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PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post Consequences of Syria Intervention
Created by John Eipper on 09/01/13 3:53 AM

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Consequences of Syria Intervention (Phyllis Gardner, USA, 09/01/13 3:53 am)

Fascinating thread re:  Syria. I definitely do not have the gravitas to comment, more than to say that this conundrum is heinous and not easy. For a person, such as I, who opposed the Iraq war vehemently, I find myself now torn. And I am very sorry for Obama, whose every word is horribly scrutinized (witness the recent Wall Street Journal editorial criticizing him for the comment on "shot across the bow" for saying any attack would be an empty gesture). But I actually agreed with the final conclusion of that WSJ editorial, which called for a strike on the air defenses (runways and whatever planes that could be taken out), as a credible limited strike to make a moral statement against the use of chemical weapons.

The issue is confounding. France stands with us, while Britain backs down. Both parties, highly partisan, are absolutely divided. The call for Congressional approval today by Obama is being scrutinized by a high-power microscope.

In the end, I would go for a strike for moral reasons, not for regime change. The idea of taking out runways, which would have a powerful effect in preventing transfers of weapons from Iran, etc., is a good way to put a moral stamp of opposition to the use of chemical weapons that killed over 1000 citizens, including over 400 children.

JE comments:  I'm overjoyed to hear from our esteemed Chair Emerita, Phyllis Gardner.  WAISer newbies may not know that Phyllis single-handedly kept WAIS going upon Prof. Hilton's retirement and passing.  We thank you, Phyllis!

Does the possibility of a strike on Syria boil down to the moral imperative?  I'm finding myself in agreement here.  Assad may not be cowed, but future Assads will be.

(Dr. Gardner has also sent a note on the dreaded suppository, which I'll post later today.)



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  • Consequences of Syria Intervention; Have the Rebels Admitted Responsibility? (Michael Sullivan, USA 09/01/13 5:00 PM)
    I have to offer some counters to Phyllis Gardner's portrayal (1 September) of striking the Syrian runways as the answer. First of all, Iran can send weapons overland to Syria, as they don't have to be flown in.

    More important is that our TLAM missiles fired from US surface ships close enough to be in range to strike Syrian targets also puts those ships in range of Syrian surface-to-surface missiles to strike our surface ships. Supposedly there are five US missile-launching ships sitting off the Syrian coast. The Russians have supplied Syria mobile launched, anti-ship missiles, probably manned by Russians. I saw a report that said there were several large Russian transport planes sitting at various airports with these missile launchers inside, just waiting for a TLAM attack so then they can deploy these mobile launchers if they haven't already, but they're leery of satellite pictures discovering what they have. Can you imagine the reaction in the US of a Syrian missile hitting a US Navy ship with the associated casualties? If our missiles were launched by US submarines it would be much safer.


    However, we face the same dilemma we faced bombing Haiphong Harbor with Russian ships in the harbor. I remember during the Vietnam War they tried at courts martial two USAF pilots when some of their bomb shrapnel strayed and hit Russian ships.


    If we launch this punitive strike, what does that do for Israel and how do they react? Does Syria or Iran or both launch an attack on Israel? Russia has threatened to strike Saudi Arabia if they get involve supporting the rebels fighting the Assad government. How else could Russia react?


    Any use of US fighter/attack aircraft to further the attack will cost us aircraft and aircrew, as the Syrians have a formidable integrated air defense system (IADS). We're spoiled in that the US has lost only one fighter/attack jet since OIF 1 up through the entire war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that was an A-10 over Baghdad at 1,500 feet under an overcast and we did get the pilot back. However, we did lose six Harriers destroyed and two heavily damaged during a Taliban ground attack on Camp Bastion, Afghanistan last year. We've had a few aircraft accidents with US aircraft, but no combat losses in the air. I doubt we'll launch fighter/attack aircraft for a limited punitive strike on Syria, as it will increase the chance for losses.


    To me, let the two sides fight it out and let the UN try to do what it was created to do and try and bring about a ceasefire and an agreement acceptable to both sides. It's like we're given a choice of supporting Hitler or Stalin! Both sides would do us in, given the chance. The turmoil it could bring to the Mid-East and maybe other areas of the world isn't worth the risk. We didn't act in Rwanda when a million or two million people were killed and chopped to pieces. To me, that's just as bad as a gas attack, though it isn't covered in the Articles of War or whatever they're called.


    Are we sure Assad launched the gas attack? I've just read where a rebel commander said the rebels had an accident handling the gas and it was their fault. I've seen videos of the rebels moving gas canisters around. Who is telling the truth? Is it disinformation and fake videos to the maximum used by both sides? We've been there before with WMDs in Iraq.


    I'm glad President Obama is going to the Congress for consensus, and I hope they don't give it to him.


    I don't believe President Obama would attack with punitive TLAM strikes without the approval of Congress, because if anything went wrong it would be a disaster for his Administration.


    Stand by for a huge, unexpected major development as it always seems to happen!


    *******************


    Finally, see below. This is the sort of news that is being reported. Is it true or is it disinformation? I wouldn't go near Syria with a punitive strike, period! But if we do we'd better be sure we have the facts right.


