Monthly Archives: August 2013

Syrian Poison Attacks Highlight Fog of War

The eeriest part about warfare is that there is often a moral fog that surrounds the entire landscape. Everyone thinks that they can get away with what they want to do because they see it as a necessity towards their final goal which is, no doubt, THE goal which trumps all other goals. This is precisely the point at which people can begin the justification of targeting civilians / collateral damage unto civilians. Let it be remembered, some of the bombing campaigns the US itself conducted against the Japanese and the Germans were defined and designed for their high body counts.

There is another sort of fog of war, though, that seems to be more and more present in our modern era and is climaxing right now: the fog so thick that people cannot even begin to conclude the parties responsible for attacks:

 Damascus, Syria (CNN) — As Western powers try to verify claims that Syria deployed chemical weapons last week in a Damascus suburb, the government is pointing the finger at rebel forces.

They are pointing it back, accusing the government of gassing hundreds of people to death.

United Nations inspectors in Syria, attempting to gather information, say that Syria has not permitted them to visit the site of the attack.

In the meantime, the Pentagon has sent four warships armed with cruise missiles to the region.

In an exclusive interview with CNN that aired Friday, Obama said that preliminary signs indicated a “big event of grave concern.”

“It is very troublesome,” he said. “That starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region.”

CNN

We’ve come to a point in modern warfare where everything has changed. Of course, we should not be naive and say that traditional means of warfare provided great insulation for the civilian populace or some other lie but the fact of the matter is that we’ve now reached the pinnacle of it.

We cannot conclude off hand who is responsible for these attacks — some would be quick to condemn Assad as he is a dictator, and others may be faster still to condemn the Syrian militants who are majority Sunni extremists. I really cannot say for sure who or what the cause of this disaster is…

What we do know is that Jobar is a suburban area of Damascus hitherto held by rebels.  This might indicate a government inclination to use such weapons to cause great horror to the rebels living among the civilians. However, Syrian government spokesmen insist that after initial rocket bombing by themselves (perhaps quite tactical though only Heaven knows) were followed by rebels desperately throwing up such gas in order to confuse the situation further — a last ditch effort of sorts to pique the interest of the international community in what may be a losing cause for the Syrian rebels. 

We also know that it has been asserted before that Hussein’s chemical weapons were transferred into Syria.  It seems that the ghost of Saddam Hussein and memories of Iraq can be found wherever we look in the Mashriq. Our feelings become even more confused and heated when we think of the very history of chemical weapons in the Middle East as a whole and, dare I say, the world.

At this venture no one can say who is really responsible — the Syrian government is disinterested in bringing in the UN inspectors for any number of reasons ranging from the fact that the UN peacekeepers / inspectors / observers (a rose by any other name…) has even been used as human shields by rebels before, or, potentially, the fact that the UN could uncover some damning evidence. I am unsure whether or not this can even be said to be an admission of guilt but rather demonstrates the entire skepticism naturally held by all when it comes to the UN, considering even that the UN specifically has condemned Assad.

Merely, we ought to take this opportunity to reflect upon the horrors of warfare and how the situation spirals out of control easily. Perhaps we can also conclude that due to uncertainty behind what the rebels hold in store for the Syrians we must also consciously oppose support being rendered unto them, which would only serve to exacerbate the situation through creating a long term civil war.

Alex Massie cleverly points out that the motivation of Obama could merely be a realpolitik urge to mess with the Iranians and Hezbollah, and further destabilize the Mashriq region in efforts to maintain US primacy in the area. By weakening Iran and Hezbollah and undercutting traditional Ba’athist power bases (the Ba’athists being the only successful secularists outside of lonely monarchs & the beaten, bloodied yet unconquerable Kurds) simply to prolong a vacuum of organized political power that is in the US best interests.

Naturally, it is not about human rights and happiness all the time — sometimes it is merely about keeping one’s opponents chasing their tails and/or poisoning & shooting one another.

Overall, I feel that this highlights the chaos that is warfare…

Lastly, please keep in mind: this is a civil war with geopolitical ramifications. It is a struggle between several competing philosophies and several competing ethnic & tribal groups. No warfare is ‘business as usual’ no matter how much the anti-religious want to portray the Middle East as festering in the rot of religion, nor is it as the Christian right would say a symptom of a ‘violent religion’ that Islam is…

Rather, this is just Third World countries doing what Third World countries do best: being an often miserable & cruel place to live. This is also Third World people doing what Third World people do best: heroically taking a stand and gunning it out against all odds, fighting on to the lonesome end. They might not always have the best (or right) ideas, but lest us not forget they do not have the gifts of a developed educational & cultural infrastructure that is the hallmark of good living.

Regardless, our thoughts and prayers are with the Syrians and I hope only for a quick conclusion. Clearly, little else can be hoped for in this messy situation.

The Upcoming Egyptian ‘Friday of Anger’

We have all been following the news as it trickles to us in a steady stream — the Arab Spring slowly transforming from a righteous movement for democratization in various nations has not yet run its full course by any means, and it is becoming clear that while there has been some successes (Libya) these have been far outweighed by the failures (Egypt, Syria, Bahrain).

