Syria – not our fight (Part one of two)

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The White House now alleges that it has proof that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against the rebel insurgents.  Our intelligence services being what they are (remember Iraq and the weapons of Mass Destruction) we need to be skeptical.  This may or may not be true.  It could, after all, be just a trick by our so-called rebel allies to draw us into the conflict, or just more hype designed to gin up the war machine here at home.  And it has sparked an  outcry from some members in congress, mostly from Republicans (Lindsey Graham, John McCain and that ilk) for a firm American response.  Thus in response President Obama has with his unfortunate “line in the sand” remark committed himself and his administration to some course of offensive military action, forcing him to go before congress (and by extension the people of the United States) to sell the idea of some kind of “limited” punitive strike.

This is the dumbest thing America could do.  This country has no — zero — strategic interests in getting involved in the Syrian civil war.  This is a sectarian and a regional conflict and none of the United State’s business.  Advocates however will claim that it is a large and worsening humanitarian crisis, and that we need to do something to send a message that the international community will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons.  I say, then let an international force — organized through the U.N. — take the necessary action.  This is not solely a U.S. responsibility.

Let’s remember that Rwanda was a horrible humanitarian crisis as well and we didn’t lift a finger to do anything there.  Perhaps that was because it has no oil.  Or maybe it was because the population is largely poor and black?  In the eighties Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurds, and again in his war with Iran.  The difference then, of course, Saddam was our buddy in opposition to Iran.  Looked at in that light, this is really a bogus, hypocritical standard.  If we do strike Syria it won’t be for humanitarian reasons, it’ll be for geo-political reasons.  Let’s be clear on something, this is not about democracy or brave humanitarian goals, this is about power and the protection of the Saudi regime (a real nest of bad guys if ever there was one) and the other Sunni Gulf States.

And until we understand that we can’t make a rational foreign policy decision on Syria.  This is a regional and sectarian conflict — Syria (with its proxy Russia) and Iran against Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States plus Israel and Jordan.  Sunni against Shi’a.  These sectarian conflicts — and the violence and hatred they engender — go back generations (even centuries) and we’re not going to change or fix that dynamic with a smiley face and a lot of lofty humanitarian rhetoric, a few drones and some well placed Cruise missiles.  This is not how you win friends and influence allies, and Obama is going to lose (big time) on this.  He’s not going to get a resolution out of the Congress because the Tea party conservatives on the right won’t vote for it, and the American people in general don’t want another war.

And if the president fails to do something on his own executive authority he’ll be criticized by the radio talk show hosts on the right, and Congressional clowns like John McCain and Lindsey Graham for failing to take action.  This is a no win for the president.  Why would anyone in his right mind even want the job?

Our long standing commitment to Saudi Arabia began in the final couple of months before the end of World War ll.  On February 14th 1945 Ibn Saud, the self-proclaimed Saudi king, came aboard the U.S.S. Quincy in the Suez Canal.  President Franklin Roosevelt had just finished the Yalta conference with Churchill and Stalin.  In less than three months the ailing president would be dead.  The Saudi king needed money and protection.  The U.S. wanted access to the Saudi oil fields for U.S. companies.  The United States was self-sufficient in oil at the time, but Roosevelt recognized the need for Middle Eastern oil for the rebuilding of war torn Europe.  The two leaders reached a number of agreements.  Principle among these: the U.S. would provide protection for the Saudi kingdom, in return the U.S. could have access to Saudi ports, it could construct military air bases on Saudi soil, and American oil companies could begin building the Trans-Arabian pipeline to the Mediterranean.

Roosevelt was dealing from a position of strength.  But if the roles had been reversed, and Saud was the one wielding the power, he probably would have cut Roosevelt’s throat, thrown him over board and commandeered the ship.  That’s not what happened though.  Roosevelt guaranteed Saudi Arabia’s independence, and we’ve been paying ever since.  The question that begs asking then; why didn’t we depose Saud and take over Saudi Arabia (that’s where all the oil was) instead of providing money and protection into perpetuity.

Sure Assad is a bad guy.  But there are a lot of bad actors in the Middle East.  By any sane measure they’re all bad, or at least venal and dangerous.  We just always try to pick out the least bad of the bunch, and then hope that our good intentions will make the whole thing work out right in the end.  This kind of policy is politically naive and wrong-headed in the extreme.

I hear politicians in Washington go on and on about how it’s important for us to work with our allies.  Let’s be clear on something.  We’re hated throughout the region — and probably for good reason, the invasion of Iraq, our history of backing some of worst despots in the region, and our constant support of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The first thing Americans need to understand — we don’t have any allies in the Middle east.  We’re dealing with a bunch of self-interested, self-dealing opportunists who are ready to throw us under the bus at the first turn in the road.  Hamad Karsai in Afghanistan is a good example, as well as our friends the Saudis.  Let’s remember 9/11 and the fact that 15 of the hijackers were Saudi nationals.

Rebel leaders and other would-be potentates know that all they have to do is make the right noises, sing in the right key, about democracy and fighting political oppression to start the flow of money and arms.  This is always a slippery slope.  Knowledgeable observers describe the entire region as a powder keg just waiting to explode.  If that’s so, then we shouldn’t be so stupid or careless to light the fuse and then hang around and wait for the inevitable explosion.

The Money Trader  –  (to be continued)

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