Friday, September 13, 2013
The other shoe
Anyone want to venture a guess what sort of statement was made yesterday afternoon to the press?
And I quote:
"Syria President Bashar Assad said Thursday that Israel should be the first to disarm from weapons, since it has nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. He added that all countries in the Mideast should be held to international protocol in order to achieve stability in the region."
Notice he didn't say 'also'. He said 'first'... as in 'Syria isn't going to do anything until Israel is forced to do it first'.
Russia knew it (and maybe even planned it). America never even saw it coming. Rookie move by Kerry to offer such an opening; even rhetorically. And foolish for Obama not to have slammed the door quickly by issuing an immediate clarification.
[Hat tip to Roni Brandl for spotting it first]
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Let me tell you how this all plays out in Syria
No, I don't have any special powers of prophecy... nor do I have access to secret intelligence that would give me an inside track as to what will happen in Syria.
What I do have is a voracious appetite for both history and current events. Anyone with access to both, and the curiosity to occasionally compare the two, will have a pretty good idea of what is about to happen.
Just to allow those returning from summer vacation to catch up, let's review:
On August 21st, somebody launched rockets armed with a nerve agent at a suburb of Damascus, killing upwards of 1400 civilians.
According to US reports, the rockets were fired from areas controlled by the Syrian Army. And at least to this point, of all the factions currently fighting in Syria, only the Syrian government is known to possess chemical weapons.
Of course, Syrian President Assad claims that it was one of the anti-government rebel factions who fired the chemical weapons, and the Russians and Chinese have blocked US-led efforts to drum up support at the UN for a limited military strike to punish Syria with for breaching one of the few sacrosanct 'norms' of modern warfare.
Flash forward past the dwindling international support for an attack, past by President Obama's decision to seek congressional support for a military strike on Syria... and it was getting pretty hard to decide who was more isolated/embattled by the crisis; the Syrian or US government.
Then, by a mere offhand remark/slip of the tongue, US Secretary of State Kerry served up a potential alternative to a military strike. When asked if anything could be done to avert a US strike on Syria, he said, "Sure, [Assad] could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week...without delay and allow the full and total accounting for that, but he isn't about to do it and it can't be done, obviously."
Although Kerry's remark was meant to be rhetorical, the Russians immediately latched onto the idea and launched an initiative of their own to convince the Syrian government to do pretty much what Kerry had suggested, albeit without a specific time-frame.
Okay, so now we are at the stage where the powers that be are fine-tuning the language on the newly minted 'Russian Initiative' to give it some teeth in terms of both timing and verification... but the other shoe has yet to fall. And that other shoe is where the cigar blows up in Israel's face:
I predict that everyone will sign off on the Russian Initiative to have Syria turn over all of it's stockpiles of chemical weapons to International control (and eventual destruction). The wording of the final agreement will be very stern, and will have a fairly short time-frame for compliance. The consequences of non-compliance will also be spelled out in equally serious language... and the Syrian government will soberly agree to sign on the dotted line.
But then......... just as the document is about to be signed, and the international inspectors/collectors are en-route to Damascus, President Assad (at Russia's urging, no doubt) will drop the other shoe: He will demand that Syria's compliance be linked to Israel's compliance to the exact same terms.
Assad will state that if the international community is really serious about ridding the region of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and not just giving lip service to the idea, Israel must also be forced to open up its chemical, biological and nuclear facilities to international inspection, and to turn over everything for destruction.
At that point, the success or failure of the Russian Initiative will be laid entirely at Israel's feet. All of the word's superpowers will align in a rare show of unity and demand that Israel must - for the sake of regional and world peace - abandon its longtime stance of ambiguity regarding WMDs, and agree to the same terms as are being imposed on Syria.
It won't matter that Israel has never even hinted at the use of such weapons (much less confirmed their existence), and that Syria has actually used them; quite frequently, as it turns out. Israel will be painted into the same corner as a pariah regime. And when we refuse to comply (as we surely will), the failure to punish Syria will be blamed not on Russia, China, the UK, US or even the UN Security council... but rather on Israel.
This is one time that I pray I am wrong.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Alone with the dishes (reprised)
[I wrote this post back in 2004 to describe the mental preparation that goes into this period between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. I haven't been able to improve upon it. yet.]
