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On Syria

(Note: My Snowden/sociology piece has spawned a longer essay on the same subject area, in Foreign Policy.)

And I'm sorry, but I can't stay away from the clusterfuck of our security policy and the inane side-effects of the war on terror. Like a dog returning to its vomit, I've just got to circle back to middle-eastern politics.

Short version: proposals in the UK and USA to carry out bombing strikes against the Assad regime in Syria are not only criminal (in the absence of a firm UN Security Council ruling on the matter), they're stupid. One such imperial adventure might be an accident, two might be a coincidence, but embarking on a third one within a decade of the blood-spattered fiasco that was Iraq and the traumatic counter-insurgency occupation that was Afghanistan should be grounds for incarcerating any western politician proposing it in an institution for the criminally insane.

Syria, lest we forget, is in the throes of a civil war. The government—a nastily dynastic version of the Ba'athist quasi-fascist ideology that dominated many Arab nations between the mid-1950s and the early noughties—is fighting a varied bunch of rebels. Note that the government is largely dominated by secularized elements of the Shi'ite Alawite minority, who make up around 12% of the population; the majority are Sunni (74%), Christian (10%) and a variety of other sects.

If this sounds like the same sort of demographic split as Iraq, with Christians instead of Kurds, then give yourself a gold star: both "nations" were carved out of the bleeding carcass of the Ottoman Empire by France and the UK in the wake of the First World War under the auspices of the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

The UK and France had a lot of experience of running colonial empires, and had devised a recipe for establishing puppet states. You carved up the blank areas on the map, deliberately cutting across tribal/national boundaries, to establish zones with a 70/25/5 percentage split. The 70% majority were to be ruled and policed by representatives drawn from the 25% minority, armed with clubs and possibly rifles, while the 5% of imperial merchants and administrators enforced colonial rule over the 25%ers with machine guns and gunboats.

With the draw-down from empire, many of the 5% left; often a puppet monarchy would be left in power, but be deposed by a coup some few years later. The coup ideology would be attractive and post-colonial, and the coup plotters were the educated mid-ranking officers who had worked for the imperialists and now rose through the armed forces the former colonized nation. In some, it was Communism; in large chunks of the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya ...) it was Ba'athism or its close cousin Nasserism.

I'm going to tip-toe around the reasons for the Syrian civil war, not to mention the Arab Spring in general; I'm not an Arabist or Middle Eastern scholar, I'm just an interested layman. However, the point I'd like to make is that the demographic mix in Syria, as with the situation in Iraq, is ripe for civil war, ethnic cleansing, and (whisper it) genocide. It's the same shit-stinking mess we—the west—left all over Africa: the 70/25/5 split coming back to bite us. (You can see it in Rwanda, with the largely artificial Hutu/Tutsi split that descended into mass murder: in Zimbabwe, with the Shona/Ndebele split; and just about everywhere you look. Even, dare I say it, in the demographics of the Indian Empire as created by John Company—now split into India, Pakistan and the former East Pakistan, Bangladesh.)

Now, nerve gas is nasty stuff. But what was it doing there in the first place? I suspect the key answer can be found to the south-west, in the hulking Arab geopolitical spectre that is Israel. Israel has nuclear weapons. Nerve gas is the poor man's nuke. Presumably the Assad family's thinking was that, in the final contingency of a hot Israel/Syria war breaking out and escalating beyond control, they could threaten the Jewish settlers in the Golan Heights as a deterrent against Israeli use of battlefield nuclear weapons. Luckily for us, even such head-bangers as Hafez al-Assad, Benjamin Netenyahu, and Ariel Sharon were saner than Tony Blair (who managed to start five foreign expeditionary wars in his first six years in office, more than any other British Prime Minister ever). So that Syria/Israeli chem-nuke exchange never happened. Phew.

So: Rewind to 2010. We had an unstable dictatorship ripe for civil war, ruled by the relatively ineffectual younger son of a strong man. Bashar al-Assad was reputedly happiest when practicing as an opthalmic surgeon in London; only after the death of his elder brother Bassel in a car crash did his father Hafez designate him as his anointed successor, probably because the alternative—his brother Maher—was a hot-tempered thug. The Arab Spring breaks out all over, blood flows, and by-and-by the Arab Spring comes to Syria. Finally, in 2013, it is alleged that nerve gas (probably Sarin) has been used against the Rebel forces by the Syrian army.

Allegations are flying left and right; the Syrian government protests that the rebels used gas, the rebels say the government used gas, and nobody can get access to the bodies of the victims; this report from Medecins Sans Frontieres raises as many questions as it answers. Some of the more plausible speculation is that Maher al-Assad may have ordered the use of gas without authorization from above. But it's not impossible that the whole incident was a cock-up; with shells whizzing back and forth, and gas shells presumably stored where they could be used if needed, what is the probability that a nerve gas storage facility was inadvertently damaged?

But let's leave the right and wrong of it alone. It's horrendous stuff, and deliberate use of gas in war is a war crime, but assigning blame is something for the International Court in the Hague to untangle.

Here's the problem, as I see it: it's being used as a rallying cry to drag the US military—and the UK—into yet another colonial war in the Middle East.

If the USA and UK go down this route, we will end up killing innocent civilians. And not just a handful; we don't have the expertise to tell Syrian rebels from government loyalists. It's a civil war. They're fighting battles within built-up areas inside cities. Sending in the bombers will work about as well as it ever did (i.e. somewhere between "broke a lot of windows" and "killed a couple of million civilians who were minding their own business"). It won't solve the essential political problem, which is the legacy of the imperial 70/25/5 divide-and-conquer principle. If it does succeed in targeting the Syrian government forces to the point where the rebels emerge as victors, it may even be setting up the preconditions for anti-Alawaite pogroms and genocide.

Also, we'd be back to doing the same dumb thing for the third time in a decade. No current front-rank politician can have any excuse for being ignorant of the events in Iraq and Afghanistan; why are they now so eager to repeat them? It's not even as if Syria has any oil. (Oh, wait ...) Bombing people, far from preventing radicalization and terrorism, generates it; it's almost as if, seeing the engines of the war on terror running low on gas, some fiendish entity decided it was time to stoke the flames again. Why are we going here?




EDIT: There is one thing the West can do that would be unambiguously good. Also, cheap; and it wouldn't involve killing anyone.

Nerve agents like Sarin aren't black magic; they're close relatives of organophosphate insecticides. Medical treatments exist. In particular there's a gizmo called a NAAK, or Nerve Agent Antidote Kit. The drugs it relies on (neostigmine, atropine, and diazepam) are all more than fifty years old and dirt cheap; they won't save someone who has inhaled a high lethal dose, but they'll stabilize someone who's been exposed, hopefully for long enough to get them decontaminated and rush them to a hospital for long-term treatment. Mass Sarin attacks are survivable with prompt first aid and hospital support.

We should be distributing gas masks, field decontamination showers, NAAK kits, and medical resources to everyone in the conflict zones. Government, civilian, rebels, it doesn't matter. By doing so we would be providing aid that was (a) life-saving (b) cheap, and (c) put a thumb on the side of the balance in favour of whoever isn't using nerve gas. We'd also be breaking with the traditional pattern of western involvement in the region, which is to break shit and kill people, mostly innocent civilians who were trying to keep their heads down. It wouldn't fix our bloody-handed reputation, but it'd be a good start.

421 Comments

1:

I am puzzled by the drive for this from people in the UK. So many of them are demanding we do "something" without stopping to discuss what "something" might be. Its sad that a country is doing this to itself, and if there was an easy answer I would be all for it, but there isn't.

2:

In the case of the US, it comes down to Israel. A lack of stability in Syria is dangerous for Israel. The thinking appears to be along the lines of: "If we get involved in Syria now, we can control the outcome of the civil war and create a regime friendly towards our interests."

It's stupid, of course. It won't work. It's never worked. And it doesn't deal with the underlying problem which you've already pointed out: the borders in the Middle East were drawn based on what's most convenient to colonial rulers, not for building stable nation states.

The Middle East is going to explode into a million twinkly little pieces as this error corrects itself. It might happen in the next five years. It might happen in the next ten. But an event that mirrored the first European "World War" is going to happen in the Middle East. Whether we call it "World War III" or not, that's the scale of the event we're looking at. It is going to happen.

3:

We are going here because politicians feel they need to be seen to be doing something lest the public judge them poorly.

If there was a bush-a-like in the white house we would have done something nasty and irrevocable by now.

Kerry knows a lot about the state of the world but he represents a country that feels it has to be the world's policeman. The UN will never grow to greatness whilst Mom/Dad steps in and acts before junior works out what he/she should be doing.

It is a civil war and is, by definition, a mess with the fog of war everywhere from day one.

You do not want to send in troops because that would be invading a sovereign country. We have already done this twice in the last decade.

The current USA president knows there is no good way to handle any of this without getting mired down in a foreign war that you really should not be running by yourself.

Can the USA really let the UN sit on its thumbs whilst it decides to keep doing nothing. If it did, at least the whole world would be guilty of doing nothing instead of the USA (and a select group of best buddies) copping all the flak when the "intervention" turns to the inevitable custard.

We all know how [badly] this turns out when Mum/Dad tries to sort it out all by themselves.

4:

>>> The UN will never grow to greatness whilst Mom/Dad steps in and acts before junior works out what he/she should be doing.

The UN will never grow to greatness PERIOD.

5:

I don't know. After seeing Obama doing for 3 years everything he can to not commit any troops or real help to the various Syrian rebel groups I have a hard time classifying this anywhere near something like the invasion in Iraq.

I don't even see a motive (power, oil, money etc.) that would justify for these countries to commit troops there. It only means dead soldiers, lots of money spent, a even more dangerous political situation that will mean the guys in power will lose lot of popularity.
I don't see anything to gain for them, not even lucrative rebuilding contracts for their chums - one of the reasons why they watched doing nothing while hundreds of thousands were killed in the last three years.

6:

Though Charlie and I are pretty much at opposite ends of the political spectrum, he's pretty well nailed everything down. Though I'd probably upgrade "idiotic" to "criminal."

Given how things have worked in the US for the last half-century, I'd make the initial assumption that what Eisenhower called the "military-industrial complex" is using their political clout to ensure their profits don't sag when the current Middle Eastern engagement ends.

7:

Just when you'd thought I'd gone away . . . .

I'm going to perhaps surprise you and say I totally agree with you - there's nothing to be gained by Western military intervention in Syria. Also, please note that President Obama has been trying to avoid getting drawn into this; it's the partisan polemecists in the US that are banging the war drums there.

And no, the US DOD is NOT pushing for this to happen; they have a very clear understanding of the downside and likelihood of collateral damage. That being said, they'll do what they're ordered.

DOD responses as reported in the press to date:

1) Deployment of Patriot SAMs to Turkey in support of a NATO request to provide anti-ballistic missile defense of Turkey
2) Military-to-Military discussions with Jordan and the deployment of a headquarters element for possible future coordination with the Jordanian military

Fine so far - defensive preparations to keep the conflict from widening.

3) Deployment of multi-mission warships to the Eastern Mediterranean with anti-ballistic missile capability AND cruise missile capability

Note that these ships were missioned BEFORE the Syrian civil war, but they do provide a prompt strike capability. More problematic, but about the least provacative visible response.

(more next post)

8:

Argh. Make that "stupid", not "idiotic." "Sorry about that, Chief..."

9:

What did you think of the recent intervention in Libya? How would you contrast the two situations?

10:

4) Repeated command performances by senior military leaders in front of the US Congress saying how dangerous, difficult and expensive intervention would be. Syria has the most sophisticated air defenses in the Arab world; taking down those air defenses is an absolute prerequisite for intervention in current military thinking. Syria also still has a relatively capable army and coastal defense; costs of forceful insertion are likely to be high. Finally, consider the logistical issue. Troops don't teleport to battle; they, their heavy equipment, and their supply trains will have to move through neighboring countries. That means getting basing, transportation and operational authorization ("You may attack my neighbor from my territory") from Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon or Israel. This last, as much as anything else, could be a show stopper.

11:

Troops don't teleport to battle; they, their heavy equipment, and their supply trains will have to move through neighboring countries. That means getting basing, transportation and operational authorization ("You may attack my neighbor from my territory") from Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon or Israel. This last, as much as anything else, could be a show stopper.

Iraq is the most likely "staging post" suggestion, because after all, there's just been a war fought there by US troops, and they should be able to re-use all the facilities they left behind them, right! Right?

Or failing that, there's always leaning on Israel a little bit, because the US has been Such Great Friends to the Israelis for so many years.

[/sarcasm]
[/sarcasm]
[/sarcasm, damnit!]

I will be willing to lay odds there are at least some "hawks" in the US Congress and Senate who are thinking things along those very lines.

12:

Finally, consider the issue of chemical weapons: Let's assume the US has been gathering all available intelligence on the Syrian CW stockpile, including types of agents, delivery methods, location of munitions, and, importantly, the command and control chain for their use. Even with all this information, there are severe limits on preventing Syrian use of CW. You can't just use conventional bombing on stockpiles; that would only spread potentially lethal contamination. To destroy CW you need to incinerate it; that means physically confiscating the stockpiles ("boots on the ground"), or creating an explosion so intense the agents would be incinerated in situ. A thermobaric device might suffice, but to be sure, I'd use a nuke. And wouldn't that set off a pretty chain of events.

No, from a strictly military point of view, the most logical if cold-blooded solution is to stand back and let Syria burn itself to the ground.

13:

The odds of Iraq letting US troops back into the country, especially to attack an Arab neighbor, is essentially zero.

14:

In other news, two Russian warship, and a submarine have been redeployed to the Mediterranean.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/29/us-syria-crisis-russia-navy-idUSBRE97S0AK20130829

15:

"You do not want to send in troops because that would be invading a sovereign country"

I'm not sure that's something that we ought to care about per se; a country is nothing more than its people, and while there'd clearly be a moral problem with externally imposing anything on the people of a democratic country, I don't really see that there's anything intrinsically wrong with overriding a sovereign government that doesn't represent its people - a self-interested criminal clique doesn't suddenly become respectable because they've accumulated enough guns to call themselves a government.

On Syria, I think Charlie makes an excellent case for why we have a responsibility to fix this mess; the non-imperialist thing to do here isn't to wash our hands of it, it's to help repair the damage caused in our imperial past. While any intervention would indeed end up killing innocent civilians, I don't see that's morally worse than sitting back and letting someone else kill them instead; we shouldn't avoid doing the right thing because we're squeamish about it being us that does it.

If we could remove the current Syrian government, end the conflict, and establish a peaceful democracy in its place we should absolutely bite the bullet and do it. The problem is that the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan show that our governments and militaries simply have no clue how to do that.

16:

So we just keep letting the biggest kid in the room tell everyone else what to do?

How is that working out for the rest of us?

17:

In terms of neighbors allowing us access, here's my personal scoring of likelihood (scale 0=never, 10=come on in):

Iraq - 0
Israel - 2 (sends a TERRIBLE signal on the nature of the relationship)
Turkey - 3 (Turks don't want to be seen as a US pawn either, plus there's a whole Kurdish side issue we haven't discussed)
Jordan - 4 (They're the ones with their backs closest to being up against the wall)

18:

The UN will never grow to greatness PERIOD.

The UN isn't about greatness. (Its greatest hour was in 1945, when it was the organization that won the second world war, before it expanded into a global talking shop with ambitions of policing.)

As an international cop, the UN is broken by design. It does a lot of good stuff around the edges in terms of culture, health, education, and so on, and it provides a global talking-shop for diplomats to have many-to-many discussions in. But if it was a viable international policing organization we wouldn't need to have this discussion.

19:

Oops, forgot Lebanon. Also 0, unless Hizballah suddenly evaporates.

20:

The odds of Iraq letting US troops back into the country, especially to attack an Arab neighbor, is essentially zero.

I know that. You know that. Do you want to put money on the hawkish nincompoops in Congress admitting they know that?

21:

I think the western engagement in Libya was probably unwise, in the long run. In the long run, the Qadaffi regime was going down. Western supplies to the rebels probably hastened it, but intensifying a civil war intensifies the lawlessness and chaos afterwards -- heightening the risk of consequences like the Benghazi attack.

The best transition of power from a dictatorship is a bloodless internal coup followed by democratic elections. It does sometimes happen -- the Czecheslovakian Velvet Revolution is the classic example. Alas, I don't hold out many hopes of that happening in the Middle East. (Czecheslovakia had some democratic history, between the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Hitler's invasion of the Sudetenland. most of the ME has none.)

22:

Also concur with this. The structure of the UN Security Council, voting procedures (veto) and the permanent voting members (China, France, Russia, UK, US) usually paralyze the UN as an effective force for political or military intervention. On Syria, China and Russia will likely NEVER approve anything more meaningful than a sternly-shaken finger to be pointed at Syria.

23:

No, from a strictly military point of view, the most logical if cold-blooded solution is to stand back and let Syria burn itself to the ground.

Or supply the rebels with a metric shitload of Mark 1 NAAK's. and NBC suits.

(That seems like a Good Idea all around. Doesn't involve killing people or breaking things, doesn't cost much, and tilts the balance back towards the rebels.)

24:

Fortunately, the US Congress cannot order DOD to start a war.

25:

How about redrawing the borders as a solution? Let all sects have their own countries.

26:

Link to BBC News homepage http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/

There's enough stories there to not bother deep linking individual stories.

The one that's getting me is trying to figure out why the UK Cyprus bases need Typhoons for defence? Has Syria shown any signs of launching bombers in that direction?

27:

I believe that is part of what is considered "non-lethal aid". Probably not in metric shitloads, though.

28:

Typhoon IIs acquired a bombing capability (on top of their air defense role) a few years ago. Now up to carrying JDAMs and similar, if I'm not mistaken. Able to fly high and fast, which may help against the Syrian air defense network (the Tornados are a bit long in the tooth).

29:

>>>Or supply the rebels with a metric shitload of Mark 1 NAAK's. and NBC suits.

Yeah, because this will really help the civilians during urban combat.

Unless you want to supply every person in Syria.

30:

According to the last thing I read, Paveway II and Brimstone are the only guided AGMs they're presently cleared for. Obviously, Brimstone is only suitable for anti-armour work.

Not that this answers my point anyway; the claim is that the Typhoons are there to provide air defence for Cyprus!

31:

Actually, the American constitution gives the war powers to Congress. Only Congress can declare war, which is why the Iraq debacle was preceded by a congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force (simple, clear language having gone out of style).

Having said that, the president can get away with most anything if Congress is unwilling to impeach him.

32:

Unless you want to supply every person in Syria.

You don't need to go that far; just supply the civilian population and rebels in the front-line conflict areas. Cuts the size of the distribution by an order of magnitude; a couple of million kits should do it.

(Note that NAAK kits don't provide 100% protection against nerve agents. What they do is stabilize a victim and make it possible for them to recover in hospital, rather than dying horribly.)

Before you say "LOLWUT?!? How much would that cost?" I should explain that neostigmine, atropine, and diazepam are cheap, old-school drugs that date to 1931, prehistory, and 1963 respectively; we're talking pennies per dose here. One-shot disposable syringes aren't terribly expensive, either. It should be possible to mass-produce NAAKs in volume for under $5 per kit; possibly under $1. Pulling mil-spec ones out of NATO inventory would call for a much higher write-down, but they have a finite shelf-life so we could start by donating the oldest kits first.

So: what is your problem with this?

33:

ewanmacmahon @ 15 and Vanzetti @ 25, Syria is not just our imperialist fault as Westerners, and the sects are too numerous and conflict-prone for easy division.

Syria, like the neighbouring countries of Israel and Lebanon, is chock full of weird enclaves and has been for centuries. There are Shia and Sunni and Alawites and Maronites and Copts ... many of whom believe they have the God-given right to oppress everyone else. Left to themselves, they tend to attack each other.

Which would not be a problem if Syria weren't the direct route between Egypt, richest area of North Africa and the Middle East for most of ancient and medieval times; and the Roman / Byzantine / Arab / Turkish empires to the north. (With occasional interventions from North Africa too, such as the Fatimids.) There's been a lot of traffic back and forth.

All those empires kept the peace by a combination of divide and rule and the occasional massacre. Charlie is right about Britain and France using zones with a 70/20/5% split and putting the 5% in charge, but they got the idea from the Ottomans before them.

Using ethnic minorities to do your dirty work is hardly a Western innovation: the Fatimids were using Arab tribes as their shock troopers in North Africa in the 11th C. Syria has in the past been ruled by Kurds (Saladin) in the 12th C, Circassian / Georgian Mamluks in the 13th and 14th C, and for a very long time the Ottomans, who in the 19th century CE used Albanians as their 5%. (Seriously. Albanians. Look up Mohammed Ali.)

Bashar Assad, like his father before him, is just continuing the proven Ottoman style of governing. It's his misfortune to be doing so in an era of mass media and politicians and/or military enthusiastic about doing something to prevent such.

Me, I'm 100% in agreement with Charlie about the idiocy of intervening. I think Dave P has it right, let the country burn to the ground in the hope that the survivors will have lost their enthusiasm for sectarian violence.

34:

Since I've been depressing myself by reading Mark Mazzetti's Way of the Knife (a history of the CIA and JSOC for about the last 15 years), I'd say you're right.

The depressing part is that, in the wake of the torture scandals and Gitmo, the Obama administration early on made the calculation that it was easier to kill terrorists with black ops and drones than it was to imprison them somewhere. Unfortunately, that's become Obama's standard playbook (after all, it got OBL), and I think it's about to bite him in the ass. If he goes to war without Congressional approval, he will give the Republicans a perfectly legitimate reason to impeach him, right before the elections.

As for what to do, there is an answer: dump a LOT of chem-suits, drugs, and humanitarian money into Syria. Sarin's horrible stuff, but it's a cousin of things like malathion that are used all the time in non-organic agriculture. We've got a large safety infrastructure for working with this crap: I've known greenhouse workers who wear moon suits to spray it every day, and it's not that hard to get the training to stay safe around the stuff.

I'm sure the firms that make all that safety gear would love to get huge government contracts to make lots of safety gear for all the first responders in Syria. I'd rather bomb Syria with pallets of safety gear for everyone (rebel, loyalist, and non-combatant alike), along with appropriate drugs and what-have-you, just to make the attacks less deadly. It's far from a perfect answer, but I suspect it will do more good than launching a few drone strikes.

35:

saying Syria has a good air defence system... depends if they took notes of the serbians or not,, theirs Worked.

36:

Sorry, missed Charlie's comments above. Sorry for the ditto.

Hopefully a hurricane will hit DC and they'll have something else to rave about for awhile.

37:

The moral, political, and strategic calculus of the situation all demand that the US do something.

The problem is then you have to come up with what that something is. There isn't an arrow in the quiver that can resolve the position without making things much much worse.

38:

Charlie, why the hell don't we hear about this option? Cheaper, arguably more effective because it blunts the effectiveness of the Syrian WMDs and doesn't leave lots of blood on the hands.

We'd still need to go after the Syrian air defenses, but that seems to be a given for any action that doesn't involve the Syrians inviting outsiders in.

39:

Syria also has a relatively capable air force, and if we ("the West") were to start flying offensive operations from RAF Akrotiri, has the technical capability to strike back using Su-24/Fencer fighter bombers. So, there is a conceivably rational air defense role for the Typhoons.

41:

Supposing parliament does eventually come down on the side of endorsing action against Syria -- and likewise the French and maybe a few others decide to join in too.

How is that going to work? Obviously the Americans don't need the help of any one else's military to reduce selected Syrian real-estate to rubble. If we're in there, we're only in there to show unity of purpose with our American cousins.

It seems that Obama is being dragged into yet another foreign war against his better judgement; hoist on the petard of his own words about use of chemical weapons being a 'red line.' He's going to want to keep it short and sharp: a small number (preferably only one) of strictly limited engagements with minimal collateral damage and everyone home again for Thanksgiving (let alone Christmas). Ideally missile or drone strikes (so there's zero chance of Team Red, White & Blue casualties) with eerily accurate targeting all captured on camera and plastered all over the news like it's the edited highlights of some video game kill-cam.

Do we and the French actually have to fire off a few token shots or could we get away with just cheering on the Yanks from the sidelines?

If everyone on the US side is expected to get their hands bloody, that in itself could lead to inflating the scale of any attacks and diffusing their impact.

42:

Me, I'm 100% in agreement with Charlie about the idiocy of intervening. I think Dave P has it right, let the country burn to the ground in the hope that the survivors will have lost their enthusiasm for sectarian violence.
Yes and in that fantasy lets hope the conflict sucks up all jihadis who after the dust has settled will not return to there "homeland" all disillusioned and angry.

43:

To reiterate: I am not in favor of ANY direct Western attacks on Syria; it's the start of the slippery slope. I AM in favor of non-lethal aid as Charlie's suggested above, and lethal aid up to and including man-portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, even if some will inevitably wind up being used against us.

At least the gerrymandering of the Middle East and Africa predated the US sticking its nose in everybody's business; you European "Great Powers" get the blame for this one.

44:

Congress can declare war, but the President is Commander in Chief and the only element of the US Government that can order the military into action. I'm not sure what would happen if Congress declared war and the President said "no thanks".

45:

NOTE EDIT TO ORIGINAL POSTING.

I just hoisted my suggestion wrt. medical assistance up into the main blog essay.

46:

I'm reasonably familiar with the Syrian AF OrBat as of ~2008 thanks. There is a question as to how maintained it is since then, and as to the deployment of fighters in advance of anyone even tabling a motion to permit air strikes.

47:

It makes sense to me; the sort of sense I didn't think actually needed comment (but will annoy the arms makers).

48:

Here's the problem with sending NAAK kits and other countermeasures: It's not a significant deterrent to the Syrian regime or anyone else using chemical weapons in the future. In fact, it could encourage their use, by making it seem like a normal and acceptable (if sad) consequence of war.

Chemical weapons are cheap and extremely horrible, and the only reason they haven't been used more widely is the moral stigma attached to them. In the short run, sending countermeasures to Syria might save lives; but in the long run, normalising the use of chemical weapons is the last thing we want to do.

49:

There’s good money that Obama is planning on doing just that – blowing up some buildings, saying that a strong response was sent to the Syrian government, and declaring victory(-ish). I strongly doubt it will be as involved as the intervention in Libya.

As for sending supplies to protect against chemical weapons – I doubt this would accomplish much, much less tip the balance. Deaths caused by chemical weapons account for a tiny fraction of all deaths in the conflict so far. I don’t think the government is gearing up for another Hama, since it seems that it would face massive retaliation if it went in that direction.

50:

In the short run, sending countermeasures to Syria might save lives; but in the long run, normalising the use of chemical weapons is the last thing we want to do.

In principle, I agree with you completely.

In practice, please imagine how you'd go about explaining yourself to the family of a gassed child.

(The correct way to deal with the long term consequences of chemical weapons is to treat the users the way we treat Nazi war criminals -- i.e. hound them without mercy to the ends of the earth and the ends of their natural lives -- not by punishing the victims.)

51:

Out of interest Charlie, if it'd been another species of WMD - like a tactical nuclear weapon or weaponized Anthrax - that had been used, would you have a different opinion?

I was a virulent opponent of the Afghan war and the Iraq war (though I'd have been in favour of it if it'd actually been timed as a humanitarian intervention), but I'm - probably naively - supportive of intervention in Syria. It'd be a bloody, horrific conflict, but allowing chemical weapons to be normalized into the standard armoury is a much worse option.

52:

In practice, please imagine how you'd go about explaining yourself to the family of a gassed child.

Quite frankly, that is a cheap shot. My whole point is that sending countermeasures to Syria might, in the long run, result in *more* children being gassed around the world.

I'm not saying that it is a decisive argument, just that sending countermeasures is not necessarily the no-brainer you seem to be claiming. It's a decision with the potential for appalling consequences either way.

Also -- suppose that the Syrian regime survives the current conflict at least partially intact. How do you propose "hounding them without mercy to the ends of the earth" for war crimes, short of a full-scale invasion of Syria? Certainly they couldn't go on shopping trips to Paris without fear of being arrested, but they could live out their days in security and comfort in Damascus. From their perspective, that beats being put up against a wall and shot by the rebels. So they might calculate the risks of using chemical weapons are worth it.

53:

In this case, the proper response to an anthrax attack is quarantine and a public health response, particularly to border states. Depending on how the nuke is launched, getting rid of the means to launch another one is a realistic idea, but that's a different attack.

Blowing up the equivalent of an insecticide storage depot, except that we're talking about nerve agents, is kind of counterproductive. Can we stipulate that? Getting rid of this crap is going to be a messy job, and it won't be helped by blowing it up first. If they've got an active production facility, by all means disable that, but chemical weapons stockpiles shouldn't be attacked. They need to be remediated instead.

As for the after-battle response, hounding them to the ends of the earth is pretty easy in this day and age. While we could try the pariah state (aka North Korea), we could torment them fairly well simply by dragging through an incredibly lengthy and heart-attack inducing international war crimes tribunal later on, then have them live in a small cage (aka a prison cell) for the rest of their lives.

54:

Greece and Turkey have been at daggers drawn for centuries[0] and Cyprus is one of their points of conflict -- it is theoretically an independent state (and part of the EU) but the NE part of Cyprus is basically a Turkish enclave whereas the rest of the island hews to Greece. The border is one of the longest-standing UN peacekeeping operations (UNFICYP aka the Green Line) which has actually prevented all-out war for nearly fifty years and counting.

It's entirely possible that a real shooting war could start between Greece and Turkey (both members of NATO, BTW) over Cyprus in which case having some Typhoons parked on the runway at RAF Akrotiri could come in very useful.

[0]My father was in the Royal Navy during WWII. He got demobbed in 1946 after spending a few months sailing around the eastern Mediterranean after the Nazis were defeated helping to persuade the Turks and the Greeks to not launch simultaneous surprise attacks on each other.

55:

The "pariah state" approach can end up punishing the victims too. In North Korea the elite live comfortably and the peasants starve. A more exact parallel might be Iraq in the period 1992-2003 -- again, sanctions ended up hurting the ordinary people a lot more than the rulers who were supposedly being punished.

War crimes tribunals are all well and good, *if* you can physically get the accused out of his palace and into a prison cell in the Hague. This sort of worked for Slobodan Milosevic, although he inconveniently died before he could be convicted. For the North Korean leadership it hasn't worked at all.

56:

Out of interest Charlie, if it'd been another species of WMD -- like a tactical nuclear weapon or weaponized Anthrax -- that had been used, would you have a different opinion?

That's an unanswerable question.

The trouble is, we're in terra incognita when we consider it. We've seen lethal chemical weapons used in large-scale warfare before (WW1, the Iran-Iraq war). We've seen non-lethal chemwar normalized in domestic upheavals (what else is CS gas? Or pepper spray?) and we've seen lethal chemwar agents used in civil wars (Iraq, the Al-Anfal campaign against the Kurds).

