Tag Archives: Bashar Al-Assad

Missiles and Messages: What is Trump trying to Convey?

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

If nothing else the events of last week, in particular President Trump’s decision to launch missiles at a Syrian airbase in response to Syria’s renewed use of poison gas on its own population sent a message to different leaders around the world. What that message is and how effective that it is depends on who heard it and how they interpreted it.

The actual type of strike was nothing new and it certainly was justified in relation to war crimes of the Assad regime. President Clinton used similar strikes as punitive measures against Iraq in the 1990s, President Bush used them against various targets outside of Iraq, and opting for a full invasion of that country. While President Obama tended to be more hesitant about the missile strikes he often used Special Forces and drones in many countries pursuant to the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Force pertaining to the War on Terror, he did use missile and air strikes in conjunction with NATO to help Libyan rebels overthrow the Ghaddafi regime.

That being said what is the message that the President was attempting to send, and how does it fit into a larger foreign policy and national security strategy? That is where my concerns lie in regard to this strike. As for me I would have loved to see a Tomahawk fly up Bashir Assad’s ass and blow him to the Hell of his choice, if Ghaddafi and Saddam deserved death, then Assad deserves it many times more. It’s probably a good thing that I’m not President because I think that those 60 Tomahawks would have been much more wisely employed by taking out Assad’s Presidential Palace and maybe taking out him in the process, but there would have been a much bigger blowback to that than striking the airfield, but I digress…

Going back to what I was saying, how does this fit into a broader foreign policy and national security strategy?

The timing of the strike, minutes after the final dinner between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping certainly sent a message to China and North Korea who it might have been the real audience. If the strike forces China to take stronger action to assist the United States in reducing the building North Korean nuclear threat, then it will have served a worthwhile purpose. A Chinese newspaper reported that this was the intent of the strike just yesterday.

But the effect depends on the rationality of the targeted audience. The Chinese are a rational actor, but the North Koreans may not be, so we have to wait and see. In the meantime the Administration dispatched the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to Korea waters to coincide with a time of the year when the North Koreans typically become more active.

There is also the possibility that the message was also intended for Putin’s Russia, the Assad regime, and even Iran, but right now other than a few statements by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley there has not been any real follow up to the strike. Secretary of State Tillerson is going to Moscow this week so we may glean more from that meeting.

Of course there is the domestic political audience and based on how the Trump campaign and administration has dealt with truth there is the possibility that this is much more to do about Trump’s plunging poll ratings and as a distraction from the ballooning Russia-Trump election scandals.

Regardless of what message the missile strike was intended to convey, we still don’t know how it will play out and it could play out in any number of ways, good or bad, and it might even turn out to be an act of genius, I doubt the latter but it is a possibility.

That is why the Trump and his administration must determine what its policy will be, especially its diplomatic policy. The President must keep all options on the table, diplomatic, informational, military, and economic, but he must be very judicious in how he uses them. Believe me, I can disagree with and distrust the President all day long, but I don’t want him to screw this up. Too much is at stake.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Real Conflict: Ethics and American Values Versus Realpolitik

Syria03_GQ_07Dec12_getty_b_642x390

“A country that demands moral perfection in its foreign policy will achieve neither perfection nor security” Henry Kissinger

There are a times in a nation’s life that its leaders are confronted with situations that present conflicts between a nation’s values and realpolitik.

The fact is that there are “tribes” in foreign policy and national security debates. Some are the idealists, others pragmatists and some realists. There are gradients between the levels and sometimes depending on the situation an idealist might gravitate toward pragmatism or even realpolitik and visa versa. Sometimes it is a matter of politics, sometimes ideology and sometimes even  and no leader of no political is immune from these tensions.

