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Post UN--not US--Accuses Assad of Using Poison Gas
Created by John Eipper on 08/24/13 3:44 AM

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UN--not US--Accuses Assad of Using Poison Gas (Bienvenido Macario, USA, 08/24/13 3:44 am)

It is important to note that the UN, not the US, made the allegations of Assad's use of poison gas in Syria.

We don't want to inadvertently escalate things, however remote.

See: UN: Alleged Syria chemical attacks "serious escalation"

22 August 2013


BBC and the UN confirmed that the number of refugees fleeing Syria to Northern Iraq has reached one million. This will require logistics. The UK should handle this, not the UN. The UN very rarely accomplishes its stated goals. Peace-keeping efforts, except in Cambodia where our late colleague Steve Torok was involved, is more of tampon diplomacy. UN peacekeepers show up immediately after there is blood. Hence tampon diplomacy.

After 68 years of the UN's global governance or the lack thereof, like the IMF and the World Bank, I do not have any confidence the UN will be of any help in any situation until they are reformed, rivaled or replaced. In this Syrian refugee crisis, what assurance do we have that it won't be like the food-for-oil program, where people directly or indirectly connected to UN officials ended up filthy rich and scot-free?

See also: Syria crisis: Child refugees reach "one million"

23 August 2013


Here's the dramatic sales pitch for money, aid and publicity:

"UN agencies say the number of children forced to flee Syria has reached one million, describing the figure as 'a shameful milestone.'

"The UN's refugee agency and Unicef say a further two million children are displaced within the country."

All this makes me curious: What's America's interest in Syria? What did Syria or Assad do to get this attention from Pres. Obama? The Cambodian genocide didn't even register with Pres. Carter. Right off the top this is a very bad move. Is it possible that Pres. Obama is trying to divert the American people's attention from the worsening economy?

See: US preps for possible cruise missile attack on Syrian gov't forces

August 23, 2013


JE comments: It's pretty safe to say that nobody in the US will fall for the old "war to take our minds off the economy" trick...this time. What did Assad do to gain the attention of the US (and the world)? This one is simple: he's committed many abuses in a very nasty civil war, in a country that had known stability for decades.

My thanks to Bienvenido Macario for the US-UN correction.  As for the Syria crisis itself, there are many options--and all of them are bad.

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  • Time is Running Out for Syria: John McCain (from William Kyburz) (John Eipper, USA 08/25/13 4:45 AM)
    William Kyburz (Rochester, NY) sends these comments on the ongoing Syria crisis:

    The following was posted by CNN's Nunu Japaridze on 24 August 2013:

    (CNN)--While watching horrifying images of a possible chemical attack near Damascus, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, grew impassioned when he warned Thursday that time was running out to take action in Syria.

    "When does the United States, with very little cost, stand up for these people and stop this horrific--you can't look at those pictures without being deeply moved. Are we just going to let that go on?" the Arizona Republican said on CNN's 'New Day.'"

    Anti-regime activist groups in Syria say more than 1,300 people were killed in the attack outside Damascus Wednesday, many of them women and children.

    One of the contributing members at WAIS [Eugenio Battaglia--JE] brought out the possibility that the rebels themselves may have had the opportunity and wherewithal to commit this atrocity. It would not be the first time such a thing has been done. To me it is the "end justifies the means" mentality. So, why not drag your biggest bully into the mess?

    I see a pervasive mentality with many Republican hawks over the last dozen years, to jump in first, use US might, and ask questions later.

    In conclusion, I thank President Barack Obama for thinking this one through, getting as many facts together as he can, and then making the ultimate move.

    JE comments:  Meanwhile, we await the UN report.  One can speculate that the rebels would have the most to gain from staging a chemical weapons attack, but it would be just as feasible for Assad to launch the attack and blame it on the rebels.

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    • Time is Running Out for Syria (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/25/13 10:04 AM)
      What really bothers me about the whole Iran, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. situation is that our brilliant foreign relations strategists have spent over time, billions of dollars, countless dead and maimed people (including very good Americans), made a few special interest millionaires at home, made whole armies of hateful enemies everywhere, while pursuing fake dreams like democracy and freedom for all.

      Meanwhile the American standard of living is nosediving, the education system is weakened, drug abuse is rampant, and gangs are proliferating like a giant parasite trying to eat the host. When will we wake up and identify the really serious enemies of American civilization, stop feeding special interests profiting from wars and environmental destruction, and save our country before there is nothing left to save?

