Victor Davis Hanson: Syrian Knowns and Unknowns

by Victor Davis Hanson: @Works and Days: Syrian Knowns and Unknowns September 8th, 2013

From my perspective the best synopsis of the status.

There are no solutions and probably never were any that a politician could stomach.

Reagan’s ’86 Libyan strike is a reasonable model for a ’13 Syrian strike

From Real Clear Politics: 86 Attack on Libya: A Template for U.S. Action Now

Should we choose to demonstrate our resolve in this manner, we must also prepare for the counter-response of Syria and its confederates. While we should prepare for terrorist attacks, kidnapping, or military strikes against U.S., allied, or Israeli targets, we must be equally vigilant in the cyber-domain. The actions of the Syrian Electronic Army already indicate the ability to launch increasingly sophisticated cyber-disruptions, and Syria’s Iranian sponsors also have significant cyber-capabilities that could be used to disrupt key infrastructure, communications, or energy facilities throughout the region. Suspected Iranian cyber-attacks have already targeted Saudi Aramco and Qatari RasGas, and similar attacks could be part of any retaliation.

Using the historical lesson of 1986’s Operation El Dorado Canyon, U.S. and allied forces can incur significant damage against Syria through a limited campaign and avoid the more deleterious outcomes of inaction or prolonged intervention. The bottom line: Like Reagan in Libya, Obama today has few good options — but the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces requires a response, albeit a judicious one.

It seems likely that ‘Syria’ will end up a patchwork of mini states, so we probably should encourage the regime to retreat to its bastion on the coast, perhaps with a loose network of the other small sects in mutual support. Once the players set up their own cores, hopefully they would settle into some kind of loose confederation. Of course the jihadis don’t want this, but if there comes a period of settling out, separating and then taking out the hard liners should become feasible, with local support…expect more drone war…

This requires a basis for a future better time, right now the old regime has proven that the only peace they accept is that of subjugation and coercion. So degrading the regimes offensive capability and its ability to limit future intervention while not going for the jugular, in any more than a symbolic way, makes sense beyond mere face saving. Degrade the offensive forces enough and a defensive cordon is their only hope. It is going to be ugly, monstrous, utterly unfair, but there is no other solution given the situation as it stands today.

Reagan had to live with Carter’s mess, Obama has to deal with his own, times have changed, bad outcomes are accelerating in a more densely populated and seriously degraded world…social and ecological degradation are at the root of this disaster and something was going to break. But the level of horror could have been reduced if action had been taken earlier.

Scared Stupid, the US in the post 9/11 world

Read the whole thing, if you can take the blood pressure spike:
Scared Tactics: Why America will be paying for decades for a foreign policy based on fear.
BY DAVID ROTHKOPF | JUNE 18, 2013

Prudence is a term often invoked by the fearful for doing too much or too little. But it shouldn’t obscure what is really happening. Our insecurity rather than our goals is too often playing too great a role in driving our actions. Whether this is a momentary anomaly or longer-term symptom common to declining nations that have lost confidence in important aspects of themselves remains to be seen.

Sorry to say it but every day I see more evidence of our craven collapse in the face of a dangerous but far from existential threat. Our whole damned political class has lost the ability to stand straight, speak straight, be straight. To understand fundamentals like human nature and human societies outside our bubble, economics, social dynamics, technology, etc except in the narrowest most self serving way.

Syria, the ugly truth is its not going to get better

Syria (like Egypt) as presently constituted simply is not viable as a country. Iraq might be viable, because it has enough oil to subsidize a largely uneducated, pre-modern population. As an economist and risk analyst (I ran Credit Strategy for Credit Suisse and all fixed income research for Bank of America), I do not believe that there is any way to stabilize either country

Read more @:http://pjmedia.com/spengler/2013/06/05/muslim-civil-wars-stem-from-a-crisis-of-civilization

Free Syrian Army | Counterpoint

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/10/15/Guerrilla_Country_Syria_Jebel_Zawiya

 

As a counterpoint to Huriyet Daily’s Point of view this article; Guerrilla Country I linked to in Foreign Policy has a different take.  The article is fascinating in its details but the money item is this:

As a no-holds-barred battle rages to the east in the city of Aleppo, the pulse of the Syrian insurrection can be taken in Jabal al-Zawiya. This complex region of hills covered in olive groves and plains entwined with narrow roads of asphalt or dirt is the homeland of Hussein Harmoush, the first officer to publicly defect in 2011, and of Riad al-Asaad, the leading figure of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Here, the insurrection is deeply rooted in the social fabric: The war these men are waging is always present, and its path is inseparable from their identities.

The FSA’s lack of formal hierarchy appears to be an asset here, as it allows the citizens of the region to organize the insurgency locally and tailor their military response to their environment. Although the rebels in Jabal al-Zawiya recognize a general leadership above them — and though they place themselves under the FSA’s umbrella — these semiautonomous groups of fighters are organized along village and family lines. That gives them several advantages: They have natural intelligence-gathering networks, and they know the terrain like the palms of their hands, having relied on back roads for supplies and secret meetings for many months. These assets, coupled with basic military skills, have allowed them to drive a far superior foe out of the towns.

