Refugees: America’s Responsibility

Excellent Op-Ed by Steve Hilton:

While we can argue forever about the causes of conflict in the Middle East, it is impossible to ignore the impact of American foreign policy on what’s happening in Europe. It was shocking to see an “expert” from the Council on Foreign Relations quoted on Saturday saying that the situation is “largely Europe’s responsibility.” How, exactly? The Iraq invasion (which could reasonably be described as “largely America’s responsibility”) unleashed a period of instability and competition in the region that is collapsing states and fueling sectarian conflict.

There are plenty of comments to his post, several asking what responsibility Russia and Iran have, particularly in Syria.  As usual in human affairs the choices vary from bad to worse.

It’s crazy that, as Nicholas Kristoff points out, that “…the World Food Program was just forced to cut 229,000 refugees in Jordan off food rations because it ran out of money…” There’s an example of losing a dollar to save a dime…

One think I have not heard anything of is what kind of organizing might be encouraged among the refugees — while still in the camps, and when disbursed around Europe.  It’s an enormous cohort of educated and talented people which, if they are like most refugees, will retain strong feelings for the lands of their birth for decades.  What might emerge if their social capital can be encouraged to grow and find a way to slow and halt the on-going disasters, then to stabilize and re-build what they have lost?

Syria: Journalist Mazen Darwish Released

One of Syria’s boldest journalists, Mazen Darwish, has been released after three years [five months and 23 days] in Syrian prisons.  He was the director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression when he was arrested in February 2012 for “promoting terrorist acts.”

Syria Darwish

In a letter smuggled out of prison in 2014 he thanked English PEN for its award to him as International Writer of Courage.

“…we are today, paying the high, bloodsoaked price of that collusion [of silence over Salman Rusdie’s fatwa] , and finding ourselves the main victims of the obscurantist ideology now infiltrating our homes and our cities. What a great shame that it has taken us all of this bloodshed to arrive at the belief that we are the ones who will pay the price for preventing those with whom we disagree from expressing their views – and that we will pay with our lives and our futures. What a shame this much blood has had to be spilled for us to realise, finally, that we are digging our own graves when we allow thought to be crushed by accusations of unbelief, calling people infidels, and when we allow opinion to be countered with violence. The disastrous consequences of this are clearly evident today across the Arab world, and especially in Syria, my country, where the ugliest forms of fascism and the dirtiest kinds of barbarism are practised in the name of both patriotism and Islam in equal measure.

Al Arabiya

Reporters Without Borders


Enemies of Enemies — To Become Friends?

“Military aircraft that conducted air strikes against ISIS military targets in western Iraq are believed to have been from Syria’s air force, a U.S. official told ABC News.

“There have [also] been reports of Iranian troops intervening on behalf of the beleaguered Iraqi government.


Syria: Medieval Torture

Syria tortured and executed 11,000 according to photos brought out by a Syrian defector, and examined by three international prosecutors.

Photos also at The Daily Mail

Of course, one of those tortured in Syrian jails was Maher Arar, a Canadian, sent by the United States to Syria in 2002 where he was tortured and held for over a year.  As he points out, these revelations are important but what they reveal has been known for some time, and raised scant protest.

Milos Forman’s 2006 film, Goya’s Ghosts, shows the use of torture implements in the later stages of the Spanish Inquisition — in 1793 already well beyond medieval times– all still in use it seems in 2013 Syria.


Iraq War Dead Rising

Iraq multigraph.php

Iraq Body count reports that in DECEMBER TOTAL: 983 civilians were killed.


the highest since 2008, according to IBC

To underline the rising swirl, “Radical Sunni militants aligned with Al Qaeda threatened on Thursday to seize control of Falluja and Ramadi, two of the most important cities in Iraq, setting fire to police stations, freeing prisoners from jail and occupying mosques, as the government rushed troop reinforcements to the areas.

The violence in Ramadi and Falluja had implications beyond Anbar’s borders, as the Sunni militants fought beneath the same banner as the most hard-line jihadists in Syria — the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

That fighting, and a deadly bombing in Beirut on Thursday, provided the latest evidence that the Syrian civil war was breeding bloodshed and sectarian violence around the region, destabilizing Lebanon and Iraq while fueling a resurgence of radical Islamist fighters.”

NY Times

o Syria:

Interesting, and hopeful, that Zakaria now uses the invasion of Iraq, which he supported, as an object lesson against intervening in such states.


Revealed: British Companies sold nerve gas chemicals to Syria 10 months after ‘civil unrest’ began, Authorized by Government

and we wonder who else….?

And the Victims in the Syrian War?

While the tension of anticipation of a US led attack on Syria torques the world we have to ask how the cruel deaths of 350 by nerve-gas will be rectified by this.   How many bodies will sprawl beneath the Cruise missile attacks?  Will it matter if the bodies are of Syrian army privates instead of civilian children?  Will their deaths be more ‘gentle’ or acceptable than those caused by nerve agents?  On the other hand, should the use of chemical weapons be ignored?  Isn’t that ‘sending a signal’ also?