      JE comments: Yes, but what about the human tragedy in Syria? Recall when the "West" did nothing about Rwanda. I stand by my statement of yesterday: the Syrian crisis presents many options, and all of them (including doing nothing) are bad.

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      • Time is Running Out for Syria (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 08/26/13 1:53 AM)

        I agree with Tor Guimaraes (25 August). We have to look at the big picture, and Syria is just another symptom of the internal decay that he describes. Rwanda's failure was effected by the same group of people that are now leading the country. The current US ambassador to the UN, who made a career of criticizing the Clintons for Rwanda, is now missing in action on the Syrian question. She was vacationing at the time of the Security Council emergency meeting. Hypocrites and liars populate the government.

        JE comments:  We haven't discussed the new US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, who has held her office only since August 2nd.  She's already gone on vacation?  Francisco Wong-Díaz is referring to Power's book on genocide, A Problem from Hell:  America in the Age of Genocide.  Has anyone in WAISworld read it?

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        • Samantha Power; on Syria (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 08/27/13 4:28 AM)
          I have read Samantha Power's book A Problem from Hell, as well as its famous predecessor article "Bystanders to Genocide." Both are standard references in International Relations courses in the module in International Human Rights. Unfortunately, Power the diplomat/policymaker has been co-opted by the same forces that Power the writer described and criticized!

          Regarding Syria, one aspect of this local crisis us its regional implications. Syria is likely to threaten Israel if the US and its allies attack. Obama's leading from behind and steady hesitation to act forcibly to support his "red line" posture now threatens to engulf the entire region.

          JE comments: I'm sure Pres. Obama regrets his "red line" remark, as the "line in the sand" came to haunt one of his predecessors.  There's a lesson here: avoid "line" metaphors if you're the president.

          Obama's "red line" warning did not prevent Assad from using chemical weapons, and now the US is faced with the distasteful choice between intervening and losing credibility.

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      • Intervene in Syria? A Reuters Poll (John Heelan, UK 08/26/13 2:02 AM)
        When commenting Tor Guimaraes's post of 25 August, JE wrote: "What about the human tragedy in Syria? Recall when the 'West' did nothing about Rwanda. I stand by my statement of yesterday: the Syrian crisis presents many options, and all of them (including doing nothing) are bad."

        According to the Reuters/Ipos poll of 3 days ago, 49.4% of Americans say "Don't intervene," 25.7% say "Intervene," and 24.9% "Don't Know."


        JE comments: No surprise here. The US public has no stomach for another war in the Middle East. (Assad knows this better than anyone.) I'd guess that 75% or so of Americans couldn't locate Syria on a map. I wonder if they are the "Don't Intervenes," the "Intervenes," or the most honest of all, the "Don't Knows."

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      • Syria Crisis (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/26/13 7:49 AM)
        John Eipper's comment on my 25 August post indicates that he completely missed my point. John started with "Yes, but what about the human tragedy in Syria?" It is certainly the end of the world to the innocent families trying to survive and watch their children grow; instead they have widespread destruction. But why focus just on this dramatic human tragedy? As my previous posting attempted to bring out for discussion, but seems as if only Francisco Wong-Díaz (26 August) understood or cared to comment on, the question above is very important because we have great human tragedies unfolding all over the world, some stretching over time for decades.

        John commented: "Recall when the 'West' did nothing about Rwanda." Yes I do, and Syria is much worse. In Rwanda the human tragedy was also very dramatic, but the situation was much simpler and fueled by Western neglect. Rwanda did not have the powerful external special interests fueling the conflict with large amounts of destructive weapons. The situation in Syria is so complicated socio/politically that John is quite correct in saying "the Syrian crisis presents many options, and all of them (including doing nothing) are bad." Everyone agrees on that but what should we do? My opinion is when hell is breaking lose, the best thing to do is try to freeze multilaterally, as much as possible before there is nothing but terrorists left. Assad/Iran/Russia will not give up; neither will the rebels and their patrons.

        Unfortunately, there are even bigger human tragedies unfolding beneath the media glitter. As Francisco stated in support of my original post, "We have to look at the big picture, and Syria is just another symptom ..."