    "Rebels Admit Responsibility for Chemical Weapons Attack"


    http://www.infowars.com/rebels-admit-responsibility-for-chemical-weapons-attack/


    JE comments: Wow; have we found the smoking gun that implicates the rebels (and their suppliers, Saudi Arabia), or is it more or less a fabrication? The "AP reporter" cited in the article, Dale Gavlak (or "Dave" Gavlak, as she is identified at the bottom of the page), does work for the organization, but the AP was quick to stress that the article was not published under its banner. If not, why not? It would be the scoop of the year.


    Another question lingers: Are the Saudis supplying the Syrian rebels with chemical weapons? Can't the US rein in its supposed ally?


    Many thanks to Michael Sullivan for outlining the tactical risks of a Syria strike. Bottom line: a missile attack would put US surface ships in harm's way, and an airstrike would likely result in loss of planes and personnel. One can imagine the President lying awake at night, thinking of the political and social backlash of a destroyer or two going down--and what if a Russian is the one to pull the trigger?



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    • Consequences of Syria Intervention (Tor Guimaraes, USA 09/02/13 7:40 AM)
      General Michael Sullivan (2 September) has always impressed me as someone who is broad-minded, knows what he is talking about and measures his words carefully. Combined with the wisdoms posted by John Heelan, it seems to me it would be a serious mistake for the Obama administration to strike Syria under any pretense.

      Assisting the rebels in destabilizing the country was a first mistake, and things did not play out as we had planned. Now that the situation has turned against the bad coalition of rebels, the US is being slowly dragged into the conflict by other parties. There is no telling where this is going to end, except it will not be favorable to us. If all we had to do was dispatch a few cruise missiles to save face I would not be so concerned. But the situation is obviously getting out of control and there are some big players with a lot at stake. Nothing useful will be accomplished by the US strikes and the potential for major strategic disasters has grown too much for any further tactical action based on anything but clear necessity.

      JE comments:  How much of a role did the US/NATO/"West" really play in destabilizing Syria?  Sometimes nasty situations develop in other nations because of internal factors alone.
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    • Consequences of Syria Intervention (Miles Seeley, USA 09/02/13 2:03 PM)
      I have been waiting for someone of Gen. Michael Sullivan's stature and experience to lay out some of the harsh realities of a military strike against Syria. (See Michael's post of 2 September.) He included facts I did not know and may never have found out--our ships and aircraft that would be used in a strike, and there would likely be losses, for example.

      My thoughts have been more along the lines of, "We cannot seem to remember and learn from the events of even the past decade or so. The Middle East resembles a sinkhole for us. We have sunk billions of dollars and lost thousands of lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I fail to see how anyone is much better off because of it." And we should also learn that the mass of people in that region have no experience in, nor much knowledge of, our brand of democracy and all the individual rights and protections it entails. All the years I have lived, and all the years spent living overseas, have made me refuse to even think about trying to be the world's moral policeman. Or any kind of policeman, for that matter.


      JE comments: Miles Seeley raises a fundamental question: is anyone's life better off after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars? Perhaps schoolgirls in Afghanistan? The Kurds and the Shia in Iraq?  I hope Vincent Littrell will send his thoughts.



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      • Syria (Nigel Jones, UK 09/03/13 3:35 AM)
        Having been leading a short weekend tour of the Western front (www.historicaltrips.com), I have been out of the WAIS loop recently and unable to comment on events since the British House of Commons found its long-lost cojones and rejected David Cameron's headlong rush into yet another bloody Middle Eastern military adventure.

        Reading WAIS comments on the unfolding crisis, I find myself in most agreement with Massoud Malek. It really does beggar belief that--behind Obama's dithering vacillations--the US is apparently still contemplating launching yet another war in a region where all its idiotic meddling has produced since 2003 has been more than a million deaths and an upsurge of Islamic fundamentalism which has seen Islamist or Jihadist forces take control in Tunisia, Libya, and (until the army's recent coup) Egypt too.


        Do Americans have such short memories? Are they aware that the Obama administration is proposing to help the buddies and brothers of those who visited 9/11 on the US take power in yet another Middle Eastern state?  (The so-called Syrian rebels are increasingly clearly the same sort of Al-Qaeda front jihadist international brigades who fought in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.)  The rebels possess and have used chemical weapons just as the Assad regime has, and to me the most recent outrage bears all the hallmarks of a "false flag" operation specifically designed to lure the west into war. (For evidence on this see the opinions of the UN official Carla del Ponte, who says that the rebels have used Sarin gas against civilians.)


        Why, then are we assisting in the destruction of another secular regime which, for all its manifest faults, at least defended the rights of minority peoples in Syria--Christians, Alawites and Druze--to continue to exist. A victory for the rebels that Obama is proposing to support with military strikes would see the extermination or expulsion of these peoples and the addition of yet another rabidly anti-western Arab state to the list of those which have already fallen.


        The "we must do something" brigade have yet to explain how lobbing missiles into the cauldron of an ethnic and religious civil war will help to bring peace and reconciliation to that benighted land. It will, of course, merely kill more Syrians--including, inevitably, women and children; heighten the already stratospheric levels of hostility to the US in the region; anger and annoy Russia and China; and risk a widening and worsening of an already horrendous human tragedy. It will be yet another major Western mistake, to which public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic is adamantly opposed.


