Saturday, August 31, 2013

Syria: Putin as Raskolnikov

Syria: Crime and Punishment

In Dostoyevsky's "inescapable" Crime and Punishment [Преступлéние и наказáние, Prestupleniye i nakazaniye] a strangely unavoidable character, Raskolnikov, premeditates a murder to which he has been driven, in his view, as a redeemable necessity because of his his desperate condition.  He intends to stalk and kill a pawn broker from whom he has previously borrowed money, then, after the "deed," steal the broker's money and other valuables which had been pawned as security.

During the conduct of his carefully planned crime, unexpected complications arise, causing him to murder yet another victim before he can find and steal the pawn broker's purse.  Hearing the noise of the crime, the police are summoned, and Raskolnikov panics, making a clumsy escape -- all quite removed from the fantasy of his premeditation in which the event unfolded without incident.

This is not a post concerning classical Russian literature. However, all these brutally over-abbreviated details of the story are relevant to this post's topic.

The Inescapable and Unavoidable Syria

As more and more video accounts showing the agony and tortured death of those subjected to the Assad gas attack, Western electorates respond in a predictable way, although that "predictable way" is nothing less than painfully "purified antipathy."

To a single soul, those Western electorates are still quite broken and bruised from the Bush W. military oil adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Across the European continent and the Northern Hemisphere each of these voters still winces, embarrassed, mortified, by the naive credulity with which they were swayed by the outright lies of the Bush autocracy.  ["Autocracy?"  Recall that George W. Bush was appointed President by the political servants of the old Supreme Court -- not the electorate. In broad terms the event marked the official end of the representative democracy.]

All though the tormented years of the Syrian uprising, all through the long, horrific, day by day account of the "touch of the dark wind" on the broken bodies of one hundred thousand [plus] corpses, the Russian Federation has stood very steadfastly with the less and less lovable dictator, Assad.  The marching orders from the Kremlin specifically included the tacit, unbending litany supporting the Assad regime's constant claims that the opposition forces were foreign mercenaries.

Vladimir Putin As Raskolnikov

Through the dark lens of Dostoyevsky's novel, these were the days when Raskolnikov -- being Vladimir Putin cast in this more modern script -- quietly yet constantly justified anticipating his murderous plan with the mitigating promise that he would use his stolen loot to "help the poor."  Although President Putin has scarce evidence of even such imaginary, hollow altruism in his record, we must assume that so long as the Assad atrocities were maintained at a "toothache" intensity, and so long as the Western media's access to them continued to be censored by the regime, the violence was palatable enough for the Russian.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (image source)

On the sidelines the ever eager Iranians, driven by an unchanging insane hatred of the West, happily displayed their own impenetrable self-righteousness and encouraged the Russian by cheerfully volunteering to "take the heat" along with them.  This is not to say that the affection between the suspiciously popular leaders of the two countries was based on some organic infatuation.  Each represented a coldly useful opportunity for the other -- in this case, creating a "marriage made in heaven" deployed to embarrass the Americans.

The Russian Federation maintained a modern military presence in the country, while the Iranians, the "crazy uncle" in this play, would happily march an essentially endless supply of equally crazed troops to the combat theatre across Iraq, the newly hateful, fickle, synthetic ex-ally of the West.  The geopolitical temptation was simply too great -- for both of these otherwise unlikely "best buddies."

Putin at home faced the domestic demand for "respect" as the Russian Federation, in a sense, stumbled to its feet as a Phoenix following the ignominious fall of the Soviets. As the equivalent of an "international teenager," the newly born Russian Federation exhibited all the anticipated chest beating of an international, testosterone driven adolescent accompanied by just enough of the bully required to establish, at least as fantasy, its place among the adults at the table.

However, of course, this particular "teenager" was equipped with a few thousand ICBMs.

What had been a low level animosity grew Russian teeth when Mitt Romney finally "iced the cake" -- exactly the old Cold War cake that hundreds of US cracker politicians on the right had already carefully baked with far more salt than the recipe specified -- with his campaign statement classing the Russian Federation as "America's Number One Enemy."

Snowden's asylum was simply another candle.

Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov (image source)
The Russian analogue to Raskolnikov's crime stretched out over the months. 
The murders were executed with a meat handed cruelty that didn't bother the Russians.  The world had already seen "Russian civil sensibilities" at play in places such as Chechnya and Afghanistan, so the brutality was nothing new.   

Foreign Minister Lavrov dutifully exposed his thick Russian skin on command, maneuvering his durable diplomatic way through any sort of hostile question with formidable aplomb.

The labyrinthine tactical and strategic complexity of the Syrian nightmare had the tell tale design of one with a classical Russian patent burned into its leather.  By the time the Americans had come around to consider intervention with respect to the gas attacks, there were no "good options."  The British MPs, whimpering, still broken and bruised from the Bush W. psychopathic "invasion sickness," were having none of it this time.

