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Sunday, April 28, 2013

The New Red Line

“The Great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign Nations is in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled, with perfect good faith. Here let us stop’ George Washington Farewell Address, 1796

Top-ranking lawmakers on both sides of the aisle declared last Thursday that the "red line" in Syria has been crossed, calling for "strong" U.S. and international intervention after administration officials revealed the intelligence community believes chemical weapons were used.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, were among those urging swift action.

McCain, who has long called for more involvement in Syria, voiced concern that the administration would use "caveats" to avoid acting on the new intelligence. He said America's enemies are paying "close attention" to whether the U.S. follows through, as the White House signaled it wanted to see more proof before responding to the new information.

"I worry that the president and the administration will use these caveats as an excuse not to act right away or act at all," McCain told Fox News. "The president clearly stated that it was a red line and that it couldn't be crossed without the United States taking vigorous action."

He called for the U.S. to help establish a no-fly zone and "safe zone" in Syria, as well as provide weapons to the "right people."

Fox News reported:

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel first revealed the intelligence assessment, which was detailed in a letter to select members of Congress, while speaking to reporters on a visit to Abu Dhabi. The administration then released those letters, which said U.S. intelligence determined with varying degrees of confidence that "the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin."

Secretary of State John Kerry further confirmed that there were two documented instances of chemical weapons use.

The White House, however, stressed that this was not enough to confirm how the nerve gas was released -- though acknowledged it is "very likely" to have originated with the regime of Bashar Assad -- and pressed the United Nations for a "comprehensive" investigation. The letter from the White House director of the Office of Legislative Affairs to leading members of the Senate Armed Services Committee said the assessment was based in part on "physiological samples."

A White House official also urged caution, invoking the Iraq war as an example of why the administration should be absolutely certain before going forward.

"Given our own history with intelligence assessments, including intelligence assessments related to WMD, it's very important that we are able to establish this with certainty and that we are able to provide information that is airtight ... to underpin all of our decision-making," the official said. "That is, I think, the threshold that is demanded given how serious this issue is."

Here we go again. The two hawks on the Senate Intelligence Committee are at it again. They are advocating a United States role in the Syrian civil war. If I recall they were both anxious to go into Iraq and Afghanistan and then when things got tough in Iraq Feinstein and her Democrat colleges turned against the war, many forgetting that that they had supported it.

What business do we have in Syria? The nation has been ruled by a vicious dictator for the past 12 years. President Bashar al-Assad and his ArabBashar_al-Assad_(cropped) Socialist Renaissance (Ba'th) Party have been ruling Syria since 2000. Now they are engaged in an ever expanding and vicious civil war between government forces and dissident political parties. We know who the government is, but, like Libya, we have little knowledge of who the dissidents are. We do know, however, that there are Radical Islamist fighters flocking to the aid of the anti-government forces. They are coming from Iraq, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and Libya. While Russia is supplying arms to support the government forces little is known as to where the arms for the rebels are coming from. There is some who believe that the United States, Great Britain, and France are supplying them.

There are claims that Assad’s forces are using chemical weapons against the rebels and that the rebels have used chemical weapons against the government forces. While the evidence of Assad’s forces using sarin and tear gas against the rebels is strong we have varying first-hand accounts of this by independent sources.

As The Guardian reports:

New questions have emerged over the source of the soil and other samples from Syria which, it is claimed, have tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, amid apparent inconsistencies between eyewitness accounts describing one of the attacks and textbook descriptions of the weapon.

As questions from arms control experts grow over evidence that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on a limited scale on several occasions, one incident in particular has come under scrutiny.

While the French, UK and US governments have tried to avoid saying where the positive sarin samples came from, comments by officials have narrowed down the locations to Aleppo and Homs.

Last week the Obama administration suggested that Syrian government forces may have used the lethal nerve gas in two attacks. Opposition fighters have accused regime forces of firing chemical agents on at least four occasions since December, killing 31 people in the worst of the attacks.

A letter from the British government to the UN demanding an investigation said that it had seen "limited but persuasive evidence" of chemical attacks, citing incidents on 19 and 23 March in Aleppo and Damascus and an attack in Homs in December, suggesting strongly that samples were taken at these locations.

A US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Los Angeles Times, appeared to confirm that one of the samples studied by the US was collected in December – suggesting that it too originated in Homs.