We've seen nukes used once during a world war. There's no precedent for nukes being used in a civil war.

We've never as far as I know seen modern biological weapons used, period. Certainly not in a civil war.

Arguably, it'd be suicidal to use either nuclear or biological weapons during a civil war. If you're the user you've got to live in the fallout plume/plague zone, after all. So anyone who does use them in such a conflict is, shall we say, several screws short of a full set, which changes the equation considerably.

Chemical weapons are nasty and illegal, but I think they're qualitatively different from nuke/bio weapons. Indeed, the whole use of the umbrella term "weapons of mass destruction" is stupid and dangerously misleading. Unless you're talking about carpet-bombing from B-52s hauling bomb bays stuffed with VX on one hand, and a Davy Crockett type device on the other, nerve gas is not in the same league as a nuke (destruction-wise).

57:

I'm a neuroscientist, so apply all requisite discounts to my opinion, but -- if we can't hunt down the Syrian regime, we can't hunt them down regardless of whether we deliver nerve agent antidotes to civilians. Charlie's point, as I read it, is that you deter the use of chemical weapons by sanctioning the use of chemical weapons. The fact that you might have done something to make chemical weapons slightly less horrible doesn't require you to discount your sanctions. Meanwhile, the fact that you might have done something to make chemical weapons less *effective* will presumably be a *disincentive* to their use, especially if you don't ratchet down the sanctions.

Seems like hair-splitting to me, though. It's hard for me to imagine that the antidote kits are going to reliably get where they need to go, much less reliably get used correctly if they get there. (N.B.: I'm well aware that my imagination isn't a reliable instrument in this context.) Which isn't to say I'm against Charlie's idea -- even an inefficient and patchy gesture of goodwill beats the shit out of S.O.P.

58:

This sort of worked for Slobodan Milosevic, although he inconveniently died before he could be convicted.

Brief diversion: Milosevic had severe hypertension (as do I). He went off his meds while in prison, complaining that the prison doctors were poisoning him. Then he died of a stroke.

I tend to believe him. Not all antihypertensive meds are equal, and most of them have side-effects, some of them nasty. All of us react differently to them, too. I strongly suspect that a Belgian doctor would prescribe a different mix (from a different pharmacopoeia of approved drugs) from whatever Milosevic had been receiving in Serbia, and quite probably they disagreed with him badly enough to convince him he was being poisoned.

The NK leadership continue to live comfortably because they've still got a mostly open border with China. Get China on board wrt. sanctions and things would change, fast. However, for historic reasons, that's not going to happen unless Kim Jong-Un really pisses off Beijing.

We now return you to your scheduled programming ...

59:

My point is that our first requirement, if we are going to contemplate intervention, should be that any action taken should not make things worse.

We have a lousy record in that regard.

60:

"War crimes tribunals are all well and good, *if* you can physically get the accused out of his palace and into a prison cell in the Hague"

Indeed, though while we're considering blowing things up instead, I've never quite understood why it's considered completely unethical to target the individuals responsible for provoking the attack, but somehow OK to target a bunch of random, and quite likely conscripted, underlings.

We might not be able to get Bashar al-Assad out of his palace, but if we're really going to blow something up to make a point, the thing with him in at the time would seem an obvious candidate.

61:

Regarding Milosevic -- interesting, I didn't know that.

I'm not convinced sanctions are a very effective deterrent, even if the regime being sanctioned has no friendly neighbours. Iraq was in this position from 1992-2003, but the leadership still managed to live very comfortably until the US invasion.

(This is not to say that invading Iraq then or Syria now is a good idea, just that the options for punishing a sufficiently ruthless national government are limited and *all* of them have major drawbacks.)

62:

My question is this: Is the current conflict in Syria still a civil war or has it already morphed in to a proxy war with only bad alternatives?

From the outside it looks like the opposition was almost completely taken over by foreign mercenaries battle trained in Iraq, Chechnya and Libya. Considering their generally salafist ideology and their connection to the less-than democratic Gulf states, do we really want those guys to take over Syria? We might be ending up with an anti-iranian Syria alright, but this would also install anti-western radicals in a geo-strategic important region. My fear is that in a few years NATO has to go in again (this time with boots on the ground) to reestablish regional stability and to dismantle a haven for international terrorists.

In retrospect, a secular dictatorship might be preferable from the perspective of the regular Syrian and neighboring countries. At least there could have been a chance to diplomatically influence the regime to change its outlook away from Tehran towards the West.

63:

I've never quite understood why it's considered completely unethical to target the individuals responsible for provoking the attack, but somehow OK to target a bunch of random, and quite likely conscripted, underlings.

Because assassination is a terrifyingly cheap way to wage warfare. It takes a front-rank power to build nukes and ICBMs -- or at least Italy -- but any damned backwater can play at assassination politics.

(There's a story told about Josip Tito and the seventh assassin Beria's NKVD sent to bump him off in the late 1940s. He had the assassin brought to him in chains. "You're going back to Moscow alive!" He told the assassin. "But I've got a message for you. Tell Comrade Stalin that he can send an eighth assassin if he wants, but two can play at that game." There was no eighth assassination attempt ...)

64:

Bashar and his henchmen are well aware that lots of people want to kill them. I imagine they are mostly living in fortified bunkers, and moving between them frequently.

The USA would have been very happy to kill Saddam Hussein with an airstrike in 2003 (or for that matter during Operation Desert Fox in 1998), but they didn't manage it. In fact they didn't physically get hold of him until months after they had occupied Iraq with ground troops.

65:

>>>Because assassination is a terrifyingly cheap way to wage warfare. It takes a front-rank power to build nukes and ICBMs -- or at least Italy -- but any damned backwater can play at assassination politics.

You are talking about the wrong kind of assassination here. Obama can assassinate (or try to) Bashar with a JDAM, a cruise missile or a spec-op squad.

It's not true in the opposite direction. Asad might try to send an assassin to the USA to kill the president. LOL.

66:

The al Assad regime might survive the conflict, but Bashar al Assad won't. Comparing the tactics, rhetoric and feel of the regime over the last year with what I saw during my time in the country (may-july 2010, I know its a while ago but I had to cancel my return trip), it does not match, on any level. Bashar al Assad by the standards of the Syrian Government was an appeaser and reformer (the first person to mention internet censorship will be referred to my facebook posts from Damascus, Homs, Palmyra, krak de chevaliers and Aleppo) but what I have been seeing out of Syria does match my experiences in Homs and around Krak. During that time I did see Syrian Army on manoeuvres in the countryside north of the city. Unlike the syrian police, who I found very polite and helpful, the presence of the army in and around Homs, and the way the army reacted to the locals (lots of cashed up, bored young men with no alcohol and no drugs. The police were putting out a lot of fires that week) reads like a microcosm of what I see now, with with the regime simply denouncing or denying nay sayers and then simply rolling with force against the dissidents. Based on this, Maher al Assad or the clique he represents have been governing Syria to an ever greater degree since the beginning of hostilities. In my analysis Bashar al Assad is at present not the prime mover behind the syrian government, he may return to the fore, but Maher and the military, with their distinctly insular views, are running the show for the time being. If the conflict ends with that clique still in power, Bashar and his supports my find themselves against their Damascus security wall and shot by the government.

67:

What are the effects of using a Nerve Agent Antidote Kit if you are not exposed to nerve gas? I remember my sergeant saying that they could be deadly if you were not exposed to nerve gas. I did national service in '92 so this stuff might have improved over the years, but giving every civilian one of these kits might actually do more harm then an actual attack with nerve gas. Also, in Israel, during the gulf war there were deaths reported due to wrongful use of gas masks. With these kits you need to send in trainers as well a leaflet on how to use it is not enough.

68:

It's not true in the opposite direction. Asad might try to send an assassin to the USA to kill the president. LOL.

Think in terms of what a serious nation-state sized intelligence agency could achieve, with a multi-million dollar budget and a couple of teams of highly-trained agents. Something like this.

Note that you could royally fuck up US foreign policy by assassinating people other than POTUS or VPOTUS. Take down the SecDef or SecState and you'd make a mess, for example.

69:

Our record for screwing up surgical strikes in that region of the world is rather long and depressing, and arguably dates back to the failed Iranian hostage rescue, if not decades before. Those failures have continued up to the present day, in places like Pakistan and Yemen.

Basically, drone strikes work best when the target is sitting in an isolated country home, chatting on his cell phone for hours (or even leaving the damned thing on). They won't even try it in most cities. This goes double for SEAL operations. The OBL raid was prepared to shoot its way out of the Abbottabad, incidentally, and they got lucky that they didn't have to. Relations with Pakistan have since deteriorated to the point that I doubt such a raid would be allowed to proceed.

Note also that Syria has rather good air defenses, so an unknown helicopter or drone loitering over Damascus will probably be shot down as a matter of course.

As for cruise missiles, they take hours to launch because you have to go from good intelligence to getting the president to order the Navy to act on the intel, and then if the Navy considers the Intel good enough, the order to launch is given. I'm sure Assad will sit in place for hours just so this can happen.

In any case, Charlie is right about reciprocal assassinations. The White House, for all its vaunted air defenses, is probably about as vulnerable as Damascus is at this point, and a lot of people make drones now. There's a lot to be said for not taking out sitting foreign leaders, even if they're not the people running the show. Paybacks suck, and we're not invulnerable.

70:

Your sergeant agreed with mine, and with what I've read, especially about atropine, which is toxic, and can kill you if you weren't first exposed to a nerve agent. There would need to be very clear instructions in each kit, all the local languages, regular radio broadcasts of instructions for illiterates, and a willingness to accept that some of those treated will die from misapplication. Think that's still better than 25-50% or more fatalities on exposure to Sarin or VX.

71:

"Targetting" is not "getting". The US "targetted" Saddam Hussein even before the invasion of Iraq. In one case they got info he was going to be at a specific restaurant in Baghdad at a given time so they dropped a cruise missile on it -- 20-odd dead, a bunch more maimed for life, a few dozen more injured and no Saddam Hussein.

72:

Given the existing level of paranoia in US politics, you could probably get some pretty exciting effects without targetting the senior administration members at all - kill a handful of congresscritters, or carbomb half a dozen random people you tailed home from CIA headquarters, and you'd probably see all sorts of ... interesting results. It wouldn't be as showy as killing SecDef, but depending on the terrorist's goals, it might well be just as effective.

73:

Here is a daring assumption: neither the US nor the UK _really_ want to do this. The reason might be as easy as poorly articulated "red lines" and the loss of credible deterrent if they don't act on their word.

Reasons for this might be a) unusual long advance warning for Syria, Iran and Israel without surprise b) no ground troop movement to get involved c) openly stated max-2/3-day cruise missile attack d) no _major_ redeployments of air-to-ground fighters or stealth aircraft to penetrate the serious part of syrian air defence.

The british Typhoons have too limited strike capability and are more useful to keep their distance to keep everything on the ground that might want to get airborne within Syria.

If the Iran waits out these couple of days and Syria isn't in dispair lashes out against Israel it _just_ might not turn into an even greater clusterf**k than it already is.

74:

You want real paranoia?

Stick a Scud-B in a shipping container on a freighter and pop it off in the direction of a certain big blue-glass building in Fort Meade from offshore.

It doesn't even have to hit; merely landing in the car park is going to trigger an epic circular arse-kicking competition.

Or drop a dozen envelopes full of white powder in the mail in DC. Talc will do just fine if you want everything to grind to a halt for weeks as every politician in town starts hiring people in HAZMAT gear to open their post bags.

75:

About the UN: it can't intervene in this case because it's paralysed by Security Council vetoes (in this case, from Russia and China).

However, where no one exercises a veto, the UN is quietly gaining strength as an enforcer. In the Congo, for example, where nothing that happens makes western headlines, the largest UN troop deployment ever is underway, in arms against the M23 rebel movement (though not without controversy; there are reports that they fired on a civilian protest in the town of Goma).

I don't see the veto-bearing powers willingly giving up their prerogatives any time soon (including the US, which frequently uses its own veto to protect Israel). But saying that the UN can't do anything without great-power consent is different from saying that it can't do anything. And it's likely the Chinese, who are deeply involved in sub-Saharan Africa, actually like the notion of blue-helmeted janissaries cleaning things up there --- in which case, long-term, we're likely to see quite a bit more of this.

76:

According to Russian bioweapons defector Ken Alibek (in his book _Biohazard_), the USSR used aerosolized rabbit fever at the Battle of Stalingrad. His instructors as a young man weren't happy with him for figuring that out.

77:

>>>Think in terms of what a serious nation-state sized intelligence agency could achieve, with a multi-million dollar budget and a couple of teams of highly-trained agents. Something like this.

This is a completely wrong example. Israel' capabilities are closer to USA than to Syria.

78:

Do I really need to let everyone know that Charlie is, in fact, not suggesting, recommending, advising, or otherwise advocating anyone drop any number of envelopes full of white powder -- talcum or otherwise -- in any public place, or deliver (or arrange to deliver) such to any individual or group, public or private?

I really hope I don't need to.

79:

The day you hear me advocating violence against someone on the internet is the day you can conclude I'm in a dank cell somewhere and my passwords have been beaten out of me with lead-weighted rubber hoses.

80:

No need for rubber hoses, if they've been paying attention. All they have to do is set the thermostat over 35º. ;-)

Giving the rebels anti NBC gear assumes it wasn't them what done it, which I still find credible.

Incidentally I'm a little tired of straight line borders as an excuse for the latest round of mayhem, Europe is full of nice squiggly borders nicely drawn by respectably aged massacres and it doesn't stop the nationalists from their tedious bleating. It's the 21st fucking century, give people education, prosperity and PlayStations and they'll son forget whether they're a Kurd or a Comanche

81:

With regard to the tremendous outpouring of outrage about the use of chemical weapons, I have to ask, are they really so much nastier than a lot of other battlefield weapons that it's necessary to take military action that will almost certainly make the circumstances of civilians in Syria even worse? For instance, is Sarin so much worse than cluster bombs or white phosphorus bombs (both used by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan), or thermobaric bombs (used in Afghanistan)?

That said, I think the idea of distributing NAAK kits & NBC suits is excellent. It might be reasonable to include 1 suit for ever 20 or 30 kits, so that first responders can be protected, and every building or street has at least 1 suit for someone who would act as a warden, suiting up in advance of attack, if possible, so as to assist others in the use of the kits on exposure. Nerve gas detection equipment should also be distributed. The cheapest of these are sensitive papers which are prone to false positives in the presence of brake fluid & other common substances, so there are trade offs to be made here.

The US stockpiles NAAK kits, though a quick search hasn't come up with quantities. I'd be surprised if there were fewer than tens of thousands, so getting a first wave of kits to Syria shouldn't take more than a few days.

82:

>>> It's the 21st fucking century, give people education, prosperity and PlayStations

We don't have enough for ourselves, and you want to dole out that stuff?

83:

Actually, launching a SCUD-B with a chunk of concrete in the nose cone, along with a "nyah nyah" message, would do almost as much good.

As for NBC suits and similar, I'm in favor of giving them to everyone, especially civilians. The point here is to rob those damn weapons of as much of their potency as we can, whoever's using them. Yes, the drugs are dangerous, but having them on hand at an attack site is a hell of a lot better than having them an hour away at a hospital, if they even have any left after the last go-round.

It's also worth pointing out that in the last few years the US has been conned, multiple times, in multiple countries, into killing someone's opponents based on false intelligence, and some of these cases have been non-trivial. One of those times happened to kill a Taliban emissary on the way to peace talks for Afghanistan.

Given the factionalism in Syria, we've got to be just the tiniest bit careful that we get it absolutely right before we send anything but humanitarian aid, even now.

84:

A pox on both their houses I say. Neither of the parties involved in that civil war and darned few of the civilians either are friends or allies of ours. If they insist on killing each other, let them.

As for the UN, it will become useful sometimes after almost every country in it becomes a modern, "progressive" Democracy or Republic of some kind and when the internal mechanisms prevent any remaining nations with say poor human rights records from even serving on the human rights council or the like,

In otherwords, probably never.

85:

My suggestion would be to distribute the NAAK kits and accessories to the general civilian population, not worrying about which side they're on. Make sure there are enough that the combatants don't feel the need to grab them all for their own use. It's the poor bastards in the middle who need to be protected, and it really doesn't matter to them who's firing the shells.

86:

Its certainly a tempting prospect, and inexpensive too when compared to hundreds of Cruise Missiles.. BUT.. " diazepam "? You really think that it’s likely that the War Against The Wrong Kind Of Drugs zealots are going to agree to the distribution of large quantities of diazepam to the simple folks?

Actually the inexpensive, non lethal, nature of your alternative would probably damn it before ever the anti drugs zealots spotted the DRUGS. Move Along folks ..nothing here to interest the military–industrial–congressional complex.

87:

>>>A pox on both their houses I say. Neither of the parties involved in that civil war and darned few of the civilians either are friends or allies of ours. If they insist on killing each other, let them.

There are a lot of rebel parties there. USA could pick the most secular one from the start, supply weapons exclusively to them and bomb everyone else into rubble before Saudi money started to flow in.

Except USA can't do it, because they have no idea what they actually want...

88:

Not well but thats reality. Power is in fact truth. The only reason that anything like "human rights" exist is that either a hegemon or someone with enough power chooses to do something about actions they don't like,

Thats also why despite all complaints about North Korea can keep on keeping on.


89:

It's also worth pointing out that in the last few years the US has been conned, multiple times, in multiple countries, into killing someone's opponents based on false intelligence, and some of these cases have been non-trivial.

Indeed so. Sarin may be a bit tricky to whip up in a back room, but the rebels have enough resources to hold off a reasonably well equipped modern army, so it's not impossible that they have both the resources and the knowledge to synthesize Sarin. And if they haven't actually made it, then it would still be possible for them to have captured it from the Syrian army.

My feeling is, on balance of probabilities, that the Syrian (or a faction thereof) is responsible, but I consider it a long way from being beyond reasonable doubt.

90:

Probably the most secular group in the whole Syrian mess is led by Assad, a Ba'athist and no friend of the Sunni majority fundamentalists or the Iranian-backed Shi'a Hezbollah or the Wahabbi nutters behind al-Queda.

91:

There's a whole bunch of places where the UN is keeping the peace quite successfully, like Cyprus. One important factor in their success is that the US is not involved in providing troops for those peacekeeping efforts since they tend to screw things up -- the last UN peacekeeping effort to use US troops en masse was the ill-fated Somalian affair (aka Black Hawk Down) in 1993.

92:

We've never as far as I know seen modern biological weapons used, period.

Two instances:


  • Ken Alibek reports use of militarised Tularemia at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942 (Biohazard, chapter 3)
  • The Anthrax attacks of 2001. Turns out they were not al Qaida nor Iraqi, so not sexy. And since the USA would certainly not have bio-weapon programmes, they did not exist.

93:

Sorry, but I disagree 100%. The near elimination of chemical weapons following the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993 is one of the greatest achievements of post Cold War politics, to see it threatened by a chinless former eye surgeon is too much to put up with.

If Assad isn't punished for this attack (a clear violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925) he will continue and escalate his chemical weapons use.

I completely reject the "this is all the fault of Western colonialism" argument. Syria laboured under the burden of French rule for a whole 26 years, I'm sure it was thoroughly unpleasant but it was probably better than the Turks, and as they became independent in 1946 they really should have gotten over it by now. France certainly didn't leave Syria as a fascist dictatorship run by a sectarian minority, they've managed that all by themselves.

Sure, Syria's borders are arbitrary and illogical: name me a country with rational, scientifically designed borders. All borders are accidents of history, politics or warfare. Given this ethnic composition of the region: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/08/27/the-one-map-that-shows-why-syria-is-so-complicated/ they were never onto a winner.

We bombed Libya for six months with miniscule Libyan casualties, even military ones. We should be able to manage one weekend attack on Assad's airbases, most of which he has helpfully located in the middle of the desert, with few or no civilian casualties.

94:

Assad is more than friendly with Hezbollah, they are practically running his military operations at the moment.

95:

It's not true in the opposite direction. Asad might try to send an assassin to the USA to kill the president. LOL.

Yes, he could. In fact, since Asad is at the helm of a country, he could send a team of highly trained people with specialised equipment for this purpose. This is called a "commando", most countries have some of those. In computer security, governmental agencies fall in a category called "Advanced Persistent Threat" for the same kind of reasons.

PS: "LOL" is never an argument, and often an affix for stupidity.

96:

I wonder what would happen if somebody started offing Bush-era underlings like Douglas Feith.

Imagine somebody seeing a documentary on the Reagan era; noticing Cheney, Rumsfeld and Perle in the background; making the connection with Iraq in 2003; and deciding that not again.

Could make a subplot for a bad thriller.

97:

No ad hominem, please.

98:

I am agreed that discouraging chemical weapons usage and possession is a good thing.

I am less agreed about whose fault the whole mess is, but since this is irrelevant let us assume I agree on that too.

but then: how would lobbing missiles at Syrian airbases help in any way? The planes are doubtlessly protected, and the runways are very easy to repair in a matter of hours. As for Libya, the situation there is less than stellar.

We all wish the same things. The reason we don't get our wishes is because there are annoying implementation problems. You can't just wave these off as trivialities and assume that the crux of the matter is that we don't wish enough.

99:

It's not ad hominem, it's ad AOL dudebro linguam.

100:

Three successful bio attacks, actually, if you count Japanese Unit 731 in World War 2. Most of their biological attacks were against Chinese populations.

101:

Sure, Syria's borders are arbitrary and illogical: name me a country with rational, scientifically designed borders.

Iceland

102:

Charlie writes:
"You don't need to go that far; just supply the civilian population and rebels in the front-line conflict areas. Cuts the size of the distribution by an order of magnitude; a couple of million kits should do it."

This is a horrific naive underestimate.

Three quarters of the geography and half the population are exposed to the fighting, though not all of them are in active war zones.

103:

Assassinating a foreign head of state is probably the only taboo in international affairs. They are all afraid of a tit-for-tat response.

104:

Charlie:
"(The correct way to deal with the long term consequences of chemical weapons is to treat the users the way we treat Nazi war criminals -- i.e. hound them without mercy to the ends of the earth and the ends of their natural lives -- not by punishing the victims.)"

I do not understand this.

If the user is a national leader, then, we leave them in place, waging WMD war against their own people (to either win or lose), and then wait a decade or two or three later for the UN War Crimes Tribunal to finally collect them?

The alternative - declare use of chemical weapons against civilians to be a war crime, punished by an immediate death sentence, enforced by as many cruise missiles as it takes - is much faster and more effective.

I do WMD proliferation and technical stuff all the time; the norm against chemical weapons use having slipped is edging into a CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN scenario for WMD in the middle east.

Seriously - this norm being replaced and reinforced is more important than all the normal fighting civilian casualties we've seen to date, and can expect in the remainder of that civil war.

105:

I rarely find myself in complete agreement with our host on political matters. However, he's spot on here.

I only have one minor quibble. Syria isn't a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention or to the International Criminal Court, and thus falls outside their defined jurisdiction. Assad may face justice, but it's more like the to be on the order of "dragged through the streets by an angry mob" rather than "dragged before the ICC in the Hague".

106:

Bah.

In our world, phosphor and napalm are not chemical weapons. Steam cookers are weapons of mass destruction. Nerve agents are apparently so unacceptable that killing hundreds with these is more serious than killing hundred of thousands with conventional weapons -- except when it's our good allies in which case it's OK. Biological weapons are pure evil but some that escaped from our laboratories kill random people -- but look, Iraqi nukes, shiny! Waterboarding is torture when applied ON Americans, not BY them.

Welcome to the 21st century, where there are show trials in America and political refugees seeking shelter in Moscow.

I'm not quite saying we should be all-around cynics, but I've ceased to assume you could explain the foreign policy of our countries by logical deductions rooted in absolute moral principles.

107:

War never solves problems, it just shifts them around. In the case of Syria there isn't even a target scenario that would be acceptable for the would-be "liberators". Removing Assad and letting the opposition take over wouldn't result in a stable state - the opposition is even more mixed than in Egypt. Splitting Syria along ethnic boundaries might result in a stable situation, but using external force to do that is probably counter-productive. The thing is, once you have a feasible target scenario, it's often easier to implement it by diplomatic means.

108:

On a purely practical level, if nobody takes out the Syrian airforce pretty soon somebody in the Gulf will start providing the rebels with large quantities of decent MANPADS.

They already have the Chinese FN-6, which doesn't appear to be accurate enough to hit a jumbo jet from 500 feet away, and some ancient SA-7s from Libya, but I'd hate to see ISIS or al-Nusra get their hands on Mistral or SA-24s.

109:

I do WMD proliferation and technical stuff all the time; the norm against chemical weapons use having slipped is edging into a CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN scenario for WMD in the middle east.

What do you mean, you "do WMD proliferation all the time" ?? You are aware that this is illegal in most parts of the world, yes?

Seriously - this norm being replaced and reinforced is more important than all the normal fighting civilian casualties we've seen to date, and can expect in the remainder of that civil war.

BS, you claim that 1300 dead by gas are ore important than 100,000s of "normal" victims? Since it's a civil war, I don't see that use of chemical weapons will induce other nations to use chemical warfare. The history lesson won't be "Assad was a bad guy, and he got away with it because he had chemical weapons". It will be either "Assad used chemical weapons, then he lost friends, then he lost his power"
or "Use of chemical weapons was never conclusively proved, and in the end the outcome of the war depended on other factors."

110:

I'd hate to see ISIS or al-Nusra get their hands on Mistral or SA-24s.

Not only you. As I understand it Israel will take decisive action if they see modern surface-air weapons smuggled into Syria.

112:

The War nerd on chemical attacks

https://www.nsfwcorp.com/scribble/5707/8f45a1ae79abce2aa5d4d400bf123a6dbbbf0188/#unlock

(Link valid for 48hours)

"The reason we were all fine with those deaths is that they were carried out with the kind of weapons we like and trust: Aircraft and missiles. One constant for war news across my whole life is that nobody minds what you do as long as you do it from a fighter jet. It’s amazing. This isn’t as random as it might seem. Those jets are very, very expensive—not just to buy but to maintain, because they’re as fragile as racehorses. So only the big boys, the powers we consider legit, can use them"

113:

Well, it would appear that, for Britain at least, the war is over. If the government can't get even today's fairly middle of the road motion through, that's it.

It'll be interesting to see how the Right in the US deals with the idea of taking military action alongside France, but without us.

114:

cahth3iK writes:
"Bah.

In our world, phosphor and napalm are not chemical weapons.

They aren't. They're acting by fire, not poisoning.

Steam cookers are weapons of mass destruction.

Only in a twisted US internal law sense, not in any sense for international / proliferation / geopolitical / WMD sense.

This is horribly annoying at times but is not relevant at all to the international problem.

Nerve agents are apparently so unacceptable that killing hundreds with these is more serious than killing hundred of thousands with conventional weapons --

Yes. Sadly.

except when it's our good allies in which case it's OK.

Not really, we should not have let Saddam get away with it. The US was overly pissed off at Iran over the hostage affair, but that was the wrong response on every level.

Biological weapons are pure evil but some that escaped from our laboratories kill random people -- but look, Iraqi nukes, shiny! Waterboarding is torture when applied ON Americans, not BY them.

Welcome to the 21st century, where there are show trials in America and political refugees seeking shelter in Moscow.

I'm not quite saying we should be all-around cynics, but I've ceased to assume you could explain the foreign policy of our countries by logical deductions rooted in absolute moral principles.

These latter ones, you're throwing a bunch of shit on the wall and hoping it sticks.

None of it applies to the central question, which is what happens if the norm against allowing CW use and more generally WMD (CBNR) use falls and people start employing them.

Chemical weapons are impractical against modern prepared soldiers, as modern protective gear is remarkably effective. They're useful as terror weapons against large civilian populations who are as a rule neither prepared nor equipped. This is exactly how Syria has been using them.

If Syria gets away with using them, Hezbollah will no doubt consider having some as its own ultimate deterrent to be reasonable (whether they get some or not, remains to be seen). It weakens the anti-nuclear-proliferation norms, and Syria's ally Iran is currently as you might have noticed causing some distress there.

115:
France certainly didn't leave Syria as a fascist dictatorship run by a sectarian minority, they've managed that all by themselves.
Bet you half a dollar?
116:

Well, the leave-em-in-power 20 years tactic has the advantage of precedent.

117:

I wrote:
I do WMD proliferation and technical stuff all the time; the norm against chemical weapons use having slipped is edging into a CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN scenario for WMD in the middle east.

Andreas Vox:
What do you mean, you "do WMD proliferation all the time" ?? You are aware that this is illegal in most parts of the world, yes?

Either this is a jargon issue or a reading comprehension issue or a failure to assume good faith.

In the interests of clarity - I research the politics, policy, and technology of WMDs and their proliferation, in the interests of preventing more proliferation. Not secretly sell nuke plans to Canada or Brazil or China.

Me again:
Seriously - this norm being replaced and reinforced is more important than all the normal fighting civilian casualties we've seen to date, and can expect in the remainder of that civil war.

Andreas:
BS, you claim that 1300 dead by gas are ore important than 100,000s of "normal" victims? Since it's a civil war, I don't see that use of chemical weapons will induce other nations to use chemical warfare. The history lesson won't be "Assad was a bad guy, and he got away with it because he had chemical weapons". It will be either "Assad used chemical weapons, then he lost friends, then he lost his power"
or "Use of chemical weapons was never conclusively proved, and in the end the outcome of the war depended on other factors."

The use of chemical weapons has already been proved, samples have tested positive for Sarin on multiple occasions including this one. The videos show unambiguous effects of a nerve agent on hundreds of dead or dying people at hospitals.

Your opinion regarding the international precedent is noted, but I have no idea if you have any background in proliferation policy or geopolitics. I do, and my opinion is that this is remarkably horribly bad and just going to get remarkably horribly worse if we do not squash Assad (not necessarily kill him, but impress upon him and the rest of the world that this is NOT OK and will not be tolerated).

I know why there's resistance here; the US is not holding much moral high ground at the moment with the recent foray into Iraq, and the ongoing Afghanistan mess, much less the NSA snafu etc. Non-intervention is all fine and dandy as a general policy if you want.

THIS IS DIFFERENT.

I cannot comprehend how anti-war folks can look at the use of chemical weapons and believe that turning away is the right path, or a moral choice. It requires significant blindness to the past beyond the last 10 years, and while the youth of today may just not have read the histories enough, at least the vast bulk of the people here are people I know or suspect were adult and politically active 20 years ago...

118:

Congrats on getting a piece published in FP, Charlie. You're part of The Establishment now. ;-)

The efficient cause of Syria's strife is an epic drought that lasted from 2006 to 2011 ... just after al-Assad sold Syria's emergency wheat stocks to profit from "high" prices in 2005. News reports about internal refugees flocking to cities started in 2008, iIrc.