        JE comments:  Sometimes I miss points; sorry.  Regarding the US/Western "options" for Syria, this morning there was an excellent overview on NPR's Morning Edition.  (Yes, classes at the College resume today, and this means I'm back on the road...a lot.)  The takeaway from the report?  A US response in Syria is no longer a matter of if, but of when and what:



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        • Syria's Use of Chemical Weapons (Massoud Malek, USA 08/26/13 2:21 PM)
          Is there any doubt that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians? A year ago, President Obama warned that the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces would be a "red line." Today only about 25 percent of Americans are willing to pass the red line and send our troops to replace Bashar Al-Assad with the Syrian rebels. A group composed of about 50,000 of the Free Syrian Army, 37,000 fighters of the Syrian Liberation Front, 13,000 of the Syrian Islamic Front, and thousands of fighters pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda in Iraq. How will this fighters treat the Alawites after decades of favoritism from the Baathist regime? Will Syrian Christians have a better future with Al-Qaeda? Will the ceasefire with Israel continue, if the Jihadists come to the power? 25 years ago, Washington was pleased by the use of Sarin gas by Saddam Hussein. Today, the use of the same gas by Assad is crossing the red line?

          The Geneva Protocol prohibits the use of "asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices" and "bacteriological methods of warfare." It was signed at Geneva on 17 June 1925 and entered into force on 8 February 1928. Despite the US having been a proponent of the protocol, it took 50 years for the US senate to ratify it.

          In November 2004, 29 years after the US senate ratified the Geneva Protocol, during the Second Battle of Fallujah, Washington Post reporters wrote that "some artillery guns fired white phosphorus rounds that create a screen of fire that cannot be extinguished with water." Insurgents reported being attacked with a substance that melted their skin, a reaction consistent with white phosphorus burns. [Wikipedia]

          "Fallujah, The Hidden Massacre" is a documentary film, first aired on Italy's RAI television network on November 8, 2005. It alleges that the US military deliberately targeted Iraqi civilians and children during the Fallujah offensive as part of its campaign to exterminate opposition to its occupation. The US military responded to the film, by stating that they gave civilians several days of advanced warning of the assault and urged them to evacuate the city. This was done through loudspeakers and leaflets dropped by helicopter. However, men of "fighting age" were stopped from leaving the city; numerous women and children also stayed behind; and a correspondent for the Guardian estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 civilians were still in the city when the assault took place.

          Critics of the film point out that white phosphorus is not considered a "chemical weapon" but an "incendiary weapon," making the distinction that white phosphorus does not poison but burns its subject. After denying for over a year, the US government finally admitted its troops used white phosphorus as an incendiary weapon against Iraqis during the assault on Fallujah. Chemical weapons experts say such attacks are in violation of international law banning the use of chemical weapons.


          Some recently declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials reveal new details about the depth of the US knowledge of how and when Iraq employed the deadly agents. They show that senior US officials, including President Reagan, were being regularly informed about the scale of the nerve gas attacks. They are tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched.

          In March 1984, the CIA reported that Iraq had "begun using nerve agents on the Basrah front and likely will be able to employ it in militarily significant quantities by late this fall."

          In 1987, CIA reconnaissance satellites picked up clear indications that the Iranians were concentrating large numbers of troops and equipment east of the city of Basrah. In late 1987, a secret report, entitled "At The Gates of Basrah," warning that the Iranian 1988 spring offensive was going to be bigger than all previous spring offensives, and this offensive stood a very good chance of breaking through the Iraqi lines and capturing Basrah. The report warned that if Basrah fell, the Iraqi military would collapse and Iran would win the war. President Reagan read the report and wrote a note in the margin addressed to Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci: "An Iranian victory is unacceptable." It was the express policy of Reagan to ensure an Iraqi victory in the war, whatever the cost.

          In March 1988, Iraq launched a nerve gas attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja in northern Iraq. A month later, the Iraqis used aerial bombs and artillery shells filled with sarin against Iranian troop concentrations on the Fao Peninsula southeast of Basrah, helping the Iraqi forces win a major victory and recapture the entire peninsula. According to Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, Washington was very pleased with the result because the Iranians never got a chance to launch their offensive.

          CIA analysts estimated the number of dead as somewhere between "hundreds" and "thousands" in each of the four cases where chemical weapons were used prior to a military offensive.

