The Black Widow by Daniel Silva – Book

The Black Widow (Bk. #16) by Daniel Silva opens with the violent death of another venerable Jewish person intent on preventing a reoccurrence of the atrocities of Hitler’s Germany. Hannah Weinberg created the Isaac Weinberg center for the Study of Anti-Semitism in France (fictional) at the end of Silva’s novel, The Messenger  (Bk. #6) She also owns a (fictitious) van Gogh painting, Marguerite Gachet at Her Dressing Table, used to call attention to real events in French history – Jeudi Noir and the Paris Roundup of 1942.

Who is responsible for this bombing and assassination that kills Hannah and other prominent invitees to a conference at the center in Paris? Why are so many Jews leaving France to go to Israel in the midst of Palestinian rocket launches into Israel?

This particular book seemed to touch on issues that are not settled territory for me, perhaps because it brings us to a time that is more contemporary than previous books in the Allon series. For one thing I cannot help having some sympathy for Palestinians, although I think their militant approach to what they see as Israeli imperialism made it impossible to take a diplomatic stance that could have led to shared ownership and peace, instead of eliciting a corresponding violence in the Jewish people. Having just learned of the annihilation of 6 million Jews in Europe, the Jewish people found themselves homeless until they were granted a toehold in Israel, and the lesson they had learned, that they could not afford to trust any nation, had just been driven home so tragically. They were more than ready to defend their new nation.

The second part of this particular Gabriel Allon op was about Syria, and refugees, and ISIS, and the radicalization of Arabic people displaced by war (and others). ISIS appears to promise the vulnerable and dispossessed a new nation – a caliphate – a chance to restore pride and offer them a return to their homeland. (There is no place like home.) There is no instant fix to the whole issue of how Muslims and Christians can learn to live in closer proximity than we did before the Iraq war; it requires an investment of time and tolerance. I cannot help but feel sorrow for people who were forced to empty out their country because of Bashar al Assad’s unwillingness to be humane. But I also find myself fearful at the idea of a regimented caliphate that exhibits a violent missionary zeal. Fighting terrorism seems an appropriate action for nations to undertake.

Does it trivialize the rise of ISIS to put it at the center of a thriller. Perhaps, a little. But it also allows readers who don’t pay much attention to news to get some insight into the genesis of ISIS, its history, its rationale, and its modus operandi. This time Gabriel turns a secretary/administrative assistant into The Black Widow who can join ISIS and perhaps track down the identity and location of Saladin, the illusive man directing recent terrorists activities in Europe and hoping to do so in America.

We know Gabriel does not have a problem using females in spy ops and we also know they often end up in great physical peril, as does Gabriel. How does his black widow fare? The issues I encountered with The Black Widow were personal, so see what feelings this interesting thriller, full of all your favorite Silva characters, engenders in you. I did like the perspectives it gave on the war in Syria and the rise of ISIS.

The Red Line -Syria Then and Now

the red line big2

 

What I said then:

What is it with men? Do women draw “red lines”? I have never heard a woman draw such a line, a line in the sand, a line on the playground; a line which everyone understands means “cross this line and there are consequences”, physical consequences, unpleasant consequences (well maybe women do that with their offspring and their partners). Netanyahu drew a red line about nukes and Iran. This red line has not been crossed yet but Israel lives in the hood and is used to lobbing bombs at neighboring aggressors. Obama also drew a red line that implied America would punish Assad in Syria if he used chemical weapons against his own people. Is this a testosterone thing? But in the case of Assad, a totalitarian monster who will fight in the face of millions of refugees (his own people), and who will make them flee their own country; a little thing like a “red line” won’t stop a man like this. It acts like a red cape acts on a bull. But the red line has been drawn, the gauntlet has been laid down, and Assad has challenged Obama to a duel. Dueling has been illegal for a long, long time. A red line can be redrawn. That is one option. Just redraw the damn line. It doesn’t really matter if we look weak because we aren’t weak. It shows wisdom to be able to back down from a position when someone is baiting a trap, baiting a trap with dead children. How does a decent man beat a monster? He uses his brain, not his muscle.