(Possibly Syria is a scale model of what could quite easily happen in Egypt.)

As for what the war-mongers are proposing: it sounds more like Libya than Iraq or Afghanistan. Or like Clinton bombing a paint factory in Sudan. And those worked out so well, didn't they? Paragons of stable, prosperous democracy both.

What should the UK and US do? What the Chinese are telling them to do.

And as for the horror of chemical weapons: well, that was torture, a few short years ago. Colour me unimpressed with any "ethical" justifications whatsoever when it comes to international interventions. Obama and Cameron will attack for reasons of domestic popularity, and those alone.

Instead of NAAKs, which seem as though they could kill as many people as they save, how about just distributing MDMA? Brotherly love through chemistry!

119:

"I cannot comprehend how anti-war folks can look at the use of chemical weapons and believe that turning away is the right path, or a moral choice"

I'm not sure how much the opposition is making a moral choice at all, I think a lot of it's practical. It may be moral to fix this problem, but no one, and certainly not the government today, has presented any sort of plan for actually making things better.

We're in a classic state of 'Something must be done, and this is something.'

120:

I am so sick of the "WMD" boogeyman. There's a reason chemical and biological weapons don't get used more, and it's not treaties or gentlemen's agreements between countries, it's that pound for pound and dollar for dollar they're almost universally less effective than conventional weapons at actually wounding or killing your targets (this goes for both the military-scale state-actor setting and at the guerilla/terrorist attack scale). They have a minor psychological advantage in that they scare people more, but in the end they only have that power because people suck at risk-benefit analysis (the former is NOT the case with nuclear, which is why the category "WMD" is so ridiculous). As such, I simply don't get the worries about opening some kind of chemical weapons pandora's box. In the end, military leaders who really want to kill folks are going to do it the old fashioned way, by blowing them up and shooting them, and to act like that's magically OK compared to using less efficient means is untenable.

121:

hunter.elenbaas writes in part:
"There's a reason chemical and biological weapons don't get used more, and it's not treaties or gentlemen's agreements between countries, it's that pound for pound and dollar for dollar they're almost universally less effective than conventional weapons at actually wounding or killing your targets"

This is unambiguously not true when it comes to attacks on unprepared civilian targets.

It is true against prepared military targets.

122:

ewanmacmahon writes:
"I'm not sure how much the opposition is making a moral choice at all, I think a lot of it's practical. It may be moral to fix this problem, but no one, and certainly not the government today, has presented any sort of plan for actually making things better.

We're in a classic state of 'Something must be done, and this is something.' "

Regarding the wider situation, almost nothing we do resolves or improves the situation, including doing nothing.

Regarding punishing and deterring future chemical weapon use, we can certainly give the Syrian leadership and generals a Really Bad Month in terms of things blowded up.

Changing the course of the war and end-of-war outcome, and convincing them to not do that again, are different things. If we limit the goal to sufficient deterrence and impact that we see no further chemical attacks, that is at least arguably possible.

123:

Fifty years ago, WMD was the Domino Theory. Eighty years ago, there was the Red Threat. Before that, the Yellow Peril.

It's all b___sh_t. Simple-minded propaganda for simple-minded proles. Please stop shoving down our throats.

124:

A few thoughts.

Firstly, I presume that the reason that the US is so certain that it's the Syrian regime lobbing Sarin around (and not another Sarajevo marketplace) is because they're doing some heavy lifting on the SIGINT front, and either listening to the decrypted radio / phone / internet traffic, or have some fairly conclusive traffic analysis and satellite imagery.

Secondly, I'd suggest that the Typhoons in Cyprus probably have got a purely defensive role. The UK listening stations there are fairly important, the Sovereign Base Area is an obvious staging area for any land-based air raid. Given that the Syrian military are demonstrably operating in the "nothing to lose" zone, the appearance of credible air defence may just send a hint that pre-emptive strikes on the runway at Akrotiri may not succeed. Six aren't enough to mount an attack, but hopefully they're enough to make a Syrian Air Force type think twice.

If you see a Type 45 parked off the Cypriot coast, you'll know that they're taking the SCUD threat to the SBA really seriously. Taking shots at the SBA without threatening the families that live there is impossible; and I would suggest a definite UK red line (I had schoolfriends that had been evacuated in 1974).

I can't see a way to intervene sensibly with military force. I might suggest that "making it personal" is the way forward; perhaps Hague indictments against named individuals, or economic warfare on a personal level against their financial assets / property. So sorry, your Bank accounts read zero, and your London, Paris, and Beirut mansions just burned down. Not to worry, everyone got out without injury. Did your kids just fail their exams? Shame, that.

I suspect, however, that all we can really do is sit back and watch the extremist Sunni (Al Qaeda) and Shia (Hezbollah) types knock the hell out of each other in a proxy war between elements in Iranian and Saudi Arabian politics. And pity the poor sods caught in the middle.

Maybe we could run lots of refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq. Pitch it right (i.e. no advantage given to either side, humanitarian aid / protection to civilians only), and you never know - we might even see the Security Council P5 agree without veto.

125:
Firstly, I presume that the reason that the US is so certain that it's the Syrian regime lobbing Sarin around (and not another Sarajevo marketplace) is because they're doing some heavy lifting on the SIGINT front, and either listening to the decrypted radio / phone / internet traffic, or have some fairly conclusive traffic analysis and satellite imagery.
You'd think so, and they do have phone intercepts, but apparently there's no conclusive evidence for who gave the order at all.
126:

anonemouse:
"You'd think so, and they do have phone intercepts, but apparently there's no conclusive evidence for who gave the order at all. "

The goalposts are shifting, from "They might not have done it" to "We can't prove who ordered the chemical weapons unit to do it".

127:
Either this is a jargon issue or a reading comprehension issue or a failure to assume good faith.

In the interests of clarity - I research the politics, policy, and technology of WMDs and their proliferation, in the interests of preventing more proliferation. Not secretly sell nuke plans to Canada or Brazil or China.

In the interests of clarity, I do WMD too. If - like some of your past claims of this type - you mean "look stuff up on the internet". In any event, your vague claims of expertise above and beyond the rest of us don't appear to lend your comments any gloss of insight.

128:

scentofviolets:
"In the interests of clarity, I do WMD too. If - like some of your past claims of this type - you mean "look stuff up on the internet". In any event, your vague claims of expertise above and beyond the rest of us don't appear to lend your comments any gloss of insight."

Please by all means find a WMD proliferation expert who does it full time, as oppopsed to part time, and pull their more-expert opinions on this in.

129:

If Russia under Czar Vladimir Putin does decide to get more involved, it could become a very painful proxy war for the west. The Russians are concerned at the fall of previous allied states in the region - and the Ba'athist Government (why do we call them regimes when we don't like them? Even if they're not elected, we don't call the Saudis the "Saudi Regime"). Modern warfare - even relatively low tech civil warfare like Syria - is very resource and munitions intensive. There is no way the Syrian Government (or rebels for that matter) could have held up the intensity of the conflict for so long without extensive external assistance. Not to mention the massive amounts of military paraphenalia lying around the middle and near east following Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.

All the Russians would have to do would be to bump up supplying the Syrians following a major western intervention. While Syria is not Afghanistan with mountains redoubts etc etc it could make it very expensive and prohibitive in lives for any western intervention.

Russia is setting out to differentiate its 'brand' to the non-aligned nations, which previously the Chinese had free shots at. The Great Game continues.

130:

This isn't really different. It's not even particularly new. The Iraqi Baathist regime under Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons on rebels in the Kurdish regions of Iraq. WMDs were the United State's entire justification for going to war with Iraq.

Quite reasonably many, many Americans--and citizens of our partner nations in that war--are reluctant to be fooled again. The Iraq war was a mistake. I was one of the people who thought it was the least bad of a number of bad options at the time. I was wrong. I'm amazed that the Obama administration is even considering repeating George W Bush's worst mistake. At least Bush had the excuse of Saddam Hussein trying to have his father killed back in 1993.

131:

Sorry I'm late guys. American here, so i'm like 12 hours behind you.

My take is that BoB doesn't want to get involved in this..really, really doesn't want to get involved, but is being more or less forced into it.

Problems which fester in one place don't usually stay in one place, which was the initial impetus behind the (incredibly stupid) war on Iraq/Afghanistan/Terrorism/Antiamericanism.

What will likely happen is a series of nasty bombings of various regime/government buildings designed to degrade the state. Nothing more.

The problem is...we don't really want anyone involved to WIN the war. We want Assad to lose. We want the 'rebels' (who do appear to be mostly mercenaries or anti-american/christian/western crazies) to lose. We want everyone to lose.

But if someone doesn't move in and enforce the norms against the use of chemical weapons, pretty soon that reluctance will diminish.

132:

Sigh. George, several people who fit your idiosyncratic definitions already have weighed in on the topic. And as a fellow expert who also "does WMD", I say you're full of it.

Ain't spurious claims to vaguely defined authority fun? Not to mention definitive ;-)

133:

With all due respect...isn't that kind of like providing Morning after pills to people in Darfur? I mean..you're limiting the amount of damage, but also implicitly giving sanction to a weapon of war.

Chemical weapons in Syria...massed gang rape in Sudan.

Sorry, I came to this argument kind of late.

134:

I'm not arguing from authority, I laid out my reasons in depth. You aren't...

Please do.

135:

I agree that the Great Game continues, but in Syria's case, the news media (for what it's worth) says that Iran is the major supplier for the Syrian government, and Russia's a secondary player, as are the Gulf States on the side of the Wahhabist rebels.

The issues here are things like the Bosporus and the Suez Canal. They're critical shipping routes, and having both Syria and Egypt going bonkers probably makes a lot of people uneasy. It would really suck if Turkey destabilized.

My prediction du jour is that, shucks oh darn, the US Congress will demand that the President follow the War Powers act, then fail to authorize military action in Syria unless Israel or Turkey is threatened. At that point, humanitarian aid will flood in to the refugees. I wouldn't be surprised if Obama hasn't already arranged this with Boehner, since they both stand to gain from the action.

The problem, as others have noted, is if Hezbollah uses the Syrian war as cover for smuggling some nasty anti-Israeli weapons into Lebanon, or the war spills over the wrong (read, not Iraq) border. If that happens, then we might get that chain reaction that everyone is trying to squelch. Sure, everyone wants their faction to win the civil war, but only by proxy.

136:

If you want to unzip and compare, do so elsewhere.

That applies to everyone.

Feel free to provide references to your arguments.

137:

If you're not arguing from authority . . . don't preface your comments by saying that you're some sort of authority. Are we clear on this yet? Really, this isn't that hard to understand; in fact, you're the only one here who appears not to get this.

138:

Last warning: it is possible to disagree without being argumentative about it.

(And I am saying this as someone who supports pointing out the holes and inconsistencies in George's positions. But there's no need to be nasty about it. Please.)

139:

At 69, I know I should be past this, but I am still stunned at the persistent and toxic inability of the US and the UK to learn from either their own or anyone else's history.

Though it goes back before this, the first modern example was the terror bombing of Dresden by the British. Somehow the blitz strengthened the will of the Brits. Having quickly forgotten this they copied the Nazis and probably prolonged World War II. The same with the "heroic" Doolittle's destruction of Tokyo.

And, of course, my fellow Americans knew with complete certainty that 2,500 years of western failure in Afghanistan did not apply to us.

Now, following our stunning successes in Iraq and Afghanistan, we're going to teach Assad a lesson?

140:

In our world, phosphor and napalm are not chemical weapons.

They aren't. They're acting by fire, not poisoning.

Quite, but they still are still chemicals intended to destroy vast areas of land. So it's a bit ironic as to what we accept to be a "chemical weapon of mass destruction".

These latter ones, you're throwing a bunch of shit on the wall and hoping it sticks.

I'll concede that my methodology and my phrasing were poor, so let me rephrase: on one hand, we have the Nuclear-Biological-Chemical triad of Weapons of Mass Destruction (leaving aside that only nuclear weapons "destroy massively" in any meaningful sense of these words -- as you said, chemicals that come orders of magnitude remotely close are considered incendiary weapons fit for use in populated urban zones).

- I am not at all convinced that it is easy to produce a biological weapon of measurable effects without the sort of programmes that only nation-States can afford.

- I am pretty absolutely certain that it is impossible to build even the crudest nuclear weapon without the sort of programmes that only nation-States can afford.

So no, I am not unconvinced that one deployment of chemical agents on the battlefield will encourage proliferation of the other two big nasties. I agree with you that it is worsens the record, but that was something to think about when Saddam Hussein started using them widely. Now is too late.

My other arguments aim to questioning your focus of chemical weapons: I don't like more than you do the idea of a world where chemical weapons are gradually becoming standard issue, but what about torture becoming acceptable? What about arbitrary detention? What about the systematic undermining of the UN? etc.

The core of the argument being that we do know what the world looks like when tin-pot dictators are ready to use nerve agents against their enemies and their populations -- we've been there since the 80s: it's no fun for the affected population, but it's overall relatively rare and it does not offset geopolitical balances of power.

A decaying hyperpower in its death throes deciding to "take the gloves off"? That is something that both worries me as far as geopolitics go, and affects me personally.


141:

If we could remove the current Syrian government, end the conflict, and establish a peaceful democracy in its place we should absolutely bite the bullet and do it. The problem is that the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan show that our governments and militaries simply have no clue how to do that.

I doubt there is anyone on the planet who knows how to do it. At some point the people who've declared life long feuds have to die off. And that's always a messy long term enterprise.

Look how long it took western Europe to become as democratic as they are. The USA got it done faster but we had somewhat of a clean slate to start with. And what would North America and and Europe look like if General what's his name had actually committed his 50,000 troops to the fight instead of letting them sit on ships in NY harbor for the duration of the war. Were modern democracies inevitable or did a long sequence of events have occur in just the right sequence?

142:

In terms of neighbors allowing us access, here's my personal scoring of likelihood (scale 0=never, 10=come on in):
...
Jordan - 4 (They're the ones with their backs closest to being up against the wall)

Without transport through yet another problematic country a route from the sea through Jordan is fairly tough. I'd rate it lower just due to that alone.

143:

Charlie:
FYI -- The US Postal service is currently running a special HAZMAT facility that screens all incoming letters and packages to the US Congress and US Government officials. The recent spat of Ricin letters were intercepted at this facility. Last I heard it creates a delay of a couple of days in the delivery of mail to our representatives.

144:

Look how long it took western Europe to become as democratic as they are. The USA got it done faster but we had somewhat of a clean slate to start with.

And look at how reversible this process might be.

145:

Charlie, why the hell don't we hear about this option? Cheaper, arguably more effective because it blunts the effectiveness of the Syrian WMDs and doesn't leave lots of blood on the hands.

Because politicians are not usually of the Quaker mindset. "Doing something" tends to mean blowing something up in their minds.

A friend flew cargo planes to carriers in the 70s/80s. I asked why he left and went civilian and his answer was, "you don't advance as a career in the military unless you fire missiles or drop bombs."

The title "Commander in Chief" doesn't invite thoughts of hospital air drops.

146:

While we could try the pariah state (aka North Korea), we could torment them fairly well simply by dragging through an incredibly lengthy and heart-attack inducing international war crimes tribunal later on, then have them live in a small cage (aka a prison cell) for the rest of their lives.

This has been discussed by the pundits over on the left side of the pond. Apparently they are concentrated in a fairly dense area of the country that grows plenty of food. If they wanted to hole up with all their big guns they could do it for decades if no one wanted to put boots on the ground. And some are thinking this might be the end game for the current rulers. Which would still leave the rest of Syria a bloody mess.

147:

that's not going to happen unless Kim Jong-Un really pisses off Beijing.

He doesn't seem to understand that and keep moving closer to the line. I wonder if a new family will be installed by the military if he doesn't calm down.

148:

Except USA can't do it, because they have no idea what they actually want...

Oil. If not for us them for others.

149:

If Assad isn't punished for this attack (a clear violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925) he will continue and escalate his chemical weapons use.

That's the point. How do you punish HIM.

150:

The problem is...we don't really want anyone involved to WIN the war. We want Assad to lose. We want the 'rebels' (who do appear to be mostly mercenaries or anti-american/christian/western crazies) to lose. We want everyone to lose.

Not really. While we don't want anyone who seems possible of winning to win, we don't want everyone to loose. That seems to be how we got Somalia. A pirate (in many senses) state off the east coast of Africa is bad enough. Syria as one makes the last 30 years in Lebanon look tame.

151:

Though it goes back before this, the first modern example was the terror bombing of Dresden by the British. Somehow the blitz strengthened the will of the Brits. Having quickly forgotten this they copied the Nazis and probably prolonged World War II. The same with the "heroic" Doolittle's destruction of Tokyo.

That's an interestingly selective view of history, that forgets the Condor Legion and the initial Blitzkreig. Attacks on civilians and harassment of refugee movement worked rather well for the Germans from the 1930s through to 1941, and sped up the collapse of Belgium, Holland, and France - although these were tactical rather than strategic bombing.

Firstly, Dresden was bombed by both the RAF and the USAAF. Secondly, it was a strategic target; you can argue with the morality of area bombing, but they were doing it to screw up the German industrial war effort, and support the Soviet advance, not to terrify civilians. (We've discussed this before in relation to the use of fission bombs on Japan).

The need to divert lots of concrete, heavy guns, day/night fighters, their ammunition, and the people to operate them didn't "prolong" the war - more 8.8cm guns pointing at the RAF and USAAF means fewer pointing at Zhukov and Eisenhower. Likewise, the US effort to isolate Japan's home islands and destroy its industrial resources made civilians suffer, but shortened the war (it also made Raeder and Doenitz impossible to convict on charges of "waging unrestricted U-Boat warfare). Of course, you can argue that Bomber Command's failure to focus on the Romanian oilfields, or the RAF selection of slow four engined bombers over fast two-engined bombers, were wasteful too. But that would again be hindsight.

The key point is that we now actively try to avoid the deaths of civilians. It's unrealistic to expect zero deaths in a military campaign, but morally we're now in a better place than we were in the 1940s - but it's an easier place, with no threat to our existence.

Your point about military hubris is well-made (isn't the list "March on Moscow, conquer Afghanistan, win a war in South-East Asia"?) but I think the motivations are good - even if the objectives are badly-defined. It's up to the politicians, as it always is - they say "we wish to achieve X", the military says "we can do Y to Z to support your aims", the politicians say "do those". In this case, I agree that there is little that military force alone can do to help the average Syrian.

The Syrian regime has its back to the wall. After fifty years of "us or chaos", I'd be surprised if many didn't believe that if they don't stay in power, their families will end up on the streets while they watch from the lamp-posts. They have no way out - and they will fight accordingly.

If I was really Machiavellian, I might point out that Hafez Al-Assad killed 30,000 in the Hama massacre in 1982 in a matter of weeks to put down his rebellion; by avoiding that level of brutality, his son failed to deter the opposition, and 100,000 civilians have died this time around.

152:

The government losing the vote on even the watered-down motion is, on the morning after, being described as the marker for the End of Empire.

That might be an exaggeration. But, in just over a year, there is the Scottish Referendum. There's been some huge bribes thrown at Scotland—building expensive aircraft carriers for one—and the whole quasi-Imperial thing could collapse.

Assume that we stay part of NATO, and want to provide useful military force for the alliance. I think we went the wrong way on the aircraft carriers, and the Royal Navy is grossly unbalanced. Naval control of the North Atlantic is useful to NATO.

But these things cannot change quickly or easily. And we already have more Admirals than ships. It might be worth having a few spare Admirals, in case we need to encourage the others, but it looks rather as if there's a confusion between rank and pay and authority.


153:

The whole WMD thing may have started as an excuse to use nuclear weapons. There was some good evidence that a Soviet attack in Europe would have involved massive use of chemical weapons. They had the delivery systems, and hitting places such as the REFORGER depots with a persistent chemical such as mustard gas would have had a big pay-off.

There's also a lot of evidence for NATO being organised to fight a war with tactical nuclear weapons, and classing chemical and nuclear weapons together as WMDs would have given an excuse.

Biological weapons sit in the middle: since the little buggers breed like crazy, and can get out of control, I reckon they're near enough to nuclear fallout to justify the linkage.

Nukes can be carried by one man. Chemical weapons to deliver a lethal dose over the same area as such a nuke need something like a battery of katyushas. I hope Tom Clancy is wildly exaggerating but bioweapons could be as portable as nukes, even if they need days before they are taking effect.

Chemical weapons are inherently tactical. So is an assassin's bullet, but the distinction holds. Lumping them together with nukes is stupid.

154:

Oh shit 153 comments!

Camoron has been defeated in the House – good.
Need UN Security Council resolution after weapons inspectors report – good.
Nasty little RC lying Christian Blair has poisoned the well - bad BUT ..
MP’s are saying “Won’t be fooled again” – good, actually.
Now to the discussion.

Charlie
Disagree re “India” – that was down to Jinnah & his follwers wanting a “muslim” state rather than being part of a Secular India & the Brits were daft enough (& in a big enough hurry) to allow it to go forward. What a disaster.
Ah yes, I see you mention the vile Blair as well – how long before we can jail the bastard?
Never heard of “NAAK” - thank you.

Oh, “imperial past” … then why are the French not stepping up to the plate? A week or two back, they were making belligerent noises, but it’s gone horrid quiet of late. Do they know something?

Oh horrid thought
A war in Syria would, almost inevitably degenerate into a general RELIGIOUS WAR (See H. Beam Piper) between the Sunni & Shia factions, with the nations dividing on those lines & minorities fighting against their own “governments” & for the “enemy” because of their following of whichever sets of descendants of the so-called prophet they adhere to.
Really, really unpleasant.
See also Hugo Fisher @ 33

TEX @ 6
In which case, they are terminally stupid, because a general sunni/shia war will profit no-one.

@ 9
NOT a civil war & Gaddafi had made a LONG list of enemies, from all sides ….

Charlie @ 18 & EVERYONE ELSE
The UN is actually a roaring success – when you compare it to the previous iteration. No-one ever heard of the “League of Nations”?
Really – look it up.
& @ 50
And what about Taliban war criminals – these people tick every available box for “Nazi”, actually … Um, err ….


Charlie @ 63
Not quite.
Tito wrote to Stalin – the note was found in Stalin’s desk, after he dies:
“Stalin: We’ve just caught the (I think) sixth assassin you’ve sent against me. If you send a seventh, we will send one & we won’t need to send another. J. B. Tito.” Sources in both Bullock & “A study in Tyrrany” IIRC.

chrisJ @ 72
Yes, if the Syrian were intelligent enough, all they’d have to do would be to take out a few prominent Tea-Partiers & ulra-right other Rethuglicans, particularly if they could lay false “liberal “ trails – how many would they have to do in before a civil war started?
Come to think of it ….
& Charlie @ 74
No comprende Senor – que? “Big blue glass building in Ft Meade” ??

Nestor @ 80
It's the 21st fucking century, give people education, prosperity and PlayStations and they'll son forget whether they're a Kurd or a Comanche Err .. tell that to the approx 200 nutters in the RIRA & UDF(revived), then?

Heteromeles @ 83
Doesn’t count.
The Taliban have consistently broken all attempts at peacemaking – using such attempts toe either buy time, or kill people at the conferences – see also my comment further up.

GH @ 104
The alternative - declare use of chemical weapons against civilians to be a war crime, punished by an immediate death sentence, enforced by as many cruise missiles as it takes - is much faster and more effective. PROVIDED you are 150% certain that you have the correct guilty party.
Currently, we do not have that information.

Andreas Vox @ 107
War never solves problems
Tell that to Napoleon Bonaparte, or Adolf, or imperial Japan, OK?
Trite saying – not true.

GH @ 117
Precedent
Mussolini’s use of poison gas in Abysinnia … because of the limpness of the useless “League of Nations” (See above) he got away with it – for a while.

Gravelbelly @ 124
Really like your last suggestions – that might even fly – it would certainly pass a Security Council vote, I think.

Carl Henderson @ 130
Except that it is obvious that Obama is dragging his feet - & after the Commons vote, he may be able to foot-drag for quite a bit longer – like until there is an SC resolution, in fact.
& KeiZu @ 131 – precisely.

David L @ 141
Worked in 1945
BUT – the amount of preparation was vast (In fact a plan was devised for Iraq along those lines, & dumped by the Cheny-ites, the stupid wankers) - my Father was asked if he wanted to volunteer for the “CivMilGov of Germany” in about April 1944 …. Yeah, think that through.
No, modern democracies were not inevitable – it required the very peculiar circumstances in England & Britain, 1603-1688 for it to occur, with, even then, a tradition that even a supposedly absolute monarch had to listen to his/her parliament.

@ 152
Small carriers with lots of drones & triple the number of type 52’s
Problem solved.

155:

I didn't know about your Dad, but am well aware of the Greeks and Turks, the partition of Cyprus...

I hadn't considered them as an issue, and the BBC were presenting this deployment as a response relating to the Syrian Cival War, and not the on-going Greko-Turkish stuff.

156:

Likewise, and for the same reasons. That said, also with the note that I've been lucky enough to get anti-hypertensives that have no detectable (on me anyway) side-effects straight off.

157:

Andreas Vox @ 107:
War never solves problems

Tell that to Napoleon Bonaparte, or Adolf, or imperial Japan, OK?

Well, I think they all started wars and what problems did it solve for them?

158:

Non-intervention is all fine and dandy as a general policy if you want.

THIS IS DIFFERENT.

I cannot comprehend how anti-war folks can look at the use of chemical weapons and believe that turning away is the right path, or a moral choice. It requires significant blindness to the past beyond the last 10 years, and while the youth of today may just not have read the histories enough, at least the vast bulk of the people here are people I know or suspect were adult and politically active 20 years ago...

George, morality is usually the least reason for starting (or joining) a war. Using chemical weapons on civilians is wrong, no one disagrees about that.
But if you want to make a moral choice, you have to consider the likely consequences of your actions.
So if you call for an intervention, tell us the goals
(punish Bashir Assad, punish Maher Assad, send a strong message to Iran, remove any chemical weapons from Syria, let the Syrian opposition win, ...) and how you want to achieve that. Then examine the costs and risks of that plan. Then you are in a position to make a moral choice. Currently all I see is jingoism.

159:

Greg @154
What's a type 52? RN these days has two main groups of non-carrier surface warships, Type 23 (frigates) and Type 45 (missile destroyers) - were you referring to the Type 42s (which the 45s have replaced)?

Back on topic, it seems that there has been an outbreak of sanity in the HoC, for which much thanks, but I do find some of the reactions it has provoked (eg. Paddy Ashdown saying he was ashamed that his country had become isolationist) a bit strange. My read of the commons vote is that it was a rejection of the Politician's Syllogism rather than a rejection of intervention or a turning away from the world.

Fundamentally the vote was saying 'we will not give you a blank cheque' - I suspect that if Cameron were to put forward an actual proposal backed with some reasoning about how it would help and/or how it would avoid making things worse, then he could get a majority for it. Obviously the details of the proposal (and the supporting arguments) would be key; a commitment of significant resources to non-lethal aid and the establishment of properly secured refugee/resettlement zones in Turkey and/or Jordan would be a fairly easy sell, whereas something like a 'weapons and training' package for the rebels would be a lot harder.

What the Commons definitely don't want is another Iraq or Afghan fiasco, they are (rightly IMO) sceptical about the usefulness of a Libya-style bombing campaign and they don't see the point of a 'bomb an aspirin factory' fig-leaf - given all that, what would be the purpose of authorising a military deployment?

Regards
Luke

160:

One further problem with Charlie's (nice but impractical) suggestion of air-dropping NAAKs occurs to me:

There are enough people with an interest in the fight that you'd have to do a lot of checking that no-one was trying to slip weapons into your medicine crates. What's more, because plenty of those people stand to benefit from showing up the perfidious westerners, you'd need to find someone impeccably anti-western to double-check each crate for you, and even then you'd probably expect the first videos "proving" that each box contained a layer of Antidote kits on top of a stack of missiles to appear within hours.

So even if you could practically do something about the problem from a humanitarian perspective, it would probably still be disasterous in terms of regional political fallout (and so get thousands or millions more people killed).

161:

Nobody would care. Everybody and their dog is shipping truckloads and planeloads of weapons into Syria at the moment courtesy of the Saudis, the Iranians and the Russians (and maybe the US too under Black Budget provisions). Putting a few AK-47s in a humanitarian airdrop capsule would be pointless and barely noticeable in the scheme of things. Claiming there were AK-47s in the capsule would be just as pointless -- unless you can get half a dozen technicals with 12.7mm heavy machineguns in the truckbed into a cardboard box marked "medical supplies" then there's no real point.

162:

silburn
Oops!
Bad typo on my part - got types 42/45 muddled in my fingers.
Thanks for the correction - missed it in my proof-read.

You are entirely correct - just heard pathetic little Mr Milibean on the radio. Whilst he was not actually saying that his predecessor, the evil little lying crook Blair had poisoned the well, but that was the message.
I suspect that IF the weapons inspectors come out with an uneqivocal "Assad's thugs did it" then we will get a different reaction in the HoC - & much more importantly in the Security Council. But that is tomorrow's problem.

Mind you, this has happened before - the only good thing the otherwise thoroughly untrustowrthy Harold Wilson ever did, was to keep the UK out of Vietnam ....

163:

Regarding punishing and deterring future chemical weapon use, we can certainly give the Syrian leadership and generals a Really Bad Month in terms of things blowded up.

Unless you actually kill one of the family or something, I suspect that would count as a Really Good Month. An actual outside threat and attack would do wonders for the legitimacy of the presidency and any emergency powers it cares to exercise during that month. Might even stop the civil war altogether. Not in a good way.

164:

How do people here compare the use of chemical weapons with other controversial, non-WMD weapon types, for example land mines?

There has long been an international campaign to ban the use of anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions (The International Campaign to Ban Landmines).

I've seen arguments here that chemical weapons are hardly different from conventional weapons - what does the civilian care weather he/she's been gassed, shot, blasted, or firebombed (like the kids in Aleppo)?

Cant the same be said for landmines as well? So is trying to ban mines a worthless pursuit? Should all weapon systems be available for use, other than the N and B in NBC?


On the other hand, if some weapon systems should be forbidden (chemicals, mines, autonomous drones, etc.), how will such a ban be enforced? Any entity desperate or ruthless enough to be inclined to use such forbidden weapons will not likely be dissuaded by nebulous threats, such as sanctions or the possibility of some future prosecution.

Are we therefore to consider such weapon bans useless? Or do we accept that their use would very likely require a forceful (meaning military) response? Or is there indeed a better way to enforce these prohibitions (since the usual alternatives - sanctions and international courts - seem to be toothless)?

165:

Chemical weapons are way nastier than nukes. I did my national service as a NBC specialist and apart from biologicals, where you know its basically the end of civilization, chemical weapons is as bad as it gets. Its a lot easier to plan and deal with the effects of a nuclear strike.

