Posted on 08-09-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Syria was always the most dangerous tinderbox to catch fire in the Arab spring.  While it is not important in oil geopolitics, it occupies a strategic location between Turkey, Iraq and Israel.  Its population is two-thirds that of Iraq and its ethnic quilt far more patchy.  Like Iraq under Saddam Hussein it is ruled by a brutal Baathist regime of a faith different than the vast majority of its people.  The fact that Baathists arose in the socialist and nationalist currents of the 1960s means that the non-Sunni groups like the Christians have been fairly ambivalent in wanting to replace the Alawite regime.  To make things worse, Syria is a proxy between the Sunni Gulf monarchies and Shiite Iran (the biggest sponsor of the Assads).  As previously noted here, the Assad regime is brutal but the Saudis have no business lecturing anybody on human rights – particularly after helping the Sunni Al-Khalifas supress their restive Shiite majority in Bahrain.  If this was not complicated enough, the Russians have proved extremely resistant to letting their last former client state in the region fall.  The expansion of the Libyan intervention from saving Benghazi to toppling (and ultimately lynching Gaddaffi) probably means that Russia will stand firm.

And the fighting is getting worse as Syria’s largest city is now the front-lines of  what is essentially a civil war.  The problem is that the opposition to the Assads is and incoherent hodge podge and there is no clarity on what follows the fall of the regime and how much autonomy to give groups like the Kurds.

Like Iraq, Syria was more of an abstract concept before its creation (like Yugoslavia and Iraq) in the aftermath of World War I by carving up the Ottoman Vilayets of Damascus, Beirut and Aleppo – the residues ending up in Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Turkey.  Like Iraq this state was notoriously unstable until the Assads came to power.  And they have absolutely no incentive to leave.  Likewise the Alawites can probably expect a bloodbath when the Assads fall – so they have no incentive to stop supporting the Assads either.  Syria’s Christians have probably taken a look at the fate of their brethren in Iraq and the worries of the Copts in post-Mubarak Egypt.  Until they can be convinced the fundamentalist element will be kept at bay, they will likely at best remain ambivalent too.

I have to wonder what Israel thinks about the fall of the Assads.  There is no love lost there, but would they prefer the devil they know versus the devil they don’t?

It is striking that the West is calling for Assad to leave but there has been precious little public debate on what happens next.  What have they learned from the Iraq fiasco that they will use to prevent a cycle of violence and ethnic cleansing?  And who will intervene? The EU’s minister in charge of pontificating on foreign policy, Baroness Ashton has made all the necessary pronouncements about organizing the opposition blah blah blah.  There still seems to be nothing on the ground.

There seems precious little appetite among the loudest critics of the Assads (other then war mongerers like John McCain) to bell the Assad cat.  The Libyan or Northern Alliance solution leaves the risk of an ethnic bloodbath at the finish.  Yet preventing the opposition from arming would repeat the tragedy of Bosnia – where the Muslims fought with one are tied behind their back and the Serbs were funded by Yugoslavia/Serbia.  So the tragic civil war continues, as the world ponders the dilemma posed by yet another flawed offspring of Versailles.

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Posted on 08-09-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Tsar Vladimir’s (f/k/a Filaret) latest Jacques Cousteu impersonation is a doozy.  Dressed in white coveralls the Tsar flew a hang glider to help guide cranes into a new migration path (basically to avoid Afghanistan where they are hunted).  The actual details of the event are bit farcical and may have actually killed some birds.  But after tacking mammals on land and on sea in the past it was time to take to the air.  This is the latest feat of strength the Tsar has used to distract from the dismal reality of life in his corporatist petrostate.  Of course his infamous archaeological scuba dive defied credulity and was rapidly exposed as a setup.

But the Tsar still knows his limits.  He laughably refers to his luxurious digs as the life of a galley slave.  And recently he recoiled when a priest tried to pay him obeisance and kiss his ring.

 

 

 

Hopefully this means the sight of the Tsar displaying a healing touch is still far away.

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Posted on 08-09-2012
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

David Gregory has for a while personified a typical lazy establishment media hack to this blogger.  I understand the part of journalist is not to create the news.  But they cannot act merely as stenographers when politicians and elected officials are peddling bullshit.  Yet when confronted with this issue Gregory’s previous response was to pass the buck on people misled by the prevarications politicians.

Mitt Romney, the most mendacious and cynical politician to run for president in our lifetime (this includes Bill Clinton), appeared on Meet the Press hosted by Gregory this weekend.  This is a rare excursion for Mr. Romney outside the safe confines of Faux News where he has felt free to run his post-truth campaign.  But the anticipation is that Gregory will lob softballs and probably not challenge Romney on his whoppers on welfare, medicare, saving detroit, Obama foreign policy etc.  Trending on twitter right now is#DavidGregorysToughQuestions.  Brings some needed hilarity to this weekend as this blogger tries to recover from his Aggies blowing yet another double digit lead in their first SEC game.

This tweet probably captures why journalists like Gregory are the way they are:

Governor, is there a question I can ask that won't threaten future access for interviews? #DavidGregorysToughQuestions
@JohnFugelsang
John Fugelsang

And I do have some sympathy for this dilemma.  But to peddle false equivalencies when one political party has gone batshit crazy is to fail in what ought to be (but frankly never was) the goal of your profession.  It is also probably an additional reason (beyond the financial pressures caused by Craigslist, Google etc.) why the mainstream media is slowly dying.  It has also made cable and network news basically unwatchable.

 

 

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