        Indeed, so insane is the idea that I suspect a hidden agenda behind the thirst for war displayed by the US and UK administrations in frank opposition to their electors: an unholy alliance of Saudi and Gulf State money advancing their aims of opposing Iranian Shi'ite influence and eliminating a "heretic" secular regime, and Israeli influence, since as long as Muslims are killing each other in an inter-Islamic civil war, the less likely it is that they will unite and turn on the Jewish state.


        JE comments:  The "we must do something" brigade is not calling for regime change, but for a moral statement that chemical weapon use will not go unpunished.  Is this hopelessly idealistic?  Can such an act be "moral" if it inevitably causes additional deaths of Syrian civilians?


        Nigel Jones raises the Saudi question.  We can only speculate about what type of pressure the Kingdom is exerting on Obama to strike Assad.  Recall the very troubling report (see Michael Sullivan, 2 September) that the Saudis may be supplying the Syrian rebels with chemical weapons.



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        • Syria (John Heelan, UK 09/03/13 7:04 AM)
          When commenting Nigel Jones's post of 3 September, JE wrote: "The 'we must do something' [in Syria] brigade is not calling for regime change, but for a moral statement that chemical weapon use will not go unpunished. Is this hopelessly idealistic? Can such an act be 'moral' if it inevitably causes additional deaths of Syrian civilians?"

          As I have already suggested, "morality" is a convenient fig-leaf covering a nation's securing its long-and short-term objectives.


          (By the way, today is the 74th anniversary of WWII breaking out. Let's hope that it is not a harbinger of WWIII arising from hasty and mistaken US actions.)


          For his part, Robert Whealey asked on 3 September: "is it possible to determine who fired the first shot in any of the Arab-Israeli wars?"


          I would widen that question to say "in any war," even that which started at North Bridge Lexington in 1775.


          I have argued that "black flag" operations have often precipitated military actions, and the Syrian case might be no different. The possible perpetrators are the Syrian army, the rebels, a black flag team firing from Army-held territory into the rebel territory, a black flag team firing from and into its own territory.


          The UN inspectors are not charged to determine who fired the shells but just to confirm such an attack took place. So we shall probably never know. Given the uncertainty, it would be premature for the US to deliver "punishment" to the people it considers perpetrators, especially given that the evidence appears to come from parties with vested interests in the US exerting its military might against Syria. Remember the provenance of the flawed intelligence that lead to the second Iraq War!


          JE comments: The preponderance of WAIS opinion is against intervention in Syria. In fact, we are seeing a general agreement among WAISers on both ends of the political spectrum: stay out of Syria and let the warring parties fight it out. Without naming any names, allow me to pose this frank question to our newly dovish colleagues on the right: how exactly is Syria is different from Iraq?


          As President Obama prepares for a Congressional vote next week, he is caught in a bind between pleasing the hawks like Sen. McCain, who seek a robust, regime-changing intervention, and members of his own party, who want reassurance that any attack on Assad will be symbolic and painless. See this piece from yesterday's The Guardian:


          http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/02/john-mccain-obama-syria-strikes-congress



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          • Syria Crisis: Different from Iraq? (Anthony J Candil, USA 09/04/13 7:18 AM)
            To answer JE's question (see John Heelan, 3 September) about the difference between the Syrian and Iraqi crises, to start with I'll have to say that Iraq was threatening other countries--e.g. Kuwait and even Saudi Arabia, and certainly Israel, as well as Iran. It thus represented a menace to stability and peace in the region, and free navigation and rights to passage through the Persian Gulf. Even if the whole issue of WMD proved to be a fiasco, Iraq (Saddam) wanted to have them. What happened later and how things turned out is another problem. Not the case with Syria.

            Israel is not even threatened, and an attack from Syria could probably materialize only if and when we attack Syria. I guess Israel isn't happy with either Assad or the rebels. So?


            Syria was supposed to be on the way to becoming a more stable and open country two years ago, before the so called "Arab Spring" disrupted everything. Assad has been always a ruthless and cruel leader--like father like son--and always backed and supported by the Soviet Union, now Russia, but to a point under control.


            Now hell broke loose and all kinds of evils are unleashed. Again it's not our problem. A symbolic and painless attack, in the apparent view of Sen. McCain, is a stupidity, and he--with his wonderful military background--should know what he's talking about.


            I'd like to add that we should also give a thought to from whom Syria got the technology at first to make biochemical weapons, and everything will point at the former Warsaw Pact and former USSR so, once more, please tell Mr Putin to clean up his mess. (I read once that France also helped to build some "innocent" labs in Syria, so maybe France altogether with Russia should now cooperate to put an end to all this!)


            I don't buy these ideas about making an example and giving Iran a warning. That's nonsense, and it's time for Washington to build a "realpolitik" and not play games with the lives of so many people.


            JE comments:  It doesn't seem that long ago that Assad Fils was seen as a kinder and gentler version of his dad:  the "Opthamologist Dictator," and a reformer to boot.



            Note which nation has been conspicuously silent during the recent Syria crisis:  Israel.

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            • Syria Crisis and Israel (John Heelan, UK 09/05/13 4:05 AM)
              When commenting Anthony Candil's post of 4 September, JE wrote: "Note which nation has been conspicuously silent during the recent Syria crisis: Israel."

              Not quite!