The aftermath of a chemical attack on unprotected or unprepared targets is hell. The killing mechanism is horrendous as you are made aware that something is happening, usually by loss of bowel control, then by limb and respiratory failure and seizures. People affected by the gaseous form of a nerve agent can get partial symptoms and exactly what happens in the long term is pretty hard to predict.
Moving around in a contaminated area is deadly even with appropriate gear and the cleanup is complicated and dangerous. The suits are uncomfortable and you always have to worry about both gas and liquid state contamination.


Thats the reason that nerve agents are equated with nukes, they are a weapon of mass destruction in truth.

166:

Re: White powder in envelopes. As is often the case, the White House, Congress and DOD worked diligently to close the barn door after the horse's departure. There is now a consolidated mail sorting and security facility in the DC area to oversee inspection and distribution of mail to government agencies in the DC area, complete with bio sensors and decon facilities and procedures. Not that this would stop a panic reaction, but a successful attack using those same methods is much less likely.

167:

Land mines and cluster munition are in one aspect worse than chemical weapons: they fuck up civilian lives for a long time. Ask for example people in Afghanistan.

Long-term effects of nuclear and biological weapons are even worse or unpredictable, so that's probably why they aren't used. Agent Orange had dreadful long-term effects but AFAIK was never recognized as a CW.

So yes, in my view these weapons should be banned. OTOH it seems pointless to ban chemical weapons when you can do just as much or more harm with conventional weapons (eg. thermobaric bombs).
I guess the ban on chemical weapons is more a relic from WWI than being based on a comparison of the weapons' effects.

168:

One thing I have noticed reading comments here seriously rankles with me: How can some be so sure that the chemical attack was committed by government forces?

August 2012: Obama announces his "red line"

May 2013: Syrian rebels in possession of 2kg of Sarin detained in Turkey [1] [2]

August 2013: Poison gas used in Syrian civil war

I wouldn't rule out a false flag operation to draw in western support for the rebels!

[1] http://www.todayszaman.com/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=316966
[2] http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=95d_1369914320

169:

I realise in many, many ways it's hopeless idealistic, but frankly I'd like to see a world with no war, no weapons. Forget "no WMDs, no chemical weapons" etc. and then splitting hairs about toxins are but chemicals that cause massive thermal damage aren't and so on. Just no weapons.

I know there are things like kitchen knives that are useful, but can be used to kill. If I were to try and legislate it would be a minefield I'm sure, but in the world of common sense, I'm ok with saying "tools that can be adapted to weapons are OK, weapons that can occasionally be tools are not."

Failing that ultimate goal. I'll settle for the "Darkover Compact." It is unethical to use any weapon that allows you to strike down a foe while not within their reach, that relies on more than your own training and skill. I realise this has issues - it puts the small and weak at the mercy of the big and strong potentially even more than they currently are now. But then civilians, children and if we're honest in almost all parts of the world women, as disproportionately the victims of violent crime whether in war or peace anyway. I'm not sure it would make things appreciable worse for them.

Although it would be a complete nightmare to enforce, it would stop the debates 'Are landmines worse than Sarin?' and the like. They're all banned. Full stop. No debate.

And I know this is a pipe-dream. Too many humans like killing each other. The knowledge is too widely available to go away. But a few years without something like this would be nice wouldn't it? Is that too much to ask?

170:

Pipe dreams and thought experiments are good: they give us a bigger context to frame our dilemmas.

Unfortunately you don't need "real" weapons to commit warfare or genocide; look at Rwanda, for an example of genocide committed by knife-blade. And again, you barely need to go back more than 600 years to find a situation where wholesale massacres were routinely perpetrated by armies of men using knives and looking their victims in the eye as they disemboweled them.

Nevertheless: a world without war or interpersonal violence should be a theoretical goal worth aiming for. Even if we never get there, the closer we get the better things will be.

171:

You know, there's something bugging me about the footage from Syria showing the aftermath of this supposed nerve gas attack: look at this hospital scenes. No matter how hard you look, you do not see any evidence of NBC precautions being taken. Nobody is wearing a respirator, nobody is wearing protective overalls and indeed all the medics are in shirtsleeves without even gloves on!

Nerve gas is not a gas, but an atomised liquid. It adsorbs onto clothing and people, and once there evaporates off again. If you handle nerve gas victims without taking precautions, you WILL get a dose of nerve agent yourself, and if you survive this you will not do it again. The videos I have seen even show scenes from the makeshift mortuary; these individuals will have been exposed to the highest levels of nerve agent therefore will be most contaminated, yet the cameraman and members of the public were wandering through willy-nilly.

These were not long-dead people, either. When any animal dies, the heart stops beating and blood drains to the lowest point of the body, giving a sallow, yellowish-grey look to the upper parts of the body. The bodies in the video didn't look like that; they were very freshly dead and thus very recently exposed to nerve agent.

And yet, do we hear shocking stories of Syrian hospitals evacuated due to contamination? No, we do not. Ladies and gentlemen, this was NOT a nerve agent in use. The lethality was way too low, for another thing; 10% mortality on an unprotected civilian target is bloody low for a nerve agent; I'd expect nearer 80% mortality and quite a bit of effect on the first responders to the scene (once again, no reports of this; suspicious in the extreme).

For my money this was someone using military-grade CS gas and using way too much of it. Military CS isn't classed as a lethal chemical agent but as a non-lethal crowd dispersant and area denial tool, though it is pretty deadly if you release far too much of it. Similarly standard phosphorus-based cammo smoke is also deadly in high dose, but isn't classed as a military toxin.

Let us not jump the gun on this one; this attack does not show many of the expected patterns of a nerve agent; we ought to let the UN team look at it before we move.

172:

I think the world missed it's chance to deter future chemical weapons use after Halabja. Iraq was already known to use CW at the front. On March 16th 1988 it used Sarin on the people in Halabja. On Sept. 9th 1988 the US felt fit to condemn that act, and then nothing happened for a lot of years. It wasn't the reason for the war in February 1991 (there are divided opinions if that happened in order to restore the Kuwait monarchy or to stop Iraqi soldiers pulling babies out of incubators and letting them die on the floor). It wasn't the reason for the war in March 2003 (alleged tight connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda, trying to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger, and hiding their massive stockpiles of WMDs from UN weapons inspectors).

So to what conclusion should we come? Using nerve gas on Kurds or pesky Iranians is ok, but hoarding oil or being cheeky to your Western betters will get you removed from power?

173:

I think you've hit the point: chemicals are nasty, but it's not clear to me what we can accomplish by bombing that will make them less nasty.

Bomb the bunkers where the munitions are stored? Who's going to clean up after? Bomb the distribution vehicles? Good luck finding them all. Unfortunately, Assad (as of 8/30) is distributing his army and munitions amongst civilian neighborhoods, so there will be lots of civilian casualties from any strikes.

Assassinate the officers calling the shots? Aside from finding them (which is a situation ripe for abuse, as noted in previous posts), there's a chain of command up and down. There will be people below them taking responsibility (possibly rashly), and there will be people above them who suddenly don't know who is in control of the munitions and are afraid of calling them for fear of putting them in the crosshairs.

Or it could have been rebel activity. Or rogue army activity.

And it will rile the Russians, the Iranians, and Hezbollah, which will have follow-on effects.

I'm still trying to figure out where the US can get involved in this situation, using remote strikes and at most a JSOC raiding force, that will solve any problem. Apparently the Army War College is also scratching their heads, not that they'll disobey the President if he orders them to march.

I should point out that we haven't responded to 14 previous chemical attacks in Syria, just as we didn't respond to Saddam's chemical attacks against the Kurds. The horror here is one of scale, not one of type.

174:

"If you handle nerve gas victims without taking precautions, you WILL get a dose of nerve agent yourself, and if you survive this you will not do it again. The videos I have seen even show scenes from the makeshift mortuary; these individuals will have been exposed to the highest levels of nerve agent therefore will be most contaminated, yet the cameraman and members of the public were wandering through willy-nilly"

Indeed. And now they are mostly dead: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/08/29/youtube_syria

175:

We can't know it wasn't a false-flag op. It's another reason not to go there and OGH alludes to the attribution problem in the OP. Personally I think the balance of probabilities comes down on 'some piece of shit with Assad in his name', but I doubt we'll know beyond reasonable doubt in any timeframe where it will help.

Having said that, I'm sufficiently a cynical bastard not to be too bothered at the prospect of getting head-faked by the rebels in this way if I thought an armed intervention stood a chance of doing more good than harm (or any good at all for that matter). If we're going to have armed forces cluttering up the place, then siccing them at a fascist dictatorship seems like a better use for them than most.

The problem comes with the 'more good than harm' part and after the last couple of decades we really don't have ignorance for an excuse any more; so I'm with another cynical bastard on this one - "it's worse than a crime, it's a blunder".

Regards
Luke

176:

A couple of things (well, three):

1) The odds of sarin being released as collateral damage are low. Even the Iraqis had manufactured the binary form--it's not rocket science. Yes, you can get some mixing if the stuff oozes into a common puddle on the floor. No, you can't kill 1200 people that way.

2) It would take a pretty odd escalation scenario (and way stupid, on Assad's part) to wind up with boots on the ground and what you're calling yet another "colonial war". I don't favor that. I'm pretty sure I don't favor any action at all, but I'm open to the argument that use of weapons of mass destruction ought to be dealt with with an "ah-ah-ah!" (insert finger wag) response.

The problem with this is that a good "ah-ah-ah" requires degrading the air defense system; cruise missiles need not apply. That's a bigger deal than either Obama or Cameron are willing to take on.

Of course, the real problem is that Obama shot his mouth off and now his balls are showing. He's worried that they might look smallish, so he's trying to overcompensate. Without the "red line" mouth-shooting incident, he'd be deploring things and seeking sanctions.

3) By far the most important point: I strongly oppose the fait accompli that Charlie's assuming on the term "the noughties". I've been lobbying tirelessly for "the oh-oh's". If you say it fast, it accurately captures the most important emotion of the decade, and it's good for a thousand years.

177:

On top of everything else, it's now reported that the U.S. administration considered the idea of sending chemical warfare survival gear to rebel-held territory more than a year ago --- and rejected it.

178:

Are you kidding? Degrading the air defense system is our specialty; that's the easy part of the war. We have all sorts of stealth bombers and special forces and stuff for that.

Figuring out whose, if anyone's, side we should be on and who, if anyone, is on our side is what kicks us in these wars.

Real moral choices aren't always cut and dried. I can understand the big picture argument that we should penalize the use of chemical weapons, but I tend to favor the smaller picture argument that hundreds of thousands of people will die needlessly if we intervene (in excess of those who are already dying). It's easy to look at the big picture when nobody you care about is in the small picture.

179:

I am going to be a little cautious about this.

It is very unlikely that the video is faked, but it would be very easy to claim that the people on the ground who took the pictures have all died.

There's enough fuzziness that I would want to be very careful, but the patterns in the various sources are consistent. And I wonder how much the US Inspectors can uncover. Will they even be able to go near the medical centres where the victims were treated?

At the moment there is room for both sides to be telling lies that will surround the core of this event.

Also, I wouldn't bet against both sides having multiple rocket-launchers. It's the actual rockets with the chemical which matter.

180:

I don't think threatening military strikes (i.e., going to war) in Syria is a matter of an administration trying to show its manliness. They are more likely looking for a "short, victorious war" to distract people from a growing list of domestic scandals and lingering economic problems.

181:

Yeah, but they're not going to get something short and victorious. They're going to get something closer to what happened to Clinton when he bombed the factory in Sudan, or when he sent (and I can't remember whose quote this was) "a $1.5 million cruise missile into Afghanistan to destroy a $5 tent."

And I disagree on the manliness issue. Obama's discovering that people are beginning to be reluctant to take his phone calls. That's a national security problem, but more important to him, it's a domestic political problem. He's actually interested in those.

182:

One of the big problems the west has with Syria is that, while the regime is despicable (the Syrian Ba'ath are bloody-handed quasi-fascists, basically), the opposition is as bad or worse -- Salafi jihadi types who see eye-to-eye with Al Qaida. Arguably there's an element of regional proxy war going on, with Iran and Hezbollah on the side of the al-Assad dynasty, and the more insane Saudi remittance men and Al Qaida on the side of the rebels.

There probably are people who are sane and reasonable by western standards in Syria. They're keeping their heads down, though, because the alternative is to be tortured and shot by the government, or beheaded by the fundamentalist extremist opposition.

Meanwhile, here's Adam Curtis on the baby and the Ba'ath water ... oh what a lovely mess!

183:

"Chemical weapons are way nastier than nukes. I did my national service as a NBC specialist and apart from biologicals, where you know its basically the end of civilization, chemical weapons is as bad as it gets. Its a lot easier to plan and deal with the effects of a nuclear strike."

That's simply not true; I've had the training also.

184:

Um, I think the moderate rebels kind of got their asses handed to them, and the survivors are now mostly in Turkey. I could be wrong about that, though.

Oddly, I'd have been more supportive if Obama had been serious about the rebels a year ago, when it was a bunch of DIY moderates trying to get equipment and expertise, and the first reports of chemical attacks were coming out. I don't know whether the US tried to arm these guys and failed, or whether they simply wimped out and are now regretting it.

185:

Okay - I'm not at all into warfare in any way in the real-world (history) or in fiction (i.e., games, books, movies, etc.) ...

That said ... if you're going to a gun-fight, you bring in guns (offense) but you also wear body armor (defense). Better yet, if you really intend to win that battle, you try to out-think your opponent by messing up his offense/defense capabilities.

So, in the case of chemical warfare, wouldn't the strategy (in addition to Charlie's suggestion of aid via masks, etc.) include some brilliant chemistry to effectively neutralize whatever the nasty chemicals are?

A question: Why not outfit drones with special filters to catch air samples, analyze them and then send that data immediately to wherever (UN?)? This would shorten the turn-around time to provide help via additional supplies//aid. Would also perceptually reposition drones. There can't be that many nasty chemical warfare agents out there, so the number of compounds to test for should be pretty short (feasible).

186:

Are you kidding? Degrading the air defense system is our specialty; that's the easy part of the war. We have all sorts of stealth bombers and special forces and stuff for that.

But the country with the largest military on the planet. Ever. Has a media that will decry the failure of the entire thing if one plane or person is injured or killed. And even with our huge advantage, it's hard to ensure ZERO losses. That's a 0.000000 count. Anything about that number will be treated as a failure.

Not that I agree with the preceding paragraph but it's the way things are at this moment in time.

As an aside if we did D-Day/Normandy today it would be treated as a disaster as most of the major objectives a week or month in were achieved. That we won less than a year later is too long a time frame for current news cycles.

187:

Sorry.

as most of the major objectives a week or month in were NOT achieved.

188:

a) That's what NAAK kits are (or the best approximation we currently have),
b) the cheaper tests have high false positive rates,
c) flying a drone in an unfriendly country's airspace without air supremacy is a quick way of getting your drone shot down.

We know some sort of chemical attack happened (which is what air sampling would tell us); what we don't know are who and why, which is the vital information for whether there should be intervention, and if so what form it should take. That's the kind of thing SIGINT and ground truth are needed to discover.

189:

So, in the case of chemical warfare, wouldn't the strategy (in addition to Charlie's suggestion of aid via masks, etc.) include some brilliant chemistry to effectively neutralize whatever the nasty chemicals are?

Nope. Trust me on this (owner of a somewhat rusty Pharmacy degree). Irreversible acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, i.e. nerve agents like Sarin or VX, aren't easily neutralized; the drugs that counteract them are either competitive inhibitors or cholinergic receptor agonists, all of which have pretty nasty effects of their own if taken in the absence of a nerve agent. And chemically neutralizing them presupposes getting some sort of reactive compound to mop them up in the victim's body -- likely a major no-no because if it's that chemically reactive it's probably toxic in its own right.

NAAK kits are about the best we've managed to develop in the 80 years since the first organophosphate nerve agents came along. They work, but they're still pretty nasty.

Air sampling drones: firstly, chemwar agents are by definition heavy vapours that hang around really close to ground level. (They don't kill people if they blow away easily on the breeze!) Secondly, if you fly a drone low enough to sample the stuff, you're then bringing neurotoxins home on a contaminated airframe that your ground crew have to deal with.

Finally, you wouldn't believe how many chemical weapon candidates there are! We talk of Sarin and VX and Lewisite because they're the most effective and best understood, but there are many close relatives: potentially thousands. A test kit looking for OP nerve agents isn't going to pick up Phosgene, or vesicating agents. Let alone chlorine, the granddaddy of all war gases, or hydrogen cyanide.

190:

Which is not to speak of false positives caused by "dual-use" chemicals; for instance, I've found 5 gallon drums of organophosphates in a shed before (it's used in dipping sheep to prevent flystrike).

191:

And more from the headlines: the administration is now telling us (via the White House web site, no less) that they had intelligence about preparations for the attack days in advance. Which raises the obvious question about why this information wasn't passed to the victims-in-waiting.

(Sources and methods? They're not precious enough for the administration to keep mum about them now...)

192:

That is a good point. A lot of the organophosphate nerve gases are basically pesticides that were just as good at killing the mammal as the pest. Still, I'm not clear why the UN inspectors thought they needed weeks to do the tests on samples, then caved and said they could get them done in 7-10 days. Extraction aside, I wouldn't have thought it was that hard to figure out whether the chemicals were present in the samples, especially if they had some non-contaminated ones from elsewhere in the city for comparison.

Right now, I'm grumbling about how much time the Assad regime gets to park their weapons and militia in every school and hospital they can find (no strategic surprise, no tactical surprise, give them a long time to dig in. Spiffy). All we need is a cavalry charge to complete the mess, IMHO

193:

Thank you for the explanation, Charlie ... So this also means that there's no practical early-warning system for chemical weapons. Correct?

194:

Pretty well true. The British used a patch of supposedly gas-sensitive paint on vehicles during WW2, but it didn't even work against everything they knew about.

And when they started finding out about Sarin, I don't know.

195:

I'm actually surprised there are no early warnings. For one thing, the gases are of a different density than air, and for another, many of them are variations on the theme of organophosphate. One wonders whether some simple laser-based device could detect a gross change in composition of the air and scream, even though it might not have a good clue what the change was. Sort of a bogey detector.

196:

Algae as an early-warning system?

197:

Chemical weapons are outlawed for a few different reasons.

The "dead is dead" argument also applies to tactical nukes, and nobody really wants to go down that path.

Soldiers don't like chemical weapons (source J Dunnigan) because, oddly enough, they maim rather than kill. Soldiers are willing to risk dying, but CW in WW 1 usually only inflicted about 10-30% fatalities. The rest got horribly scarred, blinded, or their lungs burnt out. Even troops advancing into enemy lines after a CW bombardment suffered casualties from their own CW, which made soldiers much less enthusiastic about moving forward.

After WW 1 military leaders were happy to ban CW because all the evidence was that it turned battlefields into stationary killing zones. The Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s went the same way.

OK, some people might think this is a good thing, making warfare too terrible to contemplate.

The much better reason for banning chemical weapons is that they are really, really good for killing civilians you don't like.

As others have noted above, in both ancient and modern times large numbers of civilians got massacred with nothing more than blades. The problem for the wanna-be genocidal commander is that you need a lot of people to do the killing, even with guns. If you want to kill thousands of civilians, you'll need thousands of troops, because otherwise as soon as the killing starts, the intended victims start organising resistance and evacuation.

And with that many human beings, there's a fair chance that some will have scruples and help the intended victims, or at least leak news and these days pictures of the massacre to the outside world.

Chemical weapons, as demonstrated by Iraqis against Kurds and (probably) the recent attack in Syria, require just a few troops for the helicopters or missiles and there's no warning. Without preparation up to 80% of the people in the target zone (Dunnigan again) will be killed or severely wounded.

No long term contamination, unlike nukes, unless you deliberately use persistent agents, unlikely in the Middle East where good real estate is scarce. There's still the risk of leakage or careless handling killing a few of your own side, but this is acceptable collateral damage for the people who would use CW.

198:


edwin.gimpel @171:
How many nursing and medical degrees cover the after effects of chemical warfare? How would they know what to do?

Even if they did know, medics in combat zones are some of the bravest people there are. I find it thoroughly admirable that they're treating the victims, even though they don't have all the gear that would keep themselves safe.

cdodgson @ 191:
A number of people suspect that the chemical "attacks" were staged by the rebels themselves to encourage US intervention. Others believe that the US government is looking for a pretext to intervene. If the US had announced that the Syrian regime was planning a CW attack, who would have believed them?

199:

Of course they won't get a "short, victorious war"l they never do. (unless they just lob some cruise missiles and declare victory).

Russian Minister of the Interior under Tsar Nicholas II, Vyacheslav von Phleve, coined the now-infamous phrase saying, "What this country needs is a short victorious war to stem the tide of revolution." He (and Nicholas II) then went on to start the Russo-Japanese War, which ended up being short and victorious--for Japan. It was a humiliating loss for Russia. But von Phleve didn't live to see it. He died just seven months into the war, when an agent of the Socialist Revolutionary Party threw a bomb in his carriage.

200:

Bombing worked out pretty well on Libya, so I say go for it, who cares how the country gets into this mess? Just because UK/US may be responsible for starting the mess a century ago does not mean they can't work to resolve it, with or without UN (which is useless anyway with Russian and China holding the veto power). What matters now is to get rid of the dictator and let their people decide what they want to do with their country.

201:

In the books I have read on the question, when it came to how chemical weapons can be integrated in a tactical battle plan, I've always seen them describes basically as aerosol minefields. You spray them over a region, let it known, and nobody in his right mind will willfully venture into it ("zone interdiction", they call it).

All these situations where chemical weapons cause thousands of deaths are tactically pathological: either the opposing army is lethally unaware, unprepared, badly commanded, or downright insane; or you are using these horrors to exterminate civilian populations. But then again, civilians are very soft targets than you can kill with fire or even tools.

A "properly" led chemical war between two competent armies should result in vast patches of uninhabitable landscape, opposing forces competing for control of the pockets of breathable air, and relatively few casualties due to the chemicals themselves.


202:

with or without UN (which is useless anyway with Russian and China holding the veto power).

Sorry, but formulated like that, it almost sounds like you view of the UN as "useful" when aligned with US interests, and "useless" otherwise. Obviously, the UN is extremely useful.

203:

Andreas Vox @ 167
You forgot the ex-Argentine land-mines in the Falklands ….
& @ 172
We have a precedent, as I may have mentioned before.
Mussolini’s troops used poison gases in Abyusinnia in 1936/7 … & nothing was done.

Charlie @ 170
Indeed. On 24th March 1401, Damascus was completely sacked by “the emir Timur”, usallly called Tamburlaine. At least 30 000 killed. There is still a place called “The tower of skulls” in Damascus dating from that event.

Jay @ 178 & Charlie @ 182
Yes – should we be “backing” any “side” in this conflict?
The choices are between at least: Assad’s fascists
Hezbollah – also fascist & backed by Iran
Al-Quaeda – backed by the salafists
All of whom are murderous bullies & thugs, with whom we don’t really want to be associated.
Meanwhile the Syrian civilian population are dying &/or fleeing in their tens of thousands.
Now what?

Apart, of course from, as I have warned of before … a general “Mid-East” religious war, in an attempt to finally determine whether Sunni or Shia is the true path for islam. For a preview of how well that is likely to work out, study the history of Europe 1521 -1648 (& 1688) & count the wars & bodies.

Hugo fisher @ 197
Permanent scarring from CBW – yes.
There was a very famous painter, usually known for his “society portraits” - John Singer Sergeant - but he also did work as a “war artist” during WWI. His greatest ( & terrifying) work hangs today in the Imperial War Museum in London. He was on record as saying that the elements of the picture were what we would now called “compressed”, but that, nonetheless, he could see all of them from one spot, where he was sketching.
It is called, simply: GASSED - the reproduction I have linked to really does not convey the horror, even at this distance in time, of the original. Go look on the web for other copies!

Carl Henderson @ 199
Wrong
6 days war
Falklands war
I admit it doesn’t happen very often, but that’s another story.

To quote V I Lenin
What is to be done?

204:

I know swords, knives, spears and the like are thoroughly capable of killing people in large numbers. The Romans were depressingly good at it, and living in York it's hard to escape reminders of how good the Romans and the Vikings were on an almost daily basis. Looking further afield the Mongols, various Chinese dynasties and Japanese wars could probably have given them all lessons in wholesale slaughter. Some of the South and Central American civilisations were right up there too.

I guess I'm stepping back, mentally, an extra layer from drone warfare and the like. My feeling is currently twofold.

I think it's too easy to kill people without engaging with them as people. Although I don't have much respect for the machismo of gang culture and the associated death rates and all the other stuff that goes with it, they do earn my grudging respect for stepping up and knowingly (if not full awareness of what it means IMO) risking their lives in close confrontation.

The other side of the coin is that most cultures with a pre-firearm military have leaders with military experience, often extensive military experience, sometimes expecting the leader to actually literally lead. "Hello Mr. Cameron and Mr. Obama. You wish to lead a punitive expedition to Syria? Very good. Your sword and armour and over there, lead on sirs..."

I still know it won't stop humans butchering each other. Violence is too much a part of who we are. Some time ago you had a thread about changing human nature. I don't recall anyone asking for violence to be removed from humans. I'm not sure it's possible. If it is possible, I'm not sure its desirable on the working assumption that we want the species to survive. (Even if we assume killing micro-organisms doesn't count as violence, I reckon if we stopped doing violence to dangerous dogs, man-eating tigers, poisonous snakes etc. we'd probably tip into decline rather than expansion. If we stop killing micro-organisms too, definitely done for.) How do we even work for a world with no intra-human violence?

(I do remember a book, there was a machine that could read auras, if you intended to steal, attack or similar, you could be stunned or otherwise impartially and reliably punished. Earth turned into a sort of hippy-anarchist paradise. Aliens attacked and the hippy-anarchists ganged up and whupped their backsides. The ones that liked doing violence were happy to gang up and do it things they were allowed to do it, accepted order and structure willingly for the 'greater good' of doing better violence to the aliens. Then went back to getting stunned when they forgot and tried it against their human neighbours.

205:

Bombing worked out pretty well on Libya, so I say go for it

"Pretty well" in this case includes 6000 people in jail without charge, regular torture, sometimes fatal, no constitution, fighting between different parts of the Revolutionary Brigades, discrimination and violence against immigrants.

And that is a country where 97% are Sunni Arabs and Berbers. So what is your vision of "pretty well" for a future Syria?

206:

One wonders whether some simple laser-based device could detect a gross change in composition of the air and scream, even though it might not have a good clue what the change was. Sort of a bogey detector.

You could do that.

Two problems:

a) It'd be really easy to induce false positives -- smoke, vapourized gasoline, whatever.

b) Because NBC protective gear is hot and uncomfortable, wearing it degrades the fighting ability even of soldiers with lots of NBC experience.

So there is a positive incentive to make your enemies think that you might be using gas, even when you aren't -- at least, at an immediate tactical level (you don't want to convince their leadership, inviting retaliation).

207:

Bombing worked out pretty well on Libya, so I say go for it, who cares how the country gets into this mess?

Congratulations! You just won the wooden spoon award for idiocy of the first water.

(Hint: those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. You might find this essay educational.)

208:

Greg: MODERATION NOTE

1) Please do NOT post omnibus replies to everyone else, with numbers to indicate comments: the numbers may be reallocated if something is in the moderation queue, and it's really confusing. Instead, please use the "reply" link to answer individual comments, preserving the threading system.

2) Please do not create comments in Wordpad -- it uses "smart" quotes which break your hyperlinks!

209:

The only lesson one can draw from history is, sadly, that mankind doesn't learn from history. Or with the words of Ambrose Bierce:

EXPERIENCE, n. The wisdom that enables us to recognize as an undesirable old acquaintance the folly that we have already embraced.

210:

Charlie - right
Is this a change of policy btw?
It'll make me work a bit for it - but I'm sure I'll cope.
Re broken link - I was using "word" ( not word-pad ) - which I know has faults, but you can usually fool it, by constructing the hyperlink in pieces & then "assembling" (by removing the inserted blank spaces) to make a proper link.
Obviously that didn't work this time.
Trouble with "notepad" is that it creates a very long text-line without wrapping, which is also a pain.
Never mind, sometime next year, I'm going to have the joys of changing over to a completely new o/s & set of tools, when Win XP is no lomnger supported & I'm forced over - probably to a version of Ubuntu + Open/Libre Office.
[ None of the current offerings from MicroShaft look worth having, whereas XP, & long before it, NT, were relatively good, stable systems. ]

211:

>>Trouble with "notepad" is that it creates a very long text-line without wrapping, which is also a pain.

Go to Format, enable Word Wrap.

212:

Alternatively explore a markdown editor (I'm not sure what your choices are on your operating system, but there are a range of them, and several are cross platform I'm sure). Just because they're meant to generate fast basic HTMl (and do so well - and might be good for pasting into a box like this one) wouldn't stop you copying the basic, unformatted (and smart-quote-free) text straight in.

213:

Is this a change of policy btw?

Yes. It's been kicked around on the secret moderator's mailing list for some time -- it's annoying to some and it disrupts the existing discussion threads.

Please don't use LibreOffice/OpenOffice as a text editor for blog entries either -- it's just as bad as Microsoft Word! (Like trying to use a motorbike to shift freight pallets, instead of a flatbed truck -- wrong tool for the job.) As Vanzetti says, you can tell Notepad on Windows to wrap long lines. Or download a text editor like one of these.

214:

Ohhh, the war drums are beating again and Obama is using John Kerry as the drumstick. For those of you that might also want to consider a second opinion, try the website zerohedge.com (not spamming, just some very interesting reads) There is more evidence now that it was actually the rebels that (oops) released the gas.

This is a bit of a gem:
Below is the government's assessment of the "Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013." It is exactly as expected, putting the full blame on Assad.

What however is absolutely mindblowing is the following:

"We have identified one hundred videos attributed to the attack, many of which show large numbers of bodies exhibiting physical signs consistent with, but not unique to, nerve agent exposure. The reported symptoms of victims included unconsciousness, foaming from the nose and mouth, constricted pupils, rapid heartbeat, and difficulty breathing. Several of the videos show what appear to be numerous fatalities with no visible injuries, which is consistent with death from chemical weapons, and inconsistent with death from small-arms, high-explosive munitions or blister agents. At least 12 locations are portrayed in the publicly available videos, and a sampling of those videos confirmed that some were shot at the general times and locations described in the footage. We assess the Syrian opposition does not have the capability to fabricate all of the videos, physical symptoms verified by medical personnel and NGOs, and other information associated with this chemical attack."

In other words, America may be about to launch World War III on the basis of one hundred videos, which it believes "the Syrian opposition does not have the capability to fabricate."

