On Syria

That Obama has overtaken Bush II is a  fact that comes to show who's not in charge at the White House. So, as if doubling up in Afghanistan were not enough of a Bushism, and Obama wanted his own mark on the Axis of Evil, the talk now is about Syria.

In a way, Syria is a proxy for Iran, but not without its own risk: Russia. The discussion here goes beyond the traditional relation between the two countries and reaches, for example, strategic levels. In short, it's about GAS.

Background Facts:
1) Russia's prominence in the world follows the prices of natural resources, especially energy;
2) UPI reports that
The U.S. Geological Survey reported in 2010 the Levant Basin, covering all these territories, contains at least 122 tcf of gas and 1.7 billion barrels of oil.
See the image below for a map of the area:


So, what's the big deal? I will not go into the details of how the US is yet again invoking reasons that fail to win support for an intervention even at home, that is, an enterprise whose risk-reward profile/opportunity cost keeps even the British away. The big deal here is in calculating the reaction of a revanchist Russia, which may well feel like interwar Germany.

As a side show, the reaction of the Syrian elites surrounding Assad will be interesting. I think, after the lessons in Iraq, Libya, Egypt..., local elites would think twice before turning against their strong man, lest they are left to their own devices to earn a living under market conditions.

So, strategically, the US would probably welcome another failed state.  Tactically, the whole question is how remotely from the reactive Syrian capabilities can the US strike?  Distance being inversely proportional to effectiveness and efficiency.  One can only hope that the Syrian communication capabilities have been deciphered for good and their control  capabilities will be scrambled.  Shortly, we'll get to infer the Russian state of the art. 


fCh said...

Russia can still inflict a lot of damage, both direct and asymmetrical. So much so that another cold war would be the best outcome of all potential disasters. For example, watch those EU and NATO member countries that used to formally be under the Soviet sphere of influence.

For now, I think Obama was very clever to send his influencers to the Congress…

Anonymous said...

Interesting and illuminating perspective! :-)


Crescentsi said...

We await the bombings.... Hopefully the indecision will continue and (after the ballsy rhetoric) they can all get round a big table and talk it through. Russia and China; they are just too big and powerful to kick in the balls.

I like this photographer's take on the current situation. Inertia has never been so desirable!

fCh said...

From the dissolution of the Soviet Bloc, we can take it that the Russians would not think twice about selling out on Assad--as they sold their whole bloc to the West. This time, I think the US has been on a drive to lower the price of energy/gas, thus taking the air off from the Russian balloon.

Now, if lower price of oil were the sole objective, it beats me as why you wouldn't cut on the profit of the 7 sisters before going head to head with the Russians, while the Chinese are ever so happier to see its main rivals expend each other to irrelevance.

Apparently, the lesson of the revisionist school of history in Britain, according to which the UK sped up its own decline by launching itself in the continental war--about 100 years ago--has not reached the shores of Potomac. This shows not only how clueless western leaders are about how to extricate capitalism from its worst, but also how ignorant they are about history.

The vote of your MPs was a good move, for unlike France, the UK, and the US for that matter, has no dog in this fight. I'd keep an eye on the Germans though...

Anonymous said...

Very good points. here's another one from Steve Walt:

Some wise words from the late Dorothy Sayers, from the 1942 short story "Talboys." In the story, one of Lord Peter Wimsey's sons is accused of stealing peaches from a neighboring farmer. Lord Peter investigates and clears his son of the crime, while fending off the well-intentioned but naive interference of a nosy governess. Along the way he offers his son, Bredon, the following advice:

"I'll tell you a secret, Bredon. Grown-up people don't always know everything, though they try to pretend they do. That is called 'prestige,' and is responsible for most of the wars that devastate the continent of Europe."

Or the Middle East, one might add. I don't mean to make light of the tragedy that has been unfolding in Syria, but Sayers's observation -- in the voice of Lord Peter -- has always struck me as of considerable relevance to contemporary foreign policy-making, especially in the credibility-obsessed USA.

Kenneth Sorensen said...

Proponents of war use to refer to Syria as a signatory of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which bans chemical weapons. But it deals only with chemical weapons used externally, it simply doesn’t mention chemical weapons used inside your own country. Then it can be argued that a consensus has emerged since the mid 90′s that “it also covers CW used internally” (see some lawyers debating it here: http://www.vertic.org/pages/posts/syria-international-law-and-the-use-of-chemical-weapons-345.php), but it is important to remember that there is no legal text which states that it is banned to use them inside your own country.

