Saturday, August 31, 2013

Of mice and men

Back in 2004, then Senator Kerry wanted to be president.  A decorated Vietnam veteran, Mr. Kerry thought he would be a cinch for the nomination.  Then cam the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT) and suddenly his record came into question.  To be sure, Kerry did perform with valor but what caught my attention was that he supposedly gave back his medals in 1971.  "I gave back, I can't remember, six, seven, eight, nine medals", said Kerry in an interview WRC-TC Viewpoints ABC News

Kerry supposedly gave these medals back because of how he felt about the war (but more likely because as a Democrat it would not help his chances to get elected if here were seen as a hawk).  Contrast though this article on Salon from 2004 where apparently Mr. Kerry still has his medals.

Do you still have the Silver Star,” I asked Kerry. “Yeah,” he said, “do you want to see it?” My answer was yes. He walked across his study to a secondary desk with clutter on top, mainly books, and opened the top right drawer. This is where he keeps all of his war medals. Salon

Now Secretary Kerry is leading the charge for intervention in Syria.  Kerry is certain of the use of chemical weapons by Assad (although reports are now surfacing that it may have been the Syrian rebels who used the chemical weapons). Kerry called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "a thug and a murderer" and accused his regime of using chemical weapons to kill 1,429 people--ABC

So the war hero first morphs into a "dove" then transforms again into a "hawk".  It makes it hard to really take the Secretary's bluster all that seriously.  Apparently many in Congress feel equally unimpressed with his arguments.  Yet Kerry's vitriol was able to persuade at least one elected official, President Obama.  Despite the resounding defeat of Prime Minister Cameron's effort in Parliament, Mr. Obama was going to go at it alone.

That was until yesterday evening when apparently Mr. Obama went for a walk with his senior advisor and changed his mind (NBC News).  I can't imagine how frustrated his administration has to be after Secretary Kerry brow-beat everyone into taking action in Syria.  This good-cop, bad-cop approach is going to backfire. President Obama is not seen as being particularly strong on foreign policy and defiantly comes in second to his rival Vladmir Putin.  I do not want to see the US launch cruise missiles.  However, I don't want to see a President who flip-flops on such serious matters seemingly at the turn of a hat.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Of Allies

As I perused the web this morning, I learned the British and Germans don't support striking Syria. Perhaps they are weary of war or perhaps they don't see compelling evidence to support missiles strikes that have the very real possibility of escalating matters into a full-blown regional war.  Germany may also be disinclined to support US actions since it was revealed the NSA had been spying on our ally (another hot potato from the Snowden scandal).

But this got me thinking, what of Syria's allies (Russia and Iran)? George Mirsky wrote a great analysis of this very question. The following quote best summarizes his answer:

Russia does not have to do anything, it can just sit quiet. The situation is advantageous to Moscow. Our leaders will be only too happy to see the US start a new war it cannot win. George

The Obama administration faces more problems than it solves with a missile attack. It proves the American people are unwilling to support any type of invasion. As George Mirsky points out, a full-blown air campaign involved manned aircraft is out since it would risk pilots to being captured. Drones are out since the Syrian air defense systems and air force are still intact. The only option, and one proven unsuccessful in creating a regime change, are cruise missiles.

Russia and Iran both stand much more to gain out of this than does the United States. Mr. Obama has said previously how the world Muslim world hates the United States. The airstrike will validate the contentions of those in the Muslim world who hate the United States while doing very little to force Assad out.

The missile strikes could have started today. Many in Congress have been pushing Mr. Obama not to proceed. Perhaps he is rethinking this strategy.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

'We are ready to go'

'What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality. Let me be clear. The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable. And despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable."--Secretary of State Kerry.
Daily Mail

The above quote is really quite hypocritical. The US supported and turned its back on the use of chemical weapons by our then ally Saddam Hussein during Iraq's war with Iran. The statement by Secretary Kerry also reminds one of the "indiscriminate slaughter of civilians" when then President Clinton authorized a cruise missile attack of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan in retaliation for attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The cruise missile attack in Sudan killed one employee and wounded 11 civilians. Contrary to what the Clinton Administration believed, the factory produced anti-malarial medicine. The factory's destruction cost thousands of Sudanese deaths due to the lack of medicine.

The use of cruise missile attacks in Syria runs the very real risk of unintended civilian casualties either by the direct action of the explosions or the secondary effects of caused by loss of infrastructure. In either way, the Syrian people are going to suffer more.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Like a 'monkey with a grenade'

In response to the likely use of cruise missiles by the United States as early as Thursday (Aug 29th), Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem warned Washington that his government is ready to defend itself using 'all means available.' Russia, a Syrian ally, responded by delivering aid to the region and evacuating some of its citizens. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin also blasted Western countries on Twitter, saying, 'The West behaves towards the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade.'

