Sunday, September 29, 2013

Nobamacarepandemorama


    Mark Steyn knows whereof he speaks.  The Right's funny man (and his insights into the foibles of the Left are truly hilarious) often gets his facts right, which is refreshing these days when willingness to stay true to reality strains most commentators and politicos beyond their capacity. The phenom that first drew notice with president Reagan who at times cast events from his motion pictures into history, has become sort of a sport nowadays.  After the heap of factual gaffes from Joe Biden, it hardly is worthy of mention that Ted Cruz placed Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler (to which Cruz compared the GOP handling of the president's Health Reform) in the forties.  No, Ted, the Munich Agreement was signed in 1938. 

   It is then to Steyn's credit that he distinguishes politically between Europe and North America when assessing the merits of national health policy.  In his latest op-ed Steyn bores into Europeans and "progressive" Americans (progressive in quotes)  for  rag[ing] at the immorality of of the U.S. medical system (no quotes around immorality).  Well, not all Europeans would be given to rage, but as a group they would sure deplore the U.S. not recognizing universal access to affordable medical care, if not as a fundamental human right, then simply as a hallmark of a modern Judeo-Christian civilization. Truly, Europeans of no political stripe would feel comfortable with this particular American exceptionalism.  To them national health is not a question of political beliefs or social justice but one of cultural hygiene.  This is about who we are. We don't look at sickness and decrepitude and see bona fide commercial opportunities.

But speak to a true GOP patriot, or Mark Steyn, about virtues of a profit motive in dispensing health care and you may as well be talking to a Saudi cleric about the conjugal fitness of a nine-year old schoolgirl.  There will be something missing in the viewpoint, some essential insight that says, no, this cannot be right today, even if it may have been tolerable before. Why is America opposing universal, simple, national Health Care one-hundred and thirty years after Bismarck ?  Glad you asked because it's the wrong question.  The question should be, who in America opposes that ?  The answer of course is, first it is those who make big money from commercialized medicine as it is today. Who else ?  Those who will act as their advocates (for some of that money,  of course).  Who else ? Those who can be persuaded by the ones who benefit from the status quo and their selfless campaigners,  that the prospective users of health care benefit from paying way too much for what is provided to them. That's about it, folks.  Everyone else must be, pace Steyn, an un-American alien or a liberal stooge. 

And yet the case against the commercial health insurance is fairly simple to understand.  It is, frankly speaking, an institutionalized robbery. There can never be fair market value in the provision of health services, because the effects are imponderable.  When you insure a house, a vehicle, family jewellery, the object is specific and the covered losses are specific.  You don't cover a workshop machinery wholesale against general, non-specific breakdowns.  There is no point of doing that since most of the hardware will break down sooner or later and the accumulated premiums need to assure the insurer a return on investment. The insurer would have to plot claims losses over indefinite service life of the machines, and the risk of their breaking down rises exponentially as the workshop ages. This would make the premiums too high in the early years of the coverage to compensate for the latter years.  The insurance scheme would not be attractive for the buyer if there were scores of insured parties coming into the picture, subsidizing the older workshops, without guarantee of return if the party goes out of business.  It is, as Steyn says of Social Security, a Ponzi scheme. (He of course liberally overlooks the small detail that no Charlie Ponzi is actually stealing from Social Security).  As long as you, the insurer, can build up clientele, you are ok. As soon as the workshops start to break down, they no longer present a viable risk. Statistically, they will continue to break down with an ever-increasing frequency. If you don't get enough healthy workshops to pay for the sick ones, you are out of business. 

If health insurance is a commercial contract then a gas station holdup is a commercial contract. You empty the cash register; the robber lets you live. Fair exchange, isn't it ? What's a few bucks compared to human life ?   Whoa, the market economist will protest:  a business transaction assumes a voluntary exchange. How could a holdup be fair business if one side is forced to transact by threats against their life ?  Good observation, I say, and one that directly addresses commercial health services.   So, what is voluntary about health insurance ?  Do you want to pay us, ma'am, or would you prefer to kick the bucket ?  It's up to you, hey, no pressure.  How about not insuring your kid ?  Hey, don't get all worked up about it !  It is clearly a commercial option if your kid has just had a bone-marrow transplant operation. Your premiums are going to go through the roof !  Think it over !

