The Talking Dog

August 24, 2013, Bad stuff

There seems to be nothing good to say about anything coming out of Syria, as the government of Bashar al-Assad [and his visible allies, Hezbollah and Iran and his less visible allies, Russia] and "the rebels" [a wild consortium, almost certainly sponsored by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and without doubt possibly the CIA], now accuse each other of unleashing a chemical attack on the Syrian city of Ghouta in the suburbs of Damascus, which is estimated to have killed well over 300 people and sickened thousands... as the Obama Administration deploys some U.S. naval vessels ever closer to Syria... for some inadequately explained reason, because direct American intervention in Syria would probably start World War III be bad.

This Grey Lady op-ed by Edward Luttwak suggests that a prolonged unpleasant bloody stalemate is the only outcome favorable to American interests (he certainly cautions against-- and rightly so-- American intervention in Syria), noting that the Islamist extremists likely to emerge after a "rebel" win are not favorable to American interests, nor would an Assad regime that relied on assistance from Hezbollah and Iran (and presumably, Russia.)

Really? REALLY? Have we learned NOTHING? The list of our misguided and utterly f***ing DISASTROUS interventions seems endless, be they of recent vintage such as in Iraq... Afghanistan... Libya... Somalia... and our less obvious involvement in places like Egypt, and Bahrain, not to mention slightly older adventures in Southeast Asia, Iran (back when we overthrew a democratically elected government to install the Shah), and of course, all over the Western Hemisphere.

In short-- Mr. Luttwak is correct that American intervention-- of any kind, for any reason (other than perhaps giving humanitarian aid to surrounding countries like Jordan that have to deal with refugees)-- would be "ill-advised." And somebody's use of chemical weapons is, alas, just not a good reason for American intervention. And the presence of U.N. weapons inspectors already in Syria at the time of the attacks and the attacks just a few miles from their hotel-- makes me wonder about whether the Assad regime is that stupid (hint... I don't think so, though it certainly might be). Naturally, other than the rebels themselves, it seems the United States government is arguing the loudest that it is the Assad regime (rather than "the rebels") that is responsible for the chemical attack. None of us can say for sure, but right now, the evidence is inconclusive at best, and what American officials get out of stirring this pot (other than some really sweet contracts for whoever gets to provide support for the presumed sh*tstorm they're trying create)... is a mystery, at least to me.

Anyway, as awful as it is, Syria is unlikely to have a liberal, democratic government any time soon. I tend to think that a stable, albeit unpleasant regime like Assad's would be far, FAR better than either an Islamist sh*t-hole state (see how well that one just worked out in Egypt, for example) or an unstable, corrupt semi-failed state resulting in ostensibly permanent anarchy and civil war (of the kind we have installed and unleashed in Iraq and Afghanistan). And this result would also be true for Israel, which, without doubt, wants stability on its Northeastern border, and would (presumably) prefer not to have an Islamist regime reminiscent of Hamas in control of an entire well-armed country.

At the end of the day, the Middle East is a tough neighborhood with no good prospects... American intervention in the region has achieved exactly zero unqualified successes (save arguably Israel's position as regional powerhouse... and even there, our support has not involved direct military intervention)... and getting involved in this one-- chemical weapons or not-- would be yet another bad idea.

Just saying.

Update (8-25-13): Syria will allow weapons inspectors full access to the site of the attack. Another strong hint as to its provenance... at least in my view. And yet... seeing as Assad's Syria is a client-state of, you know, Russia, I don't think American forces will be ordered to back off anytime soon.

August 21, 2013, Thirty-five years

That's the sentence handed down by a military court-martial to Bradley Manning for leaking evidence of the United States's war crimes and other acts of malfeasance. The idea is to deter others who might have the audacity to try to let the public know what their government is up to. Hell-- the government was arguing for an even longer sentence-- of sixty years or more, to assure that Manning would die in prison for having the audacity to tell the American people what their government and military are doing in their name with their tax money. Damn him.

Of course, it bears noting that our government recently begged a country headed by a former KGB Colonel to hand back one of our citizens, assuring Russia that we [probably] wouldn't torture Edward Snowden [too much].

Interesting times. Do you not think we're living in 1984, only maybe even "new and improved"? Well... reminds me (albeit tepidly) of how Candace [and to some extent, I] were muzzled by this Administration shortly after it assumed power.

But go ahead, alleged progressives, and tell me about "lesser of two evils" and all...