          Source: An article published on August 26, 2013 by Foreign Policy website:


          JE comments: Is Massoud Malek arguing that since the US speaks with "forked tongue" the Syrian atrocities should be condoned? In any case, this discussion has become moot: Secretary of State Kerry stated today that the Assad regime is "undeniably" guilty of the attack, and a US retaliation will come.

          WAISer speculation on the events of the coming week?  I anticipate the launch of a dozen or so cruise missiles, Russian protests, cautious indignation from China, and then more civil war in Syria.

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          • Syria's Use of Chemical Weapons (John Heelan, UK 08/27/13 7:22 AM)
            Massoud Malek (27 August) asks if there is any doubt that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians. Perhaps the answer at this stage is "yes." No doubt a chemical weapon was used, no doubt the target was civilians but was the perpetrator the Assad regime itself or a "black flag operation" aimed at turning the civil war to a wider conflict by drawing in Western forces.

            I have no sympathy with the Assad regime but fear a wider conflagration. When a black flag operation is suspected, one should always look at who will eventually become beneficiaries, directly or indirectly. Arguments can be made pointing at several countries that would ranging from Middle Eastern neighbours with ideological or religious objectives to Western countries with other objectives.

            Currently it seems that the Syrian situation is a replay of the Gulf War scenario in that the West is deciding a foreign tyrant is to be deposed with its military aid, a WMD has allegedly been used by the tyrant, UN inspectors are being given the runaround by the regime, two major players (US and UK) are actively persuading themselves that they can legally ignore the UN and take unilateral action despite lack of support from their respective electorates.

            Are we going to witness another "Colin Powell" presenting mistaken information to the UN or another "Blair" being economical with the truth to the House of Commons (later termed the "Dodgy Dossier")? If this happens again, which nations will benefit and who could have been tempted to hurry things along with a black flag operation?

            Of course, these comments will be dismissed as just another conspiracy theory. However, history often subsequently shows that previous black flag operations have been perpetrated by outside agencies.

            JE comments:  I'm skeptical on the conspiracy factor, but has anyone been able to answer this question:  did the rebels steal or buy any chemical weapons from Assad's armed forces?  Meanwhile, Russia is warning of "catastrophic consequences" should there be a strike on Syria.  Isn't this more or less how WWI started?  Note that Serbia and Syria even sound similar.

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            • Syria's Use of Chemical Weapons (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/28/13 1:27 AM)
              Even though our distinguished colleague John Heelan comes at the Syrian situation from a dramatically different perspective, one of my quite respectable oil trading advisors seem to share the same opinion. John stated on 27 August, "Currently it seems that the Syrian situation is a replay of the Gulf War scenario in that the West is deciding a foreign tyrant is to be deposed with its military aid, a WMD has allegedly been used by the tyrant, UN inspectors are being given the runaround by the regime, two major players (US and UK) are actively persuading themselves that they can legally ignore the UN and take unilateral action despite lack of support from their respective electorates."

              John Eipper's refusal to accept the likelihood of any conspiracies notwithstanding, one of my oil trading advisors echoes John Heelan's justifiably cynical view with "Here's how to write an award-winning movie: pick a random Middle Eastern country with oil. Insert conflict that can threaten the oil supply. Enter the United States with guns blazing and people dying. And it's not any different this time around. Politicians will become richer, innocent people will die, and thinking Americans will have yet another reason to doubt their government. America's involvement this war around probably won't be as controversial, because many Western countries have already stated their support for the Syrian rebels. Russia's support for the Syrian government will definitely stir things up, but we don't think that will be too big of an issue. In fact, the US has already been training non-Islamist rebels in Jordan and has approved providing lethal arms to this group. US Secretary of State John Kerry has accused the Syrian government of destroying evidence in an area believed to be the site of a chemical weapon attack, and (gasp!) Syria has been refusing to allow the UN to investigate the alleged attack sites. All of this sounds just a little bit too familiar for our taste. We all know how much of a problem the Iraq debacle has been for the US government and its budget. In fact, we may just be weeks away from seeing Tomahawk cruise missiles raining on Damascus.