              "The bulk of evidence proving the Assad regime's deployment of chemical weapons--which would provide legal grounds essential to justify any western military action--has been provided by Israeli military intelligence, the German magazine Focus has reported... The 8200 unit of the Israeli Defence Forces, which specialises in electronic surveillance, intercepted a conversation between Syrian officials regarding the use of chemical weapons, an unnamed former Mossad official told Focus. The content of the conversation was relayed to the US, the ex-official said."


              http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/28/israeli-intelligence-intercepted-syria-chemical-talk


              "This time, too, Israeli military intelligence has reportedly played a key role in providing evidence of Assad's chemical weapons use... According to the Focus report Saturday, a squad specializing in wire-tapping within the IDF's prestigious 8200 intelligence unit intercepted a conversation between high-ranking regime officials regarding the use of chemical agents at the time of the attack. The report, which cited an ex-Mossad official who insisted on remaining anonymous, said the intercepted conversation proved that Assad's regime was responsible for the use of nonconventional weapons."


              http://www.timesofisrael.com/israeli-intelligence-seen-as-central-to-us-case-against-syria/

              JE comments:  Interesting; I stand corrected.  Still, there must be ambivalence in Israel about a US-led strike on Assad, as which nation would be first in line for retaliation from a bloodied but still dangerous Syrian regime?
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              • Syria Crisis and Israel (Robert Gard, USA 09/05/13 9:50 AM)
                In response to John Heelan and JE's comment (5 September), perhaps of greater Israeli concern is the potential failure of the US to carry out its threat of a punishing strike on Syria, suggesting it may not follow through with military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuke or reaching the point at which it could do so quickly without being detected.

                JE comments: I'm grateful for Gen. Gard's perspective on the Syria crisis. I gather from his response that he supports the limited strike option.  Does it really boil down to the US being forced to act in order to preserve its credibility?



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              • Syria Crisis and Israel (Tor Guimaraes, USA 09/04/13 5:00 PM)

                John Heelan (5 September) just forwarded to WAIS a very important and not widely available piece of information: that Israel is providing critical "advice" to the US government about the Syrian situation. Perhaps this is why the Russian and Chinese governments are not accepting the "information." I also would think twice before believing that "a squad specializing in wire-tapping within the IDF's prestigious 8200 intelligence unit intercepted a conversation between high-ranking regime officials regarding the use of chemical agents at the time of the attack." Seems like the proverbial fox in the hen house.



                Also, contrary to John Eipper's comment that "there must be ambivalence in Israel about a US-led strike on Assad, as which nation would be first in line for retaliation from a bloodied but still dangerous Syrian regime?" That is silly. The Israeli government would be only too happy with any US strikes against Syria or any other antagonistic country. That gets the US more deeply involved in the Middle East and increases the chances of further US involvement in the future, thus relieving some Israeli anxiety. On the other hand, if Assad would be stupid enough to attack Israel for whatever reason, the IDF is more than capable of defending itself and get the upper hand with or without the US behind it.


                JE comments:  I hate to sound silly, but even if Israel can trounce Assad in the long term, doesn't it worry about a desperate Assad landing a lucky Scud or three in the meantime?  And US support of Israel is sacrosanct, so I don't see why the Israelis would need any US strike as a "guarantee" of its commitment in the region.  On the other hand, there is the credibility factor (see Robert Gard's post from earlier today, 5 September).

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                • Syria Crisis and Israel; Further Thoughts (Tor Guimaraes, USA 09/06/13 2:13 AM)

                  John Eipper (see his comments to my post of 5 September) needs to adjust his perception of how worried the Israeli government is about barefoot Arab countries like Syria. Even at the peak of its military power, Syria was only one of a few Arab countries whose combined military power was barely enough to worry the Israeli military. Now, weakened by civil war, Syria is just a comfortable excuse for the IDF to play what-if games under the protection of the US.


                  What, you don't believe me?


                  Then listen to what the former Israeli Intelligence Chief, Amos Yaldin, told the audience at the Israel Policy Forum in February 2013:


                  "And this military [Syrian], which is a huge threat to Israel, is now also weakening and, in a way, disintegrating. We still have risk from Syria--a risk of being an Al-Qaeda country, a Somalia-type country--but from military point of view, each one of these are less dangerous than the Syrian regular army."


                  http://www.israelpolicyforum.org/interview/call-general-amos-yadlin-elections-iran-syria


                  Further, at first I believed our Secretary of State, but the more you dig for information, the less credible he becomes. Here is Kerry confirming intelligence: "We know rockets came only from regime-controlled areas and landed only in opposition-held areas." Basing the intelligence on these rockets is all the more questionable, as the rockets alleged to have been used by Assad bear a strong resemblance to a 1970s' American weapon--the SLUFAE . Although SLUFAE had been shelved, the concept was built upon by several countries--namely Israel. According to a former UN inspector, "a very similar munition was found 3-5 years ago, during one of the Israeli excursions, into Southern Lebanon." (Foreign Policy ).


                  http://killerapps.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/08/28/were_syria_s_nerve_gas_rockets_based_on_an_american_design

                  JE comments:  Is Tor Guimaraes suggesting that the Israelis were somehow behind the chemical attack in Syria?  I'm intrigued that 35 year-old rockets would still work.  This is somewhat off our topic, but I have my hands full keeping my 1979 Cadillac alive...and it's a Cadillac!
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                  • Syria Crisis and Israel (Tor Guimaraes, USA 09/07/13 10:48 AM)
                    Commenting on my 6 September post, John Eipper asked, "is Tor Guimaraes suggesting that the Israelis were somehow behind the chemical attack in Syria?" Please assume nothing; what I report is a straightforward case and you decide. Needless to say, there is a huge amount of uncertainty regarding the Syrian situation, which is why some of the smartest and best-informed people in WAIS have expressed strong opinions against attacking a sovereign nation based on questionable information at best. We should listen to them.