Now I am far from the sound of guns and have never had the ill luck to be any closer than in an airliner on the original 9/11 but this piece rings true to me.  That is not to say it’s a good thing or bad thing, it is a reasonable facsimile of a fact on the ground.  What it says is that the FSA is probably a lot more effective than numbers and weaponry might indicate.

The FSA does not need to have its boots on the ground everywhere as it has co-opted the local fighting age inhabitants into a cell based ground holding force.  This ground holding force is self-supporting, motivated and dangerous because of its local knowledge and backing.

The FSA assault groups can stay very lean and relatively disbursed and yet have considerable military effect   They can move through the held ground quickly even if on foot because they will have local guides, support and not need a significant logistics tail or carry a lot of food and ammo.  Of course that means they cannot carry out a stand up fight from the move but that should happen rarely since they have eyes everywhere.

That’s not to say the situation sounds good.  The picture and the description are unsettling.  This is a war very much like those in the Balkans during the partisan wars associated with WWI, WWII and the ColdWar.  A war of sects who until the dogs were loosed had lived interlaced with each other for decades if not centuries (not always at peace mind you.) Now with the emperors (dictators) military police no longer suppress all,  distrust and pent-up hate is unleashed and leads down an ever tighter and more destructive spiral.

This is what the US and others should have been trying to prevent, the fragmentation and violation of the populace to a point where their natural distrust of ‘the other’ will make it all but impossible to put a working multi-cultural society back together again.

Lebanon (Syria’s neighbor and sometime satrap) is another multicultural nation in name only, but it has learned to live with its divisions, hopefully it can teach Syrians how to live with theirs when the dogs of war grow sated.

Which Is Worse: To Help the Syrian Rebels or to Do Nothing? | WALTER RUSSELL MEAD

From the Huriyet Daily News:

There are more than 30 different rebel groups, including the most prominent rebel group, the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA), fighting in Syria, according to officials from the most prominent Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC).
The Jihadists, Islamists, pro-al-Qaida and secular groups that are not under the control of the FSA and which are fighting in different areas of Syria against the Syrian regime forces prove how fragmented and disorganized the Syrian rebel groups were in Syria.
According to the SNC media officer, Ahmad al-Halabi, there are more than 30 opposition groups fighting in Syria – of whom only 15 could be identified by Hürriyet Daily News research. “Fifty armed men come together and they form a rebel group. They generally give their groups names from the Quran or the names the towns and areas they are coming from,” Ahmad al-Halabi told the Daily News.
According to SNC officials, there were between 70,000 and 100,000 rebels fighting against the Syrian regime in Syria. The most prominent rebel group, the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) – who listed its main base as in the southern Turkish city of Hatay on its website – is the best connected with the SNC.

Click to go to PDF of the article (In English)

From WRM’s Via Meadia Post:

Syria is a lot like Lebanon’s bigger, uglier, and meaner brother. The ethnic and religious tensions that produced decades of civil war in Lebanon are also present in Syria. The Assad dictatorship imposed a rigid order on Syria, but as the dictatorship crumbles the divisions are coming back into public view. Unless we were willing to put tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of troops in Syria and keep them there for a long time, often fighting bad guys and getting attacked by suicide bombers, we don’t stand much chance of building and orderly and stable society there, much less an open and free one.

And:

Aiding the less ugly, less bad guys in the Syrian resistance, and even finding a few actual good guys to support, isn’t about installing a pro-American government in post civil war Syria. It’s about minimizing the prospects for a worst-case scenario—by shortening the era of conflict and so, hopefully, reducing the radicalization of the population and limiting the prospects that Syrian society – – – will descend into all-out chaotic massacres and civil conflict.

Understand and agree with this next with a big but…

If the United States hadn’t gotten itself distracted by the ill-considered intervention in Libya, we might have acted in Syria at an earlier stage, when there were some better options on the table. But we are past that now; the White House humanitarians did what humanitarians often do—inadvertently promoting a worse disaster in one place (in this case, Syria) by failing to integrate their humanitarian impulses (in Libya) with strategic reflection. This kind of strategic incompetence is the greatest single flaw in the humanitarian approach to foreign policy. It has led to untold misery in the past and will likely lead to many more bloodbaths in the future. Unfortunately, warm hearted fuzzy brained humanitarianism is one of the world’s greatest killers.

BUT:  There is really no reason we could not have done something earlier and more aggressively in Syria except that it is Silly Time (otherwise known as Presidential Election Quarter) in America.

One hopes that this is not the future for all of Syria, which has already succeeded in bombing its economy and infrastructure back decades.  Somehow when the dogs of war are unleashed the destruction seems immaterial.  Someday the dogs are impounded again and then the red haze recedes leaving behind only tears.

Syria Bleeds while Russia, China and Iran Sneer

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The Syrian rebellion continues apace. As usual StatPage has a good running review of what is known militarily. It’s interesting that the Assad regime appears confident that the Arab League will not go to war over this but while I used to agree it looks like the League may in fact take some action. Let’s hope so for the last several days the Syrian security forces have been indiscriminately bombarding sections of Homs, or even worse, targeting aid stations and markets.