According the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "sarin is a nerve agent that is one of the most toxic of the known chemical warfare agents. It is a clear colorless liquid — generally odorless and tasteless".

But eyewitness accounts of that attack, in which six rebels died and which were reported at the time by the Associated Press described "white smoke" pouring from shells that "smell[ed] like hydrochloric acid".

The suggestion that one of the sarin-positive samples may have originated in Homs has added to the growing confusion surrounding the claims made with different degrees of caution by the Israeli, French, UK and US governments in recent days.”

The Jerusalem Post reported on April 27, 2013

“To test for sarin, intelligence agencies would have to acquire either soil samples or samples of tissue, blood, urine or hair from humans or animals present during the chemical release. While the effects of less potent gases such as mustard would linger, sarin’s volatility makes it difficult to detect more than 10 days after an attack.

Western intelligence officials therefore fear that an extensive, detailed report of findings would reveal their hand to the Assad government, possibly compromising agents or allies on the ground who were able to acquire evidence quickly.”

Even if Assad’s forces are using sarin gas it is not enough reason for the United States to become in another policing action. Haven’t we had enough in the past 60 years with Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya? What have we gotten for these interventions? 100,000 dead Americans and trillions of dollars of our treasure spent. One may give plausible arguments these interventions but the original reasons always seem to get lost as the intervention escalates. I will not attempt to analyze these interventions instead I will ask on simple question. What national security interest does the United States have in Syria?

I can see only two. One is the possibility that as the Assad regime supports terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah these chemical weapons of mass destruction (WMD) could fall into the hands of terrorists to use in the United States. So far this has not happened and I doubt it would as Assad knows the consequences that would follow from such reckless actions.

The second reason is a bit iffier. We have strong ties to Israel and if Assad were to use his chemical WMDs against the Jewish State the consequences would be devastating for the former ophthalmologist. Once again this has never happened in the wars between Syria and Israel and it is very doubtful Assad would be so stupid. Iran, with its nukes, is Israel’s big problem — not Syria.

Another problem to the region is the vast amounts of refugees fleeing thesyria_pol_2007 fighting that are pouring into Jordan and Turkey. Syrian refugees, who are basically Arab, are causing turmoil in Turkey. The Turks are not Arabs and while Sunni Muslims like the Syrians the Turks are not happy with the refugees massing on their southern border and the ones who are coming across are sapping their welfare system. In February I spent an evening with a Turkish government official visiting with friends here and he told me that these refugees were not welcomed in Turkey. Once again this is a Turkish problem — not ours. We have enough problems with our own southern border.

So what if the Syrian government forces use chemical weapons against their own people. Is our job to make the world safe for democracy? We did that once and it did not turn out too well. Is our job to be the world’s policeman? We did hat several times with results that were not very favorable. Is our job to force regime change and nation build. We have done that and the results have been pretty much a disaster.

For once in my life I will take Obama’s side on this issue and urge him to stay out of Syria and leave the eye doctor to stew in his own juices. He can make flowering speeches and call for feckless UN resolutions. That’s what he is good at. He can increase our efforts at gathering intelligence on the Syrian rebels for the purpose of determining who they really are, but as for this “red line” business he should back off and this means no “no-fly zone.” Unlike the Libyans the Syrians have very sophisticated Russian supplied air defense systems that would pose a serious threat to our air forces. The minute one of our planes was shot out of the sky there would be a public outcry for escalation in the manner of the RMS Lusitania. McCain should know that and if he doesn’t he had better damn well learn pretty quickly.

As I opined in my recent blog post on Nation Building vs. Isolationism:

“Since the end of the Second World War our foreign policy has gone from isolationism to containment to advancing democracy to nation building. Today we are witnessing the final phases of this policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. What began as a hunt for Osama bin Laden, the sponsor of the attacks of September 11, 2001, morphed into nation building in Afghanistan and the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq followed a similar course. Over 6,000 Americans have died and probably close to 100,000 have suffered serious physical and mental injuries during this period. Also, billions have been spent on the ongoing wars and foreign aid trying to accomplish this task.”

If the Europeans want to spend their blood and treasure on an internal Syrian conflict let them. We will hold their coat, not their hands. Like Libya, if the rebels win who will the world end up with? As the ancient Chinese proverb states: “be careful what you wish for as you may get it.”

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