What I say now:

Obama has been criticized again and again for not enforcing that red line. The Republicans have told America that the fact that we did not do something, some unknown ninja move, proves that Obama is weak and because he is our President it makes America look weak. It invites other nations to challenge us to see how wimpy we will be. But, realistically, short of war, what were Obama’s choices? Our soldiers were still traumatized by too many tours of duty in a row in Iraq. Americans had no taste for sending our guys into Syria to fight Assad. Assad’s government was and is backed by the power of Putin in Russia. Going to war with Assad could have been interpreted as an act of aggression against Russia, although I doubt that Putin wants an all-out war with America right now. Obama’s deal with Putin to make sure that Assad’s chemical weapons were destroyed was probably the best deal we could get at the time. Congress was busting Obama’s chops for being too involved in places like Egypt and Libya. He could not have pleased the GOP no matter what he decided to do. News sources are suggesting that not all of Assad’s chemical weapons were destroyed and that he may, in these late summer days of 2016 be using them again. I still like my suggestion from the days immediately after the red line was crossed.

loudspeakers

What I said then:

If you can remember back far enough to remember the movie Dangerous Liaisons then I think we could find a way to register our deep, deep disapproval without lobbing bombs at a leader who is just waiting to have us lob bombs at him. (What if all hell breaks loose?) If you remember, in the movie, an aging countess (Glenn Close) had learned to use men as pawns to give to herself the independence and the power to well live without a husband. She had affairs, as many as she wanted and she manipulated the guilt and the fear of exposure the men felt in such a way that when she ended the affair, they found they could not tell. She lived above gossip and although women knew she was not quite the thing, they had no proof and she was accepted by society. Until she fell in love.

She sent that young man (John Malkovitch) on his way too, but as the film opens we meet a woman who is now showing her age. She is still handsome, but not beautiful. When that young man she fell in love with comes back and implies that he is still interested, she plays her last and most dangerous game, which she loses, rather badly. She still thinks that she has kept her secrets and has enough social cachet to go on. When she appears at the opera and everyone boos her, her reaction is visceral and I’m sure that from that time forward her social isolation is complete.

Maybe we could all; in every city and town all around the world, play, over very large loudspeakers,  at a certain time, like midnight at the Prime Meridian on Monday, a sound track of people booing with all of the loudspeakers pointed in the direction of Syria. I wonder if the sound would carry all the way to Syria. Then everyone in the world could turn his/her back on Assad and send Assad into a social isolation that would put him out of commission for the rest of his life. Now that would be retribution and it would feel really fine. I don’t imagine words or even world-wide condemnation could affect someone like that. You know what; I don’t even think bombs will do it.

Syria4What I think now:

Obviously we are way past the days when social shunning will put even a dent in the entitled arrogant man with the heart of granite who leads Syria. Here is a man who lives in bubble of comfort and privilege and who will not abdicate power even though his “kingdom” has been reduced to rubble around him and his “subjects” have had to flee or die. Here is a man whose every little hair on his smarmy head is glued in place and whose wardrobe costs more than it would take to feed the starving children in the nation that is unlucky enough to be ruled by this egomaniac. But what will finally oust this guy from his palace? Will we declare war on Assad and let the repercussions in Russia fall where they may? What if this becomes World War III and this time Russia is not on our side? I don’t know anyone who really thinks that we shouldn’t tread carefully, harden our hearts against letting grief and empathy dictate policy.

What I said then:

I don’t really know what Obama should do on behalf of America anymore than it sounds like anyone else does, but this situation seems to call out for a creative and global strategy. People who do monstrous things often have very hard shells.

What I think now:

If some of you think you have the perfect answer publish it so we can all see it and consider it. If, as I believe is true, no one is sure about how to handle Syria beyond what we are already doing, then our only choices are to continue to give Syrian refugees room to catch their breath and raise their children and to continue the air assault on Syria, the one that is further complicated by the presence of ISIS.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

This article appeared in my blog at http://thebrissioniblog.blogspot.com/ on 8/30/2013. You can also find in the the archives on this site. It was called What is it with men?

 

Who’s Solving Syria?

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 It is difficult to look across the ocean and see
what is happening in the Middle East and in Europe, because of the upheaval in
the Middle East, and even, in fact, because of the situations that pertain in
much of Africa. How will order ever be restored when nations are dissolving and
local political structures are inadequate to offer a stable life to indigenous
people?

The parts of the world that have not fallen into
total disarray have learned from past experience that there are no simple
solutions. Redrawing borders, propping up seemingly malleable leaders
(dictators), training citizens, or even waging full-out war have not been
effective ways to intervene, even when human rights violations become
unbearably obvious and too brutal to tolerate.

