The Week In Doom September 8, 2013

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on September 8, 2013

Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

“To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”:

~Nuremburg War Tribunal regarding wars of aggression


With this week’s edition, am going to try something different. In the past, I surveyed a number of news items, and attempted some tinhorn analysis and ersatz context. Those efforts often ran to 5000+ words, unreadable by even my best friends and my mother, were she savvy enough to turn on a computer. So decided to change direction, and concentrate on fewer stories, and a deeper dive, if deeper is indeed the word.

Having opened “The Syria Desk” on the Diner Forum, and having pitched stories about Syria incessantly on the Diner Facebook page since Obama started his half-baked case for launching a military action, it is only fitting that Syria be the topic of this week’s effort. What could be doomier than World War III?

The evidence

It appears that last month, hundreds of people were killed in Syria by chemical weapons. The government of Bashar Assad and the Russians maintain that rebels carried out the August 21 chemical attacks. On the other hand, the United States maintains that it was the Syrian government carried out the attacks, and it has the intelligence to prove it. Yet today the American public hasn’t seen one shred of concrete evidence–no satellite imagery, no transcripts of Syrian military communications, only photos of rows and rows of dead Syrians. Yet Secretary of State John Kerry has continued to press the administration’s case against Assad, as President Obama has in this country, putting the matter squarely before Congress. Where it has gotten a chilly reception thus far.
Most interesting is that if the Syrian government had ordered the attack, the context made little military sense:
The Obama administration maintains it intercepted communications from a senior Syrian official on the use of chemical weapons, but requests to see that transcript have been denied. So has a request by the AP to see a transcript of communications allegedly ordering Syrian military personnel to prepare for a chemical weapons attack by readying gas masks.
The U.S. administration says its evidence is classified and is only sharing details in closed-door briefings with members of Congress and key allies.
The assessment, also based on accounts by Syrian activists and hundreds of YouTube videos of the attack’s aftermath, has confounded many experts who cannot fathom what might have motivated Assad to unleash weapons of mass destruction on his own people – especially while U.N. experts were nearby and at a time when his troops had the upper hand on the ground.
Rebels who accuse Assad of the attack have suggested he had learned of fighters’ plans to advance on Damascus, his seat of power, and ordered the gassing to prevent that.
“We can’t get our heads around this – why would any commander agree to rocketing a suburb of Damascus with chemical weapons for only a very short-term tactical gain for what is a long-term disaster,” said Charles Heyman, a former British military officer who edits The Armed Forces of the U.K., an authoritative bi-annual review of British forces.
Both the antiwar left and the tea party right in this country (who would reflexively oppose sunlight if Obama endorsed it) think that the evidence has been cooked, and they have a friend in Vladimir Putin.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, has reportedly handed its own 100-page report to the United Nations on a previous alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria. Russia said in July that tests conducted by Russian scientists on samples from the northern town of Khan al-Assal following an alleged March 19 chemical attack showed that rebel fighters were most likely to blame.

According to information posted this week to the Foreign Ministry’s website, tests carried out by the Russian scientists on samples from Khan al-Assal showed the missile used to deliver the chemical agent was “not a regular munition of the Syrian army,” but rather a “artisan-type” device which they concluded was likely built by the rebels. The report also says the explosives used in the projectile, and the chemical agents themselves, were not typical of the materials used by militaries in such weapons.

According to the Foreign ministry website, the nerve agents found in soil samples at Khan al-Assal, which it said named as sarin and diisopropyl fluorophosphate, did not appear to have been concocted in “an industrial environment.”

If the United States’ position is correct, the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons on the civilian population is indeed a war crime and deserving of a military response from the self-appointed world policeman. It is no less a war crime if the rebels are found to have mounted the attack. Polling shows that the public is weary of war. If the elites, and there media hirelings, as well as the AIPAC lobby continue with a full-court press to light the fuse.

Americans’ support for the United States’ taking military action against the Syrian government for its suspected use of chemical weapons is on track to be among the lowest for any intervention Gallup has asked about in the last 20 years. Thirty-six percent of Americans favor the U.S. taking military action in order to reduce Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons. The majority — 51% — oppose such action, while 13% are unsure.


The objective

Suppose we do send in cruise missiles onto Syrian targets. To what purpose? What are our objectives? The failure of Obama to articulate a consistent objective and rationale for this has served to do what he had hoped to do upon entering office: unite both left and right.