                    That the Israeli government or some other party may have manipulated the situation to induce a stronger US intervention in Syria is always possible, but who can blame them? There is room to suspect other more likely people like the Saudi government, which badly wants to weaken Iran and Syria. The whole situation is an informational nightmare making our Secretary of State look simple-minded or worse, if he is attempting to deceive the American people. If your head is not spinning yet, please consider that in May, according to Haaretz, former Bush official Lawrence Wilkerson claimed that Israel may be behind the chemical attacks in Syria.


                    http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/west-of-eden/former-bush-administration-official-israel-may-be-behind-use-of-chemical-arms-in-syria.premium-1.519172


                    Carla del Ponte, a member of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, had told Swiss TV that there was no evidence of government use of nerve gas, and testimony from victims strongly suggested that it was the rebels who had used Sarin. In spite of this report, Washington announced it would continue to arm the rebels, citing "evidence" that Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people.


                    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57589477/u.s-will-arm-syrian-rebels-but-will-allies-follow/


                    Another interesting question is that if Obama's now infamous red line was crossed, how could Washington refuse gas masks to the rebels?


                    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/08/29/obama-refused-to-send-gas-masks-to-syria-opposition-for-over-a-year.html


                    Last, there are also reports that a rebel's father told reporters that the Saudis supplied the chemical weapons without instructions, or without telling them what they were. See: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/357587


                    JE comments:  A nerve agent, Sarin does not have to be inhaled to be horrifically toxic.  It is also absorbed through the skin.  How useful, then, are gas masks, as opposed to full haz-mat suits?



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                    • Carla del Ponte (Istvan Simon, USA 09/08/13 6:58 AM)
                      There have been multiple mentions now in WAIS of Carla del Ponte (most recently, Tor Guimaraes on 7 September) in connection with the horrendous August 21 chemical weapons attack on a suburb of Damascus.

                      The del Ponte interview that mentioned alleged rebel use of chemical weapons was made in May 2013, so clearly it had nothing to do with an attack that took place three months later.


                      So what exactly did Carla del Ponte say? She said that the UN commission of inquiry, which at the time had not had access to Syria at all, and therefore had to rely on interviews with refugees in adjacent countries, had uncovered testimony about alleged chemical weapons use by the rebels. She also said that this testimony is not conclusive and falls short of establishing any specific use of chemical weapons by the rebels rather than the government. She did not say that Assad had not used chemical weapons, but that the rebels did. She simply said that she was "stupefied," that the first testimony that they heard referring to chemical weapons use, was by the rebels and not the government.


                      The out-of-context mention of this interview in connection with the chemical weapons use in Damascus last month is misleading.


                      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10039672/UN-accuses-Syrian-rebels-of-chemical-weapons-use.html


                      Her actual words can be heard on the following BBC video published in a report on May 6 2013:


                      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22424188


                      JE comments:  Let me try to synthesize the lose-lose Syria situation:  strike Assad and risk getting involved in another endless war with suffering all around; do nothing and Assad (and future Assads wherever they may be) learn it's OK to gas your people.  You cannot achieve one without the other; hence the controversy we've seen on the pages of WAIS.  All the other arguments on shifting the blame or regime change or Al-Qaeda involvement strike me as distractions.
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      • Syria and Afghanistan: Lord Frederick S. Roberts (Anthony J Candil, USA 09/03/13 4:00 AM)
        Regarding Syria, an interesting quote is coming to my mind:

        "We should fear nothing from Afghanistan in a close future, and the most convenient thing to do--leaving aside our pride--is to withdraw our troops the sooner the better. The less we are seen over there, the less we'll be hated by their inhabitants."


        --Major General Lord Frederick S. Roberts, British Supreme Commander, Afghanistan, 1878-1880


        Replace the word "Afghanistan" with Syria, and this is exactly what we have to do. The less we interfere the better.


        As JE said in a previous post, two years ago Syria, Egypt and even Libya were "stable" countries and certainly not a threat to our security. Today we don't know what is going on, and nobody knows where a "limited" attack will lead us.


        War cannot be limited or restricted, unless we want to lose it. So the best course of action is do nothing and bring the issue to the UN Security Council and once there ask both Russia and China, so good allies of Syria, to put an end to the conflict.


        JE comments: There is a realist logic to going to the Security Council and calling Russia's bluff: "Assad is your man, so do something about his mess." The US could then claim the moral high ground from Russia. In any case, UN "jaw, jaw" is certainly less expensive than "waw, waw."


        (WAISers:  would you like to continue this conversation with Anthony Candil?  Join Anthony and me at WAIS '13--October 10th through the 13th, Adrian.)