Colonization was perhaps the most effective way to
control chaos and set a matrix of order over the disorder, but it comes at a
cost to human dignity that is no longer acceptable to modern sensibilities. We
are at a loss about how to proceed against someone like Assad in Syria. Here is
a leader so unenlightened that, in order to hold onto his power, he will do
anything to his own people. He is the cruel parent who sees the slightest
disapproval from his exploited children as an insurrection, a civil war. Rather
than offer some reforms he hauls out the troops, the apparatus of war, the
chemicals with which he asphyxiates his own people. He holds onto his power as
his nation disappears around him. His people go elsewhere in panic, demanding
that other nations offer them succor. Perhaps they do not realize that their
sheer numbers may swamp the economies they turn to for rescue.

Not only is their leader corrupt and obdurate (and
backed by the Soviet state) but the terrorist force ISIS (ISIL) is pinching
these beleaguered people from the opposite border. These Syrian people are
truly caught between a rock (Assad) and a hard place (the terrorists). I would
run also.

But is there really anywhere to run to? Can nations
put their own citizens’ order at risk by allowing too many refugees or migrants
in? Will they be able to hold them at bay if necessary? Will prosperous,
well-governed nations be swallowed up by the rush of dislocated people
desperate to find peace and a future for their children? It seems unusual for
people to migrate towards densely populated lands but that is likely to be the
new normal as chaos seems to reign everywhere else.

There is no simple set of feelings to reduce our own
confused allegiances to. We look on from America and we understand the plight
of overwhelmed European nations and we understand the plight of the Syrian
people.

There are no simple solutions, either, it seems.
Assad is not about to be unseated, at least not without taking on Putin. That
is a fight that is best avoided because whatever the outcome, it doesn’t seem
like it would be a good one. We could find places to build refugee centers that
operate something like military bases (as I suggested in my post entitled We Need a Refugee Plan, 4/26/15), but
anyone I have mentioned this to just dismisses it, so it must be an unworkable
solution.

Meanwhile we wait for this distant tsunami to
eventually batter our shores. And we say to the world that we are fresh out of
solutions. We are using private charitable foundations to chip away at things
like women’s rights, hunger, poverty, schooling, entrepreneurship. These are
acts of everyday love and heroism and hope, but then we have the flood of that
huge migration of Syrian nationals and all those loving global attentions seem
like band aids on a world battered by powerful seas. My lament does not mean
that we should give up our grassroots efforts around the globe. But I do think
we need a plan (and I don’t mean just an American plan, although we probably
can’t use the UN because the right wing has demonized it), and we need a plan
now, or very close to now. Who is working on a plan? Anyone? 

It will be quite ironic if all our attempts to lift
up people around the globe end up pulling us all down into a new dark age. It
also seems all too possible.

 

 

By Nancy Brisson

 

 

 

