. . . Russian Prime Minister and former NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin colorfully describing the Obama's announced intentions in Syria.
In order to understand things in the Middle East, it is necessary to look back in time . . . a VERY long way back in time. I once pointed out to a group of Arabs, "Your people are still fighting the Crusades." Yes, of course, they all agreed. "In America, people don't even know what the Crusades ARE!"
Let us study the three key pieces to the puzzle that is the Middle East;
Egypt, Iraq and Syria.
Egypt is the most populous of the Arab countries, and the most cosmopolitan. Egypt has had extensive interaction with the West since before the days of the Roman Empire. Cleopatra was actually the last of the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty, which ruled over Egypt for 275 years, from 305 BC to 30 BC. Egypt was the bread basket of the Roman Empire.
Modern Egyptians are well aware of their heritage, and they regard the oil-rich Gulf Arabs a bunch of hick hayseeds. The fact that these provincials are sitting on top of a giant underground puddle of oil just adds to the Egyptians ire.
Iraq is the seat of the ancient Arab Caliphate. The city of Baghdad was a center of learning during the Islamic Golden Age, 8th to 9th centuries. Back when London was still a swamp, Arab intellectuals in Baghdad were developing the sciences of astronomy, mathematics and the foundations of modern medicine.
The first operation using anaesthetic was performed by an Arab. While our ancestors were burning libraries during the mass-hysteria that was the Dark Ages, it was the Arabs who preserved the writings of Aristotle, Thucydides, Homer, Virgil, Ovid, and countless others.
Syria is the traditional center of the Arab culture; the essence of Syrian society is a complex geometric Arabesque pattern of interwoven of sects and tribes and philosophies and arts and cults. Syria is strategically located between Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Iraq.
Damascus is the oldest continually inhabited city in the world, situated across ancient trade routes and roads that radiate out from it like the spokes of a wagon wheel. The Apostle Paul had his vision on the road to Damascus. Jesus was crucified at the base of a hill in Jerusalem - Golgotha, which means The Skull - at a crossroads on the Damascus Road, directly across the street from what is now Jerusalem's Damascus Gate.
The Modern Era
During World War I, the successful campaign to topple the Ottoman Turks involved Field Marshall Allenby's push up through the Holy Land to take Damascus. Once he held Damascus, he owned the Middle East and all the oil in it.
Following the downfall of the Ottoman Empire, the English and the French carved up the Middle East. The English got Iraq and all its oil, while the French established the Mandate of Syria. Following the Roman tradition of 'Divide and Conquer' the French showed favor to the minority Alawite tribe in their colonial administration and the armed forces.
The Alawites were able to hold on to this unbalanced power. Since Hafez al-Assad took power in 1970, Alawite Assad family has dominated the government. During the Islamic uprising in Syria in the '70s and '80s, this establishment came under tremendous pressure. The conflict continues today as a function of the Syrian civil war.
In the 1950s a charismatic leader emerged in Egypt; Gamal Abdul Nasser. He threw out the decadent King Farouk, and began an effort to modernize Arab society. Nasser's vision included a united Arab nation, a United States of Arabs, as it were. What he accomplished was the United Arab Republic (UAR; Arabic: الجمهورية العربية المتحدة al-Ǧumhūriyyah al-ʿArabiyyah al-Muttaḥidah) a short-lived political union between Egypt and Syria that began in 1958 and existed until 1961, when Syria seceded from the union. Egypt continued to be known officially as the "United Arab Republic" until 1971. The UAR flag was horizontal red, white, and black bands with two stars to represent the two parts.
This continues to be the flag of Syria. In 1963, Iraq adopted a flag that was similar but with three stars, representing the hope that Iraq would join the UAR.
The three countries collaborated in strategic planning against Israel resulting in the Six Day War, a decisive victory for Israel due to Israel's pre-emptive strikes against Egypt and Syria. As previously discussed, the Arabs view Israel as the modern incarnation of the old Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and Crusader holdings Antioch and Tripoli - Western footholds in their lands. They eventually crushed the Crusaders and ran them into the sea, and it is their intent to do the same thing to the modern State of Israel.
The Post-Modern Era
This epoch of the Middle East is punctuated by the Six Day War of Israel versus the forces of Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Jordan. Decisive win: Israel. Subsequent campaigns of this conflict include the '73 Yom Kippur War - another decisive Israeli win - the First Gulf War that featured the liberation of Kuwait and limited excursion into Iraq; a brief but deadly adventure in Somalia; numerous terrorist atrocities in Israel, terrorist operations against our forces in Lebanon '83, Saudi Arabia '96 and USS Cole October in Yemen '00.
When we toppled Saddam Hussein in '03 what many feared has come to be; Saddam's secular Ba'athist regime in Iraq was a stabilizing factor in a powder keg neighborhood. Hindsight is twenty-twenty; it seems Saddam played a shell game with the West regarding the weapons of mass destruction issue. It was critical to his hold on power that his enemies - notably the Iranians - believed he had chemical weapons. At one point he did; we know this because he used them on the Kurds, but by the time we showed up they were for the most part gone.
Where did Saddam's chemical weapons go? It's not easy to dispose of chemical weapons and there certainly is no evidence of a disposal program in Iraq. The obvious answer is to look to Syria; Iraq's Ba'athist co-regime.
What if Al-Qaeda set off the chemical weapons on their own people? Think about it. Why would Basher Assad gas his own people? What's in it for him? On the other hand, al Qaeda nerve gasses their own people to create exactly what is happening; the U.S. ends up mobilizing against Assad, in other words on the same side as "the rebels".
Think about it. Last summer the Syrian rebels overran and controlled a government base that had chemical weapons. Leon Panetta admitted that chemical weapons may have fallen into the hands of rebel forces i.e. Al-Qaeda.
“If Barack Obama decides to attack the Syrian regime, he has ensured – for the very first time in history – that the United States will be on the same side as Al-Qaeda.”
Journalist Robert Fisk
This penultimate statement summarizes the current dilemma; Assad is a pig and a bloodsoaked dictator thug, but the rebels that oppose him are co-opted by Islamic Fundamentalist terrorists of the worst kind: al Qaeda. If we are to make missile strikes against Assad, we will essentially be siding with al Qaeda - politics makes strange bedfellows but this is beyond ridiculous.
In the quickening march to madness for military action in Syria, have we heard anything about a possible objective, or perhaps a mission statement? And has anybody at the highest levels given any consideration whatsoever to the international lineup out there? On the one hand we have the United States AND . . . nobody else. No Brits, no French, no Germans, no Spaniards, no Italians, no Canadians, no Australians, no "Coalition of the Willing" . . . nobody.
On the other hand, Assad has the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians and Hezbollah on his side. He has at least 200 Scuds - which we must assume are chemical-tipped - and he has stated that if he is attacked by the United States he will launch them on Israel. The Iranians have their missile forces and they are willing to follow suit. The Israelis will not wait for this to happen - they will take preemptive action.
To me this sounds like a Major League shitstorm waiting to happen. We are already stretched to the breaking point, in debt up to our eyeballs, and there is nothing to be gained - certainly no threat to our national security - by engaging in a totally pointless, unnecessary military adventure. Assad knows we cannot take him out without "boots on the ground", and nobody believes Obama is willing to go that far.
Choose your battles - that's Sun Tzu 101, People . . .