              "As Doug Casey likes to put it, never let a good crisis go to waste. Though Syria is not a major producer of oil, the impact of its civil war can reach far beyond its borders to countries such as Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. We believe this saber-rattling by the US government is simply another step toward trying to secure the Persian Gulf and its precious oil resources. Every time the US government does this, oil has the potential to skyrocket--which, while being bad news for most people, is fantastic news for those who are already invested in the sector because it lifts all oil plays, whether in the desert or elsewhere. Right now, we're monitoring a promising investment that could massively profit from the next Middle Eastern oil crisis. This company's plans are so secretive that the company's lawyers would not even allow us a site tour to find out about its next-and quite possibly crucial-drill results. However, as soon as the company breaks its silence, Casey Energy Report subscribers will hear about it immediately, for a chance to jump into what may be the energy opportunity of a lifetime."

              JE comments:  Yes, we can count on a spike in oil prices from the Syria uncertainty, although this Frequent Fueler hasn't noticed any increase as of yesterday.

              Never let a good crisis go to waste?  What a troubling thing to say--people in Syria were gassed to death.  And from the US/Western perspective, I don't think anyone in government is welcoming this crisis.  It's become a lose-lose situation for everyone.

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          • Syria's Use of Chemical Weapons (Istvan Simon, USA 08/27/13 9:45 AM)
            Regarding the Fallujah events and the claims of the documentary that Massoud Malek wrote about on 26 August, the Wikipedia article he cited also contains the following quote:

            "The media couldn't have made a bigger pig's ear of the white phosphorus story. So, before moving on to the new revelations from Falluja, I would like to try to clear up the old ones. There is no hard evidence that white phosphorus was used against civilians. The claim was made in a documentary broadcast on the Italian network RAI, called Falluja: the Hidden Massacre. It claimed that the corpses in the pictures it ran 'showed strange injuries, some burnt to the bone, others with skin hanging from their flesh ... The faces have literally melted away, just like other parts of the body. The clothes are strangely intact.' These assertions were supported by a human-rights advocate who, it said, possessed 'a biology degree.'

            "I, too, possess a biology degree, and I am as well qualified to determine someone's cause of death as I am to perform open-heart surgery. So I asked Chris Milroy, professor of forensic pathology at the University of Sheffield, to watch the film. He reported that 'nothing indicates to me that the bodies have been burnt.' They had turned black and lost their skin 'through decomposition.' We don't yet know how these people died. But there is hard evidence that white phosphorus was deployed as a weapon against combatants in Falluja. As this column revealed last Tuesday, US infantry officers confessed that they had used it to flush out insurgents."

            --George Monbiot in The Guardian, November 22, 2005

            I would like to know Massoud's thoughts on this quote.

            Regarding Eugenio Battaglia's reiterated opinion that Wikipedia "only publishes politically correct articles," let me also reiterate that I do not agree, and I think that the article on the documentary film that Massoud cited on Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre is a very good example to illustrate this.

            JE comments: This depends on one's concept of "politically correct"--to accuse the US of war crimes is politically correct in a sense, as it's the kind of thing one commonly hears from US academics. (A defense of Mussolini would be a different story.)

            Next up, Massoud Malek with a further comment on the events in Syria.

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            • US Use of White Phosphorous in Fallujah; on Wikipedia (Massoud Malek, USA 08/26/13 5:00 PM)
              On August 27, Istvan Simon wrote: "I would like to know Massoud Malek's thoughts on George Monbiot's quote in Wikipedia about the battle of Fallujah."

              Contrary to Eugenio Battaglia, who doesn't trust Wikipedia, I do trust Wikipedia, but I am also very careful when I use it. Here is what Washington Post reporters wrote about the use of phosphorus gas in Fallujah, which I put it in my WAIS post from yesterday:

              "Some artillery guns fired white phosphorus rounds that create a screen of fire that cannot be extinguished with water." Insurgents reported being attacked with a substance that melted their skin, a reaction consistent with white phosphorus burns.

              Here is what George Monbiot said on Democracy Now on November 17, 2005, four days before his article in The Guardian which is also in Wikipedia:

              "The Chemical Weapons Convention could not be clearer. There are two kinds of chemicals listed under it: One is the scheduled chemicals, such as phosgene and mustard gas and VX gas which cannot be used under any circumstances; then there is all other toxic chemicals which may be used for purposes which do not depend on the use of their toxic properties. However, the moment you use one of those other chemicals for its toxic properties against human beings, you are in breach of the convention. And what we saw very clearly from that extract in Field Artillery magazine was that they were firing these munitions directly at the combatants in Fallujah in order to exert the toxic effects of those munitions upon those combatants to flush them out so they could then be killed. In doing so, the US Army was acting in direct contravention of the Chemical Weapons Convention. It committed a war crime.

