Archives For: Syria

Goldblog wonders why the press is paying so much attention to Gaza and so little to Syria, when the implications of the latter conflict are, in his view, much broader (and the death toll much higher):

[T]he Arab Spring (or Awakening, or whatever word you choose) has given lie to the idea—shorthanded as “linkage”—that the key to American success in the broader Middle East is dependent on finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This idea, that all roads run through Jerusalem, has traditionally motivated a great deal of journalistic and foreign policy expert interest in this conflict. Finding a solution to this conflict is very important to the future of Israelis and Palestinians, of course, but not nearly so much to Americans. A peaceful resolution to this conflict would do little to bring about good governance in Arab states, or an end to Islamist extremism in the greater Middle East. Which brings me back to Syria. The war in Syria (and Iraq, since it is more or less a single war now) is of greater national security importance to the United States than the war in Gaza, and it should be covered in a way that reflects this reality.

It’s a familiar, ancient device for Israel apologists: there are worse massacres elsewhere; solving Israel-Palestine won’t help us much in foreign policy anyway; so let’s move right along, shall we? And don’t mention the settlements, except in asides that are designed to credentialize the writer as someone who naturally opposes them – even as he also opposes any serious pressure on Israel to stop the provocations. He attributes the discrepancy to the Western world’s weird obsession with criticizing Israel, which is subtler version of the accusation of anti-Semitism.

One reason, of course, which Goldblog mentions, is that the US is partly paying for the slaughter in Gaza and for the clean-up afterwards. More to the point, condemnation of Assad is universal in the US (while Netanyahu is lionized and egged on by one political party), and the conflict there is an evenly matched civil war, rather than one more relentless pounding of a weak mini-state under Israeli control with casualties massively lop-sided in one direction. This is not to say that what is going on in Syria isn’t unbelievably awful and worse in many ways than what’s occurring in Gaza. We noted the massacre here that Goldblog says the NYT ignored. It is simply to say that we would be far more involved if we were supplying the weapons that were killing Syrians en masse.

Keating, on the other hand, agrees that the world is paying attention to the wrong events, but thinks the reason has more to do with how we react to short-term vs. long-term conflicts:

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No Quiet On The ISIS Front

Jul 22 2014 @ 6:13pm

Hanna Kozlowska provides an update on Syria, where as many as 700 people were killed last Thursday and Friday in fighting between ISIS and regime forces – the highest death toll in 48 hours since the start of the war in 2011:

The Shaar gas field in central Syria saw some of the heaviest fighting. It is a crucial gas supply facility for the country’s central region and among the largest in Syria. Islamic State fighters attacked the field Wednesday night — just hours after Bashar al-Assad was sworn in for a third, seven-year term as president — and seized it Thursday, killing 270 government soldiers, guards, and staff. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based NGO, at least 40 militants from the group formerly known as ISIS were killed. Over the weekend the body count grew by 100. More than 170,000 people have died since began in March 2011. And the war created an unprecedented refugee crisis displacing 2.8 million people, including many women and children.

On Monday, Islamic State fighters clashed in Damascus with other anti-Assad rebels who initially embraced the group but now are trying to expel it from the city. They’ve successfully ousted the organization from sections of the capital and its outskirts but the Islamic State’s influence has recently expanded, encompassing an oil-rich area in the eastern Deir Az Zor province. The organization controls much of Syria’s east.

The conflict also continues to have a severe impact on its neighbors. Alice Su takes stock of the ever-heavier burden the Syrian refugee crisis is imposing on Jordan, which is also host to thousands of refugees from Iraq and other war-torn countries:

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Getting By In Aleppo

Jul 16 2014 @ 8:37pm


A resident provides a glimpse into her day-to-day life in the war-ravaged city:

I make my coffee while reading Facebook to see what damage last night’s bombings caused. I am lucky to have the money to pay for a satellite internet connection. This is the only way to get online here in the rebel-held areas of Syria because for almost two years all means of communication have been cut—landlines, the mobile network and the internet—as collective punishment for areas that rebelled against the regime. Fighters and activists use walkie-talkies but as a woman I am not allowed to use one. This area of the city has long been very conservative and women don’t participate in public life; now it is also a frontline in a warzone, even more of a male-only domain.