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        • Syria Intervention (Randy Black, USA 09/03/13 5:00 PM)
          In response to Anthony J. Candil's 3 September post wherein he offered a quote from Major General Roberts, British Supreme Commander, Afghanistan 1878-1880, "We should fear nothing from Afghanistan in a close future, and the most convenient thing to do--leaving aside our pride--is to withdraw our troops the sooner the better. The less we are seen over there, the less we'll be hated by their inhabitants," I offer my own quote:

          "We should just declare victory and go home." Maj. Mac Whiddon, Fort Worth, Texas, 2009. My message is that it does not take a supreme commander to recognize the truth. Sometimes, it's the common folk including my best pal from high school who retired from the US Air Force about 20 years ago.


          As a citizen of the USA, I'll add that "President Obama is not our friend. It's my position that the president would like to bleed the US military dry."


          JE comments: Hmm. That's quite a quote.  Is it based on any evidence? If the President wanted to bleed the military dry, wouldn't he already have lobbed a few dozen Tomahawks at Syria, to the tune of $1.4 million apiece?  (Plus shipping and handling.)



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      • Is Anyone Better Off After the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars? (Carmen Negrin, France 09/03/13 5:05 PM)
        JE commented on 2 September: "Miles Seeley raises a fundamental question: is anyone's life better off after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars? Perhaps schoolgirls in Afghanistan? The Kurds and the Shia in Iraq?"

        Schoolgirls in Afghanistan are or will be half of its population; not so bad if only that were really the result.


        JE comments: WAISer emeritus Scott Beall (I miss him!) put it succinctly back at WAIS '06: A nation's civility and development is directly proportional to how well it educates its girls. Even though the Taliban is doing all it can to change things, this is a definite "win" for Afghanistan.

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  • Consequences of Syria Intervention (Istvan Simon, USA 09/04/13 1:36 PM)
    I have argued in WAIS that the theory that the Syrian rebels may have used chemical weapons in a part of Damascus where the population supports them and which is controlled by them, in order to draw the US into the fight, is very unlikely. In spite of my arguments, several WAISers have reiterated this theory repeatedly. Now another major flaw in this theory has come to light. According to the BBC, it turns out that the rebels do not want the US in the fight against Assad after all. This invalidates the motivation proposed in the theory, thus making it ever more improbable. In addition, I note that I have seen zero evidence that points to rebel use of chemical weapons--this theory at this point seems to consist entirely of wild speculation.

    Secretary of State Kerry has stated that tests on hair samples of victims showed that Sarin was used. In any case, hopefully we will have confirmation of chemical weapon use by the UN in a short time.


    I agree with Nigel Jones and Cameron Sawyer that the rebels are no friends of ours at this point, as they are increasingly dominated by Al-Qaeda terrorists. But this was not the case even a year ago.


    For over two years after protests against Assad began, Assad was the only one shooting, and he was shooting unarmed protesters. His militias were brutally murdering women and children at close range by the thousands. When the opposition to Assad first started shooting back, it was by members of the hastily organized Free Syrian Army, that consisted mostly of deserters from Assad's military who took their arms with them and started to shoot back, and they included many Alawites as well. This was then not a religious conflict between Alawites (Shias) and Sunnis. It was a conflict between Syrians who thought that Assad's brutal rule has gone on long enough, and that it was time for a change.


    I think that given that the rebels now include Al-Qaeda it is not in our interest to intervene on their side. And I do not think we will. But in my opinion it is also vitally important that Assad be severely punished for crossing the so-called red line, now for the second time. This would not change the strategic situation in Syria, which at this point is a stalemate, but it will be a deterrent against further use of chemical weapons by all parties, and also a strong message to Iran and Russia that we mean what we say.


    It would be a grave mistake to do nothing, and I think the British Parliament's Pontius Pilate decision to do nothing is also a mistake that in time might and probably will backfire against Britain.


    It is also my opinion that the US response has to be much more forceful than what is apparently being debated. I think that we need to cause real harm to Assad, not just a symbolic strike. The objective is not to change the strategic situation in favor of the rebels, nor regime change, but to establish with deeds not just words that we mean what we say, and impose a large enough penalty so that Assad and others tempted to do the same will conclude that it is just not worthwhile for them to ignore our warnings.


    JE comments: I've been busy in class all day, but I see that Secretary of State Kerry is presently being grilled by Congress. Kerry's theme: the Administration is not asking permission to "go to war" in Syria, but to engage in a limited strike. I'm reminded of Kerry's predecessor Condoleezza Rice's convoluted distinction between an "augmentation" (good) and an "escalation" (bad) in Iraq.


    A quick question for Istvan Simon:  how could the UK Parliament's decision to sit this one out come to haunt them?  I cannot imagine any scenario where this will happen.



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    • Consequences of Syria Intervention (Michael Sullivan, USA 09/06/13 1:47 AM)
      I appreciate what Istvan Simon is saying (4 September), and in my heart I may agree with him, but we must consider the consequences of a major strike like Sen. McCain recommends. Even a minor punishment strike could have severe repercussions. On Wednesday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a 60-day period with a possible extension to 90 days for a strike on Syria, but that length of time is enough for a full-blown war and not just a punishment strike!



