Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Getting ready for a war against Syria

...robust Czechoslovak weapons unlikely to resist for too long...

The civil war in Syria sucks, like most civil wars. The rebels aren't saints (and Russia accused them of using sarin gas a month ago) but it's the Syrian government that may be expected to behave more responsibly. Given the strong indications that chemical weapons have been used, it's not surprising that the U.S. forces and allies are thinking about an attack that may begin as early as on Thursday.

Photo from syrianhistory.com

Such a reaction of the West is understandable but needless to say, the West may be playing with fire. And with Czechoslovak weapons, too.

An attack against the regime of Assad Jr is likely to be actively led by the U.S., somewhat emotionally supported by France, the next most hawkish Western nation, perhaps by the U.K., and more passively approved by pretty much every Western country (our new president Zeman, an outspoken critic of the Muslim world, immediately reported he wants to send troops to the Golan Heights i.e. to Israel's border region near Syria, in order to secure the superpower status of the Czech Republic and to speed up the incorporation of Assyria into Naphtali's Realm). In contrast with the peace rallies before the second war in Iraq, a decade ago, the peace activists don't seem too excited about protests because a war is raging in Syria, anyway.

The middle tenor, Erdogano (it's the guy who actually sings for everyone), won't support his two tenor comrades on the sides this time. Well, the left chap has been replaced by Rouhani. Music: Funiculi Funicula [CZ] (which surprisingly means "Funicular cable car in Naples is going up, funicular cable car in Naples is going down" – English is less efficient than Neapolitan [and Italian]).

Russia and China oppose the attack but these countries are hopefully not terribly involved in the situation because things could get really messy at the global level. (Saudis are offering oil incentives to Russia if it abandons Syria.) Meanwhile, most countries in the region, including Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia are likely to happily support the attack on Syria (Israel needs to pretend lots of reticence that is probably fake). Libya is slightly against the attack but it won't actively defend Syria.

The most important regional supporter of Assad is obviously Iran and every responsible planner must be ready for the option that the expected American war on Syria will quickly grow into a war against Iran.

This is a Czech blog so I can't resist to semi-proudly ;-) mention a specific dirty role that my homeland – well, mainly its historical predecessor – would be playing in the war.

It just happens that no one else than Syria under Hafez al-Assad (the current leader's dad who was at the top between 1963 and 2000) was Czechoslovakia's most important non-European business partner during much of the 1970s and 1980s. Assad was a clear left-winger of his own sort and Czechoslovakia was his nation's favorite exporter.

The 1975 picture at the top shows the last communist Czechoslovak president, Gustáv Husák (left), teaching al-Assad how to blow the traditional Bohemian glass, at least a simplified version of it. Al-Assad must have been a good student. He also visited Prague in 1985. The reverse visit by Husák to Damascus occurred in 1979.

You may ask what was the most important category of industrial products that Czechoslovakia was sending to Syria. Well, yes, you shouldn't be surprised. Czechoslovakia has always been a great power in weaponry – and yes, my hometown used to play a very important role in that sector as well, but especially 100 years ago – and the answer is therefore weapons. To mention particular products, Syria has bought numerous T-55 tanks (shown on the picture above, during the martial law in Poland; also produced in USSR and Poland) and Aero L-29 Dolphin/Maya jet training aircraft (below; purely Czechoslovak).

At some moment, the Syrian debt with respect to Czechoslovakia grew to $0.9 billion which is a lot of money, especially because of the letter "B" at the beginning. All the debt has been repaid a few years ago. That's a good thing for our coffers because Syria could very well become broke this Friday. ;-)

Needless to say, the Czechoslovak-Syrian relationships changed from the friendly blowing jobs shown at the top to hostile interactions when Václav Havel took over after the Velvet Revolution. Al-Assad Sr has been reported to be properly pissed off by many words that Havel sent to the former ally in the Middle East. Well, Al-Assad Sr stopped communicating with my country but in 2001, when his son was already activated, the communication got restored and the new agreement about the repayment of the debt was signed in 2005 (a part of the debt was forgiven, anyway).

Omnipol, an existing Czech company that is selling similar weapons, is clearly doing some business with partners connected to Syria even these days. (And a few years ago, Wikileaks showed that the U.S. was anxious about these Czech exports in 2006, too.)

I don't know whether it's a part of a plan but our products are able to get to Syria indirectly. For example, some RPG-75s, Czechoslovak single-shot anti-tank weapons from the 1970s, were spotted in Syria this spring. The immediate country that exported it there was Croatia but it's still our weapons. A version of RPG-75 for schoolkids ;-) (or at least it says so) is shown on the picture above.

One must realize that they may have billions of current dollars worth of weapons just from Czechoslovakia which was surely not the only source of their weaponry. That's a lot of gadgets that are able to harm U.S. (and, less likely, allies') forces. Don't get me wrong: I do think that it should be straightforward to beat the Syrian regime, at most in weeks.

