The Syrian Calamity: Small Progress, Huge Obstacles

It has been a week since I mentioned the international talks on Syria in Munich noting “there is a ray of hope now regarding a cease fire in Aleppo, the delivery of humanitarian aid to thousands and a continuation of talks aimed at an eventual peace deal.”

As for a cease fire in Aleppo, there has been none.   Syrian governmental troops and Russian planes are still pounding that city and there seems no reason to believe that will halt.  Syrian president Assad and the Russians call any forces that fight the regime terrorists, including rebels we support, so any peace deal is hard to imagine working.  Also, Assad recently said he planned to fight on until all of Syria is brought under government control again, another nail in the coffin of peace prospects.

The most positive outcome of the Munich talks is that humanitarian relief has begun to reach thousands of people trapped and starving in various pockets of Syria.  Though those reached will be a fraction of hundreds of thousands in such situations, it is one positive outcome from the talks.

I could add that there are plans for further talks in Geneva by the various nations represented in Munich, most notably ourselves and the Russians, but ones scheduled today in Geneva have fallen through, for no clear reason and even with differing reports as to whether they have been cancelled or just postponed.

Check out this article in the Washington Post for more on that curious front.

It should be noted, however, that a number of knowledgeable observers are sharply critical of the talks, seeing them as just an ongoing excuse for the U. S. doing little while the Syrian government continues to strengthen its position aided by Russia and Iran.

A more aggressive policy by the U. S. raises the possibility of our conflicting militarily with Russia and the potential for unforeseen, world shattering consequences.  Our present course of muddling along is hard to embrace as well.

For myself, the presidential candidate I think might best serve to guide us though these troubled waters is the one I’ll likely vote for.

For casual observers as most of us are, it is difficult just to sort out the various fighting factions and where they are in Syria.  An article in the The Guardian from the UK describes the initial humanitarian efforts while showing a map of Syria useful in trying to get a grasp of this nearly incomprehensible situation fraught with international consequences.

I tried to link you to it, but cannot, so you will need to apply the cut-and-paste method.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/17/syria-humanitarian-aid-convoys-madaya-zabadani

 

 

The Siege of Aleppo: From Chronic Crisis to Catastrophe?

The presidential primary results in New Hampshire Tuesday did nothing to diminish interest in the ongoing races in both parties.  This would seem a positive sign about our democracy were it not for the fact most of us are more TV consumers intrigued by a new version of “the great race” than active citizens.  Trump and Sanders being big winners in New Hampshire, unthinkable last June, give legs to this “reality” TV series.  It should entertain us for months to come.

Oh, by the way, while the cable TV stations spend most of their time examining what has happened so far in the great race and speculating on what is to come, a catastrophe seems imminent in Syria.  The word “crisis” is so overused these days I needed to search for a more powerful word, especially as Syria has been in a state of chronic crisis for years.  When crisis is the norm it ceases to feel like a crisis, unless you are living in its hellish circumstances rather than watching it on TV as we so often are.

Here’s a rough approximation of what is going on and why it is so bad and why it could get much worse.

Since the Russians began to directly intervene in Syria in September, under the guise of joining the fight against ISIS, they have spent most of their efforts attacking the conglomeration of more moderate rebels that we have more or less backed.   They hide that fact in their propaganda accusing all rebels fighting the government of being terrorists, including the ones we tend to like.  With the help of largely state controlled media, they hide it well enough most Russians seem to believe they are primarily fighting ISIS, and it receives support because it is sold as a religious war.

Our response to Russian forays has been to avoid clashing with them in joint fly zones and to put our hopes in peace talks among various concerned countries to reach an agreement, but these talks have produced nothing, while allowing Bashar al-Assad’s Russian and Iranian backed forces to regain ground lost earlier.  Russian intervention came when it appeared Assad was losing the fight.

Recently Assad’s forces and Russia planes have launched an attack on Aleppo, a rebel stronghold in northern Syria forcing 40,000 or so refugees to flee towards Turkey, but Turkey won’t accept them.   In recent bombings in the city some 500 people have been killed and many others are dying of starvation both in Aleppo and in other areas attacked by Assad.

Because of these events talks have reconvened in Munich today in search of a cease fire, but chances don’t look good.  For one thing Russia denies recent bombings of hospitals in Aleppo, accusing us of doing so.  And while we want an immediate cease fire they talk of a cease fire beginning March 1, which would give them more time to slaughter the opposition and strengthen their bargaining position.