Bring stability to the region? Nothing says “love” and “peace” more than cruise missiles. John McCain, who Charlie Pierce calls “Sen. Angry Grampy” demands that we change the course of the war on the battlefield. Why? The United States will, upon entering this war, or committing missiles or air power to it, will become the air wing of the Syrian rebels, which are, acccording to a variety of reports, quite radicalized. Thus, we will be entering the war on the side of Al Qaeda, against whom we declared war in Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. This makes my head hurt.

In my opinion, the real reason we are headed to war in Syria is because the neocons wish it so. The principals of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) drew up the world conquest map in the 90s and nothing has changed since. (The list of signatories and contributors to PNAC reads like the list of names of those who should be awaiting trail for war crimes, in some future state where justice has prevailed. See it here.) So Syria is on the menu.


Neocon hacks like Michael Gerson make the case all day, every day. Esquire political blogger Charlie Pierce takes out the skewer:

First, we should have been backing the Free Syrian Army all along, because they are the good-guy moderates, and Republican thinkers historically have been terrific at identifying good-guy moderates in the Middle East, like Ahmad Chalabi, and those guys in Iran that Bob MacFarlane went to see with the Bible and the cake.

Especially during a war, policy pronouncements can cause a ripple of unintended effects. In this case, an unfulfilled pledge has disillusioned our natural ally within Syria, the Free Syrian Army, and weakened it in competition with jihadist groups.

Yes, because in the Middle East created by the gossoons and general fk-ups with whom Gerson used to work in the administration of former president C-Plus Augustus, the endorsement and support of the United States is just the ticket for any group resisting jihadist elements in its midst. And anyway, the president should have been killing people, or arranging to kill people, in Syria years ago, because then the Republicans in the Congress would have been on his side.

Obama is inviting members of Congress to share responsibility for a Syrian policy that has achieved little to justify their confidence. In fact, he has undermined political support for the legislative outcome he seeks. For more than five years, Obama has argued that America is overcommitted in the Middle East and should refocus on domestic priorities. Now he asks other politicians to incur risks by endorsing an approach he has clearly resisted at every stage. Obama attempts to rally the nation around a reluctant exception to his ambivalence. And this exception – a calibrated punishment for the use of chemical weapons – seems more of a gesture than a strategy.

These are the words of a man who never will have to worry whether or not a Tomahawk is out there with his name on it. How many people die in a “gesture”? Ten? Fifty? A couple hundred?

And then, in a quote that for my money wins the internets for the week, Charlie reaches for the hammer:

But the course Obama contemplates does not fall into such a category. What has been dismissed as”therapeutic bombing” would actually be a military response to the violation of an important international norm. Not every gesture is an empty gesture. And even if this military action were wrong or pointless, it would have to be sufficiently dangerous to justify the gelding of the executive branch on a global stage.

Gelding? Really? Are we making things that plain now? And there you have it. We are going to kill people in Syria out of pure imperial dick-waving. These people will have fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and fifth-cousins-once-removed, and every one of those people will hate us until the day we die, and they will teach their children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and fifth-cousins-once-removed to hate us, too, forever. This is not “therapeutic.” This is Vietnam, 1962. And to set such things in motion just to prove we still have sufficient national penis to do it is the dumbest reason for making war since the last one devised by anyone who worked for George W. Bush, the ungelded fool.


Furthermore, with wars winding down in Iraq and Afghanistan, war profiteers are looking for their next round of profits. No matter where the money needs to come from Granny, profits must be made, and if profitability means snatching the last quarters off the eyes of your dead sons or daughters returned from the front, then so be it. Like Mammon, Halliburton is hungry.

The costs

How do we pay for all this? Many of the same people beating the drums for war are also the 1st to complain about the massive and continuing deficits that we run (all of which must be paid for by cuts in social programs.) We put optional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the national credit card.

Zero Hedge moved a good article this week, posted on the Diner Facebook page, then asked the perfect question: “Who Is Going To Buy The US Debt If This War Causes China, Russia And The Rest Of The World To Turn On Us?”