      We're liable to bring the entire Middle East into war, with Iran and Syria attacking Israel along with the Palestinians happily lobbing Katytusha rockets into Israel. No telling what the Saudis and Russian will do. Even Iraq and Jordan could get involved. How does Egypt react? We haven't heard from Turkey or Lebanon yet...



      But what concerns me most is that many American service personnel could pay for it with their lives through the loss of aircraft, if we use aircraft to hit Syrian targets, and possibly ships, as the military is the first to feel the pains of combat enforcing America's anemic foreign policy.



      The equipment Syria has to defend itself is the latest and most capable Russian IADS and probably manned by Russians, as they were in the missile sites in Vietnam. Just to refresh WAISer memories, the US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps lost 3,283 fixed-wing aircraft, mostly to AAA and SAMs alone, but not all over North Vietnam. The F-4 Phantom leads the list, with 682 losses. Unfortunately, around 25% of all US losses were lost due to operational accidents vice direct combat losses (bad weather, inflight mechanical failures, landing and take-off accidents, mid-air collisions, hitting the ground or trees and running out of fuel). In other words, when the shooting starts from a formidable enemy with a first-rate Integrated Air Defense System (IADS), losses mount up quickly and accidents increase. We've been spoiled by conducting air strikes in both Iraq and Afghanistan for the last 10 years with impunity, as the enemy have no IADS, except for the first few weeks in Iraq in 2003, to defend against our attacking aircraft and the environment has been very benign with no airborne combat losses. We had one loss in 2003 that I mentioned in a previous WAIS posting.



      The Russians have a Sunburn S 300 anti-ship missile, and if they have given it to the Syrians it could be a killer for US Navy's TLAM launching surface ships in the area, except for submarines. One of its attributes is that it goes seven times the speed of sound or 4,550 knots! Look it up on the Internet and you'll see it's deadly.



      With all the possibilities of our plans going awry and nothing to gain except making good on President Obama's "red line" ultimatum to supposedly maintain our credibility, it's still an unacceptable reason to attack Assad's forces considering the consequences. In fact, if we attack, there is no assurance either party won't use gas again. We won't make any friends, as most allies will be furious with us and it will reinforce the hate the Muslim world has for us. It's not worth the tremendous risks we'll be taking not only for the US but for the Middle East and the rest of the world. The US should stay out of it.



      I have not turned into a dove as JE indicated some of us may have with our stance against the punishment attack on Syria. I've been burning the midnight oil trying to figure out tactical and strategic solutions that are best for the US and its allies' interests, especially considering Israel who sits at ground zero and will definitely be forced into action! There are no easy answers!

      JE comments: No one in WAISworld understands the tactical risks of a Syria strike better than Gen. Sullivan; I thank him for his insight. The S-300 is one terrifying piece of hardware:


      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S-300_(missile)


      Some Internet sites claim that Syria has them. Is there any way to protect a ship against this kind of speed?  One tactical takeaway from Michael's observations:  if you must strike, use submarines, although I presume their Tomahawk payload is rather limited.

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      • In Praise of Michael Sullivan (Robert Whealey, USA 09/06/13 2:20 PM)

        As a historian who became a dove during the Korean War age 20-22, I have admired Generals Omar Bradley, Matthew Ridgway and Colin Powell, as well as Gen Schwarzkopf.  General Michael Sullivan now deserves my admiration. I have now added his 6 September posting to my notes.


        JE comments:  Here, here!  WAIS doesn't normally post "attaboys," but this one from Robert Whealey, who is not usually a bird of an ideological feather with Michael Sullivan, is worthy of a wider audience.


        A question for the Floor:  what generals do you admire most, and why?  After a unforgettable three days with Michael and his wife Nicole at WAIS '11/Torquay, I'll have to put Gen. Sullivan on my very short list.  (Of course we also have Gens. Gard, Steele and Delong in the WAIS ranks--all cut from the finest cloth!)


        Want to meet Gen. Sullivan in person?  Join us at WAIS '13/Adrian!  It kicks off on 10 October--just a little over a month away.  Drop me a line if interested.

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    • Consequences of Syria Intervention; Further Thoughts (John Heelan, UK 09/06/13 6:07 AM)
      Does Istvan Simon's certainty (5 September) indicate that he knows something about Syria we do not, or is he just reiterating his firm belief in the US party line? Using the Rumsfeldian taxonomy, let's review the "known knowns" and the "known unknowns":

      There is a single "known known," i.e. a chemical attack was inflicted on rebel-held territory--but there are also a plethora of "known unknowns."


      Firstly, it appears probable, but not yet certain, that the attack originated from Assad-held territory. Then there is the identity of the culprits--the UN inspectors' mandate is to investigate if a chemical attack took place, not to identify those who launched the attack.


      The US is assuming that the Assad regime launched the attack, the assumption apparently primarily based on radio/telephone intercepts by Israeli intelligence and because it believes that the Assad regime had access to chemical weapons.


      One needs to ask why the Assad regime would need to do so, seeing it was winning that particular battle and was well aware the action would bring down the wrath of the US on its head for using a WMD.


      The rebels? However, there seems to be some (unproven) evidence that the rebels had access to chemical weapons allegedly provided by Saudi Arabia (one of the hidden hands behind both the rebels and the US as part of its strategy of securing itself against a future threat from a potentially nuclear Iran). Would the rebels have the motivation? Possibly, as they have been on the back foot militarily for several months and therefore decided to launch the attack themselves (from their own territory or infiltrating the Assad territory) to bring the military might of the US to their aid in their losing war.


