebaggin’ asswipe shows up.

  47. 47
    MomSense says:

    @Mistermix

    Did you hear the President’s comments on Syria on last night’s Charlie Rose interview?

  48. 48
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Drawing borders is inherently difficult and to some extent arbitrary, but doing so without any input or consent of the people who actually lived there, makes the process even more arbitrary and difficult.

    India, Pakistan?

  49. 49
    scav says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: To an extent I utterly agree — it’s just that I doubt that the conent of the governed is really going to mean much long-term. Because new coalitions emerge and fight it out in fledgeling and presumably still-weak entities. Nigeria started out with three states and now has 36 — and it’s not a simple case of “natural” or pre-existing areas emerging. There’s a lot of fighting about power in Abuja and over money there. The partition of India is probably another example of local coalitions not really pointing the way to a neat and tidy outcome.

  50. 50
    Suffern ACE says:

    @MattF: Just because a fantasy is based on a callous disregard of the number of dead and an increase in violence, does not make “realpolitik”. I mean for crying out load, the “terrarist fly trap” is what was supposed to kill ogf the jihadis in Iraq and Afghanistan and 10 years on…well here we are again. How reality based is that?

    The “let em all kill each other” is like “Iran and Russia will exhaust themselves fighting us by proxy” neocon fantasy. At what point do we admit that we will exhaust ourselves pretending to be killing and maiming all the terrorists. This “realpolitik” is based on movies.

  51. 51
    Suffern ACE says:

    @AxelFoley: Yes we did get involved in Libya. Just because our marines weren’t there doesn’t mean that we weren’t involved. For christ sake. Sending a drone here and a cruise missile there is being involved. It may have been successful and short, but you are out of your mind to think that Libya showed some kind of great resolve against those noted humanitarian peacelovers France, England and Hillary Clinton.

  52. 52
    taylormattd says:

    @Betty Cracker: oh Betty. Don’t you know, you weren’t supposed to actually *watch*that. Rather, you were supposed to whine about Obama betraying us all by appearing on Rose’s show and/or simply assume Obama was advocating for an invasion on the show.

  53. 53
    Soonergrunt says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: “I also agree that the British were far better colonial masters than the most but that is a really low bar.”
    Absolutely. And to reiterate, you were correct that the last several decades of problems in the world are mostly attributable to the post-WW2 collapse of European colonialism.
    That we didn’t directly colonize many countries, but only propped up (and sometimes installed) massively corrupt regimes whose only redeeming value to us was their anticommunist behavior is a stain on our national honor that hasn’t even begun to fade. A low bar indeed.

  54. 54
    taylormattd says:

    I love these deeply stupid firebaggers who couldn’t be bothered to listen to the interview, yet are nevertheless claiming Obama advocated for starting a war.

  55. 55
    Suffern ACE says:

    @Todd: And? Clinton can worry about the stain of Rwanda all he wants and lead Americans to think that they could have and should have seen it coming. But Rwanda was not our fault as far as outsiders to the conflict go. France and Belgium were there. They were interfering. We have very little to feel guilty about there. Especially since there were very bad or worse things going on in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zaire, and Burudi and the same time or shortly thereafter and we don’t spend a lot of time anguishing over that.

    Clinton is tool to bring that up every time he wants a pretext for slaughter.

  56. 56
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Suffern ACE:

    It may have been successful and short, but you are out of your mind to think that Libya showed some kind of great resolve against those noted humanitarian peacelovers France, England and Hillary Clinton.

    Look: Obama is not a pacifist. He never has been, and he never will be. He is not against military intervention in cases where he thinks it will help as long as we don’t get drawn into a long involvement.

    I can see him agreeing to something similar in Syria that we did in Libya, where we provide support as part of a coalition led by others, but that is not the same thing as unilaterally invading Iraq.

  57. 57
    Keith G says:

    @AxelFoley:

    Um, Libya, muthafucka? I’m pretty sure we didn’t get involved there.

    A rather factually challenged assertion since U.S. Planes flew over 3,475 sorties over Libya. We launched 221 cruise missiles and dropped over 700 J-Dam munitions on targets in Libya.

    Me thinks we were involved. The Libyans know we were involved.

    Edit…And the cost was almost $900 million. Involved.

  58. 58
    Yatsuno says:

    @Keith G:

    And the cost was almost $900 million

    Remember how the wingnuts (among other ramblings) were screaming, “WE CAN’T AFFORD INTERVENTION IN LIBYA!!”? Good times. Funny how Grandpa Walnuts is completely unconcerned about that now.