Just one final question, Mr. Stross, has your opinion of Obama finally changed after 4 plus years?

216:

Everyone who wants to read ZeroHedge is invited to read this as well:

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Zero_Hedge

217:

If you want to get to that world without violence (or at least a world where dictators, presidents, and prime ministers don hauberk and lead their troops personally into battle, sword and shield in hand - I like it!), how do you propose to get there?

Are you hoping it happens in one fell swoop? Better pray (or program) for that godlike singularity AI that'll make us naughty primates behave, I guess.

If not, it'll have to be done incrementally, right? By banning certain weapons, tactics, behaviors, etc., that seem beyond the pale. And isn't that right to consider some things, like nuclear weapons, too awful to use?

If chemical weapons are on the table, why not anti-personnel mines, cluster munitions, white phosphorus, autonomous drones, etc.?

Seems like we need to try restricting these things one by one if we ever hope to get to a less barbaric society (that seems to be what our ancestors thought after WWI).

But what use is a ban (or any restrictive law, say against murder), if it's not enforced in an effective way?

What's the point in merely saying, "don't rob anyone, it's bad!" or "if you rape someone, your salary will be garnished!"? Laws and rules need to be enforced, often with force (hence the word 'enforced' I suppose). Without the threat of force or reciprocal violence, how do you think transgressors can be compelled to heed them?

218:

I think part of the problem is that the enforcement of international norms and rules has been left to the USA, a country which has pretty much worn out its welcome and lost most of its moral standing recently.

Remember what Rumsfeld (crap, I forget his Merchant Princes code-name! 'Mega D-bag'?) said , "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want..."?

Well, seems like the world now has to enforce certain norms with the global-cops it has, not the ones it wants. Right now, only the USA has the wherewithal and the (unfortunately all-too-often) inclination to act as 'World-Police'

If you don't like that state of affairs, what are the alternatives?

Relax global norms? Use chemical weapons in a civil war? A-OK! Set the drones loose over Pakistan and Yemen? Sure, why not?

Have no global cop? Leave it up to the neighbors? OK, Japan, Saudi Arabia, time to start building your own nukes if you don't like what Iran and North Korea are getting up to, etc.. If your neighbor is acting crazy, don't go crying to your uncle - you're on your own.

Want better cops than you have now? Who do you propose? Those up and comers from the Far East? Seems like they're gaining the wherewithal, if not the inclination yet. Do you trust them to do a better job?

OK, get Europe to be the global enforcer of norms. Seems like some from Europe feel morally superior to the US, maybe they can do a more honest job. But get back to us after they learn how to work together economically (not working out so well at the moment), much less work together on foreign policy and military matters. Oh yeah, they'd also have to choose to pay the piper for it as well - no more tiny budgets for military matters, you've got to spend big if you want your morality/philosophy to replace the current corrupt cop.

How about the UN? Well, you've got 5 countries who can block anything and everything, and several of them don't like each other much. So that's not going anywhere anytime soon. Honestly, if you don't like the way the USA/Russia/China handles things, maybe there should be a push to create a whole new global organization, outside the UN, something that cant be blocked by the 5 veto holders. Maybe that could get things done! (but not likely - you'd probably just have a hundred-plus vetoes instead of 5)

So, ranting and raving isn't going to change much of anything. What are some creative solutions to the current 'World Cop' problem?

219:

Replying to CHarlie @ 213
Well, that's a bummner!
Trying to open in new tab or window for "reply" doesn't work. You have to just hot the reply-link only - which is what I've done here .....
Oh & the list of editors isn't inspiring, either - if anyone thinks I'm ever going near "vi" agian, unless pesuaded with red-hot pincers, can think again.
Emacs is (maybe) fractionally less bad, which does not encourage me.
Neither is as user-friendly as 80-chars-per line FORTRANIV, actually!
I might try notepad++ or the last one ....
Thanks for the hint about the ability to wrap btw - it's just that I'm so used to "Word" that using Notedpad/Wordpad strikes me as counterproductive....
( Oh, it seems even the mere online demo of notepad desn't seem to want to load, never mind the main programme. Such a good idea - maybe not. )
So nice.

220:

"Sorry, but formulated like that, it almost sounds like you view of the UN as "useful" when aligned with US interests, and "useless" otherwise. Obviously, the UN is extremely useful."

Not at all, for UN to be useful the countries with power has to have a democratically elected government, I think it's as simple as that. How useful would UN be back in the 1930's if Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan is on the security council?

""Pretty well" in this case includes 6000 people in jail without charge, regular torture, sometimes fatal, no constitution, fighting between different parts of the Revolutionary Brigades, discrimination and violence against immigrants."

So? What do you expect after a civil uprising against a dictatorship of decades? It takes time for a country to heal the wounds of civil war and begin the process toward democracy. It's pretty shortsighted to blame this chaos on the intervention, the true blame lies in the dictator who do not want to give up power peacefully. It's like having a big operation to remove a tumor, you'll be weak for months, do you blame this on the doctor who operated on you, or do you blame this on the tumor?

"Congratulations! You just won the wooden spoon award for idiocy of the first water.

(Hint: those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. You might find this essay educational.)"

Yeah, whatever. The essay proves nothing, just because past intervention failed does not mean future intervention is unwise. Scientifically for the history to repeat itself, the context has to be exactly the same, which is never the case. What you have here is just using history as an excuse to allow a dictator to remain in power, which is pretty sickening indeed.

221:

thorgrimfile2 @ 218
Well Europe is old & trired & doesn't really want, not even the UK, to do all that again.
In their "Old colonial areas".. perhaps, sometimes - think the Frogs in Mali, or us in Sierra Leone, putting down extreme nutters, but that's usually the limit.
Even the "Malayan Emergency" or th confrontation with Sukarno were part of the withdrawal from empire, trying (oddly enough) to leave a stable situation behind, without interference.
In both the latter cases, remember, as soon as the job appeared to be done - we left.

The answer, is, actually, the UN, as is being played out, very gradually in parts of Africa - that's the way to go.
But it is going to be a long, slow, hesitant (& bloody) process.

222:

Charlie,
Forgive me, but, "Yay!"
Sorry Greg, but those are a pain to read.

223:

jimjxr @ 220
You, too, need to learn some history
How useful would UN be back in the 1930's if Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan is on the security council?

Ever heard of The League of Nations?
Go look it up.
Hint: those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.
Tu quoque

224:

In the original version (Darkover novels) the wars of The Age of Chaos were "so horrific" that they signed the compact. They basically had planet-killer level weapons but only one planet.

And if you read all the comments, I've never said I think they're realistic. I think they're pipe-dreams.

But I'll give you a for example of how it might be made to work to start. As we move towards a micro-sensor driven panopticon and a nano-tech enabled society we have a system that looks for signatures of explosives - not just chemical residues but the bangs and things. You can perhaps make and carry a gun or grenade, although we'll look for that too, but firing it becomes a one shot trick, because we'll grey-goo it. If we add to that the (probably pretty fair) assumption that humans will be tricked up with medical nanobots, we'll override them to sedate you. We'll add some pattern matching to try and stop you firing the guns, throwing the grenades and so on, plus the sedation.

As it gets better, we'll try to stop everything else. Nukes are pretty easy to detect after all. Biological and chemical weapons are harder - but we can at least try, and we can track ingredients and so on.

As we add more panopticon and get better with it, we'll add things that trigger for violence in terms of physical action to try and get the punching, kicking, stabbing and so on.

And we'll add cultural education about non-violence for everyone.

Will it be perfect? No, of course not. But I bet it could make a pretty big difference pretty fast. And along the way I think we'd see the leaders leading their troops into battle. But maybe as we get it right, we might reach an essentially ultra-low violence utopia.

225:

>>Ever heard of The League of Nations?

Huh? League of Nations was bloody useless.

226:

Just one final question, Mr. Stross, has your opinion of Obama finally changed after 4 plus years?

What do you suppose my opinion of Obama is or was? What do you assume I think of him?

227:

">>Ever heard of The League of Nations?

Huh? League of Nations was bloody useless."

Exactly.

Greg: I don't see whether I've heard of LoN has any bearing on our discussion, unless you meant LoN is a version of UN with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan holding veto power, and served a useful purpose in the 1930s, which I don't think it's the case.

228:

"Hint: those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it."

Quotes like this are useless, since different people can get different lessons from history, even the same historical event can have different interpretations. History is not like natural science experiments, where you can get repeatable results, so I don't see any reason to use a specific past historical event as evidence for decision we have to make today.

I do concede that we can get some general principles from history, and my principle is this: It's never a good idea to allow a dictator remain in power, if a country's people rise up against a dictatorship, the democratic countries should support them.

229:

Not at all, for UN to be useful the countries with power has to have a democratically elected government, I think it's as simple as that. How useful would UN be back in the 1930's if Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan is on the security council?

Right, where to begin...

For a start, the UN does lots of things beside the sexy soldiers with Blue Helmets and white armoured vehicles. It does that too (quite well in many places, incidentally), but it also does enormous work on culture, science, health, etc. All sort of boring work done by boring people that actually builds a better world.

As for the flashy soldierly things go, the aim of the UN is to makes things as stable and peaceful as possible. Notably by discouraging unilateral action by superpowers, whether their government are "democratically elected" or not. Because if you go for the "Yeah, Freedum, go go bang bang", not only do you simply parrot US propaganda (so what is the point in existing at all), but you miss your objective entirely since you do nothing to prevent escalation on flashpoint or proxy wars. Yes, in some cases that means that the Freedomland does not get everything it wants. It's not a bug, it's a feature.

Finally, what does "democratically elected government" mean? Like in France, where a president can get elected with 80% of the votes because a legitimate candidate is eliminated in the first round? Like in the UK, where unelected hereditary twats maneuvers Cabinet ministers in the shadows? The USA, where a candidate can lose the election (I shan't even mention popular votes) and yet get into the White House on a wave of tendentious media and friendly judges? Putin might be a creepy authoritarian, he holds the appearances of democracy quite well. Much better, incidentally, then our good friends in, say, Saudi Arabia or the UAE. So, excuse me for considering "democratically elected" a vague term and, from many Western superpowers, a hypocritical line (Iceland, Denmark, Switzerland, you can stay; USA, UK, France: out).

As said above, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan at the UN have been seen already with the League of Nations. Both the Third Reich and Japan withdrew from it when they embarked on their military adventures, as sign that an organisation like the LoN or the UN is indeed incompatible with military adventurism, and therefore quite useful.

230:

"For a start, the UN does lots of things beside the sexy soldiers with Blue Helmets and white armoured vehicles."

Yes, that is my bad, I should qualify that by UN, I meant the security council, since that is what we're talking about here (whether UNSC will authorize a military intervention).

"As for the flashy soldierly things go, the aim of the UN is to makes things as stable and peaceful as possible. Notably by discouraging unilateral action by superpowers, whether their government are "democratically elected" or not.""

I'm not going to debate what UN is trying to accomplish here (stable and peaceful? Yeah right, if you put everyone who doesn't agree with you into labor camps, you'll get a very stable and peaceful society, but it's not a society I would want to live in). But if this is their goal, it just proves that they would be useless in removing dictators, since some dictators are on the UNSC and can veto any resolution.

"Because if you go for the "Yeah, Freedum, go go bang bang", not only do you simply parrot US propaganda (so what is the point in existing at all),"

If you think freedom is just US propaganda, then we have nothing in common to talk about.

"but you miss your objective entirely since you do nothing to prevent escalation on flashpoint or proxy wars."

Except sometimes war is necessary to remove a dictator who just don't see the writing on the wall. If your objective is to prevent war at the cost of freedom, sure, you'll miss your objective if you intervene, but I don't share your objective.

"Yes, in some cases that means that the Freedomland does not get everything it wants. It's not a bug, it's a feature."

It's a feature for the dictators of the world, a bug for the people living under the dictatorship.

"So, excuse me for considering "democratically elected" a vague term and, from many Western superpowers, a hypocritical line (Iceland, Denmark, Switzerland, you can stay; USA, UK, France: out)."

Yes, it is a vague term, which can get defined if we use it as a requirement for a seat on the UNSC. And yes, this may mean western superpowers get kicked out of UNSC, so what? I'm not saying US/UK should hold their veto power without question, it is you who implies I'm on the side of US government, while I'm not even a US citizen.

"Both the Third Reich and Japan withdrew from it when they embarked on their military adventures, as sign that an organisation like the LoN or the UN is indeed incompatible with military adventurism, and therefore quite useful."

So its use is to force Germany and Japan withdraw from this organization? Yeah, really useful indeed.

231:

Just read up on Syria on the CIA World Factbook site, which BTW, does usually get its facts right.

The ordinary steps of international poo-pooing, i.e., trade sanctions aren't working. The Syrian deficit is climbing quite fast, and so is inflation. Unemployment doesn't seem to be as bad as it might/should be. Could it be that the military (as in taking in more and more soldiers) is actually, by providing employment/wages, fueling the internal troubles. After all, wouldn't you usually expect that after a few years of internal war, that the neighbors would say "enough of that noise/nonsense and get your act together"? Also, if the military is acting as the most reliable meal-ticket (as in North Korea), there is no incentive and a strong disincentive to have this civil war end. (Who is paying the salaries of the rebels anyway?) Another possibility is that both the regime and the rebels are dipping into that old stand-by war chest(i.e., opium trade) to feed their war-habit.

I was thinking/hoping that this regime could be shamed into behaving by its neighbors -- silly me. Look at what's been going on next door (in Syria) and none of the neighbors appear to have ever complained/ intervened.

Middle East :: Syria

Page last updated on August 26, 2013

Refugees and internally displaced persons:
more than 2 million (ongoing civil war since 2011)
Trafficking in persons: prior to the uprising, Syria was principally a destination country for women and children subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking; thousands of women - the majority from Indonesia, the Philippines, Somalia, and Ethiopia - were recruited to work as domestic servants but were subsequently subjected to forced labor; Filipina domestic workers continue to be sent to Syria and are vulnerable to forced labor; the Syrian armed forces and opposition forces are using Syrian children in combat and support roles and as human shields; Iraqi women and girls continue to be sexually exploited, and Syrian children still face conditions of forced labor

tier rating: Tier 3 - the government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; the government does not demonstrate evidence of increasing efforts to investigate and punish trafficking offenses, provide protective services to victims, inform the public about human trafficking, or provide much-needed anti-trafficking training to law enforcement and social welfare officials; the government does not refer any victims to NGO-operated shelters and has failed to institute procedures for the identification, interview, and referral of trafficking victims; the status of the national plan of action against trafficking is unknown (2013)

Illicit drugs: a transit point for opiates, hashish, and cocaine bound for regional and Western markets; weak anti-money-laundering controls and bank privatization may leave it vulnerable to money laundering.


What to do: At this stage about the only alternatives are a military coup or freezing all of the "middle-class and up". That is, make it more personal. (I imagine the assets are mostly off-shore by now.)

JUST IN: Obama's considering asking Congressional okay to use force.

232:

Oh ..Dear! Where to begin? You may well be going to going to find this ofensive but this is the way that many MEN think and women really need to appreciate that the social gains for women of the last century would be reversed in a heartbeat if many of the Men Of The Book ..and BOOK related beliefs ..had their way

" culture, science, health, etc. All sort of boring work done by boring people that actually builds a better world."


Really? And what is this " Better World " of which you speak? Is it a Better World in which women are taught their properly subservient state as such is determined by The People Of The Book .. varient of The Book of any given choice? If not then Clearly this isnt a Better World of say ..Sharia/ish Law ..that is The ONE TRUE Thingy nor yet any varient of Mormonism ...


http://mollymuses.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/mormon-flow-chart-for-your-soul/


Hum ... it would seem that you just don't understand the Proper Place of Women in the Best of all possible worlds as it is understood by more than a few men. But, perhaps if some MAN of Authority was to explain it to you might just understand and then do as you are Told!? As is proper? As has been proper for most of recorded human history?

From a certain perspective Rape Camps and beating babies heads against the nearest wall is a perfectly reasonable tactic of War - as is the employment of Greek Fire and crossbows and also war gasses - and the perspective of The Western Democracies is both strange and alien. And not just in the Arab world.

Think this has kind of attitude will just go away if you wish it gone? All right, so, this isn't at the middle ages level of Middle Ages European Kill the Men and Rape the Women after a Siege level of the ...'My Mates Died of, insert 'orrible Thing of your choice ... so it serves them right but rather think of " Women's suffrage in Switzerland " from wikipedia ..

" Women's Suffrage at the Cantonal Level - 1960s

It was necessary to wait for the 1960s for eight cantons to introduce women's suffrage at the canton level. Twenty more years were necessary for this right to be generalized for all the cantons. In a judgment of November 27, 1990 in the case of Theresa Rohner et consorts contre Appenzell Rhodes-Intérieures (ATF 116 Ia 359), the Swiss federal court declared unconstitutional the exclusive male suffrage as had been practiced in the half canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden; the principle of equality between men and women as was guaranteed by the federal constitution ordered, in effect, an interpretation of the Appenzell constitution such that women's suffrage should be equally possible. The voters of the canton had refused women's suffrage in 1959 by 2050 votes to 105. "

So..a better World? Remind me again “How many divisions does the Pope of Rome have?" And will the Western Powers put Boots on the Ground to enforce modern western democratic values - of post mid 20th of ever such a long time ago - in, say..well, insert nation state of your choice, but how’s about, say, Saudi Arabia? If we are going to do Syria after our scintillatingly wonderful success in Iraq and Afghanistan then why stop there?

We must Do Something! The UN must DO something! And we must do it now.

233:

But if this is their goal, it just proves that they would be useless in removing dictators, since some dictators are on the UNSC and can veto any resolution.

YES. Because the foremost goal of the UN is to discourage a Third World War. Stating as a goal to "remove dictators" (defined on what criterion of dictatorship, anyway?) would essentially be a declaration of war with people with whom you want to work.

Incidentally, the USA are quite the veto-mongers themselves. Usually in favour of Israel. The ones who've been ignoring UNSC resolution since 1967. Dictatorships are not our only problem.

If you think freedom is just US propaganda, then we have nothing in common to talk about.

Freedom for strategically selected countries, enforced by the destruction of their infrastructure and imposition of puppet regimes? No, it is not specific to the propaganda of the US, propaganda from other governments use it too. But the USA are a massive user.

You think that one who invades a country to liberate it from an obscurantist theocracy can do no wrong? Like, oh, say, in Tibet?

If your objective is to prevent war at the cost of freedom, sure, you'll miss your objective if you intervene, but I don't share your objective.

No, my objective is to obtain freedom on the long run, after a stable and steady course. You can't bomb people into democracy. It's been tried in Viet-Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, it just doesn't seem to work.

It's a feature for the dictators of the world, a bug for the people living under the dictatorship.

Not even remotely true.

First, you are neglecting the fact that people tend to resent being invaded or otherwise subjugated, and will stay their differences to fight a common enemy. Look up Burgfrieden Union sacrée, for instance.

Then again, you seem to assume that the Western power (aka the US Empire) will establish benevolent governments to replace those that they remove. This is simply not true in general. See Pinochet, Mohammad Reza Shah, etc. The USA literally maintain their way of like at the expense of the countries that they dominate. The Europeans, Japanese and Koreans have it relatively easy, but it can be quite harsh for browner people.

So its use is to force Germany and Japan withdraw from this organization? Yeah, really useful indeed.

So its fault is that the countries that are not members behave badly?


234:

zerohedge is full of tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy loons - actually, they use gold for their tinfoil. Does have occasional outbreaks of sanity when covering flashcrash/HFT issues, though.

Syria's population is about 4x that of Libya, for starters, and that was a cluster, too.

Sad to say, I think the best option is to let Assad, the evil massacring asswipe that he is, regain as much control as he can (he appears to be "winning") and try to bust him for war crimes if the regime ever falls - the rebels all seem to be in the theocratic murdering asswipe category, which to me is worse than the secular murdering asswipe category.

All lobbing a few cruise missiles will do is kill the odd low level soldier, and probably prolong the war, killing more people than if we just leave him to it.

Unless you launch a decapitation strike, which will kill hundreds of thousands more as the regime collapses.

No good answers here.

235:

You know that, as of a decade or so ago, more than half the nations with seats at the UN are now democracies?

Such a shame that for several decades the USA had a policy of organizing military coups and fascist dictatorships in "weak" democracies or those that seemed too partial to socialism. Probably set the democratization process back by many years ...

236:

Your post is not very easy to read, but as far as enforcing modern western democratic values on Saudi Arabia go, this is more or less the theory that Laurent Murawiec used to promoted. He was kicked out of the RAND Corporation after PowerPointing this idea to the wrong people.

237:

I'll prove one of your points by disputing the other; my read of history is that it's rarely wise to overthrow a dictator, because 95+% of the time you get a lot of people killed and then it's meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

238:

Replying to # 234
Unfortunately , I think you are correct.
De we really want ot get involved in a re-run of the 8-/30 years war?
Which is about to break out among the "muslim" countries of the mid-East, anyway.
After they have mutually slaughtered somewhere between 30 & 60% of their populations, they might realise that the game isn't worth the candle - which is why we got (eventually) the peace of Wesphalia.
Really, really, nasty. Not our problem - we hope.

239:

Oh BUM
Proof-read FAIL
That should read:
80/30 years War?

(*amomg opther things....)

240:

Well, the good news is that Obama went ahead and called for Congress to hold him back before he started kicking some major Syrian ass in a highly targeted and remote manner. Now all Congress has to dois follow the script and hold him back. I hope they do. It will be a "major humiliation" for the President to be sure (quoting Talking Points Memo).

Over the next year or two, those with buddies on deployment in the USN may well hear about how boring it was sitting out there in the eastern Mediterranean with nothing to do but keep the birds ready to fly and one finger glued to the button, just in case Assad gets lax enough to get all his launchers set up in plain sight and give Obama a nice clean, "Oops, I shouldn't have done it, but I did it for the children" shot.

I've got to admit, this is one better than what I thought Obama would do, since all those weapons are just going to sit off the Syrian coast for the indefinite future, waiting for a provocation to launch. I'm glad I don't play poker with him.

241:

Charlie @ 235
Such a shame that for several decades the USA had a policy of organizing military coups and fascist dictatorships in "weak" democracies or those that seemed too partial to socialism. Probably set the democratization process back by many years ...

It isn't sufficient to declare a democracy, you also need stable institutions that will support it. (You yourself mentioned this in the last of the Merchant Princes trilogy.) Those on the right have justified the coups by arguing that doing so made it more likely for the institutions to be preserved or if necessary created for a later transition to democracy.

I don't like it, but the nearest thing we have to a genuine sociological experiment would back that view. Korea in the second half of the 20th C was a previously fairly homogenous culture split into two. One half got the US coup process, the other half the Chinese/Soviet recipe. Which would you rather live in today?

The ends don't justify the means and the US could have done so so much better. They still did more than anyone else.

242:

It isn't sufficient to declare a democracy, you also need stable institutions that will support it.

Indeed. For example, in the early 1970s Chile had the problem that its president, Salvador Allende, was democratically elected and the legitimate chief executive, yet Chile did not have the economy or counterintelligence network to protect itself from foreign provocateurs backed by plentiful money and more economic force than the whole damn Chilean government. (In an ideal world this would be an exaggeration.) History showed how that turned out, and inconveniently election results weren't a problem any more.

It must have been for the best, right? After all, Allende founded a political party with the word 'socialist' right in the name, and he knew communists. Could the US have been wrong to sabotage the Chilean economy and fund revolutionaries?

243:

>>You know that, as of a decade or so ago, more than half the nations with seats at the UN are now democracies?

Just calling yourself a democracy isn't enough. Freedom in the World rating is a better indicator, IMO.

244:

He is not the only one. Most of the political blogs I normally read are libertarian and/or fiscal conservative. (Yours is a clear exception). But last night I decided to read through the most recent Syria comment thread on the Daily Kos to see what people on the US left were saying about Syria. While a few commenters were pointing out that going into Syria is stupid, most were finding reasons to go along with their political party.

I'm sympathetic to them. I made much the same mistake they are getting ready to make back in 2003.

But the similarity of the arguments they were making--right down to "I trust Obama; he's a good man" were the exact same arguments that people were making on the conservative side of the blogosphere in regard to Bush's invasion of Iraq. It was uncanny.

(Word Press seems to think "commenters" is not a word and suggests I replace it with "commentators". I am offended on behalf of the English language.)

245:

In one of the cases you cite (the Falklands War) the party that instigated the war was looking for the prototypical "short, victorious war". That party was Argentina. It didn't work out well for them. (They lost badly, the Argentine government that started the war fell, and the UK's position on the Falklands hardened from "Falklands? Where's that?" to "Let's make them full British citizens!")

I will give you the Six Day War as an extremely rare counterexample.

246:

Based on what you've said previously, I expect your opinion of Obama is that he's a typical center right, American politician who's continued so many of the previous administration's polices that he's not that far from being the 3rd and 4th term of George W Bush.

247:

Vanzetti # 243
Yes, well, this is the deliberate mistake mde by the "right" ... "But the Nazis were an ebil SOCIALIST party - it was right there in the name!" Or, People's Democratic Republic of ...
Yeah, right.

[ Oh & using Notepad - wrapped - thanks. We'll see how it handles links, at some future point. ]

248:

(Sorry to barge in)

As far as the "War on Terror" goes, he cannot be anything else. There are important differences, like the "Obamacare" that I doubt Bush would have done. But Dick Cheney, David Addington and their likes, they effectively broke the back of the ethics of US policies.

Hence the continued operation of Guantanamo, or the ongoing practice of torture -- under Clinton, I doubt Chelsea Manning would have been treated like she was under Obama, and if she had, something would have been done about it; Hell, I know for a fact that charges against Daniel Ellsberg were dismissed due to governmental misconduct, for far more highly classified documents and far less inhumane governmental misbehaviour. When the Nixon era seems like a time of moral righteousness compared to what you have, it is time for some introspective soul-searching.

Many people in this very thread, whom I trust are not particularly blood-thirsty not are sadistic psychopaths, seem incapable to dream beyond "a bombing campaign that would magically make people happy and democratic" when it comes to blue-sky thinking. I take that as a very, very sad Zeitgeist permeating their mind.

249:

I'd say my view is a bit more nuanced: he's a frustrated reformer. Frustrated because, above everything else, he's a scholar of jurisprudence -- edited the Harvard Law Review, would have been on course for the Supreme Court if he hadn't gone into hands-on politics. He works within whatever framework he's got, rather than trying to radically redefine the framework, and the framework has evolved over several previous presidencies in a manner that more or less requires an incumbent president to conduct himself as an imperial leader. Add a huge case of racist backlash against him that has electrified the voting base of his opponents, and there are some moves from the Democrat presidential playbook that he can't make if he expects them to stick after he leaves office (if his replacement is a Republican).

In other words, he's not a right-winger by current US political establishment standards, but expecting him to be an engine of liberal reformist change was futile from the start.

250:

Obama's replacement will likely be Clinton. I would expect her to carry on Obama's legacy with added personal touches. The thing is, Clinton really gives me the creeps.

251:

THe ones I read are rather against attacks, but then I read ones which criticise obama and suchlike for not being left enough and the democratic party for caving in to republican party ideas and nastiness.
Lawyers, guns and money has posts up right now pointing out how bombing Syria would be a bad idea.

252:

guthrie # 251
It is very noticeable how the more intelligent semi-libertarians in this country are loud in shouting "STAY OUT!"

Here: is one such
Warning, the poster is normally a very thoughtful person, but some of his regular commenters seem to be closet (or not-so-closet) racists, who still emote that "all muslims are the same".

However, the idea that we are witnessing the beginning of the mid-East version of the 30/80 years war &/or "Wars of Religion" equivalent seems to be gaining traction.

253:

Which makes me wonder if the system even allows for such an engine or if the only means of reform is very gradual.

254:

Charlie wrote "... he's a frustrated reformer."

For some reason, that reminds me of Russell's characterization of Machiavelli as a disappointed romantic.

255:

I'd suggest reading Mazzetti's Way of the Knife for an even more nuanced view of Obama.

There are a couple of things you missed: one is that he's a Chicago-style politician. Another that he plays basketball, so he's used to things like head fakes, which is basically what we say in the Saturday speech (where we thought he was going for a slam dunk missile strike, and he passed the ball backwards to Congress to regain the initiative).

The other thing that's more pertinent here is that he's a democrat in the style of JFK, who also became strongly enamored of covert action.

According to Mazzetti (who's a Pulitzer-winning reporter), Obama's crew came in dealing with Gitmo and the torture scandal. They saw that there was no political support for capturing and imprisoning terrorists (and indeed, they can't even get them into American jails). Therefore the "fight terrorism as crime" meme was out. However, the American didn't object so much to killing terrorists with drones, and that's where Obama's gone, big time. Due to the peculiarities of American law, which govern where the CIA can act and where the US military can act, they've beefed up the CIA's paramilitary ability, and beefed up the Pentagon's intelligence capacity, and split up the world into CIA and Pentagon zones when it comes to hunting terrorists. For example, Afghanistan is Pentagon territory, Pakistan is CIA territory, and the SEALs who went after OBL were "sheep-dipped," acting as CIA agents under Leon Panetta's nominal command during that action.

One problem is that the CIA is quite seductive. They totally suborned Panetta into their view of things, and they tend to be the ones who favor dealing with right-wingers, fascists, and authoritarians, rather than messy liberal democracies with all that silly stuff about rights and disclosures.

The other problem is that the CIA is pretty blind when they get away from the authoritarians and right-wingers they normally work with. For example, they worked closely with Libyan and Egyptian secret services hunting terrorists in north Africa, but this meant that they were totally blind to what was going on on the street, and thereby missed the rumblings preceding the Arab Spring.

It's not clear how much Obama has been seduced into the CIA worldview, but it is quite clear that the CIA and JSOC have been his chosen methods for waging war, while still appearing to be an "anti-war" president. I'm concerned that the CIA's authoritarian myopia is feeding leave him partial and biased intelligence, and that this, more than anything else, is going to bite him in the ass on some critical decision.

256:

"It isn't sufficient to declare a democracy, you also need stable institutions that will support it. (You yourself mentioned this in the last of the Merchant Princes trilogy.)

And the US (and UK and France) worked really hard to undermine such institutions.


"Those on the right have justified the coups by arguing that doing so made it more likely for the institutions to be preserved or if necessary created for a later transition to democracy."

Yes, they did. Which is really only relevant if one believes that these people were honest about motives.

257:

"However, the idea that we are witnessing the beginning of the mid-East version of the 30/80 years war &/or "Wars of Religion" equivalent seems to be gaining traction."

Why?

Also, perhaps you have not noticed the history of the Middle East for the past several decades?