In short, if the talks fail (and that seems likely), the situation borders on the uncontrollable and we are caught in a position of either confronting Russia in the form of a no fly protection zone, or losing further credibility in the area.   The Turks, the Saudi’s, France and various other nations are pushing us to do more, and that “more” seems to be a no fly zone.  A pair of scholars have written a piece calling our failure to set up that no fly zone “moral bankruptcy.”

Of course, Russia has indicated it opposes that.  After all its planes are using that area to bomb “our” rebels.   The situation seems to be heading towards either a military confrontation of some sort between ourselves and Russia or a further loss of our credibility as a military power if we essentially do little or nothing.

This is the big story of today, but it only is receiving slight mention on the cable TV stations, focused as they are on the great race.

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P. S. –     If you want the latest news on Aleppo and the peace talks, google Syrian Peace Meeting In Munich Thursday or simply Aleppo, or both.  They offer somewhat different sources.

 

 

In this Corner the Primarys. And in this Corner Reality.

I have been slower than usual to post because I have been stuck, torn between two senses of reality.   One is our presidential race as brought to us via our media, which covers it like a political version of The Hunger Games.  In other words, it is a TV version of reality, not so much concerned with issues, but with entertainment and ratings.

The other is my sense of real reality, what is happening here and around the world that gets little attention because our media is transfixed on this presidential game show.  Given the various story lines that have developed with the rise of the Donald the foremost, I have to say this is the most interesting election I’ve witnessed since that of JFK.

However, the interest is not due to the candidates showing an exceptional handle on a world becoming less and less predictable.  The interest has come from the unpredictability that Trump has infused into the Republican primary and Bernie as well, to a less wide spread extent with the Democrats.

Such a far cry from months ago when it seemed a near certainty that the race would boil down to Hillary vs. Jeb.

All this excitement about who is going to win a job that I think is more impossible than ever.  Why so impossible?  Because the international order is changing rapidly and, in the case of the Middle East, unraveling.  And it all has become so intertwined.  Major shocks in one part of world send tremors throughout the globe.

Dealing with this kaleidoscopic complexity coherently is tough to do and not easily explicable, so presidential candidates come up with unreal bromides, slogans and tough talk.  A candidate like Trump acts like the answer to our trade issues with China is that we stop making bad trade deals with them.  Maybe we could make better deals. I don’t know.  But the biggest problem with China is that its economy is slowing down, and without its rapid growth rate as an economic engine, the world economy will slow down.   One major reason oil is so cheap is that China doesn’t need so much of these days.

And when Trump says he will get those good jobs back that we have lost to China and other low wage countries, he ignores the number of jobs that will never come back because technology has replaced them with computer systems and robots. Both here and abroad.  We can’t control that any more than we can “control” the destruction of ISIS.  In the latter case, we depend on other countries with different agendas than ours.

Even if many of our presidential candidates act like destroying ISIS only requires greater American force, decisiveness and “leadership”, our military sees this as a campaign that could take decades.  Yes, decades.  Read this report by David Ignatius.

While I have singled out Trump, Ted Cruz also acts as if solving the ISIS problem is as simple as turning much of Syria into one vast parking lot, ignoring that most of the Syrians we would be burying under the rubble are Sunni, just as are the dominant sects of most Middle East countries that we are more or less allied with.  They could hardly be expected to welcome these “solutions”.

By the way, Bernie Sanders also seems to misunderstand the situation in Syria, as he along with Ted Cruz has said that we should concentrate on ISIS and not on removing Assad.   The problem is our Sunni partners are more concerned with removing the Iran-backed Assad than in battling ISIS, so we can’t get their help in Syria if Assad stays.  This is a point that Marco Rubio understands, even if the other Republican candidates do not.

In tonight’s debate between Hillary and Bernie I would like Secretary Clinton to push Senator Sanders on this issue, but I won’t be surprised if she doesn’t.  She owes him for not pushing her lack of discretion in handling her emails.

I’ll get back to this after the Tuesday primary in New Hampshire, which should cull a few of the Republican candidates and give us a better sense of the relative strengths of the survivors.

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P. S. – I hear that Jeb Bush’s mother, Barbara, will be campaigning with her son tonight in New Hampshire.  While a well respected lady, I have to question if this is a good idea.  My Donald Trump frame of mind envisions this:  “Poor. Poor. Jeb.  He’s doing so badly and is so depressed he’s having his mommy come and hold his hand.”