  59. 59
    Ted & Hellen says:

    @AxelFoley:

    And the other firebaggin’ asswipe shows up.

    Here we see the Bostplainer attempting to keep the corral pure for himself and his fellow Bots. It intends to connect the Nonbot with the Firedoglake blog, which it desperately fears. It matters not that the Nonbot never goes to that site, the insult is meant primarily for the eyes of other Bots, as a sort of douche bag short hand that says “I am one of US, and I will call this Nonbot a bad word and identify him with our sworn enemy to make you like me even more in the hopes that I will further cement my membership in OUR group.”

    Deeply held insecurity is a common trait of the Botsplainer.

  60. 60
    Cacti says:

    @Ted & Hellen:

    You never answered why you spent so much energy in these forums speaking up for Jerry Sandusky.

  61. 61
    srv says:

    The biggest urgency here is the Brits’ desire to appear as a relevant player in world affairs.

    I don’t see how this is any different from the US desire.

    Obama and his lap dog are going to lose on this one.

  62. 62
    Ted & Hellen says:

    @AxelFoley:

    And the fuckin’ gall of you to question this man’s character, you firebaggin’ asswipe.

    Hey jack ass, Americans are SUPPOSED to question the character of their leaders, often and ceaselessly.

    Obama is a corporatist sell out, a lying turncoat who rode to power on false hope and empty rhetorical swagger.

    He’s a liar and a douche and a Nixon Republican. His character is deeply compromised by his own actions.

    He is not your daddy or your brother or your minister or your lover or your best friend.

    How’s that, you Authoritarian cult of personality Freak?

  63. 63
    scav says:

    @Cacti: At one point I seem to remember he implied it was more or less his dream-date.

  64. 64
    MomSense says:

    @Yatsuno:

    First the Republicans were like you should have been there yesterday! Then it was WTF is leading from behind? Then when it was over and Libyans took to the streets to thank the US they were like WAH it cost too much money.

    This is why you should not let toddlers try and run a superpower.

  65. 65

    @scav: @Higgs Boson’s Mate: Are you pointing to India and Pakistan as a successful resolution of a border dispute?

  66. 66
    handsmile says:

    A close friend of mine, a leading American scholar of Islamic history, highly recommends this online newsletter, Syria Watch. It was established in 2004 by a professor of international studies, and now director of its Center for Middle East Studies, at the University of Oklahoma:

    http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/

    While perhaps best appreciated by area/issue specialists, I have found its posts and analysis to be enormously informative and its links to be comprehensive. A more general monitory essay, and one which demolishes the sophistry of Bill Keller and other Village media potentates, is this from the current NYRB, “Stay Out of Syria!”:

    http://www.nybooks.com/article.....out-syria/

    ETA: Todd (#26) Thanks for that finely-grained detail in your comment.

  67. 67
    MattF says:

    @Suffern ACE: Hey, I agree with you… That’s why I put ‘realpolitik’ in quotes. The advocates of that policy just have an appetite for blood, IMO. And that’s not a good thing.

  68. 68
    JoyfulA says:

    Thanks for all the illuminating comments that broadened my understanding of the situation—and I was already fairly knowledgeable about Syria.

    Not mentioned was the Iraqi refugee population of up to a million Christians and other minorities who fled to Syria. What’s happened to them?

  69. 69
    scav says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Nope, Backwards. Evidence that internal contributions don’t magic away problems — at least on my part, that is.

    ETA: my basic point being it’s complicated and usually without tidy solutions. Failing at a no-win situation.

  70. 70
    Ted & Hellen says:

    Not mentioned was the Iraqi refugee population of up to a million Christians and other minorities who fled to Syria. What’s happened to them?

    Collateral unpleasantness. Nothing to see there.

  71. 71
    Li says:

    Getting involved in a civil war with two sides is bad enough. Getting involved in one with hundreds, perhaps thousands of ‘sides’, many of which are simply not our friends? Insanity. We need to walk away from this mess, and provide humanitarian aid and refugee placement from a distance.

  72. 72
    CaseyL says:

    Eternal war, from Game of Thrones:

    Tyrion: How long does it go on?
    Cersei: Until we’ve dealt with all our enemies.
    Tyrion: Every time we deal with an enemy, we create two more.
    Cersei: Then I suppose it will go on for quite a long time.

    … I guess getting one’s enemies to kill one another (rather than try killing them all oneself) is one way to deal with it.

