Thursday, February 16, 2012

Solidifying Syria

Looking Again for Syria-Libya Similarity

The American public didn't do too well in perceiving Libya.  In fact, we revealed a very nasty co-dependent streak.  We kept insisting that until we knew all about the "replacement regime," we just couldn't really help out much beyond bad mouthing Gaddafi.  Of course, as the overly righteous bunch that we are, we hardly broke a sweat with the dutiful "bad mouthing" assignment.

The premise was simple enough.  "We are so good that you can't possibly be good unless we like you."

Someone had to take the political risk of acting on ideals rather than craven, petrogarchic capitalism or our usual psychopathic fear of anything happening anywhere in the world which unfolds beyond our control.  Happily, our President took the risk.

However, it was in the "behind the scenes" action with Libya where the similarity to Syria can be found.  In order to survive the predictable onslaught by the domestic wing nuts who would blame him for a rainy day, a few details had to get kicked into order before even Obama could proceed.  These are precisely similar to the "loose ends" prevailing in Syria.

Rent-a-General, retired (image source)

The wing nut mantra was familiar.  No exit strategy.  Endless quagmire.  A third war in the Middle East.  The fear mongers barely had to even do so much as change the country name.

Someone to Answer the Phone
"Good afternoon.  This is the United States calling. With whom am I speaking?"

The usual talking heads immediately took up the challenge.  The preachers, coaches and retired generals marched out in lock step to tell Judy Woodruff about all the horrible things which were about to happen thanks to the incompetent and inexperienced professor in the Oval Office.  When the nightmarish military failure had been robustly described, the rant moved on to being fooled by none other than al Qaeda itself masquerading as Libyan freedom fighters.

Ben Ghazi didn't help much.  It seemed to take forever for the new government to reassure the West that they really were good guys, and all the while Gaddafi's tanks were warming up in the suburbs for some real meat grinding.  Ask anyone in Misrata.

Well, Ben Ghazi then -- and still, even now -- faced the traditional problem of a suddenly successful insurgency.  Unlike the other side where a heavy handed autocracy had long ago "homogenized" all disparate interests which could be useful and eliminated all those who were simply problems, the insurgents were composed of all sorts of elements united primarily by their consolidated determination to oust the last guys.

Typically, these various parts of an insurgency had spent little time imagining a unified state once their work was complete.  All the rough edges of centuries of tribal conflicts, religious animosity, wealth disparity and the rest were alive and well, set aside only for the task at hand.  This was the case in Libya, and this is the case in Syria.

Let's take a look at the various interest players in the conflict and the corresponding obstacles each one brings for solution.

The Syrians

Syria isn't quite as bad as Iraq in terms of pre-existing tribal divisions.  After all, there was a place called Syria even in the time of the Roman Empire, although this isn't to say that all the factions had ever particularly mastered to art of getting along.  The important point here is that each of these factions has its own priorities which must be satisfied in the end result.

Further, at some time through the long history of the place, most of these factions had attacked others, winning or losing, and creating very durable animosities. In the naive view of American Sunday School graduates and other policy Pollyannas, these difficulties should, reasonably, be simply swept away in favor of uniting under common cause.  The idea that what exists is an historical equivalent of Lutherans declaring open war on Presbyterians for a couple of decades completely escapes them.

The conclave of interested parties at the Syrian Opposition has worked to form what is loosely named the National Council outside the country.  With uncertain ties to the Free Syrian Army of defectors and regional insurgents around the country, the National Council is still being disrupted by factional priorities and questionable affiliation with the hundreds of thousands of Syrians still protesting on the streets.

Arab Spring Measure:  The Syrians are in their Arab Spring.

The Iranians

Syria has long been a "jewel" in the Islamic Republic's structure for regional dominance.  In the Sunni Shi'ite violence during the sectarian phase of US occupation in Iraq, the Iranian client state provided large numbers of "volunteers" to move across the common border to Iraq.  Currently, a large part of the Iranian military shipments to Syria cross the Eastern regions of Iraq against UN arms embargoes.

Syria supplies military equipment to both the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian [Gaza] Hamas against the UN arms embargoes in place for both destinations.  Syria, itself without much capacity for arms manufacturing, acts as a forwarding agent in these cases. 

Iran's worst nightmare is to become isolated.  Without access to its client states in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, Iran's capacity to create and sustain irreconcilable hostilities would be gravely reduced, leaving the Islamic Republic with only far more direct alternatives for expressing its influence in the region.  Tehran has no appetite for face to face conflict, although accomplishing its nuclear ambitions might mitigate some of this reluctance.

Arab Spring Measure:  Iranians are more than half way into their Arab Spring.

The Chinese

The catastrophic Security Council failure on Syrian issues was orchestrated by the Russians and the Chinese.  China's motive is slightly more passive that the Russian Federation's. Politically, China has little hegemonic interest in non-adjacent territories. The Chinese clearly valued Iranian oil supply and general "coziness" with Middle Eastern dictatorships who have survived the Arab Spring.  The PRC took a much more troubled glance at the Arab Spring than was presented in domestic US news because something similar could easily contest the State Council's total control inside China.

Arab Spring measure:  Rural areas, ethnically diverse areas and acquired provinces such as Tibet and the Uighurs are ready to begin their Arab Spring.