Yes, the element of fraud is built deeply into the medical insurance business. People who need medical insurance the most are by definition the least attractive customers to the providers.  Neither side actually wants to transact business over anyone's health. A person with a pre-existing condition knows his buying insurance only hastens his bankruptcy (which of course would make him eligible for Medicaid) and an insurer knows that such a person does not ask him to be a an "insurer" but a benefactor.  Both parties will have a built-in interest to defraud the other, by misrepresenting on the one hand, the state of one's health,  and on the other, the benefits of the policy. 

Steyn becomes laughable when he affects that a National Health Care system is impossible in the USA logistically because it is a country of over three hundred million. Really ? 

I am entirely ok with the assessment that Obamacare is a dud that lacks the thing that Obama lacks: strength of conviction.  It will be a bureaucratic nightmare, no doubt. It will be a confusing Byzantine labyrinth, full of loopholes. People and companies will be forced into exchanges that are inferior to plans they have today.  Steyn has the right gut feeling about this.  Where we differ is that I believe that the the hope for a true health care reform in the US was destroyed the moment the president abandoned the public health insurance option. A single-payer system is the way to go, and a robust national health policy probably cannot be effected without it.  The government-run insurance, competing with private providers, is a much simpler and much more effective tool, doing what governments around the world have been doing for decades and in a number of areas other than health care. Setting minimum standards, modus operandi, ensuring funding through income tax, or payroll tax provisions.  All this of course is doable in a country that figured out how to put people on the moon.  One cannot get rid of government bureaucracy but one can right-size it. A government-run national health service in this regard would be much easier to administer (and police) than multi-tiered government subsidies, a myriad of local "marketplaces" and co-ops, state-run programs, Medicaid and Medicare. No, the problem with Obamacare is not that National Health Plans are too complicated for a country like the US as Steyn argues.  It is simply that you cannot effect a health reform in the US  if you are willing to underwrite a political compromise that surrenders its most effective tools.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thinking the Unthinkable about the Ghouta Massacre

      
You have to hand it to the Russians. They will not take 'yes' for an answer and they will not take cover, or admit that the deal they made with Assad makes them allies with a mass murderer.  It seems that Lavrov and Putin are hellbent on discrediting the "evidence" pinning the dreadful August attack in Ghouta on Assad's military.  Just exactly what you would not expect them to do if the balance of facts was really tipped the way the mainstream US media outlets are unanimous in saying it is - against Assad. And the reason why no TV panel or newspaper op-ed analyze with probity the likelihood  (even as a possibility) that the anti-Assad freedom fighters perpetrated the war's most revolting massacre, is not because it is impossible, since it plainly is possible, but because it is unthinkable. It is unthinkable to admit that the US was complicit in such a heinous deed. Unfortunately, the logic of the situation exludes the middle: it was either Russia or the USA whose proxies in the war wasted the lives of over fourteen hundred civilians and four hundred children to pursue their military and political ends in the war. It was either Russia or the USA who were ultimately responsible for a cold-blooded mass murder. It is clear that the Russians don't like that accusing finger pointed at them one bit.  

Yesterday, the deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov returned from Damascus with a new dossier given to him by the Syrians  ostensibly implicating the rebels in the atrocity.  This would add to their factual database, the existence of which as is not known to people who only follow the western media, includes samples of 'homemade' sarin bombs used by the rebels and collected by Russian experts in Khan al-Assal, earlier this year.  Despite litanies and protestations to the contrary, it could have very well been the FSA or any of the jihad groups who orchestrated and executed the attack.
 