 

Donald Trump: A Hitler for Our Time?

I have thought for weeks now about writing a post with that title, taking a cue from Donald Trump about how to attract attention.  However, I waited too long to be outrageous.

Since the “keep out all Muslims” comments,  comparisons with the vile dictator abound, even among Republicans.  Hitler is not mentioned as often as fascism, totalitarianism and racism, but who do those words conjure up more than the fuehrer?

I actually began recalling Hitler weeks ago when Trump stated we must deport some 11 million illegal Mexican immigrants and that he would develop a force to do that.  Later he tacked on doing it “humanely ,” but the image of Nazi storm troopers rounding up Jews remained.  Since then he has seemed a little more Hitler-like with each passing day.

With the recent comments about barring Muslims from visiting this country Trump set a new low in outlandishness, so much so that many Republicans decried his words, including the god father of Republican tough talkers, Dick Cheney.   One might think Trump had finally, finally gone too far.  But wrong again.  Not for his base who see the media and the political establishment of both parties as the enemy.

So what if the Donald exaggerates and generalizes to the point of incomprehension.  He gets the gist right.   I saw a poll that 56% of American voters believe that the principles of Islam conflict with American values.  With that sort of sentiment around  refusing Muslims access to this country doesn’t seem so far fetched, especially after the recent massacres by Muslim jihadists in Paris and San Bernardino, CA.

And it would only be temporary until our government sorted things out, says Trump.
What does that mean?  Two months?  Two years?  Two decades?   Well, we’d have to see.

One might reasonably point out that we need Muslim support in the Mid-East to destroy ISIS and that actions here at home against Muslims are not likely to help in that, not to mention it plays into the scenario ISIS vividly describes through social media that this is a war between religions and all good Muslims must pick a side.

But a demagogue like Trump does not appeal to reason.  He appeals to  prejudice, fears, resentments and accumulated anger.   So many are so sick of so much in present day America, they are particularly susceptible to a demagogue.   This especially because we have reached a stage of what has been called fact-free politics.

Since those who support Trump don’t give credence to the reasoned statements of main stream media  nor the Republican establishment, the more he is criticized by them the more they like Trump.   He alone is willing to toss out political correctness and speak the truth to power.  His supporters are so sick of so much they are willing to roll the dice and take a chance that Trump’s leadership  can “make America great again”, as he promises to do every day.

That is the promise of every demagogue.

In his ability to voice the anger and frustration of these people, feelings I’d say a  majority of Americans share to lesser degrees, Trump is very much like Hitler.   Like Hitler he knows there is a lot of fear and resentment throughout the land and like Hitler he is great at portraying himself as the only man smart enough and strong enough to really make things right again.

Having said that I do not think Trump is a megalomaniac like Hitler.   Nor do I think he is a hater like Hitler.   He does not want to conquer the world nor commit genocide. What he is a narcissist willing to be as reckless in his statements as need be to continue to command  the spotlight and to energize his base.

Of course, recklessness tends to cause harm and in Trump’s case it could be harm to many in different ways, including the Republican party.   From the point of view of the Republican establishment he is like a rocket out of control and since criticizing him appears to only provide more fuel, the hope is somehow he’ll run out of gas before blowing the party completely apart.

It makes for bizarre politics but captivating reality TV.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cost to Our Humanity to Defeat ISIS

Since those savage attacks Friday in Paris I hear more than ever how President Obama still has no strategy to defeat ISIS.   This implies that at least some of his critics do.

Most of the criticisms come not because he lacks a strategy, but because it is contingent on events and is working slowly.  Critics argue we should do more bombing and send more of our troops over there and work harder at developing our coalition.  Some of that may be true, but it isn’t radically different from what Obama is already doing.

Here I only want to deal with the bombing.   It could be more effective if used more broadly and less discriminately, but it would also kill many more innocents trapped under ISIS rule.

Our air attacks in Syria and Iraq have been called a  joke because there are so relatively few of them.  Why?  Because President Obama has placed tight restrictions regarding collateral damage to civilians.

I heard yesterday morning that truck columns carting oil were not bombed out of concern for the drivers of those trucks who seem more likely innocents than terrorists.  I think that is admirable in the president, but perhaps too admirable given the situation.