Meanwhile Israel, unlike the Obama administration, has no problem in defining what will happen when Syria crosses its red-line. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Syria that his country 'will respond, and respond with force' if Israel is targeted.

For as long as I can remember, every potential confrontation has been identified as the start of World War III. I hope this latest conflict will also prove that we are done with World Wars, however if ever there were a situation that could ignite a global conflict this may prove to be it. Russia and Vladmir Putin have demonstrated an almost palpable distaste for President Obama and his administration. President Obama for his part seems to be remarkably unaware of the gamesmanship that Putin is waging (and for the most part winning) against him.

I do not want to see US forces sent anywhere else. However, the use of cruise missiles have never forced a change in domestic policy (which at the end of day is what we are looking for). Moreover, former President Bush launched the full might of the US military to deal with the perceived existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In contrast, the Obama administration is show a decisive lack of resolve in dealing decisively with the obvious use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against their own people. If the Obama administration is not more decisive in its actions, the cruise missile strikes may lead to more, not fewer attacks against the United States.

Daily Mail

While I was away

I stepped away from the keyboard for a while to just read and absorb world events.  During that time, the war in Syria has raged on now involving the second or third major use of chemical weapons.  The Obama administration has verbally postured over "is it or is it really chemical weapons?" despite photographs and eye witnesses of mass casualties, more or less indicating the use of chemical weapons.  No other weapon produces mass casualties with bodies in contorted positions of pain.  The Obama administration now has decided to take a page out of the Clinton Administration and use cruise missiles to show their displeasure (which could, ironically, lead to more mass casualties).

The Obama administration was celebrating the Arab Spring a few years ago, the very event that has lead to the war in Syria and the mass rioting in Egypt.  The ouster of Mubarak and Qaddaffi have not lead to the rampant introduction of American style democracy.  Instead, old rivalries and desires for revenge control matters in Northern Africa.  The United States, badly over-extended from the war on terror, is in no position (physically or emotionally) to head into yet another conflict.

Even so, Al Qaeda recently sent the US State Department into DEFCON 1.  Embassies were closed throughout the Middle East due to the threat of imminent attack by Al Qaeda.  Somehow closing the embassies thwarted this imminent attack causing one to wonder, how serious was this attack?  Diplomats and US citizens working in those countries were not called back or evacuated so in theory, Al Qaeda could have still struck at US targets.

The announcement of the attack came on the heels of the revelation by Edward Snowden that the NSA had overcame the introduction of fiber optic networks by compromising telecommunications companies.  The NSA was created to intercept radio and telemetry signals by the Soviets and Chinese.  The same technology of course could be used to target anyone, even US citizens.  Then an interesting thing happened when copper cable began to get replaced with fiber; the NSA found fewer points to intercept signals.  Being a spy agency though, they quickly overcame this new technology by using third party vendors to sell modified prisms to telecommunications companies (hence the name "PRISM").  Unlike with copper, you can't tap a fiber optic capable (once the fiber is broken or crushed, light can't travel through it).  Prisms are used to splice signals into network operations centers.  The NSA used modified prisms that would basically send an exact copy of the incoming feed to NSA servers located near the companies network operations center.  There would be no loss of speed so until Snowden spilled the beans, no one was the wiser.

Snowden was hailed as a hero by a public that grown increasingly suspicious of big brother.  The Obama administration had to move quickly to vilify Snowden's actions and the threat of an Al Qaeda attack served as a timely way to discredit his actions.  Lost in translation was the fact the NSA and CIA exist to target FOREIGN enemies.  In days long ago, this meant the Russians or Chinese.  Today, terrorist has blurred this distinction were a threat to the homeland could be a US resident.

Taking advantage of the situation was Venezuela (no ally of the US since declaring the CIA poisoned their leader Hugo Chaves) offering Snowden asylum.  Unfortunately for Snowden, the offer came while he was stuck in Russia without a visa.  Putin initially played hardball indicating Russia would not grant Snowden asylum.  In the end though, Snowden did get to leave the airport and now is in Russia for the time being.

Times are very worrisome.  Syria and Egypt have been tearing themselves apart for almost a year yet the US has not directly intervened.  India has experience an epidemic of women being gang-raped (both foreigners as well as Indians), yet Hilary Clinton has remained remarkably silent.  Even when news reporters are raped or sexually assaulted in Egypt, the feminists in the US publicly remain quiet.  All of these events show that Syria, Egypt, India and of course Sudan are struggling with a level of internal strife that we can scarcely comprehend.  If we are unable to understand the beginnings, then I remain skeptical that we can accurately predict the end.