The arguments for the Russian advance are clear and easy to follow:

1) It would have been strategically irrational for Assad to resort to large-scale chemical attack on an urban area: Almost everyone on both sides is agreed on this one.  The timing of the attack could not have been more improbable, given that since spring Assad and his Hezbollah and Iranian allies have been on the offensive and winning strategically important territory.  To risk an American intervention (to which president Obama pledged himself in December 2012 by issuing a 'red line' for the use of chemial weapons) would have been, as the surgeons say, counter indicative. It certainly would not have to help Assad any to launch (or to allow to launch) a mass attack targetting civilians at this particular juncture.  Western analysts attempted to talk around this issue by saying that it might have not been an action approved my the high command, or that it was an impulsive act by Assad's brother Maher, known for his ruthlessness. Still, even if such action is clearly a possibility it does not answer the argument satisfactorily.  The Japanese were known to resort to "banzai" suicide attacks in hopeless situations. They were not known to launch them during offensive operations.  The military effect of using gas unsystematically in attacks on an urban area where the positions of the adversary forces were largely would not have offset the risks and this certainly seemed to be the case, given the reported cases of dozens of poison Assad troops penetrating into the area.

2) Despite disingenuous assurances of the pro-rebel politicos and pundits,  the rebels have chemical weapons and used them elsewhere: The Russians claim to have proof that the rebels used "homemade" sarin-based munitions which do not originated from Assad's stockpiles.  It is assumed that Russia, as an ally would have been given the formula of the government munitions.  But it is not only the Russians who have made such a claim. Significantly, Carla del Ponte, a UN inspector said there were some strong (even if as yet inconclusive) indications that the rebels used sarin. The former Swiss prosecutor for war crimes in Yugoslavia can hardly be accused of championing Russian allies among war-crime perpetrators.  She is well remembered for her zeal in going after the Serbian war criminals, real and imaginary.  And of course, it's the rebels themselves who are making shambles of the claims of their chemical warfare innocence, made on their behalf.  They proudly display their chemical know-how and operational fitness on Youtube videos (here, here and here).

3) The UN report released on Monday (9/16/2013) does not do much if anything to dispel the suspicion: The Russians may be very clever in their disdain of the UN report on the use of chemical weapons in East Ghouta but it may be just they are seeing that while it nominally eschews "assigning blame" it actually does just that.  The decision, taken ahead of time, not to analyze the components to identify positively the origin of the munitions, seems to have been taken with the express intent to blame the Assad's army on a simple finding that sarin was used.  Mind you, even if they were positively identified, it would not remove the suspicion that the attack was staged, given the length of the conflict, porous borders and as many as twenty thousands foreign nationals involved, massive defections from Assad's military and the real possibility that scores of among military objects overrun was a chemical weapons depot. From an exchange between Russia's envoy at the UN and the head of the investigation, Ake Sellstrom, it has emerged that the weapons fired into the area were sophisticated missiles dispersing the payload prior to hitting ground.  Pace Samantha Power, this  is a smoking gun in Assad's hand but a level-headed assessment of such a finding would be that it could also be a sophisticated, planned military operation with either captured stock, or stock  imported into the country from elsewhere. The idea to restrict the UN mandate to a simple binary finding and then to use incomplete technical data of the finding for politically motivated conjectures, does not speak well of a sense of integrity.   The UN report actually does not shed any light on a slew of important issues most importantly if sarin was the only toxic material used, and was all of it delivered by a single method via single source, i.e. missiles.  Knowing this is crucially important, as evidently chemical agents were used by both sides, and in this case then the attack itself may have been "spoofed", or its scale purposly extended by planting toxic chemicals in civilian areas by means other than bombardment.