The goal of any intervention in any hostility, whether a hostage taking or a civil war, is to move people away from the surging emotions of kill or be killed to calmer considerations of the risks of continuing and the benefits of laying down the weapons.  Will a series of targeted ‘surgical’ strikes calm anything down?  Here are two sets of ideas, one from a friend in Boulder, CO.

The news from Syria of more deaths and the allegations of the use of chemical weapons is horrifying. But military intervention is not the answer to this crisis. The United States should vigorously pursue diplomacy with all the countries and coalitions of the region, including Russia, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

President Obama should join with other heads of state to convene a summit to focus on restricting the flow of weapons, creating incentives for armed actors to comply with international humanitarian law and build support for non-military intervention options.

The United States should quickly increase humanitarian aid to the region and request the United Nations Security Council to ask the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes in Syria.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, has publicly cautioned that military action will not provide a long-term solution. But there are others in the administration and Congress arguing for military action, including air strikes. Let’s not let our outrage and concern narrow our vision. Encouraging armed conflict in the region has not and will not succeed in bringing peace to the Syrians.

I support strong, immediate, coordinated international action to de-escalate the violence and hold perpetrators on all sides accountable.

DeAnne Butterfield


Several letters to the editor in the NY Times have serious reservations about the wisdom or morality of bombing.  This one by Aviva Cantor  is particularly good, proposing alternative courses of action:

Before the United States dives into another intractable intervention, we should take a small but significant step into the shark-infested Syrian waters with a major humanitarian action:

We should develop regular and reliable contact with the field hospitals and provide large amounts of high-quality medical supplies to them and to the victims, both of the chemical attacks and the bombings, through airdrops into carefully pinpointed areas.

We should also fly in helicopters to airlift the most life-threatened victims to either a hospital ship or to the closest hospitals in countries bordering Syria. Ambulances should also be stationed at the Israeli, Lebanese and Turkish borders to transport the seriously wounded to the closest hospitals in these countries. Priority in these evacuations should be given to children.

These actions would not only save lives and demonstrate America’s humanitarian concerns and its recognition of the urgent need to address them, but also serve to “test the waters” to determine if military intervention is necessary, possible and conducive to success.

It’s reasonable, and strategic,  to think that a massive humanitarian effort to take care of the unwilling wounded would reap enormous rewards, and that sending in bombs will likely earn retribution.  [Two airline explosions, including PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and one deadly hi-jacking, were revenge ordered my Muammar Gaddafi for President Ronald Reagan’s bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986.]

If some military response seems necessary, why not begin with the same tools which the Syrian Electronic Army used to disrupt the NY Times and Twitter yesterday?  If the chemical attacks in Ghouta were the work of the actual Syrian Army and if more are likely to come, electronic evidence and interdiction of the delivery systems, the command and control, as it is called, should be a first line of attack.  Disrupting delivery of new weapons and ammunition should be high on the list, whether by hard-ball negotiations with suppliers outside of Syria, legal restraining orders or massive checks along the borders.  A big task of course, but if we’re throwing money into moving the 6th Fleet around the Mediterranean and burning it up in missile attacks why not divert it to something more likely to ramp down the hostilities than ramp them up?

And if the perpetrators of nerve-agent attacks should be held accountable, as most of us think they should be, it can wait until after the fighting starts.  A growing record of holding those responsible of war-crimes to account tells us this can be done.  And while we’re after nerve-gas war criminals , what about the Iraqis who used in against their own countrymen in 1988?  Not just 350 but 3,500 or more, dead.

And what about the Americans who knew about Hussein’s use of such gas?  Hundreds to thousands of Iranian soldiers were killed by Iraq gas attacks on the Fao peninsula, April of 1988.

If those who knew and did nothing are now gone themselves, at least like baseball record holders who have used steroids, their names should be remembered with a asterisk next to them: turned a blind eye to nerve gas use.

Breathing in Syria

From all the news today it is looking increasingly like some sort of military attack by the West on Syria, supported by many Arab states,  is going to take place.  We hope that the planners know as much about chemical weapons destruction as the folks at CBRNe [Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear explosives] do.  They would even be in favor of destroying the Syrian caches if it could be done without an increase in the danger.

[Bombing will not simply destroy the chemicals] …what is more likely is that the Syrians get a ‘sub-optimal chemical release,’ ie Western activity releases an enormous plume which affects many square kilometres. Chemical agents are not so easily destroyed, the work of the Chemical Munitions Agency (CMA) in the US and the demilitarisation work in Russia shows that this is a lengthy process that needs careful calculation, not a paveway. Again, the flip answer is to say, ‘So what? They shouldn’t have had them in the first place!’ I am not sure that that defence stacks up in a court of law. It could easily be argued that the US, should they be the ones to pull the trigger, are the ones responsible for the release of chemical agent all over Syria – a decision that will not play well in the Middle East, Russia and in the International Court of Human Rights

Over at the Long War Journal, not a notably pacifist outfit, “A few more questions before we start bombing Syria, are posted.