However, once again, I sincerely hope that the military planners in the U.S. know what to do when Iran responds in a dramatic way and so on. I also sincerely hope that the traders won't react too hysterically (over half a percent down on Dow Jones; the folks are clearly not calm). It's just Syria and if there's going to be mess in that country, it won't be much different from what is already happening over there now while the potential for a rosier future will be substantial.

Song "Syria" by Mr Sámer Issa, a Syrian-Czech singer and a local 2004 "American Idol" bronze medalist.

A war against a coalition of Syria and Iran could be lengthy, dramatic, and energy-consuming. On one hand, this coalition would be stronger than Iraq – and the war in Iraq was a bit nontrivial by itself. On the other hand, some regional allies could fight against Syria and Iran as well which could make it easier for the West. Do we really know that the benefits exceed the costs – on a human, economic, and political level? Isn't it a pity that the price and value of such an intervention and its consequences for the people in Syria, in the Middle East, and in the rest of the world hasn't been really publicly discussed in the West? I think it is. At any rate, if there's gonna be an attack against Syria, I wish the Western forces a lots of good luck in ultimately bringing some humanity to that country. I say "ultimately" because I don't think that wars can ever make societies more human "immediately".

Love in a Baguette by Mr Xindl X and Ms Olga Lounová, a desirable outcome of the war in Syria: a love song in McDonald's. The guy complains that he has to buy things he didn't want and to supersize them, too – just because she has a crush on the clerk. Aside from several related economics theories, the song also argues that the supply determines the demand. Currently there are no McDonald's restaurants in Syria, one of the signs of the inhumanity of the regime. I won't show you the beheadings and similar horrors because this blog has some taste.


  1. A cruise missile attack on Assad will likely prove to be a mistake, no matter how well intentioned. While the US could easily overwhelm Syria’s regime in a ground war it simply is not going to happen.
    The political situation in my country will not permit another Iraq-type action unless there is a major attack on the US homeland and the chances of that are zero or very nearly so. Assad simply is not a threat to the US or its interests. And, even if we were to remove the regime, we would leave a situation that is even worse than Iraq today.
    I have long felt that a US/Iran war is unlikely as well. Political considerations almost always dominate is such situations and a ground war against Iran is out of the question, again, for political reasons. An air attack on Iran would be inconclusive at best and the dangers would be substantial. It’s not going to happen, Lubos.

  2. Indeed, this time "leading from behind" is not an option for Obama. If the Assad regime is simply overthrown as Gaddafi was, there will follow a horrendous massacre of Alawites, Shias and Christians that the US public opinion will probably not swallow. If the US gets involved it will have to be all the way.

    The US also cannot allow Iran to win this. If it looks like this really happening the US will have no choice but to intervene. Until then they can let the Saudis do the job, but this will require for the US public opinion to stomach more and more sickening scenes on their TV screens and YouTube.

    Also, I have completely no confidence in Obama, Kerry and Hagel's ability to follow any consistent plan. (In fact I do not have any confidence in their ability even to think of any plan). Of course the problems lie deeper than just these three stooges.On this topic I will just quote something I posted elsewhere today:

    This is what you get when you loose your credibility. The only reason why the US had to intervene in Iraq was that it failed to convince Saddam that it would do so and would stay until he is gone. The only reason why Assad used chemical weapons was that has already seen how much Obama's threats are worth. Everybody knows that they can't defeat the US militarily but everyone also knows that they have a good chance to defeat the US in the fight for American public opinion. This is still the only way the US can be defeated and it works more often than not.

  3. There is a nontrivial possibility that the chemical weapons were not used by Assad but by the rebels. There is a long history of false flag attacks in Mideast wars, and earlier this year Carla Del Ponte, of the UN commission tasked to investigate the Syrian war, said that in a previous use of chemical weapons there, the evidence pointed to the rebels rather than Assad.

    All of the articles I have seen which purport to convict Assad of the atrocity refer to "evidence" that is purely about the nature of the attack and not about who did it; the inference that it was Assad is based solely on the attack having occurred in a rebel-controlled area, which rules out the "false flag" possibility without proof. It is just as easy to argue circumstantially that it could not have been Assad because the timing was counterproductive with the UN team in the country.

    This logical gap is very disturbing -- the Del Ponte evaluation from earlier this year has disappeared down the memory hole and officials like Kerry are engaging in very precise rhetorical tricks to create the misleading impression that what has been "proven" is Assad's responsibility, rather than just that chemicals have been used. I don't know if I would demand a 5 sigma level of certainty before launching a war, but I don't think we're even at 2 sigma for the "Assad did it" hypothesis.

  4. I guess since Assad has said that he plans to open resistance front in Golan, Israël prefer to see him go... However an islamist government in Syria would be worse for Israël I would imagine...

