Sunday, September 8, 2013

Syria, what a mess!

There are no good choices at this point.  No one should be condemned for however they vote or even for their motivation.  There are undoubtedly many who want to be associated with the majority without delving into the issues.  I do not understand all the issues and admit that it is more complex than can be dealt with in a short blog.

Part of the problem goes back to my biggest pet peeve which is short term thinking.

One primary problem is that America (and most of the rest of the world) feel most comfortable dealing with whoever is in power.  At some stage we are complicit in maintaining the status quo.  We can be self righteous about being superior and conscious that everything is not fair under a particular jurisdiction, but our tendency is to protect our own short term interest and do business with just about anyone.

China and Russia are in the equation and have decided that their best interest lies in supporting the Syrian government.  Russia sells weaponry to Syria.  China needs to keep all energy options open. Both are authoritarian and fear the idea of a successful revolution.  Oversimplified perhaps, but trying to overcome their UN security council veto could lead to further tension.

Iran is a player as it is allied with Syria.  Finally Iran has elected someone who is more open to solving the nuclear dilemma.  With few allies and a load of rhetoric, Iran has to be concerned to maintain its alliances.  At the same time some Westerners feel that striking against Syria is weakening Iran and perhaps forcing them to be more compliant.

In the Middle East an always underlying concern is Israel.  One really pertinent connection is the Golan Heights where Israel has conquered land they now feel is a buffer.  Israel has bombed Syria to cut nuclear development.  Part of the Syrian opposition comes from Islamists who see an opportunity to overthrow a government that is relatively tolerant of Christians and Jews and install a more fundamentalist  regime.  They are not looking for a two state solution, but many would work towards destroying Israel.

Israel is fearful of what its neighbors intend.  Palestinians are resentful and many are desperate. Israel has more powerful friends in the United States that protect it with money, weapons, political decisions including a UN veto.  There are many who want a two state solution, but others who feel more secure by occupying Palestine.  Still others on both sides have given up on the two state solution. Alleviating fear requires courage, patience and understanding.

Refugees have fled to Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and others.  In such numbers they create logistical problems and potentially are an unknown political force.

Recently became aware of another factor which you can read in more depth at  I am struck at the number of people who belittle climate change, but their points strike me as being politically/economically linked.  Climate scientists for the most part seem very reluctant to draw links from climate change to weather problems such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and droughts, but the links seem stronger almost daily.  I recall that the Arab Spring started with a protest of one man in Tunisia who was affected by food prices.  Food prices were affected by drought.  This is only one factor, but really unemployed youth and food prices have been critical.

Should the United States use a military strike against Syria and if so how can they contain it?  The risks are very high that the best they can achieve a rebel victory or less likely a chastened Assad. They will inevitably fan anti-American hatred.   Who knows how Russia, China, Iran might react. Mideast turmoil seems inevitable.  If not resolved the same question might be asked--can a regime do whatever it wants to suppress its own people?  Will any nation feel they can do what they want even against American threats?

What alternatives are available?  America needs international support.  The United Nations is frozen by veto's allowed to only five countries.  The Arab League has its own factions.  Turkey is a Muslim country that is negatively impacted by Syrian refugees and occasional stray bombs.  They have concerns over Kurds, another complicating issue itself.  Can United States afford to be the world's policeman without at least some economic support.

The Americans have been hurt and embarrassed by the efforts of the George W Bush government to deceive them with false information (some of which was deliberate) regarding the Iraq invasion.  I think they were stunned that the Iraqi people resisted and then learned that they had opened a hornet's nest.  At the same time a new President finds himself dealing with a polarized electorate.  A part of the electorate seems to feel that Obama is a Muslim or sympathetic to radical Muslims.  Seems ridiculous, but not something that can be ignored.  For some this seems an opportunity to make him look bad while on the other side some think this is an opportunity with respect to dealing with the sequester problem as well as the debt ceiling.  Some support as they feel the need to support a president, others to send a message about chemical warfare.  Others feel that we need to commit to democracy.

The rest of the world has its own perspective.  They are split in that they mostly seem to think that the Syrian government is guilty of using chemical weapons against their own people, but are skeptical of any course of action.  They fear potential spread of violence, even world war.

Are there alternatives?  I can't see a risk free short term alternative and either striking or not striking sends a powerful message with horrific consequences very likely.

The United Nations was created to deal with these types of problems, but many see a single country veto as insurmountable obstacle.  At the time it was thought to be an inducement to get participation of the winning Allies.  Since then many changes have occurred and newly empowered nations such as India, Brazil and others are left out.  My solution would be to negotiate a new deal such as a veto of one of the selected countries (or even two or three) can be overcome by 2/3 votes of General Assembly members representing 2/3 of the world's population.  China is a delicate issue as they might feel ganged up with a too low a population requirement as they represent approximately 25% of the world population.  This would also empower India.  We don't want them to have an effective veto based on population, but to gain their co-operation we don't want them to feel too threatened. This will only happen when the original veto holders see it in their best interest to accept world opinion.

The International Criminal Court is another  possible solution.  One of its weaknesses is that United States will not join as they feel they will be ganged upon.  Other countries resist to protect themselves.  Perhaps the UN veto and the International Criminal Court membership issues can be negotiated together. Perhaps that is naive, but other forces are making it a little more possible.

One of those forces is climate change.  It affects everyone, although not evenly.  The biggest problem is  distrust of science and economic short term self interest.  We in North America and Europe need to realize food prices even in remote parts of the world can have global effects.  We need to realize that floods, droughts, hurricanes although natural are being aggravated by our actions on an international scale.  War is one of the consequences.  To provide our own security in our backyard we need to be concerned about forces in areas we haven't given much thought to.

Did I cover all the issues?  Definitely not, but I hope that more people take a long term view so we can minimize future damage and get on the course to a more logical future for all mankind.  Syria is a mess, but it didn't happen overnight.

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