So it is a little rich to be willing to bomb a country in defense of “a norm”, which isn’t written down anywhere.[and ironic if the bombs used for the intervention is more deadly than the CW's, which latter actually are very crude weapons and difficult to use on the battlefield] Indeed as John Mearsheimer says in this interview from Aug. 28, that's why Obama always talks about ‘norms’:

Money quotation:
JOHN MEARSHEIMER: The Arab League has not sanctioned an attack. You can’t get Security Council approval. The Russians and the Chinese will veto it. And, in fact, if we do go to war, it will not be a legal war. This is why President Obama talked about norms ad nauseam in his comments and didn’t talk about international law, because he knows he can’t do this legally.

Mearsheimer continues:
But the fact is that the United States has no vested interest in what is going on in Syria. This is not a strategically important country. It’s deeply regrettable that people are being killed. It’s deeply regrettable that’s there’s a civil war going on, but it’s not the United States’ responsibility to get into the middle of it, because every time we do this, we end up in a situation like Afghanistan, a situation like Iraq.
We take a situation that’s bad and we just make it worse. The idea that we have some magic formula that can fix these problems is simply not the case. And the historical record is very clear on this. So my bottom line is, stay out militarily, and do everything that we can to shut it down diplomatically.


Kenneth Sorensen said...

Proponents of intervention in Syria often refers to the attack on Kosovo in 1999, which also happened without UN autorisation. But Kosovo was not a sovereign nation at the time.
The seriousness of this — proposed — intervention is that Syria is a sovereign country, a proud member of the UN. So if — God and all honest men and women in the world united in opposing Israeli schemes of letting the rest of the world take out it enemies one by one — this foul undertaking was to go ahead — God and all honest men and women in the world united in opposing Israeli schemes of letting the rest of the world take out it enemies one by one — this would then only be the second instance ever that the UN was deliberately bypassed before an attack on a sovereign country took place – the first being Iraq, which was invaded in March 2003 on a lie of non-existent so-called “WMD”s and link to AQ – the greatest strategic blunder in the history of The United States of America.

SImon said...

Have Russia (with Syria's co-operation) saved the day? Although I had some hope that there wouldn't be military action, I felt there was an inevitability about it. Hopefully, the plan to hand over their chemical weapons and have them destroyed will work and we will avoid more long-term military intervention. For once, can our leaders actually co-operate sensibly without blowing each other off "this mortal coil"? I hope so. It's fortunate that Obama is US President. He may be handicapped by congress, but I very much doubt that Bush Junior would have shown such patience!

fCh said...

I think it was Obama with Putin's help, aka Kerry's 'mistake,' that saved the day. The feeling of inevitability must also have shaken the Iranians into making their offer.

In any case, I expect something in writing to come out first. That's going to give us an idea if we have a deferment or abatement of open war.

As for our Congress, I think it shows its limits in that some lobby or another kind of wags the dog. Indeed, take Obama's recent declaration about weapons and crime in America.

Anonymous said...

All nations gather intelligence. They don't all do this. This is different.

For example, all nations send military attaches to watch each other's military. That is allowed. It does not allow other forms of spying out of the same embassy on the same military. Some intelligence gathering is within the rules, and some isn't.

We can find examples of others doing it? Your mother told you the answer to that when you were five.

There is no slightest question that if anyone did this to us, we'd be very clear it was outside the rules. Just days before we were caught, we were accusing the Chinese of doing this to us. That went silent when we were outed. That may be a big part of the reason our leaders were so furious with Snowdon -- their hypocrisy was smashed beyond all repair.

Not only is there no excuse for this, we have harmed ourselves. We have damaged our industry in the field, and encouraged new competition whose selling point is that the NSA isn't in it. When we abuse our soft power, we put a high premium on others getting free of our role in that industry, which is to say a huge subsidy to damage our industrial position.

We are doing the same thing to the reserve currency role for the dollar, to our banking position, to our international role in insurance, and to much else. Already there are military systems with the sales point that they have no US content that could empower a US veto on sales or support or resale. It is a pattern. It is self destructive.

Mark Thomason Clawson, MI

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