Yes, I’m saying there must be a degree of accepted collateral slaughter in war.  However, unlike a character in the TV show Homeland, I don’t think the answer to ISIS is to turn its stronghold “Raqqa into a parking lot.”

Yes, we could wipe them off the face of the earth, but for how long and how would that leave us?  Leaving aside the likelihood that this action would only spawn more of a Muslim jihad against us, which is exactly what ISIS wants.  How about where it would leave us as a people, what it would do to our souls and how would the rest of the world view us?

It is not simply because of our military and economic power that we are viewed as the world leader.

To defeat ISIS we will undoubtedly make deals with the devil.  Just this morning I heard that Russian and U. S. air forces are now “cooperating” in attacks on ISIS and I would bet the Russians are not as finicky as we have been about collateral damage.

War is hell and many innocents have died and are going to die in the battle with ISIS.   I’m just saying we need to take moral responsibility for our actions and take a measured approach, realizing this is not a video game, but landscapes filled with flesh and blood like our own.

From this perspective Obama does not seem nearly as feckless as his critics portray.  I want to see those who argue for sterner measures and more of them to be pressed to answer what degree of slaughter are they actually proposing with their grand plans?

Donald, since your strategy for dealing with ISIS has been:  “To bomb the sh_t out of them.”  Are you proposing a totally  indiscriminate slaughter?  Or if not, what are you proposing?

 

DONALD TRUMP IS A CLOWN WHO ONLY DESERVES BEING LAUGHED AT. ‘NUFF SAID.

I have been writing this blog for over three years and I have never posted a day after another post, but The Donald inspires me to write.

In the way I’m at times inspired to sneeze, cough or throw up.

The New York Daily News got it perfectly right on their front page the day the bombastic billionaire (so he says) announced his fun run for the 2016 presidency.   They portrayed him as a clown, an image linked here.

That says it all and the only reason I’m writing today is because on TV this morning I saw some representative of some Hispanic organization whine that Hillary Clinton and other presidential candidates had not castigated the Big Red Nose for his comments on illegal Mexicans being drug pushers, rapists and the like.

NO, NO, NO…….YOU DO NOT GIVE TRUMP THE DIGNITY OF A RESPONSE.  THE WORSE RESPONSE IS TO GIVE HIM MORE ATTENTION BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT THE SICK F…K CRAVES.

If we could all just ignore him, he’d dwindle like an unwatered plant.

I know easier said then done as the serious Republican presidential candidates will have to deal with this wrecking ball of sanity, but at least the rest of us don’t need to chime in.

The more attention he gets the better for him and the worse for the rest of us.

A Plug for Fareed Zakaria GPS (Global Public Square)

Soon today Hillary Clinton is supposed to announce her candidacy for president.  Whoopty Doo!   Who besides a relative handful of political news junkies cares?  Like there has been a shred of doubt in recent months.   The p-junkies are excited because they love to dissect the candidates, like football draft analysts, coming up with ticklers like Jeb Bush, the supposed leader in the Republican half of the race, prompts no enthusiasm in focus groups in New Hampshire….or Rand Paul is too thin skinned to do well under the stress of campaigning or the surprising amount of money (31 million) Ted Cruz has scraped together already.

My long shot Republican candidate is Ohio governor John Kasich, but he hasn’t even declared, so no use wasting any thought on him right now, either.  I just want to establish early credit for making the pick if by some miracle he jumps up in the Republican primaries.

That’s enough for now on the presidential race.   Barring something startling, I doubt I will comment upon the race again for months.

That was a roundabout way to making a plug for Fareed Zakaria’s show called Global Public Square on CNN on Sunday’s at 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time.  It is my favorite political news show because it puts events in perspective, which I generally find lacking in most political chat shows.  And it takes on worldly important topics instead of dwelling on our American media preoccupations with campaign analysis, shootings (often racially related), graphic disasters or the abuse of some group’s “individual rights”.  I record the show and often watch it in segments during the week.

This morning Fareed kicked off with his perspective on the Iran Nuclear deal.   Similar to the presidential election, I don’t want to spend much time analyzing that issue until things sort themselves out more in the next couple of months.  But Fareed puts the deal in perspective, something which may help as pros and cons of the “deal” are aired in weeks to come (what will be the deal, if there is one, is unknowable at this point).

You should be able to find the video segment here.  And a written version is available here.