One gets to do a fair amount of thinking late at night… alone with the dishes. Zahava does her fair share of the dishes, but for the big jobs… particularly after dinner parties, large Shabbat/holiday meals, etc… I’m the guy left surveying the wreckage and not knowing exactly where to begin.
So it is (for me) with the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur.
For me, they are like the aftermath of an enormous, wild dinner party… one where invitations were extended to far more people than the house could comfortably accommodate…. the kind of rollicking soirée that is talked about and savored for months.
But such a party comes with a price to pay.
Rosh Hashanah (for me) is roughly analogous to standing [aghast] in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room surveying the damage.
What was I thinking?
Every horizontal surface is stacked high with dirty glasses and dishes.
Half-empty bottles of merlot, syrah and chardonnay stand abandoned beside empty bottles of bourbon and scotch.
The sinks overflow with greasy dishes, and the dessert service (dishes, tea cups and saucers) seem evenly distributed between the dinning room table and the various kitchen counters.
Linen napkins sit balled on (and under) chairs, and glasses of every description seem to wink at me from wherever the wandering conversationalists abandoned them.
On Rosh Hashanah I stand slumped in that imaginary doorway trying to make the insurmountable seem… well, surmountable. Trying to place the soiled contents of my slovenly year into some kind of framework where things can be addressed in an orderly fashion.
Anyone who has been left to clean up after a big dinner party understands the daunting nature of the task. At first glance it seems the house will never be clean again.
But then I pick up that first wine glass (with the half-moon of lipstick on the rim) and place it in such a way as to demonstrate to the long departed guests and sleeping house that this spot on the sideboard is where the crystal will be gathered.
And so Rosh Hashanah begins (for me)… nothing getting washed just yet… just making the insurmountable seem surmountable.
Several circuits of the house bring more dirty wine, whiskey, and water glasses than I ever knew we owned, to join the first there on the counter.
Then, emptying one of the sinks of its precariously balanced contents, I draw a basin of hot soapy water.
As the sink fills, I designate other places for dishes and for cups and for saucers… each to each… all according to size. Warming to the familiar task, I take comfort in the muffled sound of the water under its foamy cloak… almost like a prayer.
And so Rosh Hashanah continues (for me). Nothing getting washed just yet… just making the insurmountable seem surmountable.
Next the sterling flatware and serving pieces are gathered into a soup pot full of soapy water, and the linen napkins are bundled with the tablecloth into the hamper in the laundry room.
With the leftovers put safely into the refrigerator and the trash bundled to the bin, the place is starting to look more sane… not one iota cleaner, mind you... but the illusion of order has begun to emerge from the chaos.
Now pots and pans of every shape and size are filled with soapy water and placed on the stove and sidebaord to soak. Measuring cups and carving knives are placed beside legions of serving platters. Spices are returned to their places and canisters of flour and sugar are placed back on their shelves… each gestures creating a bit of space… and again, that comforting suggestion of emerging order.
And so Rosh Hashanah ends (for me)… nothing having been washed just yet… but the insurmountable beginning to seem… surmountable.
I stand now in the spiritual doorway between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur… balanced on the threshold between what I have created during the year…and what I have consumed. I haven’t yet washed a thing, although some of the bigger problems have been identified and have been placed in to soak. The glasses all sit with their fellows and the dishes are stacked according to size. Everything still bears the smudges and smears of too much fun… too much indulgence.
But now as I look around, the task seems manageable… surmountable.
As I stand listening to the soft ahhhhhhhhhh of the soap bubbles as they settle in the sink, I am ready for Yom Kippur. I know what has to be washed… and I know (hope) that after the necessary amount of work I will find myself at the end of Yom Kippur’s fast with the dish towel in my hands, surveying the sparkling china… the lovingly polished sterling… the immaculate crystal… each in its place, and the house looking (and feeling) ready for a fresh beginning.
May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good year.
Monday, September 02, 2013
I find it telling that the Arab League and Turkey (many of whom receive sizeable military aid/equipment packages from the US and other western countries), are coming out strongly in favor of a US military attack on Syria... but have no intention of lifting a finger to help.
In fact, Turkey's Prime Minister has made several public statements to the effect that a few days of firing missiles at military targets won't be enough. He wants the US to intervene militarily to remove the Assad regime.
My question is this:
Why the hell do the US and other western powers give military aid to these clowns? Why do Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have the latest jet fighters and helicopters provided by the US and Europe. Why do these countries have well-equipped armies, navies and air forces on someone else's dime if there is no expectation that when push comes to shove, they will join a coalition led by their benefactor(s)?
