Wednesday, September 04, 2013

To strike or not to strike?

If you ask to enough people you can generate strenuous objections to even the most inocuous question, and attacking Syria is by no means an innocuous question. David Cameron learned to his regret that asking the question "should I attack Syria or not?" to a lot of people raised many uncomfortable answers. Now Pres. Obama, having decided to ask Congress the same question is in a fix.

Certainly, I believe, that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on a large scale in Damascus against its own people and murdered 1,400 or so of them. And there is little doubt that in 14 prior instances chemical weapons were used before in Syria. Further, there are reports that Israel has given the US intelligence collected locally of conversations between members of the regime discussing their use of chemical weapons. So given the facts, it should be an open and shut case, punish the Assad regime for carrying our illegal and terrible attacks that have broken all the rules of war established 100 years ago (this is called the "moral imperative"). And make no mistake about it, noone else other than the US could administer such punishment to the Assad regime.

But, what are the potential consequences? The most likely that is batted around, is that either Syria itself, or its proxy Hizbollah in Lebanon or its master Iran will either singly or in concert counterattack either western interests and/or Israel. Some say that if Obama makes a small "pin-prick" of an attack, then Assad will absorb it and not strike back. But, unlike the US, the Assad regime, although previously known for its caution, is not in a cautious state anymore, it is fighting for its life and not to respond is to respond, that is, the US President can afford to lose face, but a Middle Eastern dictator under duress cannot! It would certainly not be in his long-term interests to counter-attack, but the situation is not one of rationality, and in such circumstances irrational things have been known to happen.

As Pres. Obama meets with members of Congress and tries to persuade them to support a "surgical" strike against Syria, he hopes to persuade those who want no strike (mainly Democrats) and those who want a major strike (mainly Republicans) to support a compromise strike. But, the US forces have made preparations, there are now 6 US military vessels in the eastern Mediterranean, and the Russians have a few warships around to protect their interests too. At this point in time Israel chose to launch a missile into the Med as a test, just to remind everyone that Israel is here and can look after itself. So the message is, if the US does go ahead and administer a surgical strike on Syria, don't retaliate on us, we can take care of ourselves. Iran will be very wary of this, because if Hizbollah strikes back PM Netanyahu has let it be known that he will regard the order as having come from Damascus and Tehran, and everyone knows that Bibi would love to have an excuse to strike the nuclear weapons facilties in Iran, that might in the not too distant future be in a similar situation to the chemical weapons in Syria. To strike or not to strike, that is the question.


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