Juan Cole, as usual, raises relevant concerns:

It is not clear what an American intervention would achieve. It is likely that Washington will conduct a limited punitive operation, perhaps hitting regime buildings with Tomahawk missiles. The latter would avoid the regime’s sophisticated anti-aircraft systems, which might be able to fell an F-18 fighter jet.

It should be obvious, however, that any such strike would be a form of retaliation for President al-Assad’s flouting of international law. It would not actually protect Syrians from their government, and it would be unlikely to alter the course of the civil war.

Such a strike would carry with it some dangers for the US. It is not impossible that the Baath would respond by targeting US government facilities or businesses in the region. It is also possible that it would target Israel in revenge. An American strike might bring the Iranian Revolutionary Guards into Syria in greater forces.

But it is also possible that the regime will hunker down and concentrate on surviving its domestic challenge.

He does not think it likely that the rebels set off the chem-weapons in their own neighborhood.


Jonathan Landis, a long time, respected student of Syria, thinks something should be done, but stay out of along-term engagement.

The US must respond to the use of chemical weapons in a forceful manner, but should not launch a broader intervention in Syria.

Preserving the widely respected international norm banning the use of chemical weapons is a clear interest of the US and international community.

The US, however, should avoid getting sucked into the Syrian Civil War. Thus, it should punish Assad with enough force to deter future use of chemical weapons, but without using so much force that it gets drawn into an open-ended conflict.

… Punitive measures taken against the regime following the use of chemical weapons should be conducted with the purpose of deterring the future use of chemical weapons—not to change the balance of power in favor of the rebels.

This is said with full recognition of the terrible atrocities and killing taking place within Syria, including the many crimes of the regime. The Assad regime is not an entity to be protected or defended, but destroying it today may throw the country into greater chaos and suffering and pull the U.S. into a morass that lacks any visible solution.

Long Term Goal of a Power-Sharing Agreement

The US should strive to persuade all parties to reach a power-sharing agreement to end the war…

And The Nation has a great collection of opinion by liberal hawks and doves and one not-so-liberal Andrew Bacevich whom all liberals should always read.

Syrian Nerve Gas Confirmed

Doctors Without Borders, one of the most respected medical action groups in the world, has confirmed that hundreds of nerve-gas poisoned victims came to three hospitals it is associated with.  355 deaths

They make no claim as to who used the gas nor, as far as I can tell, what kind of gas — and therefore its likely origin– it is.  The consensus in Western governments is that only the Syrian government had the means to deploy the stuff.  Assad and his ally in Russia’s Putin claim it was the rebels.

One serious investigator at Brown Moses says that all claims the weapon used to fire the gas cylinder were of a type known to be used by rebels do not hold up. Another investigator, at a distance, says the delivery system is likely to be rack-fired, and therefore not from the rebels.

Apparently the analysts at the US DOD, Israel, Britain and France are close to fully confident that it was the work of Assad’s army — and President Obama has markedly changed his tune in the last day or two.  Though still using cautious phrases it is being reported [CBS] that “the commander of U.S. forces in the Mediterranean has ordered Navy warships to move closer to Syria to be ready for a possible cruise missile strike.” Al Qaeda joins with the West in calling the attacks Assad’s (and the Alawites) doing, and are threatening counter terror.





Syria: Lethal Attack on Nerves and Lungs

You might not want to watch this. Video of people gasping for life in Damascus after what appear to be explosive dispersal of some nerve-lung agent. Not too many western news agencies are reporting on it. Lead article in 6 places I’ve looked at are about Manning declaring himself a transgender and that Filner maybe resigning.

Meanwhile, neither the US nor the UN have any response that might move either discovery of who did what when, or any action to ramp down the bloodshed.  The rebels blame the government; the government and its friend Russia blame the rebels.  Poor Syria.

Incoming news is that rebels are saying there is an Army push into the suburbs where the nerve deaths occurred, and that warplanes have been part of that.


More coverage at Washington Post

Best, and most judicious, coverage at

“It still seems difficult to pin down the three most important facts in yesterday’s attack: who did it, what did they use, and how many people did it kill. I would suggest that is also the order of strategic importance, and the reverse order of likelihood of finding out.”

“The spread of these casualties/fatalities is important, without this information we are forced into the conclusion that the spread of attacks was at the maximum reported – which then presupposes a significant, organised force behind it. If this isn’t the case, and all the chemical casualties come from a single area (and it’s downwind path) then it makes it more likely that a smaller, potentially rogue faction, was behind it.”

For a technical analysis of the possible missiles see Brown Moses blog
Update II
And now the wrenching sorrow on top of the terrible ache: nurses who came to help, die from residual fumes.

Dan Layman, a spokesman for the Syrian Support Group, which supports the Free Syrian Army in Washington, said doctors, nurses and first responders had reported Wednesday that they’d experienced secondary symptoms while working with victims.

“The doctor I was talking to yesterday said the residue on the victims and their clothing was making the doctors get dizzy and have trouble breathing and (they) had to pour water on their faces and had to step out of the room,” Layman said.

Layman said he learned Thursday that two of those nurses died.