This article summarizes the Egyptian situation up until now quite succinctly:

 (Reuters) – Deeply polarized Egypt braced for renewed confrontation on Friday after the Muslim Brotherhood called for a nationwide march of millions to show anger at a ferocious security crackdown on Islamists in which hundreds were killed.

Defying criticism from major Western allies, Egypt’s army-backed government warned it would turn its guns on anyone who attacked the police or public institutions after protesters torched a government building in Cairo on Thursday.

At least 623 people died and thousands were wounded on Wednesday when police cleared out two protest camps in Cairo set up to denounce the military overthrow on July 3 of Egypt’s first freely elected president, Islamist leader Mohamed Mursi.

It was the third mass killing of Mursi supporters since his ouster. The assault left his Muslim Brotherhood in disarray, but they warned they would not retreat in their showdown with army commander General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

“After the blows and arrests and killings that we are facing, emotions are too high to be guided by anyone,” said Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad.

A statement from the Brotherhood called for a nationwide “march of anger” by millions of supporters on Friday after noon prayers.

“Despite the pain and sorrow over the loss of our martyrs, the latest coup makers’ crime has increased our determination to end them,” it said.

The Brotherhood accuses the military of staging a coup when it ousted Mursi. Liberal and youth activists who backed the military saw the move as a positive response to public demands.

Friday prayers have proved a fertile time for protests during more than two years of unrest across the Arab world.

In calling for a “Friday of anger,” the Brotherhood used the same name as that given to the most violent day of the 2011 uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak. That day, January 28, 2011, marked the protesters’ victory over the police, who were forced to retreat while the army was asked to step in.

In a counter move, a loose liberal and leftist coalition, the National Salvation Front, called on Egyptians to protest on Friday against what it said was “obvious terrorism actions” conducted by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Signaling his displeasure at the worst bloodshed in Egypt for generations, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday normal cooperation with Cairo could not continue and announced the cancellation of military exercises with Egypt next month.

Reuters 

Democracy shows its true colors here — that is to say, poorly executed ‘democracy’ complete with third world sentiments. Regardless of what you think about the ‘Islamist’ (the catch phrase of the last decade) President Morsi, he had won the election properly on the terms that were given. But being dissatisfied the revolution re-presented itself in the form of a military coup…

… History teaches us that, of course, there is no better way to spice up your new, democratic system than by throwing in the military. When you do not like the election results it’s always the safest bet to send in the troops.

The biggest issue with all of this is not so much whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood & Morsi really are working towards the goal of democracy. This point is moot. They won the election — and they have now legally obtained the reigns of power. If, of course, they do not yield power at the time of the next election it is more than a propos to fight — but otherwise you are merely destroying democracy to save it, and while I enjoy a good paradox now and then this seems to only work on philosophical topics… Not topics concerning real world issues.

The other major point is that even if the Muslim Brotherhood is not democratic in spirit, you will never obtain a proper democracy, anyways, without the consent of the people. Each society has to have a series of events that can serve s a learning experience in their pathway towards the electoral system that is most appropriate for them. One could say that major issues facing Americans early on in their democracy were of course the issues of slavery and women’s suffrage. It took us quite a while to even begin to get this right…

… and it should be clear that one cannot absolutely force someone to do the right thing when their mind is already set on doing what they want to do. Everything is a learning experience.

… and at the risk of sounding like a relativist, I can tell you that it is key to allow for significant differences between the Egyptians and the NATO nations. Not everyone lives in the world of 21st century New York, London, Hamburg or Paris. In fact, not every American lives in the same sociopolitical and cultural context as 21st century New York. To expect that the Egyptians were to execute democracy exactly as it is envisioned and beheld by modern Westerners is quite unrealistic.

That all being said: it is good to see that Pres. Obama withdrew support from the Egyptian junta. Of course, Obama is still arming Syrian rebels (read: Islamists of a far more sinister character than Morsi) but what do you expect from a President who billed himself as the anti-Bush and has proven to be Bush III on foreign policy? Pshaw.

So as we go into Friday, keep in mind that this is going to be a very frightful day across Egypt. Especially frightening for the millions of Morsi supporters who will go to demonstrate with the hope that the first legitimate votes they had cast in their lifetime will work out.

My heart goes out to them and I wish them success.  

Summer, Again

After spending a month in beautiful Minnesota (& North Dakota), I got back to Korea to be fully welcomed by the heat and humidity. I have got to say, it is quite an experience.

I tried to sleep last night without running the fan the whole night but it was impossible. I kept waking up in a sweat and tossing and turning just a few times until it was clear that I ought to simply turn on the fan. Needless to say, this is merely a small glimpse into life without an air conditioner where every day the temperature is hitting around 33 or so with 80%+ humidity.

Last night I was more than happy to sit in an internet cafe for 4-5 hours simply because there was air conditioning. It would seem like a colossal waste of time to many but such is the state of things.

When I walked home from the gym this morning I saw that there was literally green speckles of a moss-like growth in the gutters of the streets — such is the heat and humidity that it can seemingly grow anywhere in the city of Seoul and take on the appearance of algae.

I count down the days until when it really starts to just begin cooling down — even by a mere degree or two.