Freedom For Syria

UPDATE: July 24, 2012 Assad Delenda Est: The Case for Aiding Syria’s Rebels

Syria is the most unpredictable of the Arab Spring compared, say, to Yemen, Egypt, Libya or Tunisia. It’s a potential sectarian nightmare once Assad is overthrown, not unlike Lebanon in the 80s or more recently Iraq.

However, the future is equally grim if Assad is not overthrown. The war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by his forces in Homs and elsewhere must stop. It looks like it’s going to have to be the lesser of the two evils. Do what it takes to protect innocent civilians, whether that’s arming the Free Syrian Army or a full intervention with all the unforeseen consequences.

“Here’s to John McCain, leading from the front. Last week, the Arizona senator cut through all the White House doubletalk on the Syrian uprising and demanded a more active U.S. policy, including provision of arms to the Free Syrian Army as well as airpower to slow the assaults of Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime.

McCain grilled senior administration officials and military officers, and set the record straight regarding the disposition of the Syrian rebels. Over the past several weeks, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both claimed, without evidence, that al Qaeda had infiltrated the opposition. Last week McCain countered: The Syrian rebels are “not fighting and dying because they are Muslim extremists.” The administration then started to walk back its charges. What the White House really meant, said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, is that al Qaeda is looking to “exploit” the situation.

As well they might. The Syrian uprising is now a year old. There is no official toll, but the dead may number 10,000 or more. It’s gone on long enough, says McCain. With his Senate colleagues Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, McCain released a statement calling for “relief from Assad’s tank and artillery sieges. .  .  . Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary, but as Assad continues to intensify his assault, that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives. The only realistic way to do so is with foreign airpower.” The three senators realize that this “will first require the United States and our partners to suppress the Syrian regime’s air defenses in at least part of the country.”

As usual, the administration had excuses for inaction. “That air defense system,” Panetta told the Senate, “is pretty sophisticated.” According to the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, it is “approximately five times more sophisticated .  .  . than existed in Libya.”

McCain bristled. “We spend almost $1 trillion a year on the military,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “And we can’t take out air defenses of Syria? That is an horrific waste of the taxpayers’ dollars.”

McCain’s right. We’re not talking about NORAD here. In 2007 the Israelis had no trouble disabling Syrian air defenses before their air raid on the Al Kibar nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert. And that was hardly the first time the Israeli Air Force ran roughshod over the Syrians. Damascus’s Russian-supplied air capabilities, defensive and offensive, are a running joke in the region.

Read more of this post

Dictator For Life

©Vince McIndoe

UPDATE1: August 10, 2012 Putin Confirms the Invasion of Georgia Was Preplanned

UPDATE2: September 16, 2012 Georgian Democracy and Russian Meddling

UPDATE3: November 9, 2012 New Georgia government detains general, ex-minister. (Ivanishvili’s witch-hunt begins.)

If the Russians don’t overthrow Putin now, are they going to try again in ten years? He has actually said that he wants to “run” again in 2018, as if democratic elections have any meaning when opponents are disqualified and the state media does the regime’s bidding!

Putin has chosen to be a dictator for life – that’s the historical significance of this moment. It clearly bodes ill for Russia’s immediate neighbours and the world.

I strongly suspect there’s been a secret deal to hand over Belarus to Russia when its dictator Lukashenko dies. They have already given Russia a certain amount of control.

Ukraine’s Orange Revolution has failed in large part due to political pressure from Moscow, which includes the threatening message sent to Russia’s “near abroad” by its invasion of Georgia in 2008.

Concerning Georgia, Putin could, under the cover of the U.S. elections, the Olympic Games in London, possible Middle Eastern conflicts (Israel vs. Iran or the Syrian civil war), and before a weak president is gone, finish his invasion of Georgia. Russia already occupies South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This puts them less than 24 hours from besieging the capital, Tbilisi.

In 2008, it was the distraction of the Olympics in China and the “lame duck” phase of Bush’s presidency that Putin exploited, as well as the usual weak noises coming from Europe. Could Europe be much weaker economically and politically than it is now?

The end of the Putin regime would benefit the world too. If China were alone on the Syrian issue, I believe they would back off, and Georgia would naturally be safe because a democratic Russia would have no interest in trying to take them over.

Putin says no crackdown on protesters after vote

Russia election: Police arrest 550 at city protests

From South Ossetia to War With Georgia 

Libya’s Transition To Democracy

UPDATE1: July 9, 2012 Libyan election hints at blow to Islamists

UPDATE2: July 13, 2012 Libya’s Jibril in election landslide over Islamists

UPDATE3: September 28, 2012 Give Egypt’s Aid Money to Libya

As a Muslim country, it’s not the end of the world if Libya uses sharia as a basis or basic source for their laws. They’re not going to be stoning, beheading or cutting off hands anytime soon. It also has a far better shot at emerging with a reasonably secular government and constitution than Egypt, Yemen or Syria. We can still be the most optimistic about Tunisia.

“On the eve of February 17th, the anniversary of last year’s Libyan revolution, Tripoli was a dangerous place. “Three men were shot outside my house last night,” a businessman told me. “And outside the Rixos, there was so much celebratory gunfire that I could not leave the hotel for hours”—the Rixos being the five-star hotel where many members of the transitional government live.

While Libyans are organizing political parties to compete in the June 23rd parliamentary elections, many describe the current situation as a power vacuum where there is no real law or order. Especially in western Libya, highly armed militiamen duke it out, often over disputes that have nothing to do with politics. Even in Zwara, the tightly knit Amazigh town of 50,000 that constitutes a separate cultural enclave, the police have not returned to work. Tripoli? Forget about it.

Such peace as prevails in Libya is the result of the social cohesion of a traditional society—and one where, in my experience, there is considerable fellow-feeling and a relative indifference to material goods. Libyans are inclined to give other Libyans the benefit of the doubt—and thus the omnipresent militia have not torn the country apart. The real question is what Libya will look like after the elections, as it puts itself back together.

One of the key issues here is how Libyans conceptualize freedom, and on my last trip this fall, I noticed that nearly everyone viewed freedom as compatible with sharia law. I was also increasingly sure that the best way to analyze Libya was not as a collection of tribes—though these exist—but as a collection of city-states or cultural regions. Renaissance Italy struck me as a possible analogy. But when I picked up David Hackett Fischer’s 1989 book Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, still an excellent study of American origins, I began to see similarities here too.

While sharia strikes me, like most Americans, as problematic, it’s worth considering that our own country began as a loosely knit confederation of theocracies—Puritan, Quaker, and Anglican—where freedom of religion ranged from partial to nonexistent. As Fischer explains,

“liberty often described something which belonged not to an individual but to an entire community. Samuel Adams, for example, wrote more often about the “liberty of America” than about the liberty of individual Americans. This idea of collective liberty … was thought to be consistent with close restraints upon individuals.”

Read more of this post