258:

deccio.barry # 257
Also, perhaps you have not noticed the history of the Middle East for the past several decades?
Explain that remark, please?
Most of the mid-East has, since 1960 been dominated by one form or another of (often fascist or fascist-lite) dictatorship, yes? And, horribly for enlightened ways of thinking & acting, the religious leaders are seen as the only legitimate opposition, a lot of the time.
But, the underlying tensions, caused by the "martyrdom" of Al-Hussein ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib in the year 680 of the christian reckonong are still with us, underlying the split between the sunni & shia main branches of islam. There have been many battles & localised slaughters between these, but never (AFAIK) a full-scale general war, spreading across many boundaries, as the 30 years war did in Europe. It is beginning to look as if now might be that time.
I that is the case, we should keep out of it, as we will only make appallingly bad matters even worse IMNSHO.

"Why?" you ask.
Because Syria is backed by Iran & the rebels are lergely backed by Saudi & it looks like both sides are spoiling for a showdown. Yes/no?

All other alternative explanations welcome, folks!

But note, like Chalrie, I think it is none of our business, excep to help the innocent bystanders - who are going to be killed in large numbers ......

259:
"Why?" you ask. Because Syria is backed by Iran & the rebels are lergely backed by Saudi & it looks like both sides are spoiling for a showdown. Yes/no?

All other alternative explanations welcome, folks!


I have to say I think you're right. But a possible alternative. Through the cold war era, the USA and USSR tiptoed around with 'proxy wars' in all kinds of places with just these sorts of tactics. They obviously had MAD as their deterrent to more open warfare and I'm not quite sure what the deterrent is for Iran and Saudia Arabia. I guess for Iran that they'll step too far the push the USA to invade as they did in Iraq? For Saudi Arabia something else?

But perhaps there are also internal political benefits that I'm certainly don't know enough about the countries (face it, I don't know anything really) to guess to this kind of "everyone knows but it's not officially us" war. Certainly if it all goes pear-shaped there's less egg on the face. And while Assad remains in power, the Iranians are, to (with suitable apologies for the wrong metaphor) raising a very large two fingers to the West.

260:

Syria , then when iran has no allies left,
iran
they are re-colouring the map of the middle east 1 state at a time

if this cynical view is correct- expect another atrocity

261:

No post in between, so repying to andyf @ 260 ....
they are re-colouring the map ... 1 state at a time
And who are "they" precisely?
And what colour is being re-painted over the existing, anyway?
I would agree to expect another atrocity - plenty of those to go around, especially since Hezbollah are on the Assad/Iranian side & Hamas/Al-Quaeda are on the rebels' side .....

I note no-one has mentioned, except in very brief passing, er ISRAEL - who are, of course against both Hizbollah & Hamas.
Err ....

262:

I've created a White House petition on the suggestions that Charlie gave in his edit of this post.

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/distribute-gas-masks-and-nerve-agent-antidote-kits-syrian-people-instead-attacking-syria-government/lbzm6x5c

If we insist on doing something, then we should advocate for this kind of aid.

263:

Sure, there's another explanation: soaring birth-rates and dwindling water supplies.

Even back in 2010, there were serious water problems in Syria (http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/syrias-water-shortage-causes-alarm), and the problems were blamed not on innate shortages, but on mismanagement by the government. Per capita water supplies were cut in half over the previous eight years, and appeared ready to keep falling at that time. Over 160 farming towns have been abandoned due to lack of water, and the refugees from those towns flooded into the big cities, like Damascus and Aleppo.

This year, an Israeli scholar explicitly made this connection (http://www.timesofisrael.com/lack-of-water-sparked-syrias-conflict-and-it-will-make-egypt-more-militant-too/). Water supplies are getting more limited, and populations in the Middle East have quadrupled in the last 60 years.

While water shortages by themselves are not a crisis, water shortage coupled with a corrupt and inefficient government is a recipe for disaster.

Couple this in turn with Turkey damming rivers that feed into Syria (and not coincidentally Iraq), and you can start to see where the problems come from.

Egypt could get hammered too: about 3 million people in the Nile Delta depend on aquifers that could become saline with a half-meter rise in sea level. Egypt is already preparing for this fight by turning an airport in the south of the country into a military airfield. The likely targets will be countries upstream from Egypt: Ethiopia and South Sudan, that are developing and taking more water out of the Nile.

One hopes that Arizona never secedes from the US. If it did, there would be open war over the Colorado River water.

264:

While I think this is a noble effort, after reading that article on how water destabilizes regions, I'd suggest we all start pushing hard for Europe, the US, and everyone else to fund desalinization plants throughout the Middle East. A geographer (Dr. Amon Sofer) notes that a regional desalination plant costs less than a single day of full-scale modern war.

Absent this kind of activity, we're likely to see increasing lawlessness and destabilization throughout the region. For example, in the Sinai, bedouins will soon lack the water to even raise goat herds, and they will have to resort exclusively to smuggling (a practice dating back to the Bronze Age)--or move elsewhere. Israel and Turkey are relatively water stable, but no one else is. Palestine has drained at least one aquifer, and Jordan is running short too.

265:

WATER wars ...
Shades of Larry Niven!
Also this comment, from a link I looked at & mentioned earlier ....
"The Islamic world is packed full of young men of prime fighting age who have no jobs, no land and no futures. Median age in Europe is well over 40; in the Islamic world it's about 27."
Um.

266:

Interesting ... an analysis and response/suggestion not based on who has the biggest guns.

I noticed that one of Syria's core industries is phosphate rock mining. Any ideas how this might impact U.S. ground troops -- apart from phosphates in general being known toxins, quite incendiary, fairly radioactive, etc.?

267:

Obamacare (which I'm not fan of) differs from George W Bush's Medicare Part D expansion (which I wasn't a fan of either) only in scope. Both were huge injections of government regulatory power and money into the health care industry, designed to more to maximize the profits (and create barriers to entry for competitors) of insurance companies, than to increase access to health care.

tldr: Obama isn't the huge leftist that many Republicans accuse him of being; Bush II wasn't the huge conservative many Democrats accuse him of being.

tldr: (even shorter) I'm way off topic here. Shutting up now.

268:

Quite fair. I'm sure my takeaway from your past comments on Obama is heavily colored by my preconceptions of him--which are influenced by my personal politics, race, class, region, and the general US media environment.

269:

As I said in my previous post, I am far from a regular reader of the DailyKos. I read through only a single thread on Syria there. But from that small sample (and I know small samples can be notoriously misleading) I found the reasons given for supporting the administration on Syria to be very similar to those given back in 2003 in conservative blogs for supporting the Bush administration on Iraq. I will certainly check out some additional threads there to see if the one I read was an aberration.

270:

Rock phosphates, a vital ingredient in agricultural fertiliser. They don't have the problems you seem to think, but cut the world supply of those, and it messes with food supplies.

This is not good, although fertiliser prices may have been long anticipating a supply cut-off.

271:

I'm not sure how old some of these data are but, Hofstede is quite well-known and respected for his research on cultural differences. While there's no Syrian profile per se, Syria is part of the 'Arab World' composite. See how it compares vs. the U.S. or any of the larger European countries.

It's a tough slog, trying to win a war when the people you're trying to 'save' are either confused or repulsed by you because of cultural differences.

http://geert-hofstede.com/

272:

Err, Greg, while I'm on the record with quipping that thinking the Muslim world is medieval is prejudiced and wrong, they are in the Reformation era, and the Salafis are the Anabaptists[1], I think arguing that the Muslim world has to go through exactly the same phases as the Western world is somewhat mistaken and an example of what's called Historicism.

That is not to say there are no patterns in history, just that it's somewhat more like the Lorenz attractor and not the Logistic funtion.

On a similar note, I think that when arguing about ethnic and/or religious identities it helps to remember that, even more than gender roles, ethnic identity is not something given but constructed. Even if a civil war leads to reinforce arbitrary group identities, e.g. the good old

"("Group" A fights "Group" B, wonders if "Group" C is somewhat aligned to "Group" B, some members of "Group" C, "Group" C defends itself and attacks some members of "Group" A, "Group" A's belief "Group" C is the enemy and "Group" A attacks "Group" C, "Group" C aligns with "Group" B)",

I think we should still keep that in mind.

As for myself, well, there is one part of my shouting (part time in Polish, I guess, though I don't understand that language) "Topple Assad and use the war criminals on both sides for spare organ transplants", while the dominating, more analytical one thinks Charlie is right, and BTW revenge is a dish best served cold before some international trial.

OTOH, if somebody really has intel on which unit did this, not necessarily who gave the order, well, my first thought was something like cruise missiles with napalm warheads on their headquarters, but then, leaking said intel to the rebels with some tactical information about said unit and establishing a live feed to what's happening, with a comment you'd help the Syrian Army if the rebels did something similar, I somewhat doubt we will get something like Germany's "Innere Führung" in the Syrian army immediately, still I think it'd get the common soldier thinking about the alternatives to certainly being gruesomely massacred when using chemical weapons. Though then, who's to say the West isn't already supplying said information to the rebels, as they did to Saddam in the Iraq-Iranian war?

As for the current situation, I somewhat doubt that even with Assad gone, the Army and the Alawites would disappear as a factor in the game, and if the Jihadis start misbehaving[2], it seems likely an alliance between, err, moderate rebels and the remnant army could keep them in place. Which means

a) it seems desireable to keep the Syrian Army somewhat functional, albeit on a reduced level. And without the crazies. Yeah, that's difficult to assess.

b) the most desireable option for regime change would be an inside coup in the Assad administration, hopefully one that gets us somebody more moderate. Yes, I know that historically this is somewhat difficult to judge. Note that targeting misbehaving units on both sides like implied above might get some guys thinking.

BTW, the refuge to Historicism[3] and Primordialism is one of the things that keeps worrying me the most, e.g. that we[4] start to sound like the people we despise the most. Seriously guys, sounding like Henry fucking Kissinger is not something I aspire to. Or yelling that Assad is a bullwark against Islamism when the Hizbollah, err...

On a lesser note, for the legal angle, there might be some problems with getting Assad on trial. AFAIK the Geneva protocal etc. apply only to wars between nations, not to use of chemical weapons IN nations. Else quite a few police forces etc. would be in trouble, since CS, pepper spray etc. would also count as incapacipating agents in a battle situation. As for a civil war, well, one school of thought is the interpretation of humanitarian law has evolved to a point where they are outlawed there, too, other think they are allowed. On a side note, IIRC most comments about the ill-fated opioid use in the Moscow theatre siege were about the bad planning, not about Moscow breaching the prhibition of chemical warfare, when the LD50 of some fentanyls is not that far removed from some of the older agents or even lower. And if he is trialed, well, expect the best lawyers Moscow and Beijing can buy...

And last but not least, sorry for being late to the party, just had 4 weeks in Italy.

[1] Hm, makes for interesting thoughts; one of the direct descendants of those guys are todays Amish. Who's to say what Salafis in about 300 years will look like[1a][1b]?
[1a] No, I think a rational-secular paradise with an AI god is not that likely. Yes, you can accuse me of Historicism.
[1b] Speaking about the English revolution in the 17th century, what exactly is the difference between some of the more moderate Islamists and those guys? Though I agree Mursi makes a bad Cromwell, though then, he's not that good at Robespierre either, and I'm not that uptodate on Sisi's height to see how apt he is at a Napoleon Bonaparte[1ba]. Err, yeah, I just disavowed Historicism, but it's fun to apply, and there is the Show-Off factor.
[1ba] Yes, I know the talk about Napoleon's height is a historical urban legend. Let me have some fun, 'mkay?
[2] I believe in you, Jihadis!
[3] If I may quote one of my favourite footnote from Feyerabend's "Against Method", him quoting Hegel and Lenin (excuse the typos, I corrected the best I could, from http://thehangedman.com/teaching-files/hps/feyerabend-am1.pdf):
"Ibid., p. 25, cf. Hegel, Philosophie der Geschichte, Werke, Vol. 9, ed. Edward Gans, Berlin, 1837, p. 9:
'But what experience and history teach us is this, that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted according to rules that might have derived from it. Every period has such peculiar circumstances, is in such an individual state, that decisions will have to be made, and decisions can only be made, in it and out of it:
- 'Very clever'; 'shrewd and very clever'; 'NB' writes Lenin in his marginal notes to this passage. (Collected Works, Vol. 38, London, 1961, p. 307.)"

BTW, another footnote:
"This was my opinion in 1970 when I wrote the first version of this essay. Times have changed. Considering some tendencies in US education ('politically correct' academic menus. etc.), in philosophy (postmodernism) and in the world at large I think that reason should now be given greater weight not because it is and always was fundamental but because it seems to be needed, in circumstances that occur rather frequently today (but may disappear tomorrow), to create a more humane approach."
[4] Yeah, you can accuse me of constructing a collective identity here.

273:

It might just be that Daily Kos is a Democratic supporting website in general; there are of course plenty more which don't automatically support Democratic party stuff, the point is not to confuse centrist Democratic party stuff with leftism in general.
(Naturally the same goes for mixing up tea partiers, conservatives and libertarians, although there is often an overlap)

274:

Well, yes, but if you look at some population pyramids at

http://populationpyramid.net/

and similar soures, there are similar structures all over the world, and last that I heard, Costa Rica was the Switzerland of Latin America, not a hotbed of civil war. OTOH, AFAIK the age structures of Yuguslavia in the 90s were not that much removed from the rest of Eastern Europe...

275:

Um. Well the prediction is that we'll reach Peak phosphorus around 2030, and it's not just an important fertilizer, it's a critical one. It's also been something countries have gone to war over in the past (google Guano Wars)

In the long run, we could get a lot of our phosphorus back on farmland by recycling our sewage back to farms. This is problematic; there's always some jackass pitching car batteries or similar toxics into the sewer to contaminate the entire waste stream through sheer careless vandalism, and eating raw vegetables will go away if we start fertilizing crop farms with treated sewage. On the other hand, we're running out of places to mine the stuff, and a distressing number of said mines seem to be in places like the Middle East and North Africa, places where they kind of desperately need to get a grip on their water supplies.

This might explain why Obama is more willing to intervene in Syria. They've got something we need.

276:

george.herbert wrote: "I do WMD proliferation and technical stuff all the time; the norm against chemical weapons use having slipped is edging into a CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN scenario for WMD in the middle east.

Seriously - this norm being replaced and reinforced is more important than all the normal fighting civilian casualties we've seen to date, and can expect in the remainder of that civil war."

Except Saddam Hussein used gas against military and civilian targets in the 1980s, with impunity, and yet the next case of chemical weapons being used wasn't for another 25 years.

The Soviets didn't use gas as a last-ditch measure in Afghanistan. Saddam didn't use gas when he invaded Kuwait, or to repel the coalition in the Gulf War. Gas wasn't acquired and used during the Rwandan genocide, when it surely would have been more efficient than machetes. Gas wasn't used in Yugoslavia. Gas didn't make an appearance in the various conflicts in Africa. Gas wasn't used by India or Pakistan over Kashmir. Saddam didn't use gas against the US in 2003 ('cause he didn't have any, of course). Gas wasn't used in Libya. Gas hasn't been used by or against Israel.

The norm held.

277:

What about other ways of getting the stuff? Bones are made from about 70% of calcium phosphate, so it seems likely there is some way to bioaccumulate the stuff. Not necessarily with vertebrates, but maybe some protists and like have strange tastes compared to the more common calcium carbonate, too?

Extrapolating from this, the big phosphate aquafarms before the deltas of some big rivers, like the Amazon, or the Po, or...

278:

Maybe potash is the new oil in terms of reasons for political gamesmanship .. which dictator you're willing to put with ...

For example: "Russia banned pork imports from Belarus on Friday, stepping up a diplomatic and trade war over the arrest of a Russian businessman and threatening to deepen the isolation of its former Soviet ally.

Russia is one of Belarus’ few diplomatic backers after 19 years of authoritarian rule by President Alexander Lukashenko but has responded furiously to the arrest this week of Vladislav Baumgertner, head of Russian potash company Uralkali."

279:

A couple of interesting views on Syria, chemical weapons, and US intervention:

Syria in general, chemical weapons:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/08/29/9-questions-about-syria-you-were-too-embarrassed-to-ask/

Via Bruce Cohen on Twitter, a Syrian on US intervention and imperialism:
http://www.mideastyouth.com/2013/08/28/amal-wa-alam-a-perspective-on-the-u-s-strikes-in-syria/

280:

Err, sorry for nitpicking, but it seems the NAAKs contain atropine, diazepam AND pralidoxime, not neostigmine.

Which makes sense; atropine is an antagonist at muscarinergic acetylcholine receptors, which should ease the first wave of acetylcholine building up after acetylcholinesterase is inhibited by the nerve agent; I don't know about the nicotinergic receptors, seems they are not that critical at the time, and, well, most of the antagonists at those are descendants of the curare of arrow poison fame, so the therapeutic windows might be too low. Pralidoxime, OTOH, is an agent that binds to the acetylcholinesterase phosphorylated by the nerve agent and dephosphorylates it, thus reactivating it, otherwise you'd have to wait some time till the body produces new AChE. This is somewhat time-critical, since the phosphorylated AChE seems to "age" with some agents, e.g. change conformation into a state where pralidoxime is not effective anymore. Last, but not least, the diazepam is going to act as an anticonvulsant.

Neostigmine itself is a reversible AChE inhibitor, just like Sarin and other nerve agents, though in the latter case dephosphorylation is so slow it's not important in a clinical setting, thus the nomenclature as "irreversible". AFAIR it is mainly used in opthalmics (makes for nice small pupils) and surgery when you want to reverse the action of the nicotinic antagonists used as muscle relaxants these days, see curare above. Oh, and AFAIR it's also used in atropine poisoning, for similar reasons, e.g. more acetylcholine at the receptor to compete with the antagonist.

Reversible AChE inhibitors like carbamates also have a place in protection against chemical warfare, but more in prophylaxis. AFAIR the scenario works somewhat like this:

a) take your RAChEI. A certain percentage of your AChE is inhibited, e.g. acetylcholine (and nerve agents) can't reach the active centre of the protein.

b) in case of nerve agent attack, use atropine or NAAK.

c) Also, drop the next dosage of the RAChEI. When plasma levels drop, Michaelis-Menten means a certain proportion of the AChE inhibited by the RAChEI is liberated and is working again.

As for the contents of the NAAK, atropine is quite toxic in the dosages needed, but a recent development in GPCR biochemistry, of which the muscarinergic receptor is a member, is that many of those have some activity even when not bound to an agonist, and many so-called antagonists are not neutral or "silent", e.g. only block the agonist, but abolish even this basal activity, thus being labelled "inverse agonists". And, well, it seems that atropine is just one of those inverse agonists. Maybe a neutral antagonist would be of similar effect against nerve agents, but much less toxic? Might be worthwhile.

As for the diazepam, while I'm more with the "legalize everything" crowd in the "war on (certain) drugs", I'm not that sure handing out big quantities of a member of a class that

a) together with alcohol and some other GABAa ligands has the distinction of physical harm with withdrawl, e.g. with convulsions.

b) is somewhat addictive, especially with long-term use
http://dobrochan.ru/src/pdf/1109/lancetnorway.pdf

c) again with long-term use, might make for some cognitive impairment sustaining AFTER acute withdrawl. Yeah, I know, nicotine, amphetamine and cocaine have cognitive impairment after withdrawl, too...

d) is usually calming down, but leads to disinhibition, which might lead to "paradoxical" agitation, with violence in some cases.

And this one in a situation like

e) a civil war, e.g. a situation that is prone to heighten addiction potential, if not create it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_Park

So maybe we should look for another anticinvulsant, though I'm somewhat hardpressed to find one that is much better.

(sarcasm)Come to think about it, handing out valium or heroin in a civil war might be an option, maybe we could ask the South-Africans about it, they have some experience

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Coast(/sarcasm)

281:

Err, last time I heard, potash was potassium carbonate, not phosphate, with potassium being an important nutrient for plants, but AFAIK not that critical with shrinking supply, dire need etc.

But than, in the aquafarming scenario, AFAIR the eutrophisation by big river deltas doesn't stop with the usual whatever mile zones, which might make for some conflicts. E.g. "Phosphate Pirates of Padania", Right-wing North Italians robbing North African manned international aqua farms in front of the Po delta.

"It's our shit, you know?"

282:

Saudi Arabia might well dislike anything that would cause the US to withdraw its support. Something that would look bad in the American news might be a worry.

283:
Couple this in turn with Turkey damming rivers that feed into Syria (and not coincidentally Iraq), and you can start to see where the problems come from.
Politically, Turkey is damming rivers that feed into Kurdistan, not Syria and Iraq. It's merely an accident of geography that Kurdistan exists wholly within the boundaries of the three countries.
284:
How about redrawing the borders as a solution? Let all sects have their own countries.

[sarcasm]Great idea. After all, that worked so well in Mandatory Palestine, right?[/sarcasm]

On another note, I guess the different sects pertain not just to ethnic, but also social groupings. Looking at the role the Armenians and Albanians played in the Osmanic Empire might be worthwhile.

285:

You could also throw in some of the more obsolete body armours. You know, the type that is quite good at stopping shrapnel and bullets but makes any fighter swear about inhibition of movement, sweat building up, bad ventilation, a thermosignature visible even in the desert...

286:
The Syrian regime has its back to the wall. After fifty years of "us or chaos", I'd be surprised if many didn't believe that if they don't stay in power, their families will end up on the streets while they watch from the lamp-posts. They have no way out - and they will fight accordingly.

Well, there is a if not easy, then at least doable way out. Reopen some kinds of embassies, establish some logistics (air transport seems too dangerous, so I'd opt for APCs and ships) and institute a "women, children and non-fighting males[1] can leave anytime" policy. Vet them for war-criminals somewhat.

Establish something similar in neighbouring countries for deserters, though vet them for war criminals somewhat more throughly.

As for the guys yelling about costs of immigrants, show them the price of one cruise missile.

Invite some midlevel guys from all sides to a little talk. I'd propose Lampedusa, also in the Mediterranean. Show them what to expect for their families even if they are that lucky to get out. I guess some Italian guards would be quite helpful with snide remarks about Syrian refugees[2].

Personally, I for one would welcome getting every innocent bystander out of Syria and keep only the hardcore bastards on both sides in, then get the media rights and institute a BigBrother-like livefeed, background music[3] optional, but you don't have to follow me there.

[1] Yes, I know that's somehwat sexist.
[2] Well, while Pope Francis I is quite popular with Italian Catholics, they are somewhat angry with him lately. Not for celibacy, not for lack of womens' rights, not for mishandling sexual abuse cases[2a], but for some things he said when visiting Lampedusa:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23224010

[3] One of the somewhat degenerate pleasures of the early nineties was tuning in to euronews, mute the sound and play some industrial, metal or "crossover"[3a]. Worked quite well, and I still associate Croatia somewhat with "Die Krupps" or "Headcrash". Yes, bad taste, in so many ways...
[3a] Come to think about it, another human rights violation of the early nineties.

287:

Incidentally, I forgot one footnote:

[2a] In Germany, it seems its the other side's turn, with one German newspaper close to the Greens getting flak for withdrawing an article about the early Greens and pederasty. For context, see

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/14/green-party-germany-paedophiles-80s

288:

While I suspect your right, if this map is right, even Kurdistan has some Sunni enclaves, and I'm not sure that all the rivers end in Kurdistan.

Be that as it may, being at the headwaters of everyone else's water is not a great place for the Kurds, at least in today's world.

289:

For the enclaves, the idea of ethnically and culturally homogenous areas is one of these remnants of the 19th century that just won't go away. Though even in Europe it was more something created in the 19th and 20th century, often with ethnic cleansing, then something real.

But then, Romanticism and folkish ideas, what's noble and eternal and always was, and never was real...

For the impact in archaeology, look at Kosinna:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustaf_Kossinna#Material_culture_and_ethnicity

Though I guess blaming Nazism on him is using him as a scapegoat.

290:

How about redrawing the borders as a solution? Let all sects have their own countries.

Because then you have two problems.

First, you have to redraw the borders. Who is going to do that, according to what rules? Who is going to trust anyone else to do that? Which of the countries, for instance, will willingly cede large chunks of its territory to a newly-created Kurdistan?

Secondly, no matter how you redraw the borders, you will end up with countries that still have substantial minorities, enclaves and mixed areas. The countries will be different, but there will still be wide scope for conflict and the settling of centuries-old grudges within any country you might care to draw on the map.

291:

Trottelreiner # 289
For the enclaves, the idea of ethnically and culturally homogenous areas ...
Err, the name for these comes from a district of Venice: GHETTO
Perhaps, not such a wonderful move?
This is why, in many parts of W. Europe, "multiculturalism" is felt, by some at least, to have failed, because self-constructed ghettoes have arisen, with no cultural & social mixing - followed by mutual intolerance & hostility.
[ See also the following comment @ 290 ] "Settling of centuries-old grudges" indeed. Mostar, Srebrenica, Sarajevo - worked out well, didn't it?

292:

#168 particularly, and a large part of et seq.

I'm also against military action against Syria, until there is "compelling proof" that chemical weapons (not just nerve gas; you guys already covered that) were used by the regime and not by any of the rebel factions.

293:

And the Greeks, breaking up the Ottoman empire worked really well for them didn't it?

294:

Two problems:

a) It'd be really easy to induce false positives -- smoke, vapourized gasoline, whatever.

b) Because NBC protective gear is hot and uncomfortable,

Yup. We used several mechanisms for chemical agent detection, ranging from "detector paper" (basically, a post-it note that changed colour in the presence of worrying droplets; you stuck it to your suit) to some fairly expensive pieces of electronic kit. Take a look at the Graseby Dynamics website; the UK certainly used to be a world leader in this kind of stuff.

False positives are easy; we could use flyspray to trigger the detector paper. The problem is that Soviet doctrine was to apparently to mix in blood agents with explosive in an artillery barrage; so as the chemical threat levels rose (from "no-one's used it, but we know they have it" to "they're used it a long way off" to "they've used it nearby") our preparation states would rise.

Eventually, you'd be wearing a full suit, less the mask. If you saw any low flying aircraft, or nearby bombardment, then you'd mask up for safety, and unmask once you'd checked it was all clear. As for "early warning", you would place an NBC sentry about ten or fifteen seconds upwind, equipped with the chemical agent monitor (a backpack kit called NAIAD, in my day) and a means of raising the alarm. Everyone practised masking up in nine seconds, and when appropriate an immediate personal decontamination drill to remove any contaminants. Lots of Fuller's Earth.

In these enlightened times, NATO has worked on a stand-off detector using laser spectrometry; it means your NBC recce vehicle or patrol doesn't actually have to travel into an area to determine that it's contaminated.

Unmasking took time, and the last steps in the tests involved a sniff test (new mown hay? almonds) and finally a lucky "volunteer" would unmask while someone watched them, autoject in hand. The advice was to use a blue-eyed person, because the effects of nerve agents would hit them faster. Given that all of us in the Reconnaissance Platoon were blue-eyed, this made things slightly fairer...

As for "hot and uncomfortable", once every couple of years a British soldier would die from heat injury sustained during NBC training. Guidance for physical effort in an NBC suit on a hot day involved several litres of water per person per hour...

295:

You might also list Taiwan as a successful experiment of this sort. And the Philippines, they both seem to have vigorous democratic institutions.

Turkey seems to be evolving along the Democratic Trajectory, and supports the "Middle Income" thesis of Democracy.

As opposed to Pakistan, which is another horrible negative example. The election Kabuki is about rearranging the public face of a plutocratic extractive economy.

296:

when it came to how chemical weapons can be integrated in a tactical battle plan, I've always seen them describes basically as aerosol minefields

Nope. You use persistent and non-persistent agents as required. Persistent agents have the effect you describe (e.g. drop them on an enemy airbase or ammunition dump), but for immediate tactical effect you tend to use non-persistent agents. Catch the enemy by surprise (because no-one wears full NBC protection all the time unless they have to); drop an attack concentration of hydrogen cyanide onto a position, and twenty minutes later you can drive through it.

Non-persistent nerve agents could be used similarly, but for objectives that you weren't going to assault straight away (i.e. depth targets). Note that Soviet artillery included a lot of tactical rocket artillery such as BM-21 - their rate of fire is lower over the long term than gun artillery, but if you want to drop a lot of chemicals in a very short period of time, they're just the job. As I pointed out in another thread, Soviet equipment was an excellent match to their doctrine.

Life gets fun when you consider penetrants (agents designed to get through the filter in the mask, and cause the wearer to remove it). Or chemical overmatch (fire a chemical shell into a building strongpoint, to overload the defenders' filters). Look up PFIB, if you want to see depressing.

297:
Err, the name for these comes from a district of Venice: GHETTO

Actually, not really. The definition of a ghetto is not that clear, and using it for all kinds of social, ethnic or whatever geographical stratification in cities doesn't help that much, but usually the narrow definition of a ghetto boils down to a part of a town or city seperated by physical means like a wall, inhabited exclusively by one group that is banned from inhabiting other parts of the town or city, and said group usually of lower socioeconomic status and/or subject to special restrictions, thus differentiating from gated communities, burghers and like. Though there might be some overlap. Which might be the case for some of the enclaves, but I guess in most cases there is another word from Jewish history that could be applied, shtetl,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shtetl

which is often seen as the opposite of a ghetto, though of course there might be some overlap with what we colloquially call "ghetto" nowadays, e.g. "welcome to the Polish ghetto" when entering an urban area with a sizable Polish-speaking minority, e.g. >30%.

This is why, in many parts of W. Europe, "multiculturalism" is felt, by some at least, to have failed, because self-constructed ghettoes have arisen, with no cultural & social mixing - followed by mutual intolerance & hostility.

Hm, I guess I once lived in such a place. There was really something of a parallel society. Quite nasty. But then, the obnoxious children in question were ethnic Germans. And their parents seemed to belong to a stratum which Marx, in one of his lucid moments, would have called "Lumpenproletariat". But I digress...

Listen, I don't deny that there are quite some big problems with immigrants in Europe, for a variety of reasons. Come to think about it, there always were, though the scope might differ somewhat with the circumstances. And come to think about it some more, I guess there were social problems all along in Human history, pick your point, social life with early primates, contacts with groups beyond your own kin with hunter-gatherers, the point in the Neolithic Revolution when the graves started to differ dramatically with the tracklements. Whatever, lets come back to different ethnic groups living together.

That can mean a sharp and sometimes violent division along ethnic lines, though then, there are also examples of ethnic groups living more or less peaceful together, whatever peaceful means in the Pan-Homo clade. and then, the Pan-Homo clade is sufficiently territorial and xenophob that I know some villages of identical ethnic and religious composition where you remember the stories about rural life in Late Medieval/Early Modern Europe, were the young men of two villages would meet up and show you don't need soccer to be a hooligan.