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Syria’s Hidden Suicide Crisis

Jul 10 2014 @ 8:57am

Lauren Wolfe warns that self-harm is “rapidly becoming a very real fallout of this [Syrian] war — one that is so taboo, it is rarely spoken of within families, let alone publicly”:

“Suicide is strictly forbidden in Islam,” said Haid N. Haid, a Beirut-based Syrian sociologist and Middle East program manager at the Heinrich Boll Foundation. Scholars often forbid the recitation of a funerary prayer for people who’ve committed suicide, as a way to punish the families of the dead and to deter others from taking their own lives. The cause of death is usually obscured — it is called an “accident” or “natural.” Suicide, Haid emphasized, is always “a big scandal that people will talk about for a long time.”

Despite the taboo, doctors I spoke with said they are seeing more and more cases of people with suicidal impulses – a trend confirmed by the number of reported instances in which, because of a feeling of being unable to provide for one’s family as a refugee, or because of the shame of rape, pregnancy through rape, or sexual humiliation, it has been carried out. Hard data are difficult to come by. But while I was unable to find formal statistics on suicide in the Syrian war, the picture painted by doctors working in and near the country is decidedly bleak — and given how precious few mental health services are available to Syrians affected by the war, it is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Meanwhile, a UNHCR report on female refugees from Syria illuminates the unimaginable daily struggles these women contend with:

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Waltz With Bashar?

Jul 8 2014 @ 1:21pm

Josh Rogin reports on the internal debate within the Obama administration over whether we ought to reconsider our support for removing Assad:

In effect, the American government has been in a limited partnership with the Assad regime for almost a year. The U.S., Russian, and Syrian governments made a deal last September to destroy Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons—and relied on Damascus to account for and transport those weapons, in effect legitimizing his claim to continued power. As far back as last December, top White House officials, including Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken, have suggested that the rising threat of extremism was creating a “convergence of interests” between the U.S., Russia, and its allies in the Iranian and the Syrian governments to come to a political deal before the Islamists became too powerful. …

But the view that Assad can somehow be a partner of any kind is vigorously disputed by other senior U.S. officials, especially those who work or have worked on Syria policy. They say the problem of extremism in the region can only be solved by removing Assad from power. Not only is the Assad regime a magnet for terrorism, they argue, but Assad and the extremists inside Syria are working together.

Morrissey is aghast at the prospect that we might end up on the same side as a tyrant responsible for atrocities the State Department has compared to Nazi crimes:

This is what comes from having no foreign policy strategy, other than to get out of Iraq.

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In an interview with Chotiner on Iran’s role in the Iraq crisis, Vali Nasr argues that Iraq now has a stake in the Iranian nuclear negotiations:

[I]t could hurt Iraq first of all if the U.S. and Iran stop talking to each other altogether and there’s no more positive momentum in the process. It’s much more difficult to say, “ok let’s forget about this gargantuan issue on which we failed, let’s focus on this other issue.” So you’re gonna make it much more difficult. The nuclear issue has now become the pivot of U.S.-Iran relations: It either creates an environment in which they can have constructive engagement more broadly, or not. Iran is going to follow its own policy, completely separate from the United States. But the irony is, unlike Syria, in Iraq, Iran’s independent policy is much more in line with the United States’, whereas in Syria they were clearly on opposite sides. …

But Nader Hashemi argues that there is “no connection whatsoever” between the nuclear and Iraq/Syria tracks when it comes to American-Iranian relations:

For 35 years, the two sides have been so distant. Getting to a nuclear deal—if we can actually get there—will be a huge accomplishment. I don’t think it necessarily means that there is going to be an agreement on any other regional issues.