4) Is there evidence of staging on the videos coming out of East Ghouta on the day of the attack ?:  There is no doubt that the horrific images of victims of mass chemical weapons on the whole depict real people and the effects of poisoning.  The problem is that at dozens of videos have emerged within hours from areas which were supposedly highly toxic, and were - by the evidence of the videos themselves -  lethal to life not protected against the effect of sarin. The implication of the video evidence is that if it was not orchestrated, dozens of people became aware independently or by communication with each other that a large scale chemical attack was launched against their neghbouhoods, determined which areas were affected, procured the necessary protection to go into these places (gas masks and suits), went into the targeted neighbourhoods, and removed the very sick, bringing scores of them to hospitals where people took the videos of convulsed bodies, and posted the footage on the internet...all of that within two or three hours.  The improbability of this happening must be appreciated.  In terms of human psychology, the shock following such a horrendeous calamity, and the fear of a toxic gas spreading would have overwhelmed the place, initially . However there is no evidence of this on the first videos; they seemed to have been taken with professional detachment, showing chaotic situations such as one would expect. But what one would not expect on them are samaritans handling the very sick themselves being unprotected or not adequately protected.  If these people were actually relatives of the victims bringing them for medical care, how did they achieve immunity from the effects of sarin ?  Some of the scenes will likely have been staged and cut into scenes of the brutal effects of actual poisoning. 

5) Large scale massacres by the opposition were perpetrated before by islamic rebels with the express intent to blame Assad for the atrocity:   The Houla atrocity was initially blamed on Assad also but given the MO of the assault (butchery, mutilations by cutting implements) and witnesses testifying as to actual sequence of events, few now believe Assad's forces were responsible. Merkel's reluctance to join Obama's punitive strike against Syria doubtless relates to German media, which is much more critical of the rebels' methods than the US outlets. Der Spiegel reconstructed the Houla massacre and it points to the rebels, little doubt.  It is interesting to compare the video shot by the rebels of the Houla masacre to the images of the Ghouta carnage. Note the awareness of those present of the likely effect of images of dead children and facial mutilations on the U.N. and the civilized world. Dead children are used prominently to provoke visceral disgust. However, the way of one of the people at the scene handles the lifeless body of a child with a cavernous wound to his face, all but gives the authorship away.



6)  Evidence of planned false-flag operation preceding the attack:   The two images above, are cut out of Daily Mail Online article run originally on January 29. 2013.  It was taken off the paper's pages four days later but was available through an Internet archive Wayback Machine until the page was disabled.  (You can still see the article for a few seconds but the pages is then pulled)  Why would anyone want to tamper with the record if this really was a canard, if the US has 'high confidence' in the intelligence that says it really was Assad, and the  UN inspectors' report really (as Samatha Power claims) implicate Assad ?  There have been other 'leaks' purporting to show that this was a CIA-run or CIA-vetted operation but I am content with showing the curious disapperance of what was once deemed news fit to print in a major British newspaper.  The ministry of Truth now denies it has ever been printed.   As a crooked cop called Whitehouse (I kid you not !) says to Mel Gibson's character whom he betrays in The Edge of Darkness :

"It is never what it is, Tom;  it is always what it can be made to look like".

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Putin's Osotogari

George Friedman, the chairmain of the global intelligence think tank Stratfor comes to some predictable conclusions in his latest op-ed (Syria, America and Putin’s Bluff, 10/9/2013). Almost from the moment that the Syrian foreign minister announced in Moscow on Monday that his government welcomes the Russian proposal, the reactions in the US were either excessively skeptical or outright negative. From the president’s understated “potentially positive development” (which was really should have been a “potentially the solution to the crisis”) to the CNN cynical panels whose members see the Russian proposal to transfer the barbaric weapons under international as a “sham” or a “ploy” or, perhaps most bizzarely, a stalling tactic.  I say bizzarely because had Obama been resolute in his conviction that Assad’s action merited at least 200 tomahawks, the Syrian dictator would have been by now scrambling to find some of his command posts and airfields in a hopeless rubble.  So the last thing one would want to do here is to accuse the Russians of seeking to delay the overt act of war. Unless of course, one likes to parade one’s lack of smarts. No, the Russians are not playing for time. They simply saw in Kerry’s letting the cat out of the bag an opportunity and acted on it. Swiftly. Decisively.   