The situation in Syria is one of those times where the conflicting agendas of the different foreign policy tribes conflict and where no matter what happens in Syria the conflicts between the tribes will remain and perhaps even grow more pronounced. The fact is that I often can find myself on several sides of the same argument. It might be the PTSD “Mad Cow” is causing these conflicts but it could also be that there are good arguments to be made on all sides of the argument. What is ultimately the right course or the wrong course is actually hard to say.

If we argue for the idealist position, which would argue that American values of stopping human rights violations and the use of chemical weapons, something prohibited under the Hague convention and the more recent Chemical Weapons Convention of 1992 against the realpolitik of what are the actual National Security interests of the United States, the vital interests which involve the survival of the nation itself, major interests which could impact national security or tertiary interests which might have some importance but do not threaten the survival of the nation, even of they are terrible crimes against humanity.

Whether one likes it or not these are legitimate ethical and policy conflicts. On one hand there is the position that the United States has taken following World War Two and the Nuremberg trials as well as its participation in the International Criminal Courts has a moral obligation to confront the use of chemical weapons even if other nations or international bodies stand aside. On the other hand the argument that what happens in Syria is not in the vital interests of the United States and that the United States should not take military action to stop the use of those weapons. The fact is that those that advocate military action in Syria be they politicians, pundits, preachers or profiteers need to remember the words of Carl Von Clausewitz that “No one starts a war – or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” I really don’t think that we have thought this through as a nation.

Of course these two positions are not exclusive. There are also ranges of action which span the full spectrum of action between the either or situation that most Americans seem to find themselves caught between. The fact is that the National Security Strategy of the United States is not based on military might alone, no matter how much it has been used as the first choice by American leaders. The reality is that military force is only one element, and perhaps the weakest element of the elements of national security police known as the “DIME.” That is the Diplomatic, the Informational, the Military and the Economic power of the nation. What we seem to have forgotten is that the other elements of the DIME other than the gut level military response have value and are perhaps even more important.

I think that a large part of this conundrum is found in the reflexive use of military force as the preferred means of action since the attacks of September 11th 2001. On that day the United States was attacked by the terrorist attacks of Al Qaeda militants and while the victims of those attacks were overwhelmingly American the citizens of over 60 other nations we killed in the attacks.

Those attacks demonstrated the vulnerabilities of this nation. When one looks at our actual national security policy it is clear that those vulnerabilities are not always fixed by military action in other countries. In fact they sometimes can become even more glaring as resources required for Homeland Defense and economic recovery are spent on military operations of dubious strategic value and which at times undermine efforts to build trust with other nations, build coalitions based on shared values and to undercut the efforts of extremists using diplomacy, information and economic power.

What we have to answer now is how we address a situation in Syria that is both a violation of international law but which military force alone cannot solve. Of course there is a conflict between our ideals and what are vital national security concerns. I would suggest that the real threat of military action can be a part of the answer if it helps the United States and the world make the case through diplomacy, information and economic pressure not only to stop the slaughter but to hold those responsible for it accountable in International Criminal Courts for the commission of war crimes. At the same time the reality is that the United States and the world cannot allow an Al Qaeda dominated organization such as the Al Nursa Front gain control of Syria.

The fact is that despite how clear cut we want things to be as Americans that much of what happens in the world takes place in a world of more than 50 shades of gray. Unfortunately American conservatives and liberals alike prefer to see foreign policy in the “either or” world of using pure military force or doing nothing, neither of which of themselves are the answer. The full continuum of national and international power must be brought to bear in these kind of situations, recognizing that not everyone shares our values or has the same strategic interests.

It may not be comfortable for anyone but it is reality. How we navigate it is key, maintaining our values while ensuring that our nation survives. If military action is decided on one has to remember what Clausewitz said: “The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and the means can never be considered in isolation from their purposes.”

To make a decision without understanding this or as we did in Iraq ignoring it is to risk disaster. Such are the stakes. I personally would rather see more negotiation in the hopes that the Syrian chemical and biological weapons are secured and those responsible for using them, be they Assad, his government or even the rebels attempting to frame the Syrians and deceive the United States against the Syrian people are brought to justice.