Whatever, what I was saying is that the situation in Syria is IMHO not so much an aberration, but quite close to the norm for much of Europe till quite recently, with Franks, Saxons, Poles, Sorbs, Kaschubians, Hungarians, Romanians and whatever German, Slavic, Baltic or Romance speakers substituting for Kurds, Sunni Arabs and like. That could mean conflict between groups, but quite often also conflict in groups, sometimes with both sides joining up with different subgroups of the same outsider group. OTOH, there were quite some contacts, Sudeten Germans are not that known for being "multiculti", but their language contains a lot of Polish or Czech words. And then, there were quite a few events where, as Sir Pterry put it, "black and white lived in harmony and teamed up against green".

Err, whatever, back to Syria. Without further informations, it's difficult to say what the situation in these Sunni enclaves in Kurdish territory is like. Sunni means likely Sunni Arabs or maybe Sunni Turks, please note the majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims themselves. We also don't know the historical and socioeconomic context, maybe the Sunnis are settler put there by the Ottomans to keep the Kurds in check, maybe it's more of a ecological niche, with the Kurds doing the mountains with husbandry and like and the Sunni doing agriculture in the valleys, with sometimes intermarriage and like. Or the Sunnis are just assimilated Kurds. Whatever.

To use Bosnia as a comparison, after the Muslim conquest, most of the urban population became Muslim, while the rural one stayed Christian. What became of that one we all know...

298:

Depends on what you mean by "really well", what stratum or subgroup you're talking about and what level of "breaking up" you're referring to.

For subgroup, the usual "vanguard" of intellectuals that is fighting for ethnic group's/workers'/women's/whatever rights to be ruled by them? Yes. The families evicted from Smyrna and like later on? Debatable.

As for breaking up the Ottoman Empire, the initial stages, e.g. after 1830? Likely. Later on, with the Macedonian Struggle, or when they were invaded by Bulgaria supporting Nazi Germany and Italy? Debatable.

299:

The advice was to use a blue-eyed person, because the effects of nerve agents would hit them faster.

Surely "easier to spot b/c better colour contrast"?

If you're looking for pupillary constriction as a first warning sign, it's easier to see a black dot against a pale blue iris than a black dot in a dark brown iris.

(There's no pharmacological reason I can think of why a blue-eyed person would succumb to a nerve agent faster than anyone else, but it might be visible sooner ...)

300:
There's no pharmacological reason I can think of why a blue-eyed person would succumb to a nerve agent faster than anyone else, but it might be visible sooner ...

I agree somewhat, but then, the lower melanin content might have some other effects, e.g. greater tissue sensitivity. There is one study that says blue eyes are more sensitive to temperature and chemical influences,

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16784741

and that the tear film is more stable in blue eyes

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1927325

though then, we all know what happens to most studies when trying to replicate.

I'm no physician or pharmacologist, but besides the usual population genetic funny fuzzy probabilities, e.g. somebody with dark hairs, olive skin and brown eyes has a certain probability to hail from an Mediterranean population[1], which might mean a probability of carrying some alleles different from said probability in e.g. Scandinavians, which is generally a piss-poor indicator, the only correlation between eye/hair color and drug reactions I'm aware of is with redheads and some anesthetics and opioids.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15277908

But then, Melanocortin-I is quite different from the genetics of blue eyes.

[1] May I introduce you to my brother, who has LOTS of fun with people of Eastern Mediterranean descent greeting them in their language? And me turning red even when the forecast says sun...

301:

There's no pharmacological reason I can think of why a blue-eyed person would succumb to a nerve agent faster than anyone else, but it might be visible sooner

That actually sounds like a more plausible reason for the suggestion to pick on the recessives... I'd just assumed that there was some correlation between melanin levels and sensitivity to acetlycholinesterase inhibitors.

As a "for example" linking eye colours to other things, sports scientists have noticed a strong correlation between blue / green eyes and performance in sports requiring good visual acuity. At one point, the entire Scottish target shooting squad was blue-eyed, bar one green-eyed (aka my wife)...

302:

I've heard that the people with lighter eye colors tend to have higher drink tolerances. It may have to do with minor genetic adaptations to colder climates with less UV (hence less melanin, hence lighter eyes).

303:

How about redrawing the borders as a solution? Let all sects have their own countries.

Look up the history of the Israeli-Palestinian Two-State solution. If simply drawing a line on the map and labelling each side mine/yours was that simple the world would have far fewer problems.

304:

Ryan
Err, yes, to follow up your remark to Vanzetti ....
... *Ireland* cough
INDIA *COUGH*

P.S. to Trottelreiner - back up (297)... the Venice Ghetto, the original was, AFAIK not walled-off from the rest of the city - that's the point.

305:

You don't need to wall things off in Venice; it already has canals that serve the same purpose. (You only have to destroy a fairly small number of bridges to cut the Ghetto off from the rest of the city - at least on foot. Of course, everyone in Venice has access to boats....)

306:

Greg @304 & Chrisj @305:
The Venetian Ghetto was gated at night, and the canals patrolled. And if you were found outside without your "Jew Badge" on you could be in a lot of trouble.

307:
And if you were found outside without your "Jew Badge" on you could be in a lot of trouble.

In theory. In practice, AFAIK it differed somewhat with time and circumstances. I somewhat doubt Early Modern Venice was more tough than Modern Italy, where combating illegal immigration is big with Berlusconi's PdL, but OTOH the Unspeakable gets personally involved and cares for the integration of young female immigrants from North Africa:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_Silvio_Berlusconi_conviction

*ducks and runs for cover*

308:

Look up the history of the Israeli-Palestinian Two-State solution. If simply drawing a line on the map and labelling each side mine/yours was that simple the world would have far fewer problems.

Also look at Africa. One thing that seems almost universal amongst ALL political leaders there is that the boundaries stay. Forget trying to figure out how to manage people groups that have been mingling for decades and centuries,. There's all those pesky mineral rights that would have to swap hands if you start moving lines. And virtually no one wants to go there.

309:

Another insightful piece by the war nerd, unlocked for your convenience (48 hours from this comment's timestamp)

Little Kerry and the three bad options

Here's an excerpt

"So, maybe the Alawites deserve this. They’ve been massacring Sunni right along. But since the SAA still has most of the heavy weaponry and aircraft, the Alawites have been doing their massacres in a way that the Western public can hardly recognize as massacres—by aircraft, by missile, by artillery. We’ve been trained ever since that allegedly glorious World War II to see massacres like that as just one of those things, an unfortunate fact.

The people whose families were in the apartment blocks leveled by the SCUDs fired by the SAA don’t see it that way. They will want revenge, and they may even be entitled to it by whatever notion of justice strikes your fancy. But I seriously, seriously doubt that you will want to see those retaliatory massacres, no matter how justified you think they are.

Because those massacres will be carried out old-style, up close, house by house. In other words, they’ll be the kind of massacre the Western public does not like.

No one will be in the right, or wrong, or whatever—those words don’t work here. I’m just suggesting you may not want your cruise missiles and fighter-bombers to do the softening-up for what will happen."

310:
No one will be in the right, or wrong, or whatever—those words don’t work here.

Blessed is he who expects the worst, for he shall never be disappointed...

311:

Meanwhile, it looks as though the Rethuglican war-hawks are pusing hard for a congress vote to "act" (in defence of al-Quaeda, be it noted!)

If they succeed in bullshitting the US house to vote for this, then what?
Does the Assad/Syrian military have sufficent missile capability (thanks to Putin) to take out, or seriously damage a big carrier?
Come to that, can the Syrina military down many cruise missiles?
Of course, the last time around, the Syrians were (eventually) shafted by the Israelis, but it was expensive. And, Putin has re-inforced ( & trained?) their capabilities since then.
Um.

It could all go to hell in a handbasket, very, very quickly.

Adapting an 18thC wit/poet:
"Enough for the East has Albion fought/
Let us enjoy the peace our blood has bought"

Are we lucky, do we feel lucky, or will we be dragged in?

312:

Regarding Syrian capabilities...

The Russians don't tend to export their top-of-the-line equipment, because it may end up in the "wrong" hands, and so that it's deniable when it gets made to look ineffectual. The Syrians haven't, AIUI, got the latest Russian air defence or anti-ship equipment.

A second point is that it isn't about the equipment. It has to be used as part of an coherent, well trained, and capable defence. That's where things get interesting. How well are the Syrians trained? How well organised? How constrained in their operations? (e.g. can they deploy their equipment where the want to, or are their primary deployment locations now rebel-held?). Has the fact that they're fighting a civil war concentrated their training on counter-insurgency rather than counter-air-war? Are they out of practice? What losses have they already suffered? By way of example, well-trained Serbs with old kit did far better against NATO forces than badly-trained Iraqis with more modern kit.

Having anti-ship missiles is all very well, but you have to know where to fire them. An overt strike is unlikely to get very far, their only two submarines are ancient (if working), and "stick the kit on a fishing boat and try and sail close to the US Fleet" is unlikely to succeed (they've read the same books). The last time anyone tried to use fast attack craft, they got taken out by armed helicopters (Gulf War, RN Lynx / Sea Skua).

In other words, I don't hold out much hope for the Syrians other than to put the best PR spin possible on whatever the US does; in other words, coverage of missile hits on kindergartens (and a disregard over whether said missiles were US-delivered, or Syrian ones that ran out of fuel and sky). Maybe a US plane will be unlucky and break down, maybe the Syrians have a couple of good units that get lucky. Maybe a US frigate will sail too close to a shore battery. In reality, their best chance is to disperse what they need to keep; tanks and artillery parked in school playgrounds and hospital carparks.

The only possible upside is IMHO an understanding by tyrannies that any investment in chemical weapons is probably wasted, and that any use of them can be harmful to a tyrant's health. Meanwhile, two million refugees and four million internally displaced civilians mourn the loss of homes and family members, and another bank of internecine hatred is built up in the Middle East.

I'll be interested to see the dossier given to the French Parliament; hopefully a more credible one that the UK got in 2003...

313:

The Obama administration itself is also pushing this very hard, and visibly acting in concert with the war hawks to do so, most notably through a highly visible public meeting with Senators Graham and McCain. The war hawks emerged from that meeting telling reporters that they'd been very worried about the notion of a pinpoint strike, and they'd been satisfied that a much bigger attack was in the offing. How ... reassuring.

I've been seeing a whole lot of commentary on this vote as somehow being the administration's way of arranging a climb-down from its threat. I'm not sure why --- they've been pushing very hard to win this vote, to the point that it would be even more embarrassing than it has been for Cameron if they didn't get the votes. None of the deference to Congress, and agreement to respect its voice either way, that you'd expect if this were meant as a way to climb down. (Come to think of it, the administration has publicly stated that they don't think the vote is binding, if it goes against them --- and folks have pointed out that they ignored a House of Representatives vote that did go against them before heading into Libya.)

There are all sorts of ways this could go wrong, even if Russia isn't selling the Syrians any of the really good weapons. (In Soviet days, everything that got shipped to client states was a cheap export variant.) The probability of a military response from Iran is nonzero; from Hezbollah in Lebanon, quite possibly directed against Israel, medium to high.

314:

Yup, thanks for correcting my potash/potassium gaffe .. I should have checked that first before posting.

315:

Re: "I don't recall anyone asking for violence to be removed from humans. I'm not sure it's possible. If it is possible, I'm not sure its desirable on the working assumption that we want the species to survive."

Some of the underlying age-old assumptions leading to your conclusion apparently have been tested to some degree, i.e., that we are born evil (original sin) whereas science is showing that the very large majority (96%) of us appear to be hardwired to be 'good', that is, empathetic, generous, compassionate, fair, loving, etc. Plus ... being good, fair, generous is actually a very effective species survival strategy. [See article: Generosity Leads to Evolutionary Success, Biologists Show -- U Penn research.]

re: 'If you do not learn from your history, you are doomed to repeat it.' Agree ... however, how about taking a broader view of what history means? It doesn't just mean memorizing the number/types of guns used, political alliances, or the personalities of the 'leaders'. The study of history should include understanding and incorporating the gains made in the many fields especially the life and social sciences. Maybe these fields have never been studied because they're not 'cool' (or manly enough), or because it's easier to tell you're winning by counting corpses? The Syria topic can be restated as: How do you fight a war between the future and the past? Why do you think that the future would obviously win ... because they have deadlier guns? Instead, think about why/how the future might lose. (This should be easy ... it seems to me that the West/future has lost most of the wars its fought against the Middle-East/past.)

316:

"I still know it won't stop humans butchering each other. Violence is too much a part of who we are. Some time ago you had a thread about changing human nature. I don't recall anyone asking for violence to be removed from humans. I'm not sure it's possible. If it is possible, I'm not sure its desirable on the working assumption that we want the species to survive."

See also Larry Niven's "Flatlander", a collection of short stories about a future Earth where the tendency and ability to commit violence are considered a form of insanity. When the aliens invade, only the "crazies" can conceive a defense . . . .

317:

+5 for an Ambrose Bierce quote!

318:

... it isn't about the equipment. It has to be used as part of an coherent, well trained, and capable defence. That's where things get interesting. How well are the Syrians trained?

It may not just be the Syrians --- there are reports of Russian advisors on the ground, particularly around the air defense equipment. And while it's general policy that client states get second rate gear (as we've both noted), it might be tempting for the Russian techies to try out a few samples of the good stuff --- opportunities to test your latest radars against F-117s configured for combat don't come along every day. (Of course, you could do the test and not share the result with the Syrians either.)

319:

Try if Colorado secedes; much of the Colorado goes to uses in Arizona, Nevada and California (yeah, there's some long-ass pipes in use). Wars have been fought for less.

320:

Sorry, F-117 was retired in 2008. Too many aerodynamic compromises for the stealth capability, and a limited attack capability. Now we have F-22's, which are primarily air to air, and much more reliance on the good 'ole Tomahawk. Plus JDAM's off B-52s, B-1s or B-2s, and other toys.

My earlier point, though, remains that remote precision strikes cannot fundamentally alter the situation on the ground; few conflict scenarios are more confusing or vicious than a well-armed civil war. The US still took more casualties in our Civil War than any other conflict. Plus, none of the neighbors particularly want us sticking our nose in. We are probably at the "least worst option" phase, and President Obama's lateral to Congress at the least buys time, and spreads the responsibility. On the other hand, I can't think of a less successful way to plan an attack than giving the other guy WEEKS to prepare.

Until we (humanity) have some form of authority that can trump the nation state, we're going to have limits on awful events in one country, as we've already discussed with Rwanda, et al. The UN seems unlikely to be that solution; maybe a benevolent AI is our best hope. Otherwise we'll have to grow up and put away our toys on our own.

321:

@Dave: IF one believes SecState Kerry and the CIA (always a problematic option, but I'm going to take it here), the Syrians spent weeks planning and days deploying before that large-scale chemical attack. To me, this suggests that they can't do rapid-deployment chemical warfare, which is a good thing.

By delaying the vote, Obama's forcing the Syrian army to stay in a defensive crouch for an extended time. I agree that digging them out of this will be difficult, but that may not be the intention. The intention may be to smash their offensive momentum.

The Syrians now have the problem that they have to assume all their military communications are compromised, and that any major aggressive moves will be spotted in advance and potentially quashed, especially if they want to employ chemical weapons again. This levels the playing field a bit and favors the rebels to a small degree.

Personally, I think that giving the civilians a week off from shelling is not a bad thing, regardless.

322:

Re: F-117 --- yep, I stand corrected. Thanks.

323:

Largely agree with your comments, but generally think it's a bad idea to let the other guy know what you're going to do.

As mentioned elsewhere in the comments, it's at least possible and somewhat likely that the Syrians will disperse their CW stockpiles in amongst population centers and other off limits target areas. Of course, that increases their vulnerability to theft/leakage/etc.

I still see little utility in intervening. Probably the best we can do is support the opposition with lethal and non-lethal aid, and there's still the possibility that Assad will prevail in the field. In that case, I'm sure we'll see a more terror-based focus from the opposition, which plays right into the regime's propaganda claims . . . .

What do you do when there is no good answer? Now I'm depressed.

324:

On a happier note, my local brewery has done something lovely along pale ale lines:
http://www.braumanufaktur.com/index_agreed.php

325:

Interesting, Syria never signed this UN convention concerning chemical weapons.


http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XXVI-3&chapter=26&lang=en

Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction
Geneva, 3 September 1992
Entry into force
:
29 April 1997, in accordance with article XXI(1).
Registration :
29 April 1997, No. 33757
Status :
Signatories : 165. Parties : 189

Both Iran and the U.S. added some interesting clauses to this convention. Guess which said what:

"... attaches vital significance to the full, unconditional and indiscriminate implementation of all provisions of the Convention".

"Subject to the condition which relates to the Annex on Implementation and Verification, that no sample collected in the ... pursuant to the Convention will be transferred for analysis to any laboratory outside the territory of the ..."

326:

Dave P: The US still took more casualties in our Civil War than any other conflict.

Nonsense. Sorry, I can't let that pass.

US Civil War (Slaveowner's Treasonous Rebellion): around 625,000 total dead, 440,000 wounded. US population in 1865: around 32 million, so death toll from war ~2%.

British civil wars (1640-1650, approx): "England suffered a 3.7% loss of population, Scotland a loss of 6%, while Ireland suffered a loss of 41%".

War of the Triple Alliance: Paraguay lost 60% to 90% of its entire population.

You want magnitude of war dead? During the Great Patriotic War the USSR lost over 10 million military dead and over 11.4 million civilian dead out of 196 million in 1941 -- that's both 22.4 million dead, and a death rate of over 11%.

Shorter version: the US Civil War was trivial compared to other conflicts before and since.

327:

Um, sorry, your citation and my statement do not contradict each other. There is a big difference between even a large majority of humans being predisposed to do good (which I actually believe from my own experience) and no humans being wired to do violence.

Imagine if you take out that 4%. Yes, the 96% live a happier life. Good for a while.

But, no one hunts rogue elephants, man-eating tigers, venomous snakes, feral dogs and so on. I suspect there's a good case for no more rat-catchers too. I think we're pretty screwed without that small percentage.

328:

Hey, hunting rats, killing rogue beasties etc, is a perfactly normal and good thing to do even if you aren't a psychopath.

E.g. over here in the UK, a fair number of police officers join to do good things, and if that involves having to hurt other people, well that's part of the job. Said officers are otherwise normal and loving and kind enough.

See also WW2, where otherwise normal nice loving kind people were put into situations where they thought the best thing to do was kill other people.

329:

Hmmm. Guess I thought he meant that the Civil War was America's bloodiest war to date, not that it was the worst war in history. That does inform the US debate to some degree, as it leads Americans like myself to think that fratricidal violence is the bloodiest kind, and pitching a few missiles in to slow do the rate of death isn't necessarily the most horrible thing we can do.

In any case, it's not: apparently primitive tribal war (at, say neolithic levels, where villages fight villages) seems to produce an order more casualties (in the 10-20% range) than has an modern war. One might argue that, much as we grumble about state violence, not having a state around is worse, at least if you dislike violent death.

330:

Yeah, I heard my local MP going on about US casualties in WW2 being proof that they valued Freedom. Well, I'd lump the two World Wars together (I've read The Guns of August), and the Americans need to add their Civil War to match the British total.

Been there, done that, got the war memorials.

Americans valued Freedom so much that they had to fight a Civil War to abolish slavery...

British history is shabby enough, but at least we didn't do that.

331:

I too understood the comment to mean the Civil War was the bloodiest war for the US...

Humans are extremely altruistic with other humans, but they have a flexible view of what constitutes one. That's why the War Nerd's perspective, as offputting as his refusal to moralize may be to some, is valuable. It's not "The Syrians", it's "the Alawites" against everyone else.

Has anyone asked what strategic goal the chemical gas attack had? From what I can gather it just killed a boatload of civilians. Which again, makes it more reminiscent of the Sarajevo market than anything else...

332:

Darn those Republicans. Maybe in the next election, evil Republicans war mongers who support war with Syria like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid can be replaced with good, peace-loving Democrats.

Seriously, though. This is an issue that you can't break down into nice and comfortable political boxes. The current congressional opposition to war with Syria (and that's what an Authorization to Use Military Force amounts to--a legal Declaration of War) is composed of an alliance of Progressive Democrats and Tea Party Republicans.

Also "rethuglicans"? Isn't that kind of childish. Not to mention insulting to anyone reading this blog who has ever voted Republican.

333:

I think you are misreading what Dave P said. He said that the American Civil War was the war that the US took the most casualties in; not that the Civil War was the bloodiest war in world history.


334:

Um, where did I say that the willingness to do violence makes you psychopath.

You're making my point for me. The police have to be willing to do violence. Yes, if there are no violent humans, they don't have that part of their job to deal with, and that would be good. But as part of their job, they investigate rumours of escaped lions, actual dangerous dogs and the like. Some willingness to do violence to mammals is part of the job.

Psychopaths are an extreme end of the spectrum. My feeling is that there's a big spectrum within that 96% mentioned in the citation that I haven't looked at because we're 333+ comments in and this is off-topic for the thread. And I'm sure there is with the 4% too come to that. It's where the particular study set their detection point for "does violence" or "doesn't do violence" rather than some magic marker.

And while I am happy to carry the discussion on, I really think it's a big diversion from Syria.

335:

Okay, so that's not the correct word. Looking back, the point involved appears to be so loosely defined that it's hardly worth saying much, except simply that my point still stands - being willing to use violence if necessary on creatures isn't necessarily a bad thing, you haven't defined away violence sufficiently, and so on. I'm also trying to make the point that people are more mutable and flexible than you might think from simplistic ideas of 96% are unwilling to do violence to living creatures (Although the original comment was "(96%) of us appear to be hardwired to be 'good', that is, empathetic, generous, compassionate, fair, loving, etc.,") and without the 4% who are we'll all be in big trouble.

It can be tied back into Syria by asking how many people fighting would not be fighting at all without the situation exploding upon them.

336:

It's worth thinking about the difference between psychopathy and violent behavior, because they're not the same thing.

If we're talking about the controversial subject of psychopathy, one standard test for diagnosing it is the Revised Hare Psychopathy Checklist. If you click on that link and scroll down, you will see that violence isn't a factor in the diagnosis.

Anyone physically capable of the act can kill another human under the proper circumstances.

The counterargument is "what about PTSD?" It is a real disease, but the critical research we haven't performed (and maybe cannot do) is to see whether it turns up in all societies. Jared Diamond's Latest (The World Until Yesterday) talks about his decades of work in New Guinea. In that environment, he routinely ran into people who had killed others, generally in tribal raids. They had been brought up from infancy that killing enemies was okay, and they did not, anecdotally, suffer from PTSD. It would be real nice if someone actually did formal research to see if this is true or not, because it's rather critical. Given the march of civilization, it's unlikely that anyone will be able to do this research in another few decades.

Diamond, if his observation is right, theorizes that the problem civilized people have with committing violence is that we're (generally) harshly socialized to be non-violent from infancy on. Our militaries have to then break this conditioning in rather harsh ways once we're adults in military service, and this trauma (boot camp), plus the results of being violent, are what cause so much mental trauma for us. For us, culture is nature, and we cannot forcibly be made violent without some large percentage of us suffering from the change.

Again, this is theorizing, because we don't have enough pan-cultural research on PTSD to know whether it is a disorder of all humans, or only humans conditioned to not be violent.

In either case, psychopaths are not necessarily violent. A number of perfectly non-violent CEOs would qualify as psychopaths, so far as anyone can tell.

337:

The 4% is based on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist (U.S.A. figures), although NIMH reports a 1% incidence in any 12 month period. Both these incidences refer to the worst of the worst. As per Wikipedia - "Hare has described those who would be classed as psychopaths as 'social predators','remorseless predators', or in some cases 'lethal predators', and has stated that 'Psychopathic depredations affect people in all races, cultures, and ethnic groups, and at all levels of income and social status'."

338:

Interesting point about PTSD ...

In 'How We Decide', Jonah Lehrer (pgs179-180) talks about how in WWII only about 20% of soldiers ever actually pulled the trigger. A quote attributed to General Marshall goes "It is fear of killing rather than fear of being killed, that is the most common cause of battle failure [not pulling the trigger] in the individual."

By Vietnam, training programs specifically developed to address this 'problem' brought the trigger-pulling up to 90%.

339:

SF reader @ 315
Thuis sowing that the christians & muslims are blackmailing liars.
Why does this NOT suprise me?

340:

j carl henderson @ 332
"Reh=thuglican " is common usage - referring to the take-over of a once repectable political party byu what real Republican president called: "the Military-Industrial Complex" And killing a few furriners doesn't matter, & few peace-loving hippe commie scum ...

341:

hetereomeles @ 336
Something has GORN HRRIBLY WORNG with your posting & a supposed link!

342:

Oh bugger - re-posting my own @ 340 - replying to carl henderson @ 332 Typos are just too horrible, try this instead ...

"Rethuglican " is common usage - referring to the take-over of a once respectable political party by what a real Republican president called: "the Military-Industrial Complex"
And killing a few furriners doesn't matter, &/or a few peace-loving hippe commie scum ...

343:

Thanks. If someone could edit that so there's a </a> to can the link after the Garn Psychopathy test, I would appreciate it...

[ It was missing a closing quote, it appears to work now ]

344:

Could one of the more clueful people on this blog please see what they think of http://bowalleyroad.blogspot.co.nz/2013/09/prince-of-darkness.html

- He seems to think the Saudis are the ones to benefit from having Syria damaged/crushed/invaded?

345:

Well, at the risk of going for a Godwin, if we talk about altruism, I guess even the Nazis in the extermination camps thought themselves the good guys, punishing the Jews for starting another war, err...

My problem with the War Nerd's article is not so much that he refuses to take sides, I agree that when the massacres start, there won't be any good side. It something else, BTW sorting out your gut feelings the last few weeks has been fun...

First of, as hinted at with my Huxley quote (the original is with "who expects nothing"), while I agree undue optimism is something to avoid at all costs, it's also somewhat cheap to assume the Worst Case Scenario. If it happens like this, you have been right. If not, well, we have been lucky, but that doesn't mean the original analysis was wrong, right? So, well, assuming the worst is a good way to always be right.

Second of, well, I have some problems with what you could call "ethnohistorical determinism", e.g. that human decisions are determined by ethnic affinities and hundreds of years of history, when, come to speak about it, most of us can't even get the last 15 years straight; there are quite a few Germans over 45 who don't remember it was a red-green government that did the military intervention in Yugoslavia. Don't get me wrong, I agree the ethnic identities and the history we remember are important, it's just that we have a certain twist to fit them to our needs. Please remember that both Assad brothers are married to Sunni women. And while we might favour the ones in our own group, usually language, culture, religion and soccer team don't overlap, so we can apply to different group identities; guess why many nationalist are anti-religious to a degree that puts Dawkins to shame?

Third of, well, it's not just the Alawites against everyone else, there are quite some other minorities; about 10 percent of Syrians are Christians. And 4 percent Druzes. And the Kurds, who are predominantly Sunni, but might not like being dominated by the Sunni-Arabs. That COULD be a recipe for desaster, but it could also mean that even without the Assads, we could get some kind of fragile balance. Likely with some bombings and the occassional massacre, but no massive genocide.

Which, fourth of, is another problem I have, quite a few seem to think what's about to happen is inevitable, and there is nothing we can do, where, as Charlie already said, we could send in some NAAKs. Personally, I think getting as many people out as possible should be a priority, plastering the beaches with Zodiacs and keeping some cruise liners just out of the 12 mile zone would have the added bonus of keeping human traffickers out of the equation.
But than, as one other blogger put it, humans have a tendency to judge inaction less than action, just think about the nice stories of ten men in front of a train, but you can save them by putting the train on another track with one man etc. I agree blind actionism does more harm than good, but maybe we should change some attitudes...
BTW, last that I heard of New Guines, they had substituted intragroup warfare with soccer. Not that this necessarily that better, ask your local hool, but, well, they were also quite cautious nobody won too often, so they seem to mean it.

Fifth of, if as an German Part-Polish Agnostic practicing-atheist Catholic I'm allowed to appropiate the concept of Tikkun olam, I have just started to put everyone I catch reading "The Hunger Games" onto Cory Doctorow's "For The Win". If anybody knows something else more appropiate in the general vein of "somewhat sympathic youth face economic inequality in a globalized society", tell me. ;)

Sixth of, note to self, damn, adjust your SSRI dosage down...

346:

Cute article; but it could just as easily be pro-Syrian disinformation. I can't guess to the credibility of any evidence, I haven't seen it.

Taking the "Saudis want Syria invaded" point of view seems simplistic. Al Qaeda was ignored at home until it started to take on the Saudi government internally; then they started to see it as a domestic threat. Trying to false-flag a red line has been done before (in Sarajevo) but there's a difference between a medium mortar and a few HE shells, and handing over a considerable amount of GB, heavy delivery systems, and the training to fire them. To a bunch of suicidal nutjobs who believe that the current Saudi government is hopelessly corrupt? Seems unlikely, given the chance some would get back to Riyadh.

Add to that a US President desperate to keep boots out of the Middle East, and the need to utterly fool DGSE / GCHQ / NSA / CIA, and yet the US/UK/France is still confident that it was the Syrian Government? Again, I'd suggest that if the US and France agree on this, their SIGINT must be damning.

347:

Well, his sources at least agree with what he said, although the problem is that it goes back to a bunch of unverified reports, one from Russia about what Bandar allegedly said to Putin, and one from Mint Press about what rebels allegedly carried.

Balanced against that, we have the White House releasing their unclassified intelligence assessment, that they heard the Syrians planning the attack before it happened, which is not part of Bowalley's storyline at all.

At this point, I tend to believe the CIA slightly more, but I'd place the chance of PsyOps being involved in some or all of this at close to 100% At the moment, I think the CIA is truthier than Bowalley et al. They might even be more truthful.

Do I think Prince Bandar's intelligence group is active in Syria? Yes. Do I think he set off those chemical attacks? Not really. There's too many things that could go wrong in making that plot work (as in, you give a bunch of untrained rebels active chemical munitions to hand carry in to a neighborhood and detonate them to cause an atrocity that will draw the US and allies in, when they haven't responded to 14 previous such attacks). It's worth remembering that the US is now fracking itself into competition with Saudi Arabia on global oil and gas production. While we've got a lot of political ties, we're no longer quite as tied to the Kingdom as we were a decade ago, and we don't have to jump to do their bidding.

348:

Balanced against that, we have the White House releasing their unclassified intelligence assessment...

Well. That argues against the false-flag operation hypothesis - which I admit annoys me, as it's about the only context in which using chemical weapons on civilians makes any sense. I see no way in which this was supposed to help the standing government.