      A rogue element inside either the Assad regime or the rebels? To lance the boil of the ongoing civil war or for their own political reasons?


      A "black flag" operation by a third party with vested interests in the Assad regime being deposed?


      Of course, the politicians on both sides of the Atlantic keen to enter the history books (like Bush 43 and Blair?) will tell us that they have far more intelligence available but they cannot reveal it due to reasons of "national security" and the "safety of agents in the field." Increasing public distrust of politicians, stemming from the pain and cost of recent military interventions that were based on "flawed intelligence," is reflected in polls showing public opinion in the US and the UK is against intervention.


      Once again, Istvan uses the Pontius Pilate metaphor for the UK. It should be remembered that then mob demanded that Pilate release Barabbas (a violent rogue) rather than Jesus (a peaceful man). The UK Parliament voted against the release of violence by a powerful nation, thus rendering Istvan's analogy incorrect.


      JE comments: Istvan also mentioned recent reports that the Syrian rebels (or at least some of them) do not want a US intervention. To counter this point, dissenters might argue that the rebels would say such a thing precisely to throw the world off its "scent" as the perpetrators of the attack.


      So the known unknowns persist...but what about the "unknown unknowns"? These would include Russia's possible reaction, ditto for Turkey on one side and Iran on the other, and the horrors of another endless military quagmire.



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      • Responsibility for Syria Chemical Weapons Attack (Istvan Simon, USA 09/07/13 4:26 AM)
        Regarding the responsibility for the August chemical attacks in Syria, I first note that John Heelan (6 September) misquotes me. I did not use the word "certainty" anywhere in my post. I used probability. In these matters, it is impossible to have absolute certainty, and one must be content in conclusions that have high probability. This is even more so, because the culprits control local access, and deliberately hinder full investigations.

        Second, my post contained analysis based on logic and publicly known information about these events, and I believe that John Heelan did not respond adequately to any of the arguments I gave in my post in favor of my conclusion that Assad is responsible for the attack, or against the alternative conclusion that the rebels or mysterious third parties are responsible.


        Third, I don't see much new in John Heelan's response, most of which reiterated what he already had said before. But one thing that was new was his admission that the attack originated in territory held by Assad forces and targeted territory controlled by the rebels. This admission increases the probability in favor of my conclusion and decreases the probability for alternative explanations. It is obvious that the hypothetical rebels, or rogue elements, or "black flag" third parties that John talks about, would have a hard time carrying out such an attack originating from territory under the control of Assad, and even more to do so undetected. So this admission by John Heelan makes all his alternative scenarios even more improbable.


        Fourth, I know that the UN investigators' mission did not include finding out who was responsible for the chemical attack. But why is this relevant? Clearly, (a) responsibility must be attributed with or without the UN's help, and (b) I do not think the UN is better at determining responsibility than other intelligence agencies that have that job. Granted, intelligence agencies have made mistakes and politicians have acted on faulty or distorted intelligence, most recently in the Iraq war. But there is also no shortage of incorrect and even absurd reports published by the UN.


        Fifth, the evidence in favor of my conclusion grows stronger every day. For example, the New York Times published on 6 September that experts say that the rockets in the attack carried large payloads of gas, which explains the large number of dead. But of course this makes my conclusion more probable because it would seem that only Assad would have access to such large payloads, and the rockets to carry them, and would make the job of the alternative hypothetical culprits of John Heelan once again much harder.


        Sixth, a large number of governments have now attributed responsibility for the August chemical attacks to the Assad government, including the UK. According to The Guardian, British Foreign Secretary Hague considers the probability of any of John Heelan's theories to be vanishingly small.


        JE comments:  Yesterday's edition of the PRI radio show The World featured interviews with two Syrian residents of the coastal city of Latakia.  The first interviewee argued passionately in favor of a US airstrike on Assad; the second was against with equal vehemence.  Not surprisingly, the former is a Sunni and the latter an Alawite.  Does Syria's civil war really boil down to religious sectarianism?


        http://www.theworld.org/2013/09/clashing-perspectives-from-syrias-coastal-city-of-latakia/


        For a further comment on the Sunni-Alawite divide, stay tuned for Massoud Malek.


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        • Did UK Sell Nerve Gas Ingredients to Assad? (John Heelan, UK 09/08/13 4:47 AM)
          Istvan Simon wrote a good rebuttal (7 September) to my post of the day before, but Istvan still depends on logic rather than facts, of which there currently are very few provable ones.

          He comments, "a large number of governments have now attributed responsibility for the August chemical attacks to the Assad government, including the UK." Perhaps the UK would know better than most, as it is alleged that my country provided the constituents of Sarin to the Assad regime in January this year:


          http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/revealed-britain-sold-nerve-gas-2242520


          JE comments:  Disturbing.  UK export licenses were granted to sell potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride to Assad's regime.  While these chemicals, per the article above, have "a number of industrial uses," they are also key components for Sarin.  Note that the licenses were revoked six months later, and Assad probably had a large enough stockpile of chemical weapons prior to January 2013.  Still, this episode doesn't make the UK look good.



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