This is a messy business and not for the faint of heart. Lives of thousands of people in Syria, the region and potentially around the world are at stake and a military strike that fails to accomplish the political object would be worse than none at all.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Fear and Loathing in Damascus

Free Syrian Army Fighter

The situation in Syria continues to worsen as the battle for Damascus heats up. Syrian Dictator Bashar Assad reportedly has moved his headquarters to the Alawite Mountains as fighting rages in the Syrian capitol.   The International Red Cross has declared what most of us already believed that the conflict is a civil war and call for the United Nations to intervene under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter grow ever stronger despite the opposition of Russia and China to those calls.

In the 16 months that this fighting has been going on an estimated 10,000-15,000 Syrians have been killed. Thousands more have been wounded, many are missing and the number of refugees in Turkey has risen to roughly 120,000.  Despite the harsh repression of the Syria government, military, security and police against the opposition the opposition continues to grow in strength and is being joined by increasing numbers of senior military officers and soldiers.

Syrian Army Troops fighting in Damascus

On Wednesday the 18th after four days of sustained combat in Damascus the Free Syrian Army struck a blow at the heart of the Syrian dictatorship of Bashar Al Assad. It was a blow that no-one saw coming except the plotters. From a strategic point of view it was a brilliantly executed strike that will inspire fear among Assad’s loyalists and increase the opposition to him.

Bashar Assad and Senior Generals including Defense Minister Dawood Rajiha

Both the FSA and the Liwa al-Islam group claimed credit for a strike using a remotely detonated explosive inside the national security headquarters building in to decapitate the military and intelligence leadership of the Assad regime. Killed were Defense Minister Dawood Rajiha; and his “deputy” Asef Shawkat. Shawkat is Assad’s brother-in law and one of the regime’s most feared strongmen.

Defense Minister Dawood Rajiha; and his “deputy” Asef Shawkat (below)

Also killed was Assistant Vice President Hassan Turkmani, a former Defense Minister who served as the head of Assad’s Crisis Management Office. Syrian State TV reported that Hisham Ikhtiar, director of the National Security Bureau, and Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar, were among those hurt in the attack.  Al Arabia reported that another key official, Hafez Makhlouf, head of the investigations at the Syrian Intelligence Agency was killed in the attack.

The dead were key members of Assad’s attempt to crush the rebels and maintain his control over Syria. Rajiha was the most senior Christian in the Syrian government. Shawkat who was the husband of Assad’s sister Bushra had been Assed’s enforcer who wielded great power in Syria and with Syrian dealings in Lebanon.  AFP reports that the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called Shawkat’s death “a severe blow to the Syrian regime since he played the main role in operations by regular forces to crush the revolution.”

Syrian Army Tanks fire on Opposition Fighters

With the successful attack the revolution has reached a turning point. It has show the ability to strike at the heart of the Assad regime. Assad is counter-attacking but with the loss of such trusted key players his efforts, which have been a failure to date will be dealt a fatal blow. Even before the attack a number of Generals and other senior officers as well as thousands of troops have defected to the revolution. Rebels find arms and ammunition easy to come by in the corrupt Syrian government. Last week the Syrian Ambassador to Iraq Nawaf Fares defected to the rebels and claimed that he believed that Assad would use his chemical weapons against the opposition if he felt the need to do so.

Syrian Refugees in Turkey

The probable end of this is that the Assad regime will fall and a long term sectarian civil war like that that has plagued Lebanon since the 1970s will ensue. Hezbollah having lost its ally will attempt to retain power in Lebanon and influence events in Syria to their advantage, possibly attempting to gain control of Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile.