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Obama’s Budding Syrian Warriors

Jun 30 2014 @ 2:35pm

Syrian Civil War

Those above are our guys, apparently. Pity their machine gun just blew up. But Michael Crowley still manages to argue that the president is “finally getting serious” about Syria in his decision to seek $500 million from Congress to train “moderate” rebel groups there:

Obama … still wants Assad gone. He just doesn’t want him toppled by ISIS. It’s not exactly a simple plan. And it will unfold slowly. If Congress approves Obama’s plan, it will be months longer before a Pentagon training program gets underway—and more time still before it forges enough skilled fighters to shape the Syrian conflict.

What’s clear is that Obama understands the status quo in Syria is a disaster, one that is creating what the recently-departed United Nations special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi,called a “failed state” prone to “blow up” the wider region. And so Obama may be admitting he’s wrong. After months of arguing that taking serious action in Syria is too risky, Obama is signaling that the consequences of inaction — now unfolding across northern and western Iraq — are too dangerous to tolerate.

Or perhaps too dangerous to avoid appearing to do nothing, while not exactly doing much – for the exact reasons we have not done much before. No one has ever shown how aid could be sent to some rebels and not get purloined by the crazier ones – no one. The premise of Mike’s argument is that somehow this wasn’t and isn’t the case – but it is, as Juan Cole explains:

Training given by the US to “moderates” will be shared with ISIS and other radicals.

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Uh-Oh …

Jun 27 2014 @ 1:22pm

President Obama – in a huge and epic U-turn – wants $500 million to train “moderate” Syrian rebels:

Previously, US aid to the Syrian opposition that is fighting dictator Bashar al-Assad focused on non-lethal provisioning, while the Central Intelligence Agency focused on sending small arms and missiles to what the US calls the “vetted” Syrian moderates. Yet the Gulf Arab states have established an arms pipeline giving a substantive military edge to jihadist groups fighting Assad and one another. … US military training for the Syrians, three-and-a-half years into a conflict that has killed more than 150,000 people and recast the boundaries of the Middle East, is likely to take place in Jordan, where the US military already trains its Iraqi counterparts. It is also in line with Obama’s desired template for counterterrorism, as unveiled at West Point, in which the US trains foreign security forces to assault terrorists themselves.

Lisa Lundquist reviews why this is a terrible idea:

At this point, it is not entirely clear which vetted elements of the Syrian opposition can be relied upon to keep the arms out of the hands of the jihadists groups who dominate the battlefield, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front.

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Syria Intervenes

Jun 27 2014 @ 1:02pm

On Wednesday, Jassem Al Salami flagged evidence that Syria, and quite possibly Iran as well, were carrying out airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq:

[Tuesday morning,] unidentified jet fighters bombed a market in the Islamist-held city of Al Qa’im in northwestern Iraq. The city, which recently fell to militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is near the Syrian border, so we’re assuming the bombers were Syrian—an eastward extension of Damascus’ brutal air war against rebel forces. At approximately the same time as the market exploded, Iraqi social media users reported contrails over Baghdad heading from west to the east. The contrails didn’t match the usual twin pattern of civilian airliners or military cargo aircraft, indicating fighters.

Four separate air arms are now active over Iraq, which is fighting a desperate battle against invading ISIS militants coming from Syria. Iraq, Syria and—possibly—Iran have bombed ISIS. And the U.S. Navy and Air Force are flying reconnaissance missions. We’re pretty sure the contrails over Baghdad weren’t from American planes.

Maliki confirmed this yesterday, saying that Syrian planes were indeed striking the militants and that he was pretty happy about it. The Syrian government is denying it, but “a Syrian source” provides Mohammad Ballout with a detailed account of what areas the air force is targeting and why:

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The Best Of The Dish Today

Jun 24 2014 @ 9:15pm

Queen Elizabeth II And Duke Of Edinburgh Visit Northern Ireland

Goldblog and the Dish – in some strange solstice convergence – are on (roughly) the same page again with respect to Iraq. Jeffrey fisks Elliott Abrams’ deranged piece in Politico called “The Man Who Broke The Middle East.” As an insight into the hermetically sealed neocon mindset, Abrams is always worth reading. As an insight into, you know, reality, not so much. Anyway, a great fisk, Goldblog! Money quote:

In reference to a “contained” Iran, I would only note that Iran in 2009 was moving steadily toward nuclearization, and nothing that the Bush administration, in which Elliott served, had done seemed to be slowing Iran down. Flash forward to today—the Obama administration (with huge help from Congress) implemented a set of sanctions so punishing that it forced Iran into negotiations. (Obama, it should be said, did a very good job bringing allies on board with this program.) Iran’s nuclear program is currently frozen. The Bush administration never managed to freeze Iran’s nuclear apparatus in place. I’m not optimistic about the prospects for success in these negotiations (neither is Obama), but the president should get credit for leading a campaign that gave a negotiated solution to the nuclear question a fighting chance.

Think of the careful and global coalition Obama assembled to isolate Iran on the nuclear question – Russia, France, Britain, the US, China all on the same page, leading to a successful preliminary agreement and coming to a conclusion soon on the second (or maybe not). Now remember Walter Russell Mead’s contention that

There is also the question of whether the earnest White House types who have piled up such a disastrous record in the Middle East could negotiate their way into a used car lot, much less handle a complex negotiation involving Russia, Iran, Assad, and a bunch of other canny operators.

Blogger, please. And notice one of Mead’s more hysterical moments of criticism – when Obama decided against striking Syria in favor of Putin’s offer to coordinate the extraction of all of Syria’s WMDs. Yesterday, the final shipment left Syria’s shores. We were all told this would never happen. It just did. Now ask yourself: if Obama had bombed Assad, do you think those chemical weapons would now be secure? And if they were still in Syria, with ISIS raging nearby, we’d have a real international crisis, wouldn’t we? Dick Cheney’s nightmare – Jihadists with WMDs – would be one step closer to reality. But, thanks to Obama (and not Bush) the threat of those WMDs from Syria has evaporated, and Iran’s nukes could be next. Without invading anywhere or torturing anyone.

I’m still trying to figure out how Rebekah Brooks was acquitted today, but the shoe that really dropped was the news that Scotland Yard will soon be formerly interrogating Rupert Murdoch himself about the widespread criminality on many of his papers over a long period of time.

Today, we also witnessed America’s initiation into the loss and grief of the World Cup; wondered if NATO expansion had made Europe less secure; noted the sudden lurch downward in Obama’s approval ratings; and continued the greasy, bacterial thread on grocery bags (now with GIFs!).

The most popular post of the day was Spurious Correlations from May (a gem); next up was my fisking of Walter Russell Mead, Raging Against Obama – And History.

Many of today’s posts were updated with your emails – read them all here. You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish. 15 more readers became subscribers today. You can join them here - and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month. One subscriber writes:

It’s seriousness and sanity that Dishniks like me crave and value. Not for nothing, in other words, that you call them “Mental Health Breaks.” They feel like an intrinsic part of the sanity of The Dish, not a luxury option or frill. I’m going to get your brutal, naked self-examination of your position on the Iraq War, but I also get sloths as beards (and groan-worthy reader updates about beavers).

I skip over most but not all of your religion-themed posts (as one might expect from an atheist), but I’ll stop to marvel at the ingenuity of the VFYW contestants along the way. Then you’ll write something mildly infuriating about social constructionism or whatever it is you mean by “post-modernism” and I’ll begin a tart retort in high dudgeon, only to be side-tracked by one of your insightful assessments of the sanity of Obama … or by some shameless beagle-bait (you could do more of that, actually). And so I’ll be reminded once again that my redoubtable dudgeon switch can be safely disengaged. Dishness achieved once again; we now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

Which will continue in the morning; see you then.

(Photo: Queen Elizabeth II meets cast members of the HBO TV series ‘Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey and Conleth Hill as she views some of the props including the Iron Throne on the set of Game of Thrones in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter on June 24, 2014 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. By Jonathan Porter – WPA Pool/Getty Images.)