The Syria Problem

September 3, 2013

U.S. President Barack Obama’s surprising announcement Saturday that he would go to Congress for use-of-force authorization against Syria will require the president to extrapolate what a strike will accomplish and what contingency plans his administration has should the conflict spread.

A swift resolution is unlikely. Meaningful changes in Syria will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve under any circumstances.

Syria6000

The real threat is the conflict spilling over. If the U.S. attacks Syria, expect Hezbollah to hit Israel from southern Lebanon and the Israelis to retaliate over a period of weeks.

Iran will rattle its sword, but any rhetoric about attacking Israel will be a bluff. If Tehran were to strike Israel, its nuclear facilities would immediately be a target; therefore, Iran will be happy to use Hezbollah as a proxy.

The threat of spreading conflict will drive up oil prices. Key oil-producing countries like Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia could be drawn into the strife and cardinal transit points for oil transport like the Persian Gulf and Egypt may be jeopardized.

I think it is safe to expect oil prices to hit $120 to $125 a barrel, up from about $107 now. The impact on American drivers will be about a 15 cent a gallon increase.

Even if Assad is ultimately removed from power, broader unrest in the Middle East will continue for decades and any rebel faction that takes over Syria will be anti-American while al Qaeda (an important contingent of the opposition) will be well positioned to gain power and influence.

In reality, war between the U.S. and Syria has already commenced.

The pro Assad Syrian Electronic Army hacked the U.S. Marine Corps website over the weekend. The electronic attack was aimed at discouraging U.S. entry into the Syrian civil war on the side of the rebels. The hackers left a message stating that Mr. Obama is “a traitor who wants to put your lives in danger to rescue al Qaeda insurgents,” according to the New York Post.

The hackers then urged the Marines to rebel against their commander-in-chief and to join the civil war on the side of the Assad regime.

Many people are asking themselves, if the U.S. attacked Syria, how would we define winning and losing the conflict? While Mr. Obama has yet to define to the world what he would consider to be a win, members of his administration have voiced how the U.S. could lose.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been resolute that the consequences of inaction in Syria would be dire.  Mr. Kerry has said that if the U.S. doesn’t act, it would send a signal to Iran and North Korea that it is okay to advance their nuclear programs and to move ahead in proliferation of their weapons. Kerry said that it is important to show that if a red line is crossed, the U.S. is prepared to back it up.

No matter the outcome, the U.S.’ standing in the Muslim world will continue to erode.

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Five female teachers and two health workers were gunned down by militants in Pakistan yesterday in what appears to be the latest in a series of attacks targeting anti-polio efforts in that country.

Four militants on motorcycles were responsible for the deaths of the workers. Only the young son of one of the women who was riding in the van and the van’s driver were spared. The militants reportedly pulled the boy from the van before spraying it with bullets. Both survivors were being treated at a Peshawar hospital.

All seven victims worked at a community center in the Pakistani town of Swabi which included a primary school and a medical clinic that vaccinated children against polio. The Pakistani Taliban opposes vaccination campaigns, often accusing health workers of acting as spies for the U.S.; furthermore, the Pakistani Taliban alleges such vaccines are intended to make Muslim children sterile.

The history of the Pakistani Taliban targeting vaccination campaigns goes back to the killing of Osama bin Laden. A Pakistani doctor was enlisted to help the CIA locate bin Laden, and he used a fake polio vaccination campaign as a cover for his intelligence work. This doctor was later arrested by Pakistani authorities for spying, and, out of this narrative, militants began claiming that all of the medical community in Pakistan was suspect of working with the United States.

Many popular conspiracy theories among Pakistanis have been augmented to include medical professionals. Some militants even assert that Pakistan’s whole medical community is a cover for an elaborate spy network.

U.S. Drone in Pakistan

U.S. Drone in Pakistan

Fears of spying currently run rampant in Pakistan. The government is attempting to quell some of these fears by reportedly building its own fleet of aerial drones. Any Pakistani drones produced would be crude by U.S. standards, and the American government is refusing to share its drone technology with Pakistan; however, there has been chatter that China could provide Pakistan with any needed technology, or that the drones may be built in China and shipped to Pakistan.

What could be some of the consequences of Pakistan, or any other nation, using drone technology as the United States has? The U.S. has used drones all over the world to kill terrorists. U.S. drones have killed citizens of other countries, over borders, without sanction from the United Nations. What if Pakistan or another country started doing the same, and then pointed at the U.S. use of drones as setting a precedent? If Pakistani drones operated within Afghanistan, on what grounds could the United States object? Iran and China are both reportedly producing their own drone fleets. What happens when Hamas starts using drones against Israel? Israel already employs the use of drones to assassinate Palestinian targets. Could Pakistan’s drones antagonize India into creating a fleet of its own drones? Are we at the beginning of a new, lower stakes, arms race?

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio is still an epidemic. There has been a nation-wide campaign to fight this disease; however, this campaign is seriously threatened by the continued attacks on health workers.

Dr. Abdul Quadeer Khan is a hero in Pakistan. Abroad, he is often described as a money-obsessed fundamentalist. Western governments, press, and security officials say that his nuclear sales network could be one of the most dangerous organizations of the modern era. A steadfast Pakistani nationalist, Dr. Khan is now entering into politics.

Dr. Khan is entering politics

The struggle to take recognition for Pakistan’s nuclear capacity has lasted almost as long as the program itself.

Institutional divisions and personal vendettas have long pitted the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) against Khan. Indeed, Khan’s claim as Pakistan’s nuclear pioneer is based on the fact that his Kahuta plant produced Pakistan’s first enriched uranium. The PAEC says that building the bomb involved twenty-five separate steps, and that Khan had nothing to do with the weaponizing of the uranium into gas, the production of plutonium, or the the production of a warhead.

No matter Khan’s true role in Pakistan’s nuclear development, he certainly is responsible for nuclear proliferation.

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