The collapse of Syria which to all before 2010 appeared to be stable by Arab standards despite fomenting problems for its neighbors will bring more instability, uncertainty and violence to the region. Expect that Assad’s loyalists among the Shite Alawite sect will be targeted for revenge by the persecuted Sunni majority. Also expect that Christianity will lose its last place of refuge in the broader Middle East as Syrian Arab Orthodox and Catholic Christians are targeted by all sides as were Iraqi Christians during the Iraq civil war and insurgency.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Gaddafi is Dead so what happens Now?

“We announce to the world that Qaddafi has been killed at the hands of the revolution. It is a historic moment. It is the end of tyranny and dictatorship. Qaddafi has met his fate.” Abdel Hafez Ghoga, spokesman for the National Transitional Council

Note: This article contains graphic images of Gaddafi’s body. They may not be suitable for all readers.

The Arab Spring gained new momentum today with the killing of Moammar Gaddafi by forces loyal to the National Transitional Council. The NTC had captured Tripoli in August and the former dictator had been on the run attempting to rally loyalists to help him regain power.  His efforts were in vain. The NTC forces which are best described as a collection of irregular forces rather than a real army continued to gain territory and liberate cities which had been terrorized by Gaddafi’s forces.

Gaddafi was killed today while he and close advisors were attempting to flee Sirte his hometown which was in the process of  falling to NTC forces.  Reports are sketchy but his convoy appeared to be hit by French Jets and American Predator drones  killing many of his loyalists.  Gaddafi reportedly was wounded but escaped to hide in a drainage ditch tunnel.  He was later captured by pursuing NTC forces, captured and reportedly died of his wounds after his capture.  The circumstances of his death are unclear some say that the vehicle that he was being transported in was caught in a crossfire and other reports indicate that he may have been summarily executed by his captors.  Pictures of his body seem to show a bullet wound in his forehead, one in his left arm and several just below his sternum.

Along those killed with Gaddafi was his Defense Minister Abu Bakr Yunis Jabr, head of Intelligence Services Abdullah al-Senussi and his son Muatassim and other loyalists who were killed during or following a firefight with NTC forces.  Another report by Al Arabya News says that one of their reporters in Sirte has confirmed that Saif-Al Islam Gaddafi is also dead.

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/10/20111020111520869621.html

Gaddafi wounded and still alive (above) after his capture and his corpse below

 

The death of Gaddafi ends a 42 year reign of terror in Libyaand of Gaddafi’s support for terrorism and terrorist organizations. Among those terrorist acts included the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland on December 21st 1988 killing all 270 souls aboard and the April 5th 1986 bombing of the West Berlin nightclub La Belle which killed 3 people and wounded 230. The latter was directed at US Army soldiers that frequented the club.  He trained and supported tyrants in Sierra Leone and Liberia who killed hundreds of thousands of people.  Tens of thousands of Libyans died at his hand.

Despite this Libya faces difficulties.  Tribal, ideological, economic and political rivalries long contained and suppressed are showing. The Misrata Council in the West does not recognize the NTC despite the latter group’s recognition by governments around the world.  There are tensions between those of a more secular democratic view and Islamists so it remains to be seen what Libya will evolve or devolve into over the coming weeks, months and years.

The killing of Gaddafi is likely to have broad repercussions throughout the Middle East and may further encourage the now months long revolts against Yemen’s long term dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh and Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad.  Other regimes could face uprising and there is potential for the Arab Spring to inspire those in other nations who feel oppressed or that have real or imagined grievances against their governments or those that they see as the real power brokers in their lands.

Bashar Al Assad and Ali Abdullah Saleh…are they next?

Since war, economic crisis and perceived inequities between the rich and the poor are fertile ground for such movements it is my belief that the Arab Spring is helping to usher in a new era of revolution around the world such as not been seen since 1918 and the overthrow of long established governments and the collapse of empires which lasted until the 1960s.  The world is still shaped by those events.

As Alexis de Tocqueville said “In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.”

As I said a few days ago this is a time of promise and peril. But for now we can rejoice for the people of Libya as they begin a new chapter in their history.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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