What’s Going on in Syria? And What’s Our Angle?

“No doubt that the U.S. is a super-power capable of conquering a relatively small country, but is it able to control it?” – Bashar al-Assad, Syrian “president”

The mideast unrest continues to widen and intensify – but the dictators have refused to fall like dominoes in an orderly succession. Tunisia fell quickly, with Zine El Abidine Ben Ali packing up tons (literally) of state gold and hitting the road. Egypt was a bit longer and saw more trepidation, but eventually Hosni Mubarak went away.

The dictators have drawn an apparent line in the sand though. Qaddafi has refused to go, and now apparently has a bit of an upper hand. Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh recently “agreed” to step down in the next 30 days (we’ll see if that happens). Bahrain has called in Saudi armed forces to quell a rebellion. Then there’s Syria.

Bashar al-Assad has been putting the screws to protesters for the last few weeks and the death toll is mounting. They’ve fired live rounds into crowds of protesters. They’ve used snipers to kill mourners at the funerals of protesters (most likely targeting ring-leaders, but whose to say?). They’ve even rolled tanks on protest hot-spots, and have apparently killed hundreds more in recent violence. It’s getting ugly.

And what has our response been? We’ve issued statements. I’m not saying we should invade – but we should show some consistency. I mean, we have launched an air war against Libya, and have made statements about Syria. Yet both represented the same humanitarian crisis.

So why the difference? I can think of a number of reasons – but none of them sound very good. Some thoughts:

[1] Oil. Libya produces about five times as much oil as Syria. Rumor has it that China was about to make major investments to upgrade Libyan production capabilities – and become the main buyer of Libyan oil. This was contingent of Qaddafi, who we have now tried to depose.

[2] Syria is Lehman. We stepped in an rescued Bear Stearns – but to do the “unthinkable” twice was too much political risk – so Lehman took it on the chin. (Of course, Goldman Sachs got their bailout, but they were clever enough to disguise it all as a bailout of AIG.) We went into Libya thinking it would be a cake-walk. We’ll just push Muammar over at that will be that. It wasn’t. Now we don’t have the political stomach to attempt a rescue of the citizens of Syria.

[3] Iran. For some reason, this administration has been pretty soft on Iran. Oh, the rhetoric is there, but when Iran was really vulnerable we refused to push them over the edge. Syria is Iran’s proxy, and proves quite useful in Tehran’s machinations against Israel. Apparently we don’t want to upset that natural balance of power, where Israel feels pressure from all sides and Iran can operate with impunity. Odd.

You see – none of these paint a rosy picture.

Again, I’m not exactly a proponent of intervention in Libya or Syria. But if we’re going into Libya I can’t quite understand why not Syria as well. (Heck, we have troops right there in Iraq.)

Perhaps there are some other explanations that I’ve missed – something that makes this all seem clear. For now though, it’s a head-scratcher.

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