Tuesday, September 03, 2013

On Striking Syria. Questions.

I'm confused, so this post is mostly in the form of questions.  First, read this long article or at least Digby's take on it.  I have no way of judging whether the Polk piece gives the correct facts or not.

But if it does, note two things.  First, climate change and the relationship between resources (too few) and people (too many) are part of the picture.  Not the total picture, but part of it, just as it is part of the picture in the Israel-Palestine conflict and in Egypt, too.

Second, note this part of the Polk piece:

5:         Who are the insurgents?
 We know little about them, but what we do know is that they are divided into hundreds – some say as many as 1,200 -- of small, largely independent,  groups.  And we know that the groups range across the spectrum from those who think of themselves as members of the dispersed, not-centrally-governed but ideologically-driven association we call al-Qaida, through a variety of more conservative Muslims, to gatherings of angry, frightened or dissatisfied young men who are out of work and hungry,  to blackmarketeers who are trading in the tools of war, to what we have learned to call in Afghanistan and elsewhere "warlords."
Each group marches to its own drumbeat and many are as much opposed to other insurgents as to the government; some are secular while others are jihadists; some are devout while others are opportunists; many are Syrians but several thousand are foreigners from all over the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia.   Recognition of the range of motivations, loyalties and aims is what, allegedly, has caused President Obama to hold back overt lethal-weapons assistance although it did not stop him from having the CIA and contractors covertly arm and train insurgents in Jordan and other places. 
The main rebel armed force is known as the Free Syrian Army.  It was formed in the summer of 2011 by deserters from the regular army. Similar to other rebel armies (for example the “external” army of the Provisional Algerian Government in its campaign against the French and various “armies” that fought the Russians in Afghanistan) its commanders and logistical cadres are outside of Syria.  Its influence over the actual combatants inside of Syria derives from its ability to allocate money and arms and shared objectives; it does not command them.  So far as is known, the combatants are autonomous.  Some of these groups have become successful guerrillas and have not only killed several thousand government soldiers and paramilitaries but have seized large parts of the country and disrupted activities or destroyed property in others.
In competition with the Free Syrian Army is an Islamicist group known as Jabhat an-Nusra (roughly “sources of aid”) which is considered to be a terrorist organization by the United States.  It is much more active and violent than groups associated with the Free Syrian Army.  It is determined to convert Syria totally into an Islamic state under Sharia law. Public statements attributed to some of its leaders threaten a blood bath of Alawis and Christians after it achieves the fall of the Assad regime.   Unlike the Free Syrian Army it is a highly centralized force and its 5-10 thousand guerrillas have been able to  engage in large-scale and coordinated operations.
Of uncertain and apparently shifting relations with Jabhat an-Nusra, are groups that seem to be increasing in size who think of themselves as members of al-Qaida.  They seem to be playing an increasing role in the underground and vie for influence and power with the Muslim Brotherhood and the dozens of other opposition groups.
Illustrating the complexity of the line-up of rebel forces, Kurdish separatists are seeking to use the war to promote their desire either to unite with other Kurdish groups in Turkey and/or Iraq or to achieve a larger degree of autonomy.  (See Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa, “The Civil War Within Syria’s Civil War,” Foreign Policy, August 28, 2013).  They are struggling against both the other opposition groups and against the government, and they too would presumably welcome a collapse of the government that would lead to the division of the country into ethnic-religious mini-states.

Is that correct?  I can't tell.  But suppose it is correct.  How, then, to interpret this?

The White House’s aggressive push for Congressional approval of an attack on Syria appeared to have won the tentative support of one of President Obama’s most hawkish critics, Senator John McCain, who said Monday that he would back a limited strike if the president did more to arm the Syrian rebels and the attack was punishing enough to weaken the Syrian military. 
Which of the rebel groups would get the US support?  Jabhat an-Nusra, labeled as a terrorist organization?  Al-Qaida?   And if none of those groups are very large, the winning group would not necessarily be anything different from the current dictatorship.  Warlords, for instance, don't spell democracy to me.  But then I am very confused.

One of the awful aspects of wars are the refugees, both external ones and misplaced persons inside the country.  The pressure they face is not the only problem; the countries which now host them are going to be stretched to the limit, too.  Are we doing enough about this?  And if not, what else could be done?

I wish the world could intervene in some useful way.  But I can't think of any that would get the political backing it needs.
For other views, go here and here and here.