       Friedman believes Putin is motivated by a desire to punch above his weight, insinuating that Russia is a world-power capable of brokering a political solution to the Syrian crisis.   In his analysis, Friedman sees Kremlin acting out a revenge against the US for the humiliation of its traditional ally Serbia, in chasing Milosevic out of Kosovo in 1999 and making the historical cradle of Serbia independent. Likewise, Putin is said to be  incensed by what he perceives as meddling in Russia’s internal affairs by the western-financed NGOs.  The encroachment on a Russian sphere of influence, both in the Balkans and in Ukraine little later created a deep sense of resentment, he argues. Friedman believes – not without justification – that Putin took his due on Kosovo in the Georgia conflict of summer 2008.  He smashed the US-trained military of Georgia and liberated the former ethnic enclaves annexed to Georgia during the Soviet days as a payback for the unilateral declaration of Kosovo independence that year.  Since then, the theory goes,  Putin wants to present Russia as a world-power, restoring its Soviet-era ties with Cuba and cozying to the leftist regimes in South America.   All of this projects to Russia’s attitude toward Syria, a Soviet client since 1970. Putin is trying to deny Obama a payback for beating up on “a US client” Georgia in 2008. He has resolved to keep Assad in power. It is a “core issue” for him to maintain the illusion of Russia as a world power.    What can one say about all of this ?  The Stratfor chief may have some points right but the overall analysis is poor and for all intents and purposes useless. In truth it is not as much an analysis as it is a statement of Friedman’s own perception of the US – Russian relationship as the continuation of the Cold War “zero sum” game. 

      The Stratfor chief is far from Metternich’s perception of Russia as a potentially key player in the “global concert” and very close to the traditional paranoid British view of Russia as the vicious bear wont to claw its way into the honeycombs of  its world Empire.  Both views, the latter infecting the US cold-war view of Russia, are deficient. Russia’s traditional preoccupations with stability and outward unity make it predisposed to reactionary backwardness. This may have been no problem for Metternich, whom was no apostle of progress and modernity. But it certainly will cause frictions with cultures and economies which are more dynamic, who will eventually see Russia’s water-wheel as one running on backwater.   The pro-western politicians in Russia itself (the last of whom is Medvedev) know this and seek to change the MO on which Russians operate.  Putin himself, despite Brzezinski’s perception of him as a Mussolini wannabe, attempts to straddle the traditional opposing forces in Russia.  He oscillates between pragmatism needed to make Russia  an economically viable modern power and traditional Russian patriotism rooted in a sense of the country’s special mission which formed with the fall of the Greek Christian Byzantium as Russia’s guide and spiritual protector.  There is, consequently, somewhat of an inner struggle within Vladimir Vladimirovich, which gets played out in his dealings with the West.   To his fans, his perhaps most endearing personal trait is what the Russians call ‘bodrostj’, a cheerful self-confidence and unabashed sincerity. I think this was picked up on by George W. Bush, who shares with Putin certain charming naivete. He certainly did not see in Putin a poseur in search of an empire,  someone overwhelmed by the designs of history and his own place in them.     

       Russia’s foreign policy post-Yeltsin seems to reflect Putin’s personal struggles.  One thing that makes the Russian president an attractive partner to the West is that his (and Medvedev’s) focus is unhesitantingly on internal development of Russia, its economy and prosperity. He is not an ideologue, a crypto-communist,  despite the remark that the Soviet Union downfall was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the twentieth century, he made in addressing the Duma in 2005.  