As what might be considered a "bright shiny opportunity" with respect to serendipitous unanticipated coincidences abounding in the quagmire, al Qaeda slithered into the breach among the fractured Syrian opposition forces, legitimizing some of the Assad propaganda and horrifying the neighborhood's arms suppliers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Inside the Russian Federation a clutch of salivating oligarchs -- when viewed in whole, not dissimilar to their craven counter parts in Europe and the US -- have issued very substantial instructions to protect Russian commercial assets -- primarily gas and oil pipelines which cross the region -- in Syria at all costs.  From the next office down the hall the Russian Navy's High Command has a similar interest with respect to all the military "aid" Assad has received and the lease of Tartus as a Russian Mediterranean naval base Russia received back in compensation.

The domestic US "news" reporting has repeatedly lamented the "no good options" line consistently enough for us to suspect that it may have been penned in the White House.  However, on the Cold War side, upsetting the Russians has always been a grave decision, but imposing Libyan/Iraq-style "no fly zones" would promise to be gut wrenchingly bloody if conducted over Syria which is now bristling with Russian anti-aircraft missiles.

The suddenly interested US House is reluctant to debate the issue because it would pin the tea bags into a position of either being "soft on war making" or "soft on battering Obama."  MeanMesa suspects that if the House "debate" were ever allowed by the now thoroughly terrified Speaker, it would deliver only a few hours of anti-Obama polemics delivered by tea bag hill billies and six more repeals of ObamaCare.

To expect more, for example, something constructive, would be unfairly taxing on the Republicans.

An Impasse?  Who's Holding All the Cards?

An impasse?  Yes and no. As for an answer to the question concerning "who's holding all the cards," MeanMesa says Putin.  However, MeanMesa also says that most of those cards will not only prove to be worthless, but, at the very least,  downright destructive if not outrightly dangerous in the long haul.

Oh sure, the party was just month after month of great fun in the beginning.  The Syrian dictator was dancing a tight rope with a fractured group of zealous rebels who were staying upset after Assad's militia thugs slit the throats of  their children, but with the Russians and the Iranians standing by eager to help, the outcome was not ever too much of a question.

The Iraqi's had, early on, found enough Iranian sympathizers in their government to open up an unlimited supply line across the northern deserts of that country from Iran to Syria.  With a little Syrian and Iranian money dropped into the "right places" in Lebanon, we watched a sudden resurgence of typically useful Hezbollah jihadist religiosity as the trailer parks emptied across the Syrian border in a mad, blood soaked rush toward the perpetually mythical, tediously imaginary caliphate.

All the while the Iranian preachers were dangling some sort of bargain basement,  Pakistani, "build it at home for fun and profit" h-bomb kit in front of the quivering right wing mouth pieces and their never distant microphones in the US.  The h-bomb never seemed to quite get assembled, but the domestic fear generation was exquisite.  Hill billies who couldn't have pointed a finger at any of the countries of the players on a globe were predictably terrified with the prospect of Muslims flooding into the US.

You know, Muslims looking for white Christian women, of course.

Yes, those earlier days of the "big doin's" were full of wild crazy dreams for President Putin, but then the Russian client, dictator Assad, started gassing civilians by the hundreds -- on video tape.  Not even the over ambitious, thick skinned Russians had any appetite for what followed.

Suddenly, the whole "You Tube" world -- from the staid Europeans to the mildly interested PRC -- was outraged.

However, Vladimir still had one last, extra ace up his sleeve -- the unending legacy of George W. Bush.

As mentioned before entire populations had been looted and crippled by the autocrat's "little psychopathic mischief."  The mere mention of another Middle Eastern war hurled even the tiny remnant of Americans still harboring a fleeting interest in ideals and national values into a paralysing stupor by the haunting memory of the Iraq and Afghan disgrace.  The ones not so sensitive to foundational abstractions, simply began whining to "make it stop."

By this time the "guests" at the Putin party were also succumbing to the cheap vodka.  The rampaging laughter had slowly died hours ago, and the droopy faces around the place began to take on a silent morbidity.  The Iranians were threatened with the loss of their previously unfettered access to a tormenting collection of their cheap terrorism export clients in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon.  The Russian were stuck with their out of control pet dictator.

Let's just say that the Hezbollah "freedom fighters" seemed to have begun looking around Putin's party in search of someone to murder.

And quiet dignified little Assad who had been the genteel, good natured center of the thing only a few weeks ago had transformed into a child murdering psychopath himself.  All the rich neighbors were unloading boatloads of military gear to the opposition forces, and it was beginning to look as if the Russian Federation was going to have do some Cold War-style "sabre rattling," that is,  to rattle every rusty SS-18 ICBM that happened to still have fresh batteries in it.

Putin had been forcefully informed that the Russian oligarchs had NO appetite for firing up another expensive arms race with the rest of the world over a piece of real estate like Syria. [MeanMesa suspects that the oligarchs were more concerned with the potential costs of confronting the PRC than confronting the United States.]  

The question and answer for Vladimir was whether or not the Russian billionaires were interested in a any more rounds of "Texas Hold'em" which meant balancing the cost of re-arming the decrepit Russian arms stock pile for the next Cold War versus the cost of losing the pipelines and other Russian assets in Syria.

Predictably, Putin -- just as Raskolnikov did years before -- has invested everything in the doing of his "deed," but afterwards, has fallen into a very grey pit dug by his own hand with his own shovel. This will turn out to be the case whether the US launches a punitive strike or not.

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