              "Well, the corporate media has picked it up pretty well comprehensively, and they have messed it up pretty well comprehensively. The misreporting of this issue is second almost to none that I've ever come across before. They have managed to mix up the use of white phosphorus against military versus civilian targets. For example, repeatedly, I'm saying, in the media, that it's a war crime if it's used against civilians but not if it's used against the military. The Chemical Weapons Convention does not mention the word civilian. It does not mention the word non-combatant. There is no distinction made. If you use white phosphorus as a weapon against human beings, that is a war crime. It doesn't matter whether those human beings are civilians. It doesn't matter whether they are military. It remains a war crime.

              "They've mixed up several other things, as well. And the result of this is that if we're not careful, we can see excuses made for the use of this weapon as a weapon of war. And the whole point of the Chemical Weapons Convention is to prevent that from recurring. If we look back to the first World War and saw how mustard gas and phosgene were used and saw in the subsequent commemorations of that war these lines and lines of men with their hands on each other's shoulders walking along, because they could not see, because they had been blinded by this gas or their lungs had been destroyed by this gas, the undermining of the Chemical Weapons Convention threatens to bring about the kind of gas warfare which we saw in the first World War and which we saw in the war between Iran and Iraq. It's absolutely essential that we get this story right and we make it completely impossible for states such as the United States or, indeed, any other, to use poison toxic chemicals as a weapon of war and to use it ever again.

              "Amy Goodman: Well, George Monbiot and Maurizio Torrealta, I want to thank you both very much for being with us. And I want to point out I don't think the military is confused, because when Lieutenant Colonel Boylan first on Democracy Now! denied the use of white phosphorus as a weapon, he said as a weapon against people. He didn't say insurgents or civilians. He said we didn't use it against people. So that's an interesting point, and I wish they had joined us today.


              P.S. There is a picture of one of the victims of the phosphorus gas on the site.

              JE comments:  Phosphorous, an incendiary agent, would be in the same category as flamethrowers.  To be sure, it's ultimately strange to talk about legal and illegal ways to kill people, but such are the often oxymoronic "rules of war."

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          • US Response in Syria (Bienvenido Macario, USA 08/28/13 2:41 AM)
            When commenting Massoud Malek's post of 26 August, JE asked: "WAISer speculation on the events of the coming week? I anticipate the launch of a dozen or so cruise missiles, Russian protests, cautious indignation from China, and then more civil war in Syria."

            After watching the round table discussion in the news below, I am hopeful that Pres. Obama won't have to resort to military action for now.

            See: Syria Is Headed for Western Strike, Russia Says

            By Henry Meyer--Aug 26, 2013


            One of the panelists claims that the rebels are also butchers or even worse than Assad. The fact is, we don't know who the rebels are.

            Syria is not Egypt, which controls the Suez Canal through which world commerce passes. It is not Iran that could cut the source of 20% of the world's traded oil by blocking the 21-mile wide Strait of Hormuz.

            Syria is the former Soviet Union's Cold War ally. I would recommend consulting with Russia. I still do not understand why the US is even contemplating violating the sovereignty of a UN member in good standing.

            With regards to the US condoning Iraq's gas attack (see Massoud Malek), things were very different during the Cold War compared to a globalized economy. Today even Russia has a problem with Islamic extremists.

            JE comments:  Meanwhile, the world waits.  Interesting times for WAIS, scary times for Syria and its neighbors.

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            • Thoughts on the Syria Quagmire (Miles Seeley, USA 08/28/13 1:24 PM)
              When I lived in Jordan, there were stories about how Basher Assad's father Hafiz Assad handled unrest. He would pick a village alleged to be an insurgent hotbed, cordon it off, and bring in tanks, planes, artillery, and finally infantry. Every structure would be razed to the ground, every living thing executed. For some time thereafter, there were no more threats of rebellion.

              Who knows how brutal the rebels are? Probably about as brutal as Basher Assad. Could US military action improve things for the people of Syria? Just look at how our intervention has helped the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and the development of democracy.

              "Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it..."

              Yes, JE, I agree that we have options, all of them bad.