      The remark was badly misinterpreted by Brzezinski and others. It reflects the patriotic, not the ideological side of Putin. He believes that the USSR for all its faults offered a sense of security and belonging to Russians.  He refuses to throw away the collective experience of suffering and the heroism of the Russian people in the Second World War (which in Russian has an internal marker, dating from Hitler’s attack in 1941 to his expulsion late in 1944, called the ‘Great Patriotic War’).  In the breakup and economic restructuring, tens of millions lost their livelihood, many among the Russian brightest and best educated reduced to the most horribly undignified existence. The remarks were also to convey Putin’s deepest concerns for the twenty-five-or-so million Russians caught during the breakup outside the borders of the Russian Federation. They were scapegoated by the new authorities for the ills of the Soviet system, denied citizenship, social services and schooling in Russian, equal access to justice, sometimes denied the right to practice Christian religion (in Islamic Central Asia). In addition to these, Russians were the victims of  violence at the hands of criminal gangs and nationalist paramilitaries. Hundreds of thousands of Russian ex-pats were expulsed or forced to emigrate by intolerable conditions.  Thousands were killed. The suffering of non-Russian ethnics in the breakup was even more intense and widespread as ancient national and religious animosities flared up in many places of the former Union.  It may not have been the greatest geopolitical catastrophe, certainly not greater than the world wars, but it was a huge social and humanitarian catastrophe, no doubt.  The civilizational collapse and widespread lawlessness that characterized the breakup of the USSR no doubt also figures hugely in Putin’s reading the situation in Syria and his estimates of what Syria post-Assad would look like.

     Unlike George Friedman, I observe that Putin is free of the pomposity and bluster that was so characteristic of the Soviet leaders after Stalin. Quite to the contrary: he seems to thrive on underplaying Russia’s power. It has been now fourteen years that Russia has belonged to Putin. During this time, there has been not a single instance on the international scene where Putin overplayed his hand, although opportunities there were plenty.  He could have, through his proxies crushed the Orange revolution in the Ukraine. He did not do that – preferring to let the anti-Russian rivals destroy themselves through internal fighting.  He could have attempted to force Poland and the Czechs out of the “shield” business making it simply too costly for them. He could have been much more forceful  the over the treatment of ethnic Russians when dealing with Estonia and Moldova. He could have walked into Tbilisi and forced Saakashvili to flee (which he was on his way to do, anyway). The American could not have done a thing, mired not just Iraq and Afghanistan, as Friedman notes, but in the midst of the biggest financial collapse since 1929. He didn’t.  But even before that, in the second war in Chechnya in 1999, as Yeltsin’s right hand,  Putin showed remarkable restraint. He  prevailed on the military not to use ham-handed frontal assaults like Grachev on Grozny in 1995 but instead profit from the superior numbers to deny the Chechen warlords lines of communication. The Russian army took their bastion, Gudermes, without nearly any fighting giving the jihadis a narrow corridor to escape.  This is not a behaviour of an self-obsessed satrap who imagines himself on the top of the world.  Stratfor analysts would do well to read some of Putin’s speeches in the parliament when he was prime minister fighting with the likes of Zhirinovski or Zyuganov.  He, unlike professional political idiots like McCain and Graham, knows where Russia stands among the economic powers and does not have any illusions about it.  Again, I am hard pressed to see grandiose master plan in what Putin does, or for that matter, any reasonable politician in Russia wants to do. As for Russia’s friendly relations with some of the leftist regimes I would not read anything more to that than Russia exercising its global options and searching for new markets.

      Russia’s policy toward Syria has been remarkably consistent, as it was during the Libyan crisis. For reasons explained above Putin abhors the kind of chaos created by a forceful removal of dictator. From his point of view, bad as Ghaddafi was, he posed no danger to anyone (any more). His misrule was preferable to a state of lawless anarchy and formation of another focal base of terrorist operations in the region.  Same as in Syria, except Russia has some strategic interests in Syria given its proximity to Caucasus and Russia energy supplies and routes. Her Islamic “problem” in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan is exclusively Sunni militancy, specifically Wahhabism that overshadowed in 1990’s the native mild forms of Sufism and Shiite practice (mostly in Azerbaijan) in the region. US anti-Assad alliance with Turkey and the Gulf states directly threatens vital Russia’s interests both political and economic. Russians  worked diligently to kill the Nabucco project and would not want to see it resuscitated or replaced by another “alternate” supply route that competes with Gazprom’s. Politically, Putin has pretty much cleaned up the North Caucasus of the dangerous militancy and has no intention to have another war there. Especially not now, when Kadyrov has built in Chechnya a working model of cooperation between the Federation and an Islamic state within its borders.  The Chechen autonomous republic has become one of the fastest growing regions in Russia.  