349:

depends. btw, while ache inhibitors are lethal in high concentrations, in lower ones they are only incapacipating. please note that according to some sources, a lower dosage was used, but something went wrong. and there seems to be an overlap between effective dose for most people and lethal ones for some.

now, as all of us know, urban warfare is ugly. so putting in some nerve agents, wait till the guys are twitching, salivating and all the other nice things excess ach does, then send in the infantry on atropine or in light cbn suits might seem a way to cut losses.

yes, we're talking about the regime that did the "remember nangnang" thing to hama, but this is the capital, so they might prefer less damage.

personally, i'd think bz or some cannabinoid or like more useful, but you use what you have at hand.

btw, could anyone remind me when searching for somebody else beside assad who might have done this turns into a proof this really crossed some line?

350:

Taking out the Syrian regime would open the door to even worse atrocities by the Sunni jihadists. My understanding is that the Alawites are literally fighting for their survival as a people. And from a strategic point of view, getting rid of Assad would allow Islamist forces to take over, which hardly seems preferable. Since I’m not a “do-gooder imperialist” committed to policing the planet according to abstract moral principles, as a practical matter I also have to vote no to attacking Syria.

351:

"Rethuglican" may be common usage, but its hardly conducive to reasonable discussion of political issues. As long as you are not trying to convince anyone who disagrees with you to change their minds, I suppose it's fine. But to see how it would come across to many people who don't agree with your politics (such as, say... Republicans), try substituting "poopy heads" for all uses of "rethuglican" and then see how worthy of intelligent consideration your sentence looks.

Back to the topic of Syria, this is probably a good time for American readers of these comments to phone or email their Congressional representative and Senators and tell them that a war in Syria is a bad idea.

352:

Ian Mackenzie @ 344
Makes "sense"
The Saudis are extreme (Wahabi) Sunni
The Syrian guvmint are failry extreme (Alawite) Shia
Syria is backed by Iran - no love lost there ....

353:

gravelbelly @ 346
Trying to false-flag a red line has been done before (in Sarajevo) ...
And famously (Godwin warning) with The Gleiwitz incident in 1939. Oops.

354:

j carl henderson @ 351
It still serves as a reminder of how far down the shit-slope the party of Eisenhower has fallen, yes?

355:

'failry extreme (Alawite) Shia' (Greg Tingey, 352)
They're 'extreme' in the sense of being extremely far from mainstream Sunni doctrine, not in the sense of being raving religious bigots. Cf. the Ismailis, the Bahá'i.

356:

My congratulations to the Swedish government for doing the right (humanitarian) thing.

It's not a sufficient solution to the crisis, but it's an important step, and we should be ashamed of our own governments for not taking identical steps here.

(Knowing the UK Border Agency's racist behaviour they're probably in the process of deporting asylum-seeking people back to Syria on the grounds that it's perfectly safe for them ...)

357:

*applause*

When I see the great things for the UK done by immigrants and refugees, whether Jews, Huguenots or Somalis, I despair at the closed-minded attitudes in this country. And every time I have to go through the Schengen border between the UK and our neighbours and compare it to the experience within Europe, where there are even trams that run across international borders without even a ticket inspector in sight, I sigh for a world without the BNP and the EDL and UKIP and the rest of the racists and xenophobes.

(And oh, irony of irony, thuggish-footballer-turned-actor Vinnie Jones, an immigrant in LA, says he doesn't want to live in London because "it's full of immigrants".)

358:

unreadable @ 355
The Ismaili are one of the nciest muslim sects - & you don't mention the Sufi mystics, who take the whole "jihad" thing as "spiritual"
Are Bahai actually muslim at all?
They are viciously persecuted by many other muslims, that much I do know.

359:

bellinghman @ 357
Yes, well.
IN Shengen OUT of the EU
Like those deperately impoverished countries Norway & Switzerland ......

360:

The funny thing about Norway and Switzerland is that they end up having to abide by so many EU regulations anyway. They just don't provide input on those regulations.

I suspect you'd not like Norwegian beer prices. Not that Swiss ones are much better - one thing you see in Basel is people crossing the border into St Louis in Alsace because of the high prices in Switzerland. There's an enormous hypermarket in St Louis, far bigger than the town size would warrant.

361:

@Greg Tingey, 358
The Bahá'i started as a Shi'a religious movement in Iran, they seem to have evolved into a new religion, but many Muslim states refuse to tolerate them and continue to treat them as apostates from Islam, not a legit religion.
Could be just because they are minorities, but it seems that the more eccentric the Islamic theology, the less nasty it is -- they are free to interpret any of the more mediaeval or incomprehensible bits of the Qur'an as symbolic of something quite different from the surface meaning.

362:

Here's a link to the declassified French assessment.

The fact that the chemical attack was immediately followed by a Syrian Government assault on the affected areas, further reduces the likelihood of a "false flag".

http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/IMG/pdf/Syrian_Chemical_Programme.pdf

363:

I don't think the US want to get involved, I think they feel obligated - and they are right to feel that. I want them to deny Syria a military. I don't want another Iraq, but I want SOMEONE to do SOMETHING. And something in this case could be destroying all Syrian military assets, repeatedly, until they stop being dicks.

It's easy to diss on America, but they are still the big kid in the playground and I think a lot of people secretly want them to beat up the bully for us.
I should probably point out that as a new dad, seeing a photo of a boy about my son's age dead from a gas attack has probably skewed my objectivity a lot.

I don't want more civillians to suffer. Realistically, they can point smart bombs at pretty small targets, so I say kill all the Assads. Kill them with fire. Leave the little guys out of it for once.

The great Aussie comedian Ben Burns said "We'd attack the moon if America asked us to".
And we would. We so would.

And yes, I acknowledge that my attitude is probably extremely unpopular.
I'm just really pissed at the fact that people would do that to those little kids and not fucking care.

Also, every time I see that footage of the kid in the Smurfs shirt crying, I feel responsible. He's basically a westerner. I think that's the big hook; these aren't kids in some super foreign culture to us, they are pretty much our own western culture, a few years back. They're our people.

I feel like we have a responsibility to them. They watch our crappy shows, listen to our crappy music, and enjoy our awesome human rights - oh, not so much that last one.

364:

IIRC there was only 1 chemical weapon found in Iraq. It was a shell full of Sarin, unlabeled, and it had been rigged into an IED by somebody who clearly did not know what it was.

It is entirely possible that the chemical weapons were used in Syria by mistake, because of poor labeling and general confusion.

365:

frozenincarbonite @ 363
Actually, we DO care ... but who are the guilty parties?
Can we be sure?
That is critically important in this case, isn't it?

366:

"We must do something. Killing people is doing something. Therefore we must kill people."

The temptation to use violence to solve problems is great, even when violence may be not the best solution, or indeed may just make it worse (see the invasion of Iraq for an example).

367:

It would be even nicer if there were some legal way for refugees to actually reach Sweden so they can apply for asylum...

But yes this is a very good thing. I remember a few year back when our migration authorities determined that it was safe to send refugees back to Iraq. None of the fact finding for that decision had been done in Iraq, since it was far too dangerous for swedish civil servants to visit...

368:

Well, at least in the case of the Ismaelites, it might be more of the "been there, done that" thing you have with the anabaptists and their modern brethen, e.g. Amish, Hutterers etc. They are the historical heirs of assasins. And I mean the REAL assasins:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassins

As for Alawites and Druzes, they seem heavily influenced by neoplatonism and gnosticism, where the latter is a somewhat mixed bag with attitudes to sex etc.


369:
they seem heavily influenced by neoplatonism and gnosticism, where the latter is a somewhat mixed bag with attitudes to sex etc.

Err, not that the Alawites and Druzes seem to be influenced by this special attitude, it's just that when talking about historical Gnosticism, even if Gnosticism is something like everybody's favourite underdog, there are quite some problems with a religion where heavy dualism and contempt for the body are central parts of the parcel, to a degree that Catholicism was the more moderate option.

370:
It would be even nicer if there were some legal way for refugees to actually reach Sweden so they can apply for asylum...

May I introduce you to the old German leftist proverb, "the opposite of well done is well meant"?

371:

Yeah, it's like all those refugees who end up in Minnesota and Wisconsin--those Scandinavians can be kind people, when they're not going out a'viking or watching football.

Personally, I really think that the US should open its doors to as many Syrian refugees as we can take, although I know (from what happened with Iraq) that this is going to be a tough sell to the jack-booted nihilistic nincompoops currently posing as Republicans. There are some 140,000 Syrians in the US, and they're scattered in enclaves all over the country. It's telling that there are more than a million Syrians outside the country now.

Incidentally, you can see more about the Syrian refugee crisis on the September 3 daily show (http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/tue-september-3-2013-andrew-harper). The UNHCR is begging for money to help them.

And don't forget, Steve Jobs was a Syrian American. Apple cultists, you know your duty.

372:

What the US should do and what its bureaucrats are willing to do can be shockingly different. There are plenty of Iraqis who assisted the US occupying forces, who are now in great danger in Iraq because of it. And Congress actually passed a bill mandating that they get help moving to America --- but the bureaucrats charged with implementing the program dragged their feet so much that very few have been admitted, even after the passage of the bill. Among other problems, they're both understaffed and apparently terrified of being the guy who lets in someone who goes on to cause trouble. (It's as if they've never heard the word "Arab" in the past ten years without it immediately being chased by "terrorist" --- to the point that they're starting to forget that there's a difference.)

This American Life did a show not too long ago on the problem, including the passage of the bill and what happened afterwards, including one guy who spent literally years dealing with one clerk after another asking for the same documents over and over, while his personal situation in Iraq got more precarious by the day. (If you don't want to know how this ends up, avoid reading the title of the interactive feature that walks you through the correspondance.)

Audio stream and PDF transcript available here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/499/taking-names

373:

"Again, I'd suggest that if the US and France agree on this, their SIGINT must be damning."

Change 'France' to 'the UK', and you've got what was being said in 2002-3.

374:

Re 363: "I should probably point out that as a new dad, seeing a photo of a boy about my son's age dead from a gas attack has probably skewed my objectivity a lot."

And, Greg earlier wrote: "Thuis sowing that the christians & muslims are blackmailing liars. Why does this NOT suprise me?"


Apologies if this sounds sermonizing ..

Have you considered that one of the worst lies we've been raised to accept - make that venerate - is that "emotions are bad" and "pure reason is good"?

Let's consider who/what type of person would only possess only pure reason ... yeah, the neighborhood sociopath who is able to rationalize all his/her wants without any regard for emotional damage ... because after all emotions as we all know are trivial/vestigial and don't really define what it means to be human.

So, let's consider the three basic things that emotions do for humans.

First, they're the most reliable early danger warning detectors. Emotions flare when there's a mismatch between what our brain expects and what is actually happening. While we definitely need our intellect/reason to perform many tasks, it is not the best tool to rely on when we need to evaluate our human (-to-human) condition.

Second, emotions reward us ... including for very intellectual/analytical behaviors. This has been documented: there's a surge of dopamine when students get the right answer on a test, or someone experiences an 'aha-moment'.

Third, emotions enable us to bond into stable/long-lasting, cooperative families, groups, societies. That is, emotions are the foundation of civilization.

Therefore any belief system that says that humans need to get rid of (or completely overwrite) their emotions, is not healthy for the species as a whole nor its individual members.


So to frozenincarbonite:

Hi, nice to meet a fellow human being.

SFreader

375:
And from a strategic point of view, getting rid of Assad would allow Islamist forces to take over, which hardly seems preferable.

You know, you just have to substitute "Authoritan Regime" for Assad, "Totalitarian Communist" for Islamist, attribute the whole thing to Kirkpatrick's famous marriage of "softening of the head to hardening of the heart"[1], and you might understand why I find arguing like this is somewhat problematic...

[1] IIRC, that was originally a quip by G.K. Chesterton about eugenicists.

376:

Over on forbes.com there's a pointed editorial on the US media response to the government not doing things that are dramatic and photogenic: Media Outlets Spitting Mad At Obama For Spoiling Their Plans To Cash In On War.

377:

That's as may be. But having now read the French dossier, I'm convinced that it was the Syrian Government that launched the chemical weapons.

This is because of the timings involved; as I described earlier, you launch non-persistent nerve agents into the objectives that you will be assaulting in a few hours' time. This is what the Syrian Army did; fired in the early hours, followed up by a significant attack. You don't launch much more than a few hundred soldiers into an attack at a few hours notice; so the suggestion that the Rebels managed to fire a widespread mass of GB onto their own positions, two hours in advance of a major Government assault, doesn't make any sense.

Secondly, street fighting costs huge numbers of lives in the attack (the Russians lost over 80,000 dead and missing in the two weeks of the battle for Berlin). It seems entirely plausible that the Syrian Army would use nerve gas as a tactical weapon, to reduce their own casualties while attacking a built-up area; it would tend to indicate that they are, or are becoming, sensitive to troop losses. The fact that the West views Sarin as a strategic weapon doesn't mean that the Syrians don't view it in a purely tactical light (in the same way that the Soviets did, and remember that the Syrians have a Russian-like military doctrine). After all, according to the French, the Government has used them on multiple occasions before - just not on the same scale.

378:

SF reader @ 374
Emotions good, huh?
"Deus Vult!"
"Al-il allah ahkbar!"
"God loves you more if you suffer"

Try again.
Not that loving kittens is bad, mark you .....

379:

Personally, I really think that the US should open its doors to as many Syrian refugees as we can take, although I know (from what happened with Iraq) that this is going to be a tough sell to the jack-booted nihilistic nincompoops currently posing as Republicans.

Sorry but from what I've seen for the most part (in the US) when it comes to NIMBY, political party affiliation is a weak indicator of the response. Economic level seems more tied to it. But is still fuzzy. Only on the far ends of the major parties in the US does it seem to become clear as to how people will LIKELY react.

380:

and keeping some cruise liners just out of the 12 mile zone

To me this just seems like setting out easy targets for those who want to just cause mayhem. And there seem to be plenty of those around. Those who's goals seem to be lets just keep blowing up things until we're the only ones left standing.

381:

As for PTSD, I always thought that at least some of the symptoms, e.g. hypervigilance and like were somewhat adaptive in a combat situation, though of course others not so much. I'm also not that sure if PTSD is somewhat related to killing enemies, IMHO it's more of a positive reinforcement in the HPA axis related to stress; I guess how much seeing people die leads to stress depends somewhat if you see them as part of your in-group. Also note the type of warfare we see in neolithic societies (lots of physical activity, much adrenaline and cortisol) might differ somewhat from modern warfare (quite often sitting duck, maybe less adrenaline and similar amounts of cortisol to neolithic warfare?).

BTW, there are quite some groups in Western society I'd like to look at for PTSD and sociopathy, the first one would be the more violent mobster and street gang member, the second one your friendly hooligan.
I guess you'd have some self-selection with sociopaths with both categories, though I guess we can agree that most won't be sociopaths. There are some studies that indicate quite some PTSD in prison populations

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17595672

though I'm not aware of any studies on hooligans.

As for the societal necessity of sociopaths, if we go with the defense scenario, I guess you need a certain number of defenders for the group depending on threat level. And if you see sociopathy as an evolutionary strategy subject to frequency dependent selection or "interspecies predators", there is going to be some dynamic system, too many sociopaths, the sociopaths start hurting themselves, too few sociopaths, they have a big advantage. It seems somewhat unlikely both numbers will be very close.

382:

There are a few options of dealing with that; the first one is to risk it, since even if you gas your own people, attacking unarmed foreign ships in free water is a classical act of war, and even if it's a false flag, there is a certain change of detection. Thinking a party as both strategically sound enough to plan such an attack and fanatical enough to keep the latter out of the equation is somewhat strange, and then there are both the Saudis and Russians influencing their behaviour.

For the second one, well, there is only so much C4 a person or zodiac can carry, you'd disembark them some way from the liner itself on a and of course you'd divide them up and strip them naked once on board. Still more dignity than what many refugees are used to. If some other boats turn up, leave the area.

For a third one, if you want to be somewhat more assertative, e.g. for other boats attacking the liners, like with a suicide attack, I didn't say the ships had to be exactly unarmed and have no escort, right? Though of course a strictly civillian organisation would be preferable for propaganda reasons. Instituting a zone where no non-zodiacs are allowed should be possible.

As for attacking the ships from afar, I know it's more complicated than that, but to a first approximation, the Syrian Army has the weapons but doesn't want to give an undeniable reason for intervention, part of the rebel force wants to give a reason for intervention with a false flag attack, but I somewhat doubt they have the weapons. OK, the Syrian Army could do a false flag to give a reason for intervention against the rebels, though then, with what weapons?

I agree that attacks on these liners might be a thread, but then, it might help to keep some perspective; for ships to attack, there are already some foreign warships in the area, and reasons to attack the liners also apply to those, please note an attack doen't have to succeed to cause mayhem.
And if you want to massacre some refugees on the open sea, there are already plenty to choose from:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23630861

BTW, come to think about it, the whole idea of cruising for refugees is not that new:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cap_Anamur

383:

Since I'm often a NIMBY on environmentalist issues, I only partially agree with this (and please, it's a modified NIMBY: my "back yard" sensu latu happens to contain a lot of rare plants and animals, so I'm a bit protective).

In any case, as noted above, there are a bunch of problems with settling refugees in the US. As CHodgson noted in #372, the State Department screwed the pooch when it came to letting Iraqi refugees come into this country, and I think we can fairly say that immigration policy itself kind of sucks (to levels of sucks dead rat through a straw). Were Syrians put on a list for asylum, I suspect that the same bureaucrats who screwed up handling the Iraqis would demonstrate their incompetence yet again.

That said, on the high policy level, the Republicans (or rather, that subset that Mr. Tingey calls Rethuglicans) seem to be blocking substantive immigration reform, even when it's counterproductive for their own political survival. I suspect they'll block any attempt to allow Syrians refugees to claim asylum in the US.

But you may be right. My prediction, regardless, is that granting asylum to Syrian refugees will never be broached in the public discourse in the US, and shame on us for the silence.

384:

heteromeles @ 383
However, it was very, very interesting to listen to a Radio4 news-clip just now ...
Those pushing hardest for NOT getting involved in Syria were ... republican (not Rethuglican) VOTERS.
Like new Liebour under the war criminal Blair over here ... once bitten, twice shy.
And the official Republican party controls the lower house in the USA ( doesn't it? )

385:

The thing I find most interesting about this, to some extent on both sides of the atlantic, is that the representatives seem to some extent to actually be reflecting the opinions of those they claim to represent.

I'm not sure how rare that is the US. But for UK politics... I was kind of shocked.

386:

Indeed. Democracies will come to a dire end if leaders start listening to the people.

387:

OTOH, in this case the leaders don't really want to go to war, so they ask the parliament to either stop ("Oh well, I really wanted to, but if the people says no...") them or force them ("Oh well, I knew it was too risky to start this war, but when the people demanded it...").

388:

Wow, good point. I hadn't realized that. From a legalistic point of view, it does make a decision to punish a country for violating a pact they never signed something the US might not want to pursue (Law of the Sea Treaty, Stockholm Accords on CO2 production). So much for righteous self-indignation.

389:

Let me clarify: The United States suffered more casualties in the Civil War than in any other war in which the US participated. It was meant to be a comparison of the potential casualties of a civil war as opposed to other types of warfare.

Some press reports now say that casualties in Syria exceed 100,000 out of a population of around 20 million . . . .

390:

I've not been to Switzerland, but I see a LOT of Swiss license plates here in Germany. You know you live someplace expensive when you drive to Germany for shopping bargains.

391:

*Ahem* If you look back at what France was saying in 2003, they were ALSO agreeing with the US and UK. That situation is an entirely different discussion; there's a case to be made that the West was convinced Saddam had a WMD program because SADDAM had been convinced by his underlings that he had a WMD program - and we were reading his mail.

392:

Lucky Basel, having both Lörrach (Baden-Württemberg) and St Louis (Alsace) contiguous with it.

(The Basel #8 tram is being extended into Weil am Rhein - that will bring the tram network's coverage up to three countries.)

And if you think Germany is expensive, don't even consider visiting Norway. Lovely place, but eek!

393:

What I was saying is that positive emotions tend to be our default. Unfortunately over time with exposure to individuals who don't behave as we are hardwired to expect them to behave (i.e., nicely, fairly, truthfully, etc.), because we are cognitively gifted, we are able to override our emotions (learn from experience) and adjust our emotional default state to negative emotions, i.e., hate, rage, mistrust, etc.

Also, I didn't say that we should only rely on our emotions; I said that emotions are important and we need to revisit/review what they are and do for us. ... You know, do that science thing ... monitor and reassess assumptions... in the light of new and accumulating data/evidence.

394:

I think it's more a question of fighting in your own country or not - you have to add the civilian casualties on top of your dead soldiers. And of course you can't retreat. Btw, I note that wikipedia says 2/3 of the casualties of the ACW were by disease.

395:

there's a case to be made that the West was convinced Saddam had a WMD program because SADDAM had been convinced by his underlings that he had a WMD program - and we were reading his mail.

Are you trying to make a case that it was right to attack Iraq in 2003 or are you making a case that reading other people's email is useless and even dangerous?

396:

A news report on CNN says that two Syrian boys have died of malnutrition as a result of the fighting in Syria disrupting food distribution. While there is no comparison of the level of health care theoretically available between the late 19th century CE and the early 21st, the massive dislocations caused have and will increase civilian casualties and death from disease.

397:

Not justifying Iraq; just saying that the whole evil/stupid conception of the Bush 43 regime and the characterization of MI6 as a brainless puppet of the CIA are massive exaggerations and simplifications.

Reading other people's mail is not useless, but it can be dangerous.

398:

I don't disagree with the idea that reading other people's mail can be both useless and dangerous, but I do suspect that the Iraq War was ginned up at the White House, who then forced the CIA to come up with the evidence for it, then hung the CIA out to dry when the inevitable blowback happened.

This has happened with the CIA since the 1980s (Iran-Contra), if not the 1970s (Church commission) or even the 1960s. Some long-timers in the CIA even see this as the normal situation. They do the president's bidding, knowing that when administrations change, they may be held criminally liable for following orders, and there's a roughly 16 year periodicity to the cycle.

Nice quote out of Mazzetti's Way of the Knife on the situation:
"In late summer 2002, Keller's boss in Vienna returned from a trip to Langley and approached a group of officers inside the agency's station.

"'You know how there's been rumors about maybe there being an invasion and a war with Iraq?' Keller remembered him asking. 'You're gonna hear some funny things coming out of headquarters because they're under incredible pressure to find evidence to justify this,' he said.

"'You know that scene in Das Boot when they're at the bottom of the ocean and the rivets are popping out of the submarine and shooting around inside?' Keller's boss asked. 'That's what's going on at headquarters right now.'"

Obviously this is second hand hearsay, but I do love the image. In broader terms, this is why I remain somewhat skeptical of the evidence from Syria. It may well be correct, but the CIA has had enough time to fabricate whatever they need, and unfortunately, they have a demonstrated tendency to do just that when under White House pressure.

The only reason I (marginally) tend to believe them is that Obama hasn't bothered to play this trick before, and I don't see anything useful coming out of him playing it now (though I'm far from politically omniscient). While we're in for a f**ked up fall with the stupid debt ceiling debate, Obama was preparing to see if the Tea Partyers would self-destruct while trying to take him down. Probably I'm naive, but I don't see how introducing this messy and limited war into the churn makes his life any better than it would have been without it.

399:

The thing I find most interesting about this, to some extent on both sides of the atlantic, is that the representatives seem to some extent to actually be reflecting the opinions of those they claim to represent.
I'm not sure how rare that is the US. But for UK politics... I was kind of shocked.

In the US Congress this vote has been state to be a vote of conscience. Which means it will not be "whipped". Thus each member can vote/say what they think with no party strings attached. Which is NOT the norm.

400:

Intelligence agencies tend to have access to the same source material - there being that little of it to go around - and similar levels of ingrained of suspicion and paranoia, its hardly surprising they come to the same conclusions, no matter what evidence they have available may tell them.

The fact the French were bold enough to say "Nous ne nous soucions pas" to Bush and Blair was due to their own domestic issues, particularly their own struggle to contain Islamic terror in the 1990s, and the fact that France would not benefit materially from intervening in Iraq.

This hypothesis, proven by the British experience, was undoubtedly correct.

Somehow I don't think the Armee de L'air and the Marine nationale will be authorised to strike at Syria, if the US government does not.

401:

Keep in mind that a "vote of conscience" doesn't mean much in US politics. Individual House and Senate member routinely vote against the desires of their leadership. What House Speaker Boehner seems to be signaling here is that he's not going to stake his reputation on a major vote he thinks he has a good chance of losing.

402:

What seems to be emerging in the US House of Representatives is an unlikely coalition of Tea Party Republicans (nearly all of whom entered congress after the Iraq war began) and Progressive Democrats. I hope it is enough to abort the entire foolish notion.

403:

Obama has already ignored one military authorization vote that went against him in the House, on going into Libya. Ignoring this vote would be more awkward, given that he literally asked for it. But I wouldn't be shocked if the administration tried to somehow brazen it out.

404:

Keep in mind that a "vote of conscience" doesn't mean much in US politics. Individual House and Senate member routinely vote against the desires of their leadership.

Yes. But that's built into the system where in almost all cases votes are not allowed to take place without a majority of the majority. I.E. It will be a win for the party in power. That's why they have a party whip and whip counts. And the leadership knows that some will not vote the party line but that's factored in. And at times individuals are excused from "being whipped" so they can vote a way needed for an upcoming election. But only if their vote doesn't derail the plan.

405:

That might happen, but given the world's overall lack of enthusiasm, Obama's recasting this as the world's reluctance to go to war to protect the chemical weapons ban, rather than his ineptness at having drawn a red line a year ago.

My guess is still that he'll lose the vote, and that those destroyers will continue to sit off the coast of Syria.

By the way, has anyone been paying attention to what's happening on the ground in Syria? Even Al-Jazeera in English isn't really covering it, so far as I can tell. If nothing in particular is going on on the ground, that is not a bad thing, compared to what was happening before.

406:

That's not exactly what i meant, dude. And implying that this resembles Iraq is not going to help either.
At the simplest level, Iraq was Daddy Warbucks fucking around with middle east oil. This situation is the rest of the world kinda coughing and looking at their feet and hoping Obama isn't too left wing to bomb a few people that frankly deserve it. I'm not suggesting the US is planning to indiscriminately kill, so much as take their toys away.

407:

Greg, you say that like we'll ever get a real blow by blow.
We wont.
My guess? That fuckwit loose cannon Assad brother fired those rockets into a town that was (left hand not knowing what right hand was doing) a damn munitions dump for their gas weapons, not knowing what was in there, because they are probably the dumbest assholes in the damn world. except for the ALP maybe, i'm not sure...
I'm not saying I want boots on the ground, I'm saying that they should not be allowed to have "nice things". IE: we take their toys away from them, with extreme prejudice.

408:

*We* were not reading Saddam's e-mail - government agencies were, and governments were telling us what they felt like.

409:

For those interested in following the various factions in Syria, I would recommend the Air Combat Information Group, http://www.acig.info/CMS/

The head honcho there is Tom Cooper, who has published a number of books on Middle Eastern aviation. He is based in/near Vienna.

You will have to log in to view. Once in, click on Forum on the upper right corner, then scroll down to Air Power in War Section, and click on Current Conflicts. You will find a thread labelled Syria Uprising TXII, July 13. This is the 12th thread on the Syria Uprising; they get closed and a new thread started when the thread gets too long. There are other Syria related threads in the Current Conflicts section. There are a number of Middle Eastern posters there, and there is heavy linking to videos on the Internet.

Enjoy! (which may not be the right way to consider the subject).

Frank.

410:

This just in: reports of a Russian plan to attack Saudi Arabia in the event of a Syrian war.

https://www.nsfwcorp.com/dispatch/putin-saudi-arabia/2f51e627bc1ef75d9d8035549e0411a8baac0762/

Link is behind a paywall, but unlocked for the next several hours.

I'd file it under low-to-moderate probability, high impact.

411:

Hi All:

I just found out that the author I quoted has a history of misquoting his sources as well as of plagiarism. So I Googled the quote I showed to see whether it was ever actually said by General Marshall and found it in the article referenced below... mostly as quoted by Jonah Richard Lehrer.

http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/jscope/kilner00.htm


“Military Leaders’ Obligation to Justify Killing in War” CPT Pete Kilner, Instructor, U.S. Military Academy, Phone: 914-938-4764, Fax: 914-446-2562,
E-mail: cp4040@usma.edu,

Paper presented to: The Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics; Washington, DC, January 27-28, 2000; Updated as of 2/28/2000.

Abstract: The methods that the military currently uses to train and execute combat operations enable soldiers to kill the enemy effectively, but they leave the soldiers liable to post-combat psychological trauma caused by guilt. This is a leadership issue. I argue that combat training should be augmented by explaining to soldiers the moral justification for killing in combat, in order to reduce post-combat guilt. Soldiers deserve to understand whom they can kill morally and why those actions are indeed moral. I outline an explanation for that moral justification.

(Hopefully the above is a legitimate piece of research/scholarship. - SFreader)


412:

I tried to access the site you reference and my McAfee ANV popped up to say "WHOA -- do you really want to go there?"

413:

SFReader,

I use Norton AV, and it has never complained about the website. And I do not remember any comments about virus problems on the website. And Googling "Air Combat Information Group" does not produce any Google warnings in the returned list of websites. So I don't know why McAfee would be complaining.

Enjoy!

Frank.

414:

frozenincarbonite @ 407
That would not suprise me in the least.
That it wasn't deliberate, but a monumental screw-up of some sort (by either "side") is only too, too likely.

415:

Jay @ 410
If true, & not a deliberate attempt at deterrence, that would be a very good way to start a general war.
However, does this not contradict the thrust of documented meetings between the Saudis & the Russians?
Which makes me very suspicious of the source & reliability of said report.

416:

If wrapping is your probblem with notepad, why don't you type your replies wrapped, then unwrap them before copy-pasting them to the webpage reply form?

I read up to #250 in the comments and ran out of time. Sorry for dupe/uninformed reply if this is one.

417:

Yeah, the reliability of such reports is highly questionable. OTOH, Russia is a major oil exporter, and taking control of the Saudi supplies would put them in a very nice position. Add in enough nukes to deter a response, and it's a ballsy but potentially advantageous strategy.

418:

Rex Shaftoe @ 416
You misunderstand ...
I didn't realise that you COULD wrap "Notepad" ...
Now I can do that, everything is fine ... except, unlike "Word" there isn't a spell-check, & proofreading isn't my strong point, hence the occasional 'orrible typos (Though not as bad as they used to be!)

419:

What OS and browser? I was pleased to discover that you do get speelchuking using Chrome under Windoze7.

420:

I can not understand why does not a solution like they did in India--divide the country and all those extremist can choose who they like best.

421:

Congrats for mentioning the one/two/three countries that are even a better example why that's a bad idea than Palestine. For starters, not one nuclear power, but two. Else:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_of_India

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-Pakistani_wars_and_conflicts

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangladesh_Liberation_War

I could go on. Oh, and let's not forget those guys:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inter-Services_Intelligence

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Propaganda