Monthly Archives: September 2013

Understanding Russia and Syria

Robert S. McNamara once said that a salient cause behind the failure of American policies in Vietnam was our inability to understand the motivations of our opponents there. We understood our opponents in the Cuban Missile Crisis, so nuclear war was averted there. We did not understand Vietnam, so we failed in our goal of securing a friendly, democratic government there. We now find ourselves in a new struggle with Russia, this time involving Syria. Proper understanding of the situation there is going to be vital if we want any hope of a peaceful resolution that all parties find acceptable.

Understanding Russia is simple in this case: they need to sell gas to Western Europe to survive. A pipeline from Qatar to Turkey through an Assad-less Syria is a cut across Russia’s throat. Who does Russia sell its gas to if not Europe? How does Russia survive if it does not get money from the sale of gas?

With survival on the line, Russia will risk even war to keep that pipeline from happening. Do we in the USA understand that? Are we in the USA willing to risk even war so that Qatar can sell gas to Europe and al-Qaeda can add Syria to the list of nations it has a free hand to operate in?

Is It Necessary?

While I was in Russia, I learned that the Russians do what is necessary. Resources are limited there, so they must prioritize carefully in order to ensure survival. When they fought off millions of invading German troops, for example, was it necessary that they develop strategic bombers? No, it was not. They focused on fighters to attain air superiority and ground attack aircraft to destroy tanks. They made two of the best planes of the war that way. Was it necessary that they have nearly countless models of tanks for every occasion, like the Germans? No, it was not. The Russians made the T-34 tank, perfected it in the T-34/85, and added the JS2 and Su-122 to complete the lineup. The primary role for tanks was destroying enemy tanks. Next role was mobile artillery for ground troops. Those tanks did the job, and are considered some of the best tanks ever made, certainly the best of their day. It was necessary to make those, not others.

Is it necessary for Russian food to taste amazing? No, it is not. There is dessert, and their desserts are what tastes best. Is it necessary to mow everything? No, it is not. The grass in medians and shoulders will grow tall. Is it necessary to move large numbers of people efficiently in a major city? Yes. Moscow has one of the best subway systems in the world.

Now, Vladimir Putin is asking the USA, “Is it necessary to have a war in Syria?” It is clear that the Russians would prefer not to have one, given how they recently declared they would secure Assad’s chemical weapons. They want the USA to answer “No” to that question.

If the USA does answer “Yes”, however, what will be the Russian reaction? Well, one can see that the Russians saw it as necessary to put their fleet and some soldiers in the area before asking the question. If the USA answers “Yes”, then the Russians seem to believe that it is necessary to be involved in that Syrian war, should it happen.

And now Putin’s question is bigger: “Is it necessary to have a war with Russia?” And when a Russian asks about what is necessary, do not doubt his resolve to do what he must to in order to survive. Do not doubt that resolve, or they will drag pieces of your capitol back to Moscow and build a museum around those pieces, because in Russia, they consider that to be a necessary way to learn history. It’s quite effective.

12 Years Later…

The people that were responsible for destroying the World Trade Center and the lives in and around it are now receiving support from the government of the survivors of that massacre. They have used sarin nerve gas at least once in Syria, and may very well be tied to the latest uses of nerve gas there. The government of the USA turns a blind eye to that atrocity.

Don’t approach that issue as a Democrat or a Republican, as a supporter or opponent of the President. Approach that issue as a businessman: what does it profit us to provide aid and support to an entity that seeks our eventual destruction? Approach the issue with an appeal to common sense: what does it profit us to give more weapons and ammunition to the people that want to use them against us?

When the Russians traded their weapons for opium in Afghanistan, the mujihadin there used those weapons to shoot their opium customers. That’s when Russia lost the war there.

12 years after the World Trade Center Massacre, we are trading our weapons for al-Qaeda’s use in toppling dictators in Libya and Syria. They will shoot us, their customers. This is when we lost the war on terror.