    But we tried that as a strategy in the 1980s, when Iran and Iraq did their best to wipe one another from the face of the earth (and the US kept both sides supplied with weaponry). It only worked (for certain values of “worked”) while they were actually fighting each other. By 1991, Saddam Hussein had re-armed and was feeling cocky enough to invade Kuwait, which led to Gulf War I, which led to Gulf War II, which apparently mostly succeeded in making Iran more powerful.

    It’s not karma so much as it is chaos theory: the more complex the system, the less you can predict ultimate outcomes.

    Assad isn’t going anywhere unless he’s carried out in a coffin. The Syrian civil war has already destroyed what was a pretty secularist country, splitting it into the tribal and religious factionalism that make Iraq, Libya, Pakistan and Afghanistan such garden spots.

    I’m not sure what Obama hopes to accomplish, other than staying more or less on the sidelines and rooting for both all sides to lose.

  73. 73
    srv says:

    @JoyfulA:

    million Christians and other minorities who fled to Syria. What’s happened to them?

    Alawite, Christian, Druze, Kurds.. whole lotta minorities going to be feeling the freedom is messy ring. Fisk talks about this occasionally , but this does not fit the simple binary memes of the media or our FP.

  74. 74

    @scav: The haste with which Britain withdrew from India, compounded the problem.

  75. 75
    Cacti says:

    @Ted & Hellen:

    Obama is a corporatist sell out, a lying turncoat who rode to power on false hope and empty rhetorical swagger

    If he was a pedophile, would you like him better?

  76. 76
    catclub says:

    @gVOR08: ” we’ll provide secure transport. All they have to do is leave.”

    Who says we haven’t? These guys are stubborn or negotiating for a better deal. I only wish we had offered $400B in cash to get Saddam
    out of Iraq. It would have been a steal. Even if it was paid to Saddam.

    On another topic: What influence have Iraqi refugees in Syria had on the civil war in Syria? I always had the impression that the refugees were a mix of Sunni and Shia, but maybe there are more Shia refugees, since Assad is Alawite.

  77. 77
    catclub says:

    @JoyfulA: I wondered about that, too.

  78. 78
    The Red Pen says:

    @Ted & Hellen:

    Deeply held insecurity is a common trait of the Botsplainer.

    It’s ironic because we are all extremely sexy.

    Firebaggers are all a bunch of doody heads, yet it doesn’t seem to impact their self-esteem.

    Life; amirite?

  79. 79
    scav says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Did I say the colonial powers were blameless? “Not to excuse colonial powers for nada” but sure, it’s all those nasty behatted white man’s burdeners fault. They’ve got the exclusive copyright to making things politically a hairball from the getgo.

  80. 80

    Pretty much, except for this:

    Assad has nowhere to go, so he’s fighting to the death, with help from his buddies Iran and Russia.

    Except that by all accounts Assad is now winning and will break the back of the opposition eventually. We’ll end up with an Iran puppet state and Iraq will increasingly become a land bridge for Hezbollah and arms from Iran. I don’t think Israel will tolerate that outcome. So, it’s damn near an unwinnable situation that we might choose to get involved in if only to keep Israel from blowing the place up.

  81. 81
    Mnemosyne says:

    @👽 Martin:

    It seems as though the big difference between Libya and Syria is that the rebels in Libya were able to form a provisional government, while it’s a bunch of disparate groups fighting the government in Syria. Which is another reason I’m in the, “Let’s hold back and see what happens” group.

  82. 82
    Cacti says:

    @👽 Martin:

    We’ll end up with an Iran puppet state

    As opposed to a Saudi puppet state if the rebels prevail?

    Maybe my memory’s not so good, but I seem to remember the 9/11 hijackers consisting of a whole lot of Saudi nationals, and not a lot of Iranians.

  83. 83

    @scav: Mountbatten expedited the withdrawal date from July 48 to August 1947. Both India and Pakistan formally declared independence before the borders were drawn.

    The British promised to leave India by July 1948, but the Viceroy Louis Mountbatten moved this forward to August 1947. Sir Cyril Radcliffe headed the boundary commission which draw up the border between India and Pakistan.According to historian Ayesha Jalal, “it was rather an arbitrary line, which in some instances cut villages into two”.

    It seems that there were not sufficient plans for the administrative operation entailed in partition. The British left a situation of civil unrest and religious tension which was very destabilising for the new governments. Kashmir is still an unresolved issue and remains a source of conflict between India and Pakistan.