The Russians

The Russian Federation, however, has a much more direct interest in the survival of the Assad regime in Syria.  For one thing, Syria is saturated with Russian military products -- everything from the SAM's Syria has installed to prevent another Israeli air threat to Damascus to the smoke belching tanks which were unable to prevent the Israeli incursion into Golan.  If the Assad government, as a military client, were overthrown by street protests and the Free Syrian Army, global Russian arms sales would suffer.

However, Russia's stance with the Security Council VETO squarely places its traditions of revolutionary thought on the examining table for the world to see.  Russia might have appeared to be dealing with Syria, but it was concentrating on rebellious satellite countries where Arab Spring ideas were taking root. 

Arab Spring measure:  Many of the Federation's satellite states are ready to begin their Arab Spring.  Urban citizens inside Russia proper are getting closer, freaked about the heavy hand of the Putin oligarchs.

The Americans

This administration has set its own high bar in American policy for direct intervention.  The Libyan expedition was made legitimate by NATO participation, Security Council validation and Arab League approval.  This should not be surprising for a President with such a legalistic outlook in such matters.  It should also introduce the idea of a limit in the successful operation in the case of bin Laden.  Obama will do it, but Obama will feel the full burden of what he's doing while he does it, not the least of which derives from his own idea of legitimacy.

Obama's ideals will be in play if he decides to act on the Syrian pogrom, but those ideals will not be gaseous niceties about poorly defined ideas of liberty and progress.  Instead, they will be much more akin to the South Chicago street realities we saw in Pakistan.  Bold, decisive and direct.

Pentagon and Congressional policy wonks will predictably offer up the same types of heavy handed, Cold War solutions enumerated with naval blockades, ground troops in the tens of thousands, saturation bombing and the like.  The Pentagon will be looking for the next career opportunity, the Senate will be fiddling while the slaughter continues and the House will be consumed only with the happy, wet dream prospect of a military disaster for the Commander in Chief  months before the election.

Although reasonably compassionate folks might wish for some "middle of the road" path forward, those in the government aspiring to the status of "war making expert" will be locked, as usual, in their tragically unsuited, out dated set of false choices.  MeanMesa doesn't think that Obama sees it this way at all.

He has military technology which has never been available to past Presidents as they contemplated such questions.  He matches this technological advantage with a steady pragmatism and steely will -- both of which represent unsettling, essentially unknown attributes to the stodgy remnants of the Bush military establishment.

Arab Spring measure:  The Americans may be further into their Arab Spring than they are willing to admit.

The "technology?"


Of course there are a few "loose ends," but the military element is straight forward enough.  US drones are a perfect match for tanks firing randomly into civilian areas and convoys of troops and military supplies rolling along Syrian highways to their next killing field.  Coupled with no longer particularly secret satellite intelligence, the combination would castrate the dictatorship's and his terror squads' fire power advantage in days.

Low Hanging Fruit (image source)

We would then be at a very familiar foreign policy place.  The codependent side of American life would be screaming the predictable questions about "Who are we helping?" and probably moaning the now over worked, road weary lament about an exit strategy.

Libya has shown us that the "exit strategy" hobgobblin has no teeth if there has never been an "entrance."  As for Syria, flatten a few tanks actively engaged in the act of civilian murder, and level enough convoys so that the remainder start taking the threat seriously enough to begin keeping their heads down. 

The plan would be to "plow the road" for a bit, then let the insurgency run its course.  With the tanks and convoys more or less out of the picture, it wouldn't take long.

Loose Ends

We can address this issue best with a few questions.  Imagine an irate Russian Federation Foreign Ministry staffer in a closed meeting with Secretary of State, Hillary.

"You had no right to attack the Syrian government.  What makes you think you can just fly in there are start blowing up tanks?"

"The tanks were murdering the legitimate Syrian government."

"The US didn't even have a treaty with the Syrian opposition government!  You had no legal basis for this unprovoked attack."

"Okay.  We haven't heard any requests about stopping from the legitimate Syrian opposition government, but you have a point.  We'll stop the attacks right away, although it will probably take a few days for the order to move through the Pentagon."

"Al Qaeda and the Iranians are going to move in there and take over.  The US can't trust the terrorists and foreign insurgents to 'play nice' with the US after they take power."

"We don't think so.  We're willing to take the risk.  It's not likely that the new Syrian government is going to be interested in keeping the same friends as the old one.  We expect to just help out a bit, then slip away and let things take their course."

"You're going to recklessly unleash chaos and instability throughout the region."

"If you haven't noticed, there is a tidal wave of chaos and instability in the region already.  We're determined to not be cynical.  Instead, we'll be optimistic.  We're trying to work on our control issues.  You have shown the world which side of things you favor with your VETO vote.  We're showing the world which side of things we favor. After this, everyone will pretty much know everything."

The drones make US involvement truly "casual."  The particular drones selected for the mission should be among the cheapest, simplest choices.  The devices were designed to be expendable, and Syrian SAMs will inevitably shoot down some.  There are no particular treaty obligations to be met.  The collateral damage will be very limited -- tanks sitting out in the open firing on a Syrian city are pretty much "low hanging fruit."

When the drone attacks suddenly cease and no invasion follows, the message to the Syrian people will be clear.  "Now it's your turn.  You're in charge."

No comments:

Post a Comment