August 8, 2013, Exercises in Credulity-Defying

Well, this piece from WaPo sort of lays out the conventional wisdom (as WaPo is wont to do)... to wit, given that the majority of the poor bastards still held at GTMO hail from Yemen, and given that there is a purported "threat" coming from "Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," allegedly based in Yemen, this will "complicate" the return of said Yemeni men to their home country, which of course, had been held up by Barack Obama for years now, in response to "the underpants bomber," but was supposedly "resumed" in response to the GTMO hunger strike. Of course, the Obama Administration, and every government agency asked to do so, has found that some 86 men at GTMO, many of them Yemeni, pose no threat whatsoever because they were NEVER terrorists of any kind... meaning... what freaking difference would it make to return men who were never part of al Qaeda to begin with to a country with a purported al Qaeda presence? (Stop with reality...)

Of course, the "credible threat" arising from "intercepted chatter" [that has led to the closing of around twenty-two diplomatic embassies and missions throughout the Islamic world] is, presumably, completely made up as a political stunt to get Congress to back off its recent efforts to rein in NSA spying on Americans. Of course, the scope of that spying is, surprise, surprise, broader than the government had been telling.

I say this because, and I admit its only IMHO... but I tend to think after all the trouble that OBL went through to make it hard to find him... that al Qaeda leadership is probably just not stupid enough to have a conference call... but, of course, in a nation that used to lead the world in most things and now leads it only in propaganda, the American people probably are stupid enough to believe that "the evildoers" would form a Legion of Doom on an easily intercepted open line.

You know, over a decade ago, on this very blog's "talking dog points," given former President George W. Bush's tendency to refer to "evil doers" and "war on terror" and "axis of evil" and the like, we pondered whether his National Security team (then led by Condi Rice) was briefing him with comic books... We have, of course, often quipped about how seamlessly, it seems, the Obama Administration has wholly adopted Bush Administration policies in everything important... such as the never-ending expansion of totalitarianism "the national security state..." but now even the asinine nomenclature and diction of the Bush Administration has trickled down to its worthy successors... in the Obama Administration.

And so... as my college classmate the President, who turned 52 a few days ago (happy birthday, Mr. President) petulantly tries to out-Bush Bush by reigniting the Cold War (over pique that a political dissident has fled from the United States to Russia!), by stepping up those killer robot drone strikes, by the ongoing war on whistleblowers in general, and by so many other Bush-like policies...

I'm sorry, I lost my train of thought. Kind of, you know, like the President did with that whole "close GTMO" thing. Sigh.

August 1, 2013, Unintended consequences... sort of...

It seems that uber-whistleblower and former contractor to the NSA Edward Snowden has, at least for the next twelvemonth, been given asylum in Vladimir Putin's Russia. Perhaps a September Obama-Putin summit will be canceled as a result of this... or perhaps it won't. Russia is obviously an irritant, along with Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba and the few other countries flexing their independence from Washington's jackboot. Having both a nuclear arsenal and huge oil reserves, Russia can pretty much do what it likes... and has. Actual national sovereignty independent of the financial interests running most of the world: imagine that?

Let me make this easy for both you and my own NSA minders. Obviously, not only do I approve of the actions of Mr. Snowden (and Mr. Manning, who awaits sentence, and Mr. Assange, who is holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and any of the other freedom-fighters out there who want to tell us what our own quite-literally-rogue-state government no longer wants to tell its own citizens), I applaud their actions, while readily admitting that I personally would almost certainly not have the courage to take the risks (probably lengthy prison terms) to do anything of the kind.

And so, I'll immediately juxtapose this news of Mr. Snowden's asylum with a great piece from James Fallows writing in the Atlantic,
"Why NSA Surveillance will be More Damaging than you think." The short answer to that is that business interests not forced by virtue of being here to operate in the United States will soon choose alternatives to doing so, be it local or regional networks not going through here, or other arrangements perhaps even of a lower tech nature, to avoid the prying eyes of the United States government and its contractors, because the United States has flushed its honest broker status, and heinously abused the exorbitant privilege of ostensibly hosting most of the backbone elements of the internet.

Here's the thing, boys and girls: not only is none of this shit going to keep us any "safer" from the mini-van or two worth of al-Qaeda operatives still in existence (and among others, Sen. Leahy evidently just concluded that the big phone thing accomplishes nothing of the sort), it wasn't designed to. It's designed to be used against specific kinds of targets: dissidents (animal rights activists, especially the kind who might take pictures of the activities of "agri-business" are prime examples), personal enemies of those in power (generally in the financial sector or the military), or, best of all, business interests whose secrets might prove extremely profitable to steal, particularly for American business interests under contract to do the snooping.

Oh... right... "foreign terrorists" doesn't seem to be on that list. Because everyone knows that terrorists operating in the poorest countries on Earth just this side of the stone-age are best thwarted using the world's most complex and sophisticated high-tech interception methods.

What... they're not? Uh oh...