      Is there a Putin’s  “bluff” in Syria ?  I don’t think so.  Russia wants to have enough influence in the region to assure its baseline requirements for stability and prosperity. Despite the western media’s protestations, its foreign policy  is not welded to Assad’s regime, and there have been noises coming out of the Kremlin that Russia would like to see him go.  It is just that Putin does not want his departure to precipitate chaos and inter-communal mayhem that would surely follow, if he were to abdicate now. The danger seems even greater because the US State Department insists on a narrative that is simply not reflective of the current reality.  Even if the secularists among the armed rebels were numerically stronger, and this is far from certain now than it was eighteen months ago, the units and brigades are uncoordinated, led by commanders who are often at cross-purposes and, something that does not get much play time at CNN but is an ever-increasing part of the picture, often degenerate into criminal gangs bent on looting and taking hostages for profit.  The islamist rebel groups are often  enlarged by young men disillusioned by the lack of dedication of the more secular FSA units to the “cause”. 

    Putin understands that the chemical attack east of Damascus, whether hatched by the lower ranks within Assad’s military or as a provocation by the rebels, was a pretext for the US to tip the balance of power on the ground in favour of the regime opponents, now in retreat.  This is why Kerry’s “offhanded” remark in London basically shot that plan in the leg.  The Russians quickly prevailed on the Syrians to give up the chemical arsenal as they are strategically useless. Their existence can only be used to legitimize external aggression toward Syria. This was a masterful osotogari by Putin, effectively denying the military option to Obama as politically unsustainable.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pants on Fire


       Rush Limbaugh finally asked the question which is not a question to the Russian president. Did al-Qaeda frame Assad ? Putin said bluntly John Kerry lied to Congress about the role and extent of al-Qaeda participation in the rebel Free Syrian Army. Putin was referring to the Secretary’s answer to Wisconsin’s Senator Ron Johnson who was concerned about the infiltration of the FSA by offshoots of the notorious terrorist organization.

 Kerry answered: “The opposition has increasingly become more defined by its moderation, more defined by the breadth of its membership and more defined by its adherence to some, you know [sic], democratic process and to an all-inclusive, minority-protecting constitution, which will be broad-based and secular with respect to the future of Syria. And that's very critical.”

This comes barely a month after  a massacre in the North in which some 450 civilians were reported killed including 120 children. In this horrrific assault on humanity Assad was not suspected. It was brigades that Secretary Kerry denies play prominent role in the conflict or falsely labels as "moderates" pledged to a post-war democratic process in Syria. The western media have largely ignored the mounting evidence of large-scale atrocities committed by the al-Qaeda affiliates such as the one in Tal Abyad just mentioned or at Khan al-Assal.  In John Kerry’s narrative such incidents simply don’t exist. Or if there is not a decisive proof that al-Qaeda was involved, they are blamed on Assad.  In John McCain’s almanac, the jihadi cri-de-guerre Allahu Akhbar heard on the rebels’ videos showing the decapitations of priests or mass shootings of prisoners, is an equivalent of a church-going Christian’s Thank God!   Do these guys think we are total idiots ? 

 If one goes by facts and not oaths there is little evidence that Bashar al-Assad ordered a large-scale sarin attack against the suburbs of his capital which his forces were bombarding and from which his troops were clearing the rebel fighters.  Of course it is possible he did it,  or someone on his side took matters in his own hands, but on the surface it looks about as probable as that Nidal Hasan was thanking God for the gift of life when executing his unarmed fellow soldiers at Fort Hood.   

  There is obviously something terribly wrong with Kerry’s Syria narrative. It falls apart the moment you start reading something else than Washington Post or the Guardian and watching something else than the Wolf-Blitzer-Christian-Amanpour babble fests.  Kerry's estimate of "15%-25% of extremists among the rebels" would be laughed off by most people on the ground in Syria, that is if they would not laugh off the notion of  FSA as a disciplined, civilized military force before that.   

