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September 12, 2013

Syria: Rashomon, Rorshach, Sun Tzu and Arkhipov

Rashomon presents a vignette and subsequent investigation through the perspectives of participants, leaving the audience to wonder: What did just happen? What did I see? It's an interesting examination of the difficulty of knowing, especially based on signals and reporting.

Something is happening in Syria. Sun Tzu tells us, All warfare is based on deception, so perhaps things are not exactly as they appear.

Let's consider our own motivations, based on what we do and not what we say. The United States cares about oil, the Middle East, and Israel. Russia is not an ally. China is not an ally. Iran is an enemy, and so are its proxy agents. We do not go to war to prevent foreign suffering, or to prevent non-white people from killing each other.

Let's treat it like a black box-system, examine the inputs and outputs, and ponder unusual observations. The chemical weapons are (mostly) supplied by Russia. Syria's other weapons are supplied by Russia. In some ways, Syria is a Russian customer/proxy. In other ways, Syria is an Iranian proxy.

The US announced it had a problem with "Assad's chemical weapons". Kind of interesting that we didn't say, "Russian chemical weapons in Syria". We didn't build the framework that way.

The US provided a flurry of mixed signals, confusing messages, and the appearance of an administration prepared for military strikes without Congressional approval. Obama behaved rather like the previous President. Boehner and the administration agreed. Henry Kissinger and the administration agreed. Then the President announced, "next week I'm going to talk to the American people".

If the US launched strikes, it would provide a demonstration of US weapons against Russian weapons. It would be the Paris Air Show by other means. As a vendor, Russia might not welcome that user-test. If the US strikes were effective, it would cause people to be less likely to purchase Russian weapons systems - because the Americans could make them go away at their will.

In the week provided before the President went to the people, Russia stood up and said - "hey, let's take those nasty chemical weapons out of Syria and destroy them". Putin beamed and played the Savior.

  • Russia sold chemical weapons and lots of other weapons to Assad
  • US said, "we don't like this, and we're going to launch strikes"
  • Russia said, Syria will give over their chemical weapons. You guys are crazy!
  • Russia is left in a face-saving posture. The second-term president is scuffed up.

"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.", Sun Tzu

In the end, it's Rorschach test in which we project our impressions of the Obama administration upon whatever scenario we see. If you think Obama is brilliant, hasn't become Bush 3, and has some game then maybe we just won the Second Cuban Missile Crisis, and once again the Russian weapons are leaving. If you think Obama is inept, over his head, and befuddled then maybe we just almost started World War III and Putin saved us.


The really dangerous thing about Kruschev-Kissinger brinksmanship, of course, is that events devolve and you end up hoping that there's enough people like Vasili Arkhipov (RIP) to go around.


Abe Bird said...

Most of the Chemicals poured into Syria from the West, mainly from Britain, France and Sweden, even After the "Arab Winter" started!

Anonymous said...

If you think Obama is inept, over his head, and befuddled then maybe we just almost started World War III and Putin saved us.

Sounds about right !

Anonymous said...

Plus ca change, plus la meme chose.

Fatum said...

>Kind of interesting that we didn't say, "Russian chemical weapons in Syria".

Because it's not Russia who supplied Syria with chemical weapons.

>maybe we just almost started World War III and Putin saved us.

Or maybe no one was about to start WWIII over a third world nation. Okay, make that "maybe" an "absolutely definitely".

Anonymous said...

Like Fatum, I don't believe anyone was going to start WW3 over Syria. If the US had attacked, I imagine plenty of sound and fury signifying nothing would have resulted. US interests in the area are:
1. nukes, especially Iranian
2. oil
3. Israel.
The nuke problem has been given a partial and temporary fix by missile defenses. With luck, they might stop a small attack. In the long run, the present anti-nuclear regime is unsustainable. The tech is over half a century old and can be duplicated by any semi-civilised, semi-industrialised state. Think of North Korea. Sooner or later someone will call the US's bluff, nuke a non-nuclear armed client or ally, and say "We've got a few left over to blow up some US cities." The US will fold, and for the non-nuclear majority of states it'll be grovel or build. However many bow to Al Qaeda, North Korea or whatever, most will build and we'll all live in the nuclear armed crowd.
The Germans learned how to synthesise oil 90 years ago. Third World South Africa built the plants to provide a quarter of its oil 40 years ago. This is when the US should have followed and started the switch to synthetics. It should start now, but Arab oil money, the US oil companies, and the Greens are irrevocably opposed. I'd love to see the US do this but it won't. You might just as well expect it to build nuclear power plants.
Israel is about as safe as can be expected. As the relative power of the US declines, it will become less safe. The collapse of the anti-nuclear regime is one possible scenario for the final collapse. Still, everything dies eventually. How long Israel, or any other state, will last is in the lap of the gods.

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