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More for Josie (Pagani) on Syria – the Russians theory

  • September 4th, 2013

My colleagues at work have been debating Syria. One circulated the Onion's take on Obama's predicament.

Another responded with a an arresting and original perspective.

[The Onion is ] Funny as usual. 

However, jokes aside, I think it buys into a misunderstanding about what is going on there.  The pieces just don’t fit the public narrative. Although, I must acknowledge “John’s Law” –  those who think it is a conspiracy don’t understand the power of the plain old  f—   up.

I don’t agree with the portrayal of Assad as in the least insane.  Only a few years ago he was being feted (and, ahem,  wined and dined)  by pretty much everyone as a practical reformer, trying to bring Syria out from under his fathers murderous shadow (remember, his father had a whole town liquidated to quell a rebellion).  Acts of horror abound in the Middle East, where strength and lack of pity are virtues.

I still don’t believe the public version of the gas story.  The cost benefit analysis was just too negative for Assad – score a very localised tactical victory (and even that isn’t clear) at the risk of forcing  Obama across his “red line”, and certainly facing a massive increase in funding for the rebels and probably some sort of air strike.  So we are left with the only motive as insanity, but there is no actual evidence he is of unsound mind at all.

And I don’t believe anything Kerry, Obama or anyone else says about the intelligence information, given previous misinformation about Iraq and straight out lies about Benghazi.  From what I can tell, the evidence of a military style poison gas attack by Assad’s forces is equivocal – its likely, but far from certain.

I’d follow the benefits (i.e. follow the money).  The parties who benefit from the media furore over the attack most are the Rebels and the Russians.  The Rebels because they score intervention, to partially counterbalance Iranian and Russian support for Assad.  The Russians/Iranians on the other hand have a huge interest in testing the West’s resolve and in humiliating Obama, who they have already sized up as a blow-hard who holds traditional diplomacy in contempt.   

So I think a likely scenario is that once Obama had issued his foolish ultimatum, and Russia was sure there could be no “coalition of the willing”, Russia (directly or via Iran) gave Assad personal security guarantees in return for him ordering gas to be used.  It is such an easy power politics win for them it is embarrassing. As long as they don’t get caught red handed, its all upside.  On this theory the gassing happened precisely because Obama issued the ultimatum.  we know from past performance that ordering the deliberate killing of thousands of civilians wouldn’t give Putin or the Ayatollahs even a moment’s pause.

In any event, for Obama to make a big deal about a ‘red line’ without having first stitched up a coalition behind the scenes was a monumental unforced foreign policy blunder, for which the Middle East and Eastern Europe will pay dearly.

I’m hoping the US does launch missile attacks, to at least salvage some measure of deterrent credibility.  It doesn’t matter either way to the Syrians, who have the misfortune to have become the playthings of great powers.  I hate being on Obama’s side on anything, but having made such a foolish ultimatum, he simply must make good on it.  Otherwise  Russia will be hugely emboldened, and that could lead to a bad place – an arms race in Europe.


  • Brendan
  • September 5th, 2013
  • 9:41 am

Let’s get this right…. so bombing Syrians is what’s needed for Obama and America to save face. In 2013, saving face is a justifiable reason for the Western powers to declare war on Syria, a nation that is not threatening America or its allies and is presently in the midst of a bloody civil war.

I understand now.

  • Roger Strong
  • September 5th, 2013
  • 7:51 pm

One thing that is coming out of this whole thing is a realisation(for some people really belatedly) that Obama is way, way out of his depth. He really has little idea of what he is doing. The man is a great autocue reader but little else. The moment he drew a ‘red line’ he was done. Right there was something that he couldn’t see and he had no idea of what he was doing. Strange that so few in the media who I think see Obama much more clearly now, just won’t say so.

  • Barry
  • September 6th, 2013
  • 10:28 am

So, some believe, on the balance of probabilities, that a war crime was committed by an unidentified group of Syrian government employees.

The Court (UN) lacks jurisdiction at present.

This justifies a vigilante action by the US government to execute other unidentified (but almost certainly innocent) groups of Syrian residents.

The US does not regard its proposed missile attacks as an act of war against anyone in particular. Instead, it is just carrying out reprisals against bad behavior and holds no animus against the soon-to-be deceased.

  • Phil T Tipp
  • September 6th, 2013
  • 10:53 am

Josie Pagani is clearly an idiot [SLF She is not the idiot. She is clearly an addressee, not the author. I addressed it to her because of a conversation in which we both bemoaned the lack of intellectual humility in NZ commentary on the US dilemma]

I’m hoping the US does launch missile attacks, to at least salvage some measure of deterrent credibility. It doesn’t matter either way to the Syrians, who have the misfortune to have become the playthings of great powers.

Oh, so it doesn't matter to the Syrians who'll have bits of them blown off, blinded, made homeless, fatherless, childless. Dimwit. Is this the best you can do? I really hope no one ever, ever asks you for actual, real-world opinion on implementing foreign policy. Let this squalid little civil war – which is part of a larger pan-arab muslim power struggle of course – run its course until the idiots exhaust themselves. It is not the West's business.

  • A colleague
  • September 6th, 2013
  • 1:27 pm

Phil, Josie Pagani didn’t write any of this, I did.
I don’t buy your moral posturing. Your concern for the few 100 Syrians who will be killed by cruise missiles is inconsistent with your desire to otherwise just let “the idiots” (Syrians?) kill each other to exhaustion. The historical norm for this sort of civil war is 2-3% of the population, or 500,000 dead. And if Russia becomes emboldened, it could be many more.


colleague, Phil is right Josie is idiot.[SLF She is the addressee, not the author – think carefully before you put the idiot label in play]  It is well established that the punitive attack will not change the outcome of the civil war in Syria, There is a nice picture of an American Marine holding up a note saying " I didn't join the marines to fight with AlQuaeda in a foreign civil war" How would you like to die, a bullet wound in the guts and 48 hours agony or gas fast. Obama has crosssed the red line, thank God Cameron had the democracy to accept what his people want.

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