Yesterday we implied a difficult question when we illustrated the huge size of US Treasury bond holdings that China and Russia have between them – accounting for 25% of all foreign held debt – implicitly funding US standards of living (along with the Federal Reserve). The difficult question is “Can the U.S. really afford to greatly anger the rest of the world when they are the ones that are paying our bills?” What is going to happen if China, Russia and many other large nations stop buying our debt and start rapidly dumping U.S. debt that they already own? If the United States is not very careful, it is going to pay a tremendous economic price for taking military action in Syria.

. . .

According to the U.S. Treasury, foreigners now hold approximately 5.6 trillion dollars of our debt. Over the past couple of decades, the proportion of our debt owned by foreigners has grown tremendously, and today we very heavily depend on nations such as China to buy our debt.

At this point, China owns approximately 1.275 trillion dollars of our debt, and Russia owns approximately 138 billion dollars of our debt.

So what would happen if China, Russia and other foreign buyers of our debt all of a sudden quit purchasing our debt and instead started dumping the debt that they already own back on to the market?

And if China and Russia quit buying, just who do you suppose is going to make up the shortfall? Anybody pay attention to what happened in Poland this past week?

While the world was glued to the developments in the Mediterranean in the past week, Poland took a page straight out of Rahm Emanuel’s playbook and in order to not let a crisis go to waste, announced quietly that it would transfer to the state – i.e., confiscate – the bulk of assets owned by the country’s private pension funds (many of them owned by such foreign firms as PIMCO parent Allianz, AXA, Generali, ING and Aviva), without offering any compensation. In effect, the state just nationalized roughly half of the private sector pension fund assets, although it had a more politically correct name for it: pension overhaul.

So, citizen, it says here that when we have sufficiently pissed off China and Russia, you’ll be backstopping the war debt. Enjoy those Krugerrands while you can: Uncle Sugar is coming for them.



“All the talk is of a war that the country manifestly doesn’t want, but that almost every one of our elites seems to be slavering for, and if I hear one more pundit tell me that a congresscritter who votes against his constituents on this issue is to be applauded for having “courage,” I will Elvis my TV without a single qualm.”

~ Charlie Pierce

The consequences

Michael Snyder of the Economic Collapse blog, and a friend of this blog has observed:

At this point, survey after survey has shown that the American people are overwhelmingly against an attack on Syria, people around the globe are overwhelmingly against an attack on Syria, and it looks like the U.S. Congress is even going to reject it. But Barack Obama is not backing down. In fact, ABC News is reporting that plans are now being made for a “significantly larger” strike on Syria than most experts had expected.

If Obama insists on going forward with this, it will be the greatest foreign policy disaster in modern American history.

Right now, both Russia and China are strongly warning Obama not to attack Syria. And Russia is not just warning Obama with words. According to Bloomberg, Russia has sent quite a collection of warships into the region…

Russia is sending three more ships to the eastern Mediterranean to bolster its fleet there as a U.S. Senate panel will consider President Barack Obama’s request for authority to conduct a military strike on Syria.

Russia is sending two destroyers, including the Nastoichivy, the flagship of the Baltic Fleet, and the Moskva missile cruiser to the region, Interfax reported today, citing an unidentified Navy official. That follows last week’s dispatch of a reconnaissance ship to the eastern Mediterranean, four days after the deployment of an anti-submarine ship and a missile cruiser to the area, which were reported by Interfax. Syria hosts Russia’s only military facility outside the former Soviet Union, at the port of Tartus.

China is also letting it be known that they absolutely do not want Obama to hit Syria. On Friday, China issued a warning about what military conflict in the Middle East could do to “the global economy”…

“Military action would have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price – it will cause a hike in the oil price.”

And according to Debka, China has also deployed “a number of warships” to the region…

Western naval sources reported Friday that a Chinese landing craft, the Jinggangshan, with a 1,000-strong marine battalion had reached the Red Sea en route for the Mediterranean off Syria. According to DEBKAfile, Beijing has already deployed a number of warships opposite Syria in secret. If the latest report is confirmed, this will be the largest Chinese deployment in the Middle East in its naval history.

So let’s review the bidding. The American people don’t want war in Syria. Unilateral action will cause Obama to run the risk of alienating Russia and China, as well as an intractable House of Representatives just itching for the opportunity to impeach him. We are going to court national bankruptcy, the certainty of increased oil prices, and kill a bunch of people with hundreds of Tomahawk missiles to run the risk of lighting off World War III. I hope I am not alone in a vain search for the upside here. Somebody pass the Prestone.


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