              JE comments: Like father, like son. (The subject line of this post, "Thoughts on the Syria Quagmire," is my editorial flourish. I vote we use it to head future comments on events in Syria. By the way, has the world forgotten about another quagmire, the one in Egypt?)

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              • Thoughts on the Syria Quagmire (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/29/13 4:47 AM)
                Two evenings ago I could not believe my senses when I found myself in agreement with the usually brilliant intellects hosting the Fox News Channel. Hannity and some commentator were spouting off against US intervention in Syria. I mean, that is a serious discrepancy with past experience. He actually made sense: The rebels or anti-American interests may have faked the chemical attack on hordes of little children to lure the US in, Al-Qaeda and other similar groups are stronger and more ready to take over than our proverbial dog in the race, etc. I was very confused by such agreement and immediately started looking for where could my judgement have gone wrong.

                This morning, one of my favorite and very respectable global security advisors seems to agree with Hannity's and my opinion. Again, John Eipper's refusal to accept the likelihood of any conspiracies notwithstanding, STRATFOR accepts such a possibility. "The general consensus is Syrian President Bashar Assad ordered the use of chemical weapons against his enemies. The problem is trying to figure out why he would do it. He was not losing the civil war. In fact, he had achieved some limited military success recently. He knew that US President Obama had said the use of chemical weapons would cross a red line... Could the rebels have staged the attack in order to draw in an attack on al-Assad? Could the pictures have been faked? Could a third party, hoping to bog the United States down in another war, have done it? The answers to these questions are important, because they guide the US and its allies' response. The official explanation could be absolutely true--or not. We can't shy away from alternative explanations simply because they seem outlandish and conspiratorial. Nor can we embrace them. ..."


                With so many usually conflicting sources in agreement against a US strike against Syria, perhaps we should not.

                JE comments: I suspect that if McCain or Romney were in the White House, Hannity and Co. would be wrapping themselves in the flag and clamoring for war.  Meanwhile, there are reports that a US strike could occur as early as today--perhaps before the Russian ships reach the E Mediterranean?

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                • Questions on Syria Quagmire: from William Kyburz (John Eipper, USA 08/29/13 3:39 PM)
                  Our reader in Rochester, NY, William Kyburz, sends the following:

                  Hope all is well at Adrian College, and that you are looking forward to a new year of teaching. [Thanks; the first week has been great so far, but very busy--JE.]

                  I want us to imagine a declassified document sixty or so years from now, that purports that Al-Qaeda was able to get chemical weapons and use them on August 21, 2013 against civilians.

                  It has become quite clear that nobody knows all the facts (who, what, when, where, why, etc.) about the chemical attacks on the aforementioned date. As many are saying, "This is no slam dunk," a reference to George Tenet's insistence in 2002 that US intelligence showed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction which turned out to be wrong.

                  Questions still linger about this incident, including:

                  Who ordered the attack,

                  Who has these weapons in their control,

                  Who has custody of them, and

                  Who possesses them.

                  Are these weapons a threat to the national security of the US?

                  What can the US really do about it?

                  Must the US do something about it to save face?

                  What are the risks to the international community as a whole?

                  As the days go by the questions seem to mount, and the only truth we know so far is that on August 21, 2013, chemical weapons were used on innocent women and children.

                  From JE's recent remarks regarding Russian warships moving into the area, this proves that this is definitely not a slam dunk.

                  Now, why can't the international community cooperate on this very important issue? There is a time to compete with our ideologies and there is a time to cooperate.

                  To use one of my favorite metaphors, "The forest is burning, and the lion and deer must run side by side, to escape the fire and look forward to chasing each other another day."

                  JE comments:  Essential questions, and yes , the forest is burning--but have the Russian bear and the American...deer (?) cooperated on anything since 1945? Just to go out on a limb: why can't the Russians be convinced to do the work of removing Assad?  Then there would be nobody to protest, except maybe the Chinese.

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                • French View on Syria Intervention (Carmen Negrin, France 08/30/13 6:29 AM)
                  JE asked me off-Forum to comment on the view in France on the Syria situation. It is difficult to say. There seems to be no opposition to Hollande's support of the opposition to Assad and to a possible intervention, as long as it is a distant one. People are more preoccupied with their future pensions and the coming increase in taxes than by this war.

