Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Most of the world is ignoring - except as a topic for idle comment - the bloody business going on in Syria.Mind you, the usual suspects (the Arab League, the UN) are saying the "right things"; they'd like to see the killing stop, they'd like "someone" to step in. The West, including my own country, is deploring all this nasty killing though rather sotto voce so as not to have to, you know, do something about it. So, as usual, it seems like everyone would like to guard the nice people being so brave and anti-dictator-y in Homs but no one really wants to BE the "guards", the actual guarding process being so messy and all.

And the Syrian government, having taken as a parole another Latin maxim - oderint dum metuant; let them hate so long as they fear - goes on its merry way killing those in opposition to it.

And I have only one real question; if Syria, why not elsewhere?

I mean, the Syrian government is rather nasty, although by historical measure not all that vile, and even by much of current global practice not so much more so than many, including some that my country lavishes public affection and tax largesse upon.

But if the current ratissage in Homs (and elsewhere in Syria) is not practically the very definition of civil war, then, what is it? Yes, the rebels are getting hammered in a very bloodily unequal fashion. Since when has the suppression of rebellion become a non-contact sport?After the failure of the Third Servile Rebellion Crassus crucified 6,000 slaves along the Via Appia. In the aftermath of Sherman's Atlanta and Savannah campaigns thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Southern civilians suffered hellacious hardships. Many probably starved, or died of various diseases, or exposure. Rebellion is, and by political calculus must be, a hazardous thing; Tokugawa Ieyesu is said to have claimed that nothing justified rebellion other than success.

So perhaps I'm a fool, or being deliberately obtuse, but I fail to see in this ugly little civil war a casus belli for anyone not a Syrian in the same way I didn't get the enthusiasm for jumping into the Lybian fracas. While the al-Assad government is a pretty bad guy I don't see a "good guy" here any more than the Lybian TNC looked plausible as "good guys."

And, frankly, this current enthusiasm for leaping into other people's civil wars seems to be setting up a bad idea as conventional wisdom. It took a long time to set up the current Westphalian state system. It has a hell of a lot of flaws, but right now it seems about the best idea we have for providing people with the things government provides. And one of the fundamental pillars of the Westphalian state is the assumption that rebellion against the state is just that, and that unless a foreign state wishes to ally with the rebels in hopes of helping them become the state - with all the subsequent diplomatic and political connections that implies - the best thing that foreign state can be is neutral.

If we want to attack Syria, to my mind we'd be better off - as I insisted we should have done in Lybia - to just make a treaty with the rebels and jump in on one side. The notion of "fighting for peace" seems silly to me in that it promises to expend at least treasure if not blood for very little tangible gain.

Hey, I don't like bullies, either. But I've been in enough playground fights to know that stepping into family fights to try and stop the hurting usually just gets you nothing but bruises while seldom solving the problems that started the fight in the first place.So you might say that everything I needed to know about Syria I learned in third grade. Not that I expect that anyone is going to listen. Just sayin' so I can say "I tol' ya so." I'm kind of an asshole like that.

(Cross-posted to MilPub)


Lisa said...

The Team America scene in which Hans "Bwix" tells Kim Jong Il he's going to have the UN send him an angry letter if he disallows inspections, is about the size of it.

What can one do when a rebellion occurs, other than to allow it. How can we ascertain the "good guys"? What if there are none. We have established dealings with so many suspect regimes -- why should this be any different?

We can't patrol the world .. we've got a country to run. Right?

basilbeast said...

One big connection that Syria has with the West is the Christian heritage/history.

Which includes my particular brand

I believe Assad's regime is doomed, but there will be a tremendous amount of Syrian blood to end it.

Lisa, the "Good Guys" are them that we want to see win.

Speaking of the which, it seems our press corps every so often actually does it's job, here ABC's tapper calling the Obama administration's hypocrisy on the news about a couple of journalists being killed in Syria.

BTW Chief, what's with all the Latin all of a sudden? Is it even offered out where you are?


FDChief said...

The thing is, Lisa, if there WAS a reasonable geopolitical gain to be had by defenestrating al-Assad I'd be...well, not all for it, but at least willing to consider the idea.

But there's no "win" here, really. And I am getting very tired of this "oh, dear, think of the children!" sort of faux pity that covers the punditocracy when some overseas tyrant starts killing rebels. If we want to intervene, pick a sound political reason. Vicious suppression of a rebellion isn't one - it's how rebellions GET suppressed.

And yes, the idea is that we're supposed to tend our own patch right here, a patch that seems to be sprouting the weeds of oligarchy, theocracy, and (IMO) a particularly nasty breed of patriarchy as we discussed over at RAW just the other day. Time enough to worry about Syrian government when our own gets straightened out...

Lisa said...

Right ... if there WERE a gain to be had. That's the business of statesmanship and realpolitik. It's concerns are other than exporting democracy or saving babies. The latter should be the business of each state, and if the state can't handle it reasonably well, then the people revolt and possibly install something better.

Human greed being what it is, that is seldom the case.

FDChief said...

basil: And the other connection that we don't like to discuss is that this horrible dictator was perfectly willing to torture our renditioned "suspects" for us until we didn't need him anymore...

And the Latin? I'm afraid it's purely my love of showing off my Great Big Brain and affection for Latin tags. I had a company commander who used Latin maxims as a way of instilling is motto "Samurai discipline and Roman virtue". He was something of a dick, too.

Lisa: The deal here is, I think, that there IS a gain to be had, but not for the U.S. Israel has some hopes, I think, of rebalancing the power to their north, and getting Assad out of the way would help. And, as usual, we tend to find that our foreign policy is a little pushed in its orbit by our friends on the eastern Levant.

I don't blame the Israelis - they're in a tight corner and need all the leverage they can get. It's up to the U.S. to decide if their advantage is also ours. My gripe is that we aren't willing to lay out the actual terms and debate them, and that's been a lot of the problem with our Middle Eastern policy since 1956. The real benefits and costs aren't all out there on the public table...

Lisa said...

I agree ... countries (people) should weigh the costs vs. benefits, esp. of such a fraught effort.