  5. I can't believe there isn't more skepticism in the mainstream press about the gas attack in Syria. Not that such an attack occurred, but who was behind it. For instance there is a piece in the Wall St. Journal today which casually mentions in passing that the Syrian army is heavily infiltrated with rebels. If so, maybe that was the source of the attack, in order to draw the Americans and Europeans in. Certainly the Syrian government has no interest in that outcome unless they are down to their last gasp, which apparently they are not.

    So many wars are started under false pretenses, as a result of trickery, bad faith, cynical manipulation, etc. Unless I hear a better explanation this looks like another example to me.

  6. As a punishment for killing and maiming innocent people with nerve-gas, a bunch of stupid politicians are now quite possibly going to order the killing of other innocents - or at least of people that are more innocent than those who actually gave the clearance and order to deliver the damaging gas and who will NOT be targetted by the political twits at top of the leading western governments. ;(

  7. Syrian civil war was helped by drought and high oil prices. That is something you will never see to mention on blogs such as this.

    There is no evidence that the chemical weapon were used by Assad. Indeed, much more reason is on the side of "rebels", who are terrorists, by the way.

    And well, who cared about that Rwanda genocide where about 800 000 people were slaughtered (and indeed, few more UN solders could prevent that happening). Well, no oil, no "help"...



  8. The song is pretty terrible, you should listen to some normal music
    or if you like music with deep economic messages

  9. Well , Common sense tells that Assad was behind the attacks . The syrian army has chemical weapons which are most probably heavily guarded by the syrian army , russians and iranians for fear that the rebels may take control of it . From Where can the rebels get the gas ?Second , Who are these rebels ? They were all syrian citizens and army men who were calling for democratic change . Bashar tried to suppress them by force . They are forced to defend themselves against the brutality of Bashar's army . I can't believe that anyone in the right mind would risk massacre his own people who support him and who share the same goals .

  10. Alexander,

    Imperial Stupidity knows no bounds. It is clear to
    anyone who is familiar with the neo-con agenda that regime change is the
    goal. Have they forgotten to read their Sun Tzu? He stated a long time
    ago how dangerous it is to back the enemy into a corner from which there
    is no way out. Assad must be thinking the most real thoughts of
    realpolitik. He has nowhere to go. Remember Saddam. And Saddam's
    Imperial execution was civilized compared to what happened to Gaddafi.
    Assad surely is thinking about where they stabbed Gaddafi before the mob
    tore him apart, that no mercy is possible and Hillary will cackle in
    the background while Wolfowitz, et.al. will be smiling while they are
    warming their cognac snifters in their hands sitting in their paneled
    dens. And as Ray McGovern noted, Iran is next (with Hezbollah in the
    mix). The neo-cons are no doubt focused on their end game but since they
    have absolutely no regard for human life, they care not how messy it

    I don't think any of this will turn out well.

  11. As you suggest, Alex, Syria is just the next "domino" in line to fall in the neo-con's PNAC "Defense Strategy for the 21st Century" -- which really has nothing to do with "defense," but rather everything to do with spreading MIC hegemony into the gas/oil producing ME in order for them to secure and profit from those resources.

    The corpora-fascists and banksters -- which really comprise a global cabal -- are the ones leading the charge, as they finance and "own" the governing bodies in many countries.

  12. Iran is next
    I hope so. As Michael Ledeen notes, and I agree, the road to Damascus leads through Teheran. Rather than waging a proxy war with the Iranians via Syria, we should go after them directly.

  13. I completely hope so too, but it is very unlikely to happen during the Obama presidency unless the Israelis do the job themselves. The window of opportunity for Israel will close once Iran has functional nuclear weapons and a delivery system - after than all bets are off.

    Those Americans who hope that the Israelis will deal with this themselves and the US is not going to get involved are fooling themselves.

    The Syria slaughter will certainly go on and another cost 200 or 300 or more thousand lives unless and until Iran is taken out of the equation. Once that happens a solution similar to that in Bosnia (officially one state - de facto 3) will be possible and probably is the only solution not based on genocide.

    The isolationist cretins in America and their supporters outside will again achieve the same thing that they achieved so many times in the past: they will delay the inevitable until the situation is as bad as possible and the price that has to be paid enormously higher than it would have been if decisive action had been taken in the early stages.

    The right time for direct intervention in Syria was before Al Qaeda became the dominant force among the rebels. Now it it too late for anything except ludicrous face saving measures that were once famously described as "firing a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hitting a camel in the butt."

  14. Who stands to gain if the US reacts, Gene? The jihadist rebels of course, and they include many elements of al Quada.

    Where was the moral outrage when Saddam Hussain used tear, mustard and other nerve gasses against Iranians in their war?

    I bet that Obama does get congressional approval for this military strike, a strike that could escalate into a much wider war as

    As MLK said during his Dream speech: now is the time. Now is the timeto stop military actions that could escalate into a regional war. Now is the time to prevent another US intervention is a war that we have no good options and no good outcome.

    Now is the time to challenge Pax Americana and the arrogant notion that the US is the world's police force, judge, jury and executioner.