We of course do not have reliable sources that tell us the chemical attack near Damascus was perpetrated by the rebels. Yes, I am aware of the Gavlak’s report in MintPress News that has jihadist fighters admitting to releasing the gas in Ghouta, but I am not buying that either.  It just does not figure that the chief of Saudi intelligence would have been so personally involved in the incident to have blown his cover. It does not help either that the chief editor of the electronic outlet that employs the former AP reporter is a hijab-clad Palestinian-bred Shia.  We should not be anyone’s fools !  And as a cynic who grew up in communist Eastern Europe during the History’s inexorable march to the final victory of communism, I can tell stupid propaganda when I see it. 

Last Tuesday (9/3/2013), The Guardian ran a staged query on Syria and allowed  the “taboo” question to be asked again: Did the rebels have sarin gas ?  It answered in this fashion:

"It is not the media that is assuming that Assad is responsible. The Guardian and other media have reported claims and assessments by the US, UK, France and the Syrian rebels, and of course official Syrian denials. Only western governments have provided any evidence at all, however adequate or convincing it is judged. All three governments also state categorically that the rebels did not have the capacity to mount a CW attack on the scale of what occurred on 21 August. All have stated they are relying on classified sources as well as the precedent of earlier, smaller attacks. More detail is clearly needed to convince sceptics, given the experience of the Iraq WMD dossier.It has previously been reported that members of the al-Nusra front were caught with sarin nerve gas in Turkey – and this has been echoed by Syrian state media. Dale Gavlak, an independent journalist, has reported a belief that nerve agents used in Ghouta were supplied by Saudi Arabia. So far, however, neither the Syrian government nor Russia have publicly provided any evidence that the rebels were responsible for the incident. Delay in allowing the UN inspectors access to the scene of the attacks, and heavy shelling before they were able to get there, appeared designed to destroy evidence.”

I am sorry but I always assumed that we in the West believe that a crime has to be committed beyond reasonable doubt for one to be in a position to apply sanctions legally.  It cannot be just “any evidence at all”.  Note also, that the Syrian rebels are named among the ones who “concluded” Assad was responsible.  Gee whiz, should not a party that may well be guilty of the atrocity be excluded from passing opinions on it ?   And what about the weaseling around the al-Nusra rebels caught with a sarin canister in Turkey in June ?  Pardon me for asking a stupid question, but why would they try to smuggle sarin into Syria if they did not have the intent, the know-how, and the means to use it ?  Does that make any sense ?     But the real shocker and one that exposes the mendacious nature of the so-called “intelligence data” is the categorical denial that the rebels have “the capacity” to deliver a large scale attack such as undeniably took place east of Damascus in August. 

This is a bold-faced lie that has been repeated by everyone who wants the US military to get involved in the Syrian pandemonium. They say the rebels do not have sophisticated delivery systems for chemical weapons. They do not have an air force, missiles, specialized artillery to deliver the munitions whose payload is mixed in flight. Hmmm, really ? I don't think so.

The fact of the matter is you do not have to have any of the above to launch a horrific assault on humanity by chemical weapons. A president who professes to be outraged by mass killings of civilians has no excuse for not knowing that !  If the jihadists in Syria have access to sarin (which btw is not denied by The Guardian) it means they could very well have used it on the scale and with the effects observed in the terrible incident.  They do not need sophisticated delivery systems. All they need is a few bags of liquid sarin, and a way to puncture them as the terrorists of the death cult Au Shinrikyo did in the Tokyo subway system in 1995 killing twelve and injuring close to a thousand people. This is not a fantasy. This happened and it cannot be denied.  The agreement of the experts is that the toll could have been much worse if the attack had not been botched.  The Syrian jihadis could have very well done something similar during a conventional bombardment by Assad’s army of the areas where they had their fighters and make it look like a chemical attack by him.    

We do not know whether the rebels actually did it or not. But we definitely know it is a self-serving and damnable lie to say that they did not have the capacity to do it.