Syrian Horror Show, as Obama, Kuwait Pledge Refugee Aid (+ Cole Interview)

The UN donors’ conference in Kuwait made some progress on Wednesday morning toward its goal of $1 billion in aid to the some 700,000 Syrian refugees, many of whom are shivering in tents in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Kuwait stepped up big time, pledging $300 million. Kuwait has a long tradition of careful and well-executed development work. At the same time, President Obama pledged $155 million. Up until now, UN Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon had been complaining of the inadequacy of the international response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

On the other hand, Obama had underlined in a TNR interview on Sunday his reluctance to get involved in Syria, pointing out that the Congo has seen even greater loss of life (and implying that no one was saying he should send American troops there).

The horror show that is the Syrian civil war produced some new horrific scenes on Tuesday, as rebels announced that they had fished over 60 bodies of young men (some as young as 12) from a river in Aleppo. Their wrists were bound and they had been executed, shot in the head. The rebels and the Baath government promptly each accused the other of doing the deed. While it is difficult to adjudicate such claims, I suppose that it was the rebels who discovered the bodies and publicized it suggests that it was the regime who committed the murders.

The more consequential horrors are the heavy fighting by rebels in the north trying to take the Mannagh Air Force Base, the last of the regime’s major bases in the north of the country. If it falls, northern Syria would be beyond the regime’s ability to control it. Likewise, the regime is attempting desperately to hold on to Homs, because it abuts key highways going from the south to the north, and the supply line from the Mediterranean ports to the capital of Damascus. If Homs fell, the regime would find it difficult to receive Russian arms.

Here is my appearance on a panel to discuss Syria at Marwan Bishara’s “Empire” on Aljazeera English, which aired on Sunday:

8 Responses

  1. Business Insider ran an article on 29th January 2013 that suggests that Assad is now winning.^

    An earlier BI article reveals something about the strategy that Assad might be using:
    <>^^
    I would think that seeing how the other ‘flowers’ blossomed in neighbouring countries’ ‘Arab Springs’ demonstrates that rebellions break down once there appears to be opportunities for factional consolidation or marginalisation. Rather than fighting the ‘establishment,’ various groups begin the chore of asserting dominance, resulting in infighting, competition, and ‘gang’ warfare until such a time as a mutually agreeable leader (a ‘Luciano’) arises to meet the challenges. But, as we have seen in Lebanon, for example, car bombs have ways of eliminating even the most popular.
    Assad is likely waiting and watching how the rebels progress and who’s behind them internationally. Then, as you pointed out, there’s the Russkies and others who are beginning to want to use their might for their ‘right.’ The Chinese, for example, may be using their dispute with the Japanese over those islands in order to gauge response or create a diversion. The advantage is gained by those who are willing to wait until the newly invigorated begin to act recklessly, shortening their longevity. Meanwhile, back at the refugee camps …

    ^ link to businessinsider.com
    ^^ link to businessinsider.com

  2. One report blames the carnage on the Islamic extremist al-Nusra faction, however it is correct to note there are insufficent facts at this point that can be confirmed to assign blame.

    In any event, a very tragic occurrence for Syria.

  3. The pathology of viewing everything that happens in the MENA region as the result of the CIA is well on display in that panel discussion. Good for you for pushing back, Professor.

    Especially remarkable was the claim that by not intervening, the West is transforming Syria into “another proxy killing field.”

    What the hell is that supposed to mean? Non-intervention is now an imperialist plot, too?

    The panelist who talks about the United States’ record “over several decades” is absurdly anachronistic. Helping the fall of Mubarak isn’t consistent with American Cold War record. Our policies towards Tunisia and Libya aren’t consistent with this “anti-democratic empire” theory. The Obama administration’s opposition to the coup in Honduras is the polar opposite of our policies in the “good old days.”

    Things change. Allen Dulles is mouldering in his grave. People married to beloved old narratives need to catch up with new facts. If your thinking about American policy towards the Middle East assumes that American policy in 2013 is the same as in 1949, you’re just telling yourself what you want to hear.

    • “…..[t]he Obama administration’s opposition to the coup in Honduras is the polar opposite of our policies in the “good old days”.

      The deposed Honduran president in an interview accused CIA-backed individuals and organizations that had connections to the Honduran military that inspired the coup; he named names. Wikileaks revelations show that the American Embassy reports from Tegucigalpa differed from what the Obama administration was teling us about the coup.

      The Honduran president’s politics became too liberal over time for the Cold Warriors in the CIA and State Department. Republicans in Congress welcomed the coup and former pres. Zelaya himself says that his ties to Castro and Chavez angered the U.S.

      The Honduran coup is reminiscent of the coup deposing Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 or Allende in Chile in 1973.

      Turkey, Israel and the United States are openly backing the Free Syrian Army for their own selfish motives – not for love of spreading democracy – but for advancement of their respective national security interests. If a post-Baathist Syria degenerates intio civil war or a long-term low-grade guerilla conflict as happened in Iraq, the U.S. may wax nostalgiac over the Assad era.

      • “the U.S. may wax nostalgiac over the Assad era.” As some U.S.ans are doing over the Saddam Hussein era, and I bet many Iraqis and other eths are too. How ’bout them Iraqi Oil Reserves and development contracts, hey?

      • The names Zelaya named, such as Otto Reich, are people who are no longer at the State Department, and whose ideas are on the outs with the current administration. There certainly was an American connection, but by free-lancers – by the Obama administration’s opponents. Certainly, Republicans in Congress would have supported the coup. They never would have cut off foreign aid to that country until a legitimate election was held, and they never would have denounced it as an illegal coup. Fortunately, our foreign policy isn’t being run by those people anymore.

        The claims about the Wikileaks cables never panned out. There was certainly a full-court press put on to try to smear this Clinton State Department by people married to their favorite, unchanging narrative, but behind all of the spin, there was no “there” there.

        Turkey, Israel and the United States are openly backing the Free Syrian Army for their own selfish motives – not for love of spreading democracy – but for advancement of their respective national security interests.

        If you find yourself merging Turkey, Israel, and the United States into one undifferentiated blob, you’ve probably taken a wrong turn somewhere.

      • American Embassy reports from Tegucigalpa differed from what the Obama administration was teling us about the coup.

        And the cables from Benghazi show something different than what Susan Rice was telling us about the attack, in the first few days.

        Putting together exactly what was happening thousands of miles away is not an easy task.

        It is the stuff of conspiracy theorists to blow up the mere existence of inconsistencies into a Grand Narrative.

  4. “I suppose that it was the rebels who discovered the bodies and publicized it suggests that it was the regime who committed the murders.”

    I wouldn’t suppose anything when TV cameras are involved.

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