    This excerpt is from UK’s national archive and is not just my personal opinion. More than 18 million people were displaced due to the partition and about according to most conservative estimates a million died. I am not absolving India or Pakistan of all blame, but British under Mountbatten’s leadership totally botched the partition.

  84. 84
    Mnemosyne says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Wasn’t Gandhi’s assassin at least partially motivated by his anger over partition?

  85. 85

    @Mnemosyne: He was, he was a Hindu extremist, who taught that Hindus got a raw deal over the partition.

  86. 86

    @schrodinger’s cat:
    Correction: Last paragraph should read,
    More than 18 million people were displaced due to partition, according to the most conservative estimates about a million died. I am not absolving India or Pakistan of all blame, but the British under Mountbatten’s leadership totally botched the partition.

  87. 87
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Getting involved is just asking for blowback a decade or two down the line.

    Stay the fuck out. Let these people work out their problems by whatever means are available. There’s nothing we can do short of full scale peacekeeping intervention which we do not have the assets to pull off to stop them from killing each other, be it with conventional weapons or chemical attacks.

    In the alternative, parachute Gramps and Huckleberry Closetcase into Damascus and let them show us how it’s done. Solves a serious problem for us, getting these two warmongering asshats out of DC and off the Sunday talk show circuit.

  88. 88
    James E. Powell says:

    Can some one direct me to a source that explains what this whole Syria thing is about? Everything I get on my brief google search is all about how the situation is viewed in the US or Europe or somewhere other than Syria.

    Who are these anti-Assad people? What do they want? What is Assad’s problem? Are all dictators incompetent?

  89. 89
    cleek says:

    @El Tiburon:

    Does anyone believe for one second that President Obama has the strength of character and resolve to stay out of this conflict?

    he’s done it for the past two years, so obviously not.

  90. 90
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @James E. Powell: Juan Cole has a Syria section that seems pretty comprehensive.

    HTH.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  91. 91
    drkrick says:

    @James E. Powell: You’re getting at one of the biggest problems: There are many varieties of “anti-Assad” people, who want a variety of things, many of them mutually exclusive.

    As far as competency goes, the Bassel, the son who had been brought up to be his father’s successor, died in an automobile accident, leaving his opthamalogist brother Bashar next in line. While he had six years to prepare, he doesn’t seem to have taken to the job. Dictators aren’t all incompentent, but dynastic successors often are.

  92. 92
    weichi says:

    Why is Bashar considered incompetent? Simply the fact that he allowed a civil war to get started in the first place? Or something more?

  93. 93
    Debbie(aussie) says:

    How about having cease-fire talks WITH Assad, you know the curren leader. We have as absolutely no right (US, UK etal) to impose our desires on these people. It’s all bullshit!

  94. 94
    Elie says:

    @Debbie(aussie):

    Err – right now, Assad has absolutely no incentive to negotiate with the rebels since he has the upper hand and has been “winning”. If you were winning a war, why would you negotiate a settlement? THAT is the problem and I think in part, the plan to help the rebels was to try to put some weight down on Assad and hopefully move him (sooner than later), towards the table. Unfortunately, you would have to scare him — and he doesnt appear scared right now anyway..

  95. 95
    Elie says:

    @Cacti:

    You of course get that there would be a big difference in the Iranians as puppet masters vs the Saudis? I don’t think that the external threats to the region are the same and as Martin points out, there is this Israeli thing buzzing around this pile of steaming crap.

    Of course, I don’t feel ok either way. Leaving this going just makes the whole region more porous and volatile with increasing regional players. Trying to tampen it down inflammes different parties with sometimes unexpected consequences as well.

  96. 96
    GregB says:

    Sadly enough the region probably would have ended up better off of the first regime Bush the Younger toppled was the House of Saud. I know it would never happen but they are the seeds for large amounts of the rotted ideological fruit in that neck of the woods.

    Compared to them Iran is a reasonable actor.

  97. 97
    Felixmoronia says:

    @James E. Powell:

    Check out Pepe Escobars numerous columns on “Pipelineistan” in Asia Tomes Online atimes.com.

  98. 98
    The Other Chuck says:

    I may not be a great study of military doctrine, but it would seem to me that a no-fly zone would at least put a big ol kink in the logistics of the side that can’t fly. Not entirely useless by my reckoning.

    Plus, as long as there’s anything resembling air defenses, “no fly zone” is really just code for “open-ended bombing campaign”. Gotta take out all that bits that makes the air defenses work after all.

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