Chemical Weapons

What should the US do about a nation that uses chemical weapons against a civilian population? This question is the one Obama asks us all in regards to the Syrian situation. My personal position is that Obama should let it slide, since I don’t want a cruise missile strike on Dubya’s house here in Dallas. His chemical weapon? I’ll choose white phosphorous, or WP.

WP is an incendiary agent. Both the Geneva Convention and the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons forbid its use against civilian targets. Because it is a highly efficient oxygen depletion substance, WP is chosen as an anti-tunnel agent: set off a WP grenade in a tunnel and it will use up all the oxygen in the tunnel, suffocating enemy soldiers in the tunnel. Therefore, WP saw heavy use in Vietnam.

It also saw heavy use in the Chechnya War, where about 20% of all Russian artillery rounds fired were WP rounds. Saddam Hussein used WP in poison gas attacks against Iranian positions. Hussein also used it against Kurds in his suppression campaign against them. In the Iraq War and Occupation, US forces employed WP against military targets in civilian areas, which is prohibited in the conventions, mentioned above. The US also employed MK 77 incendiary bombs which, although still referred to as “napalm”, are not, in fact, napalm, which allows the US to use the MK 77 and then later deny it was using napalm when accused of using the substance. Clever dodge there, but at the end of the day, it’s a nasty chemical incendiary that international law forbids in use against civilians.

Israel has also used WP against civilian targets in Lebanon. Does that mean Netanyahu has equal need to hide from a US strike as does Assad? There’s also indisputable evidence of Israel using WP against Gaza refugee camps, just in case the Lebanon stuff isn’t enough to warrant a cruise missile or two slamming into Tel Aviv.

That last sentence stops me cold. I was ready to also note Hamas’ use of WP and Saudi Arabian use of WP against Yemeni insurgents, but let’s visit that “cruise missile or two slamming into Tel Aviv.” There are real people in that city, and heaven knows they’re not deserving of a cruise missile or two, even if the head of their nation has used chemical weapons against a civilian population. Damascus is a similar city, now torn apart by a civil war, but people still live there. They don’t deserve their civil war and they certainly don’t deserve a cruise missile strike from the USA.

Even if the chemical agent in question is the nerve gas toxin sarin, I don’t think hitting Syrian civilians with cruise missiles sends the right message. When Saddam Hussein used sarin both against the Kurds and the Iranian soldiers in the Iran-Iraq War, the USA permitted those actions. He was our ally at the time, and we had knowledge of his use of sarin at the highest levels of our government. Nothing happened to Saddam Hussein until after he was done being our ally. Assad never was our ally, so he’s open to the charge.

Except… well, there’s the matter of Iraqi insurgents attempting to use sarin against US forces occupying Iraq. The attack failed, but the same guys that tried to hit us with sarin are now making up a portion of the forces fighting Assad’s regime in Syria. They have everything to gain by getting the USA involved against Assad, so why not gas a few civilians? The end justifies the means to these wretched murderers, and what’s more, they’ve tried something like this before. Why are we not investigating this angle of the story more? Yes, an agent was used, but who used it and for what purpose?

The record is clear: of all the use of chemical agents in the region, it is the USA and its allies that dominate the incident reports. Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq when it was an ally, and the USA itself. Now that al-Qaeda is allied to the USA in this conflict (and is this why we hear very little about the recent upsurge in violence in Iraq?), are we giving it a free pass to use nerve gas to draw the USA into a conflict that clearly no good can come from?

What should we do? Rather than talk about lobbing missiles into the homes of Arabs, how about a discussion of how Qatar and Saudi Arabia are paying for the war in Syria, providing heavy funding to al-Qaeda in the process? How about a discussion of what happens when al-Qaeda becomes an arm of US foreign policy? There is already a growing debate about the soul of the nation in the wake of the Panic of 2008 and the revelations about NSA spying. My final question is in regards to our alliance and finding common cause with al-Qaeda: does it add to that debate, or does it seal it off, providing final proof of what the USA has become?