I've heard the old saw that 'It isn't a reasonable or ethical request to expect Muslim countries to join a US attack on another Muslim country!'
Oh really? Why not?!
Have we really all bought into their bullsh*t that Muslims are some sort of special class of humans, and to expect them to take a stand against one of their own would be tantamount to fratricide?!
Puleeze! They have no trouble slaughtering one another at the drop of a hat when the mood strikes them.
Are we really saying that we have zero expectations of these countries after all that has been done for them? Are we really okay with them, once again, standing by like some schoolyard mob pushing the hapless combatants forward, yelling, "Fight, fight, fight...", all the while staying safely on the sidelines and enjoying the spectacle?
I think the time has come for the western powers - particularly the US - to take a close look at who they supply with military aid, and make that aid contingent upon rolling up their sleeves and providing some support (troops, planes, ships, airfields, refueling tankers, intelligence, etc.), whenever a fight breaks out.
Fail to step up just once? Kiss that fat aid check good-bye.
I don't really care that this risks pushing them into the sphere of influence of Russia or China. I'd rather Russia and China be bled dry by these leeches.
Bottom line: If these countries aren't willing to vote with the west at the UN... side with the west on global issues... share their oil with the west at an equitable price...and above all, put some skin in the game when the west really needs them to have our back... they aren't really in the west's sphere of influence in the first place, now are they?
Sunday, September 01, 2013
That about sums it up
One of the few things that most people can agree upon regarding Syria is that there are few, if any, good choices... at least as far as foreign intervention of any sort goes. Yet that doesn't stop people from holding forth very loudly and criticizing both action and inaction (often in the same, convoluted, rant).
I've actually taken to challenging taxi drivers, office pundits and amateur political analysts in cafes when I hear them carrying on about what should and/or shouldn't be done vis-à-vis Syria.
Like placing a piece of sheet music in front of an electrical guitar player, there is apparently no faster way to get a know-it-all to turn down the volume on their opinions than to ask them to 'play the melody' of their so-called solution.
It turns out pretty much everyone is big on criticizing what is or isn't being done, but when asked to outline specific alternatives (and the consequences of those alternatives), they get very quiet, very quickly.
To be clear, I don't envy President Obama his current position, having haplessly painted himself into a corner with last year's ill-advised 'red line' speech, and now having had to take a step back and pull Congress into the corner with him to wait for the paint to dry.
I think that, probably for the first time, Vice President Joe Biden - standing off to the side while Obama slowly twisted in the wind - was genuinely relieved to hold an office with few, if any, real responsibilities.
As private citizens, we hope/trust that the free world's elected leaders have access to better intelligence, advisers and resources than we do when tackling the big problems. Surely what looks like a Gordian Knot to us down here must have some sort of solution when viewed from the lofty heights of power... right?
So it is frustrating to hear the leader of the free world admitting in a globally broadcast speech that he wants to ask around a bit more before deciding what, if anything, can be done to punish Syria and keep them, and other despots, from repeating such a massacre.
Yes, I can already hear some of you saying that in a democracy like the US, the Executive Branch can't act alone. The President has to consult with the people's elected representatives; the US Congress.
And I accept that answer.
But I can't help wondering why Obama didn't consult Congress two weeks ago while the bodies of the victims were still warm... or a week ago when his intelligence sources had concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that Assad's regime had indeed carried out a massacre using chemical weapons.
So, lacking a ready solution from Washington, London or Paris, I've been scanning the media for someone - anyone - to offer sounder opinions than I've been hearing on TV or forming for myself. And I've been coming up empty.
I can't conceive of a good plan, for action or inaction, that will have the smallest impact on Syria's (or any other player's) potential future use of unconventional weapons. Short of performing an Etch-O-Sketch-esque reset of the whole sandbox (not a reasonable option at present) there just aren't any good plans.
But I did get a chuckle out of an observation, quoted in today's New York Times, provided by a Syrian citizen after watching Obama's speech on TV:
"... for Homs resident, Abu Bassam, 31, the only possible response was black humor.
“Man, I wish Bush was the president,” he said. “He would have reacted right away. He may have invaded Cyprus or Jordan instead of Syria by mistake, but you know he would have done something at least.”
That about sums it up.