                  It seems to me that the only ones eager to see a war (as opposed to the present civil war) are the Russians, to test their anti-missile technology! In any case, if there is no war, the Russians will look like the saviors, and if there is a war, they might put us all in a real mess, and thus also look greater than they really are! The Russians have the power right now.

                  JE comments: Carmen Negrín sent this comment before the UK's Parliamentary vote refusing to support a US strike on Assad.  As in 1781, France is now our lone partner. I am intrigued by Carmen's suggestion that Russia is presently in a position to call the shots in Syria. What are the real chances the Russians would attempt to shoot down any US cruise missiles?  This could really escalate.

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                  • on WAIS and "Our" (John Heelan, UK 08/30/13 11:28 AM)
                    When commenting Carmen Negrín's post of 30 August, JE wrote: "As in 1781, France is now our lone partner" (emphasis added).  Is "our" appropriate in the international community that is WAIS?

                    Perhaps UK scepticism was well expressed by David Cameron when he said yesterday, "I remember 2003. I was sitting two rows from the back on the Opposition Benches. It was just after my son had been born and he was not well, but I was determined to be here. I wanted to listen to the man who was standing right here (i.e. the then Prime Minister Tony Blair) and believe everything that he told me. We are not here to debate those issues today, but one thing is indisputable: the well of public opinion was well and truly poisoned by the Iraq episode and we need to understand the public scepticism."

                    The UK remembers--and is scarred--by the tissue of lies on both sides of the Atlantic justifying the Iraq War. As the old maxim goes: "Fool me once, silly you: fool me twice, silly me!"

                    JE comments: I stand 100% corrected on this one.  The only "our" in WAISworld is WAIS itself. Or the world.  Sorry about my chauvinism.

                    Interestingly, in the first version of my comment I had written "America's lone partner," but I didn't want non-US Americans to accuse me of hubris. And United States' is a clumsy possessive. So "our" it became, erring on the side of greater error.

                    How about,  "[the government of] France is presently the lone partner of [the government of] the United States on the Syria question."

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                  • Syria Intervention and Russia (Carmen Negrin, France 08/31/13 5:01 AM)
                    In response to JE's comment to my post of 30 August, the Russians will not shoot down US missiles! The Syrians will use the Russian anti-missiles for them.

                    The Russians will use their veto at the UN and look like the peaceful guys which they aren't, and since they are not an ex-colonial power in the region, they will also benefit from all the regional sympathies. This is not the case of the US, which has been buying sympathy for years, nor of the Europeans who have abused these countries for many decades.

                    Russia has had a consistent stand all along. This is not the case of the Occidental powers. The misadventure of PM Cameron is only one example of the West's apparent weaknesses, hesitations and contradictions. The main loser in all this, besides the Syrian people, is the UN and its principles, which remain mere words. It is difficult to build world peace like that!

                    JE comments: Yes, Russia is scoring a great deal of positive PR in the region. But to raise the obvious question: isn't there any grass-roots sympathy in the Middle East for the victims of the gas attack?  Certainly there is, as well as much hatred for Assad, but a Franco-American strike would probably channel all this sentiment into rage against the Yankee...and the Gaul.

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                    • Syria Intervention (John Heelan, UK 08/31/13 11:03 AM)
                      Carmen Negrín commented on 31 August: "The misadventure of PM Cameron is only one example of the West's apparent weaknesses, hesitations and contradictions."

                      Would bombing the Syrian people be in their best interests? Or can we expect a rerun of the PR-friendly descriptions of "surgical strikes"--even though one such "precision bombing" (another euphemism) caused an "own goal" for the US when it destroyed a Chinese embassy building in Belgrade on May 7 1999, as well as collateral damage with sundry others in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

                      Another contradiction challenges the view that primary reason for US military action would be to benefit the Syrian people.

                      "As we've said, President Obama's decision-making will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States" (per Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for Obama's national security council, indicating that the Obama Administration would consider acting unilaterally):


                      I am confused! I thought the claimed primary objective of the US planned military action was in the best interests of the Syrian people, not those of the US. Perhaps Obama could inform us what those US "best interests" are?

                      JE comments: There is a contradiction of purpose: would punishing Assad be an act of revenge for the victims, an enforcement of international law, or an execution of US interests? The latter is the hardest to swallow--Assad was never "our bastard," but at least until two years ago Syria was a stable nation.

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