Appealing to People in Ancient Lands

Persia lives large in my imagination. I picture it as a
center of art and culture with beautiful buildings covered with colorful tiles
and symbols, often floral patterns which we still echo today in our textiles,
especially the paisleys and the bright colors. The carpets of Persia are still famous
and we have remnants of these beauties in the carpets that still come from the
regions around Turkey. The markets are a part of that picture in my mind, with
more patterned fabrics and carpets and the smells of exotic spices and foods,
with fruits piled in wanton display and coffee sipped from delicate vessels.
Persians loved beauty and surrounded themselves with it, at least as I imagine
this ancient empire. They were poets and they were also mathematicians. Syria
and Iraq both encompass lands that once were part of Persia and share in this
rich history. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers cross in Iraq and they are
highways that also take us back in time to that fertile triangle our schools
mentioned so often as the cradle of civilization, as a place where people could
settle down and stop wandering as nomads because the fertile soil, refreshed
periodically by flooding, provided a perfect spot for agriculture, and the
resulting steady food supply provided the perfect circumstances for people to congregate in towns, which gradually grew into cities.
It is always sad when once proud and powerful people lose
their nerve or their confidence and fade from the heights they once occupied. I
remember experiencing this for the first time when I was quite young and watched
the movie Lawrence of Arabia. I was shocked when Lawrence fell from grace and
retreated for a while into a kind of depression. He was such a powerful man,
however eccentric, and he had that larger than life thing going for him. It was
obviously difficult for him to deal with setbacks and I will admit to shedding
a few tears when I thought all was lost.
Today we have two nations, Syria and Iraq, once storied
cultures within the Persian Empire; lands that will always have ancient roots.
Iraq also contains those two great rivers mentioned above, the Tigris and the
Euphrates, which meet at Baghdad and once were part of a Biblical land called
Mesopotamia (meaning the land between two rivers). There is so much history
here in these lands which have lately become battlefields. If this is what oil did,
then oil has destroyed more than earth’s climate.
It is so hard to watch these great nations caught up in
petty sectarian and ethnic disputes. Instead of trying to restore the glory of
their more halcyon days, or rather than even learning to interact so that their
culture can stop self-destructing, just when we could use their help to unravel
the modern dilemmas, these two nations have devolved into endless power
struggles that are reducing these fine cultures to rubble. Once again there are
tears.
I am certain that the various sects and ethnic groups have
much more in common with each other than they will have if they let the world
in and learn contemporary tolerance and this commonality should be bringing
these groups together to give their country power to negotiate with other
modern nations and to live peacefully among them. Authoritarian personalities
arise in these two nations and may seem familiar from the past. There seems to
be almost a cult of the strong leader in Arabic nations, an attraction to bossy
leaders who are able to keep a lid on internal strife for a while, although
usually at a cost. If these nations could find a way to convene and keep a
representative government that tried to iron out differences and produce useful
negotiated policies, these nations might find themselves free from despots for
all time and ready for a new sort of Middle Eastern renaissance of those
ancient cultures that were once so influential on the world stage and so
beautiful to their citizens. Then they could surely find peace and a place
among modern nations. (I know our representative government is not much of a
role model right now with its divisive politics and its stalemate in our
Congress, but hopefully we will become unstuck eventually, and our representative
government has worked well for at least 250 years.)

We are in an environmental crisis, which was foreseen but
which we ignored for far too long. This crisis could turn our planet from a
natural paradise to a natural disaster. We need to clean up our oceans and we need
to figure out how to wean ourselves away from oil and fossil fuels. You folks
should have a say in these endeavors since any solutions will affect your
economies and since you may have to find new sources form which to derive your economic health in the
world of the future. Please get a grip Syria and Iraq; we need your assistance.
Stop warring within and bring that intelligence and creativity that gave us
Persia and Mesopotamia to the table with those who are ready to try to save our
planet.

By Nancy Brisson

Our Sunny, Warm Yet Very Sad Week

 
 

Last week was a week that highlighted the paradoxes
we often experience in this oddball and wondrous life we live briefly on this
little planet of ours. In the Northeast we enjoyed some relief from the deep
freeze snow globe we have been locked into this winter by that polar vortex.
Not only did our temps get warmer, but the constant precipitation became
intermittent and we were treated to several sunny days when our lips did not
freeze together every time we left the house. So we couldn’t help but feel a
lightening of our spirits; a certain buoyant happiness that was unconscious and
irrepressible. We had to live through this glimpse of spring quickly because we
were assured that our return to the deep freeze was only one week away.

 

The paradox was that this was quite a sad week in
the news. Watching the nations of the world that are struggling to be free is
weird and hard.  We feel guilty that we
are merely watching these events. It helps when our government offers support,
or aid, or diplomacy. Still, when we see people putting their lives on the line
to remove the foot of a dictator from their necks and their lives, something in
our psyche tells us we should be somewhere in that fray. Perhaps this is a
primitive urge because it isn’t our fray, but watching the Ukrainian people
stand up to a powerful leader who wanted to take them places they did not want
to go, we couldn’t help but be sad for those who gave up their lives to give
other people power against a sanctioned bully. This situation has resolved
itself into tempered joy because it looks like something very rare has happened
and the people have won without having to go to full-out war. Their deposed
leader refuses to accept that he is deposed so there may be more strife ahead,
but for now we all hope for the best.

 

This past week we also saw that people had to go in
and rescue Syrian children and families from a war zone, where bombs and
bullets were still flying in order to help them get to refugee camps to restore
some normalcy in their everyday lives and to make sure they did not starve. Our
hawks and our military, who are used to being knights on white horses who ride
to the rescue of the downtrodden, (a decidedly idealistic view of what we do)
are having a very hard time staying on the sidelines and the little hawk within
each of us wonders if we are doing the right thing by staying out of Syria,
although we actually think we are.  The
sadness of Syria has been heavy on our hearts for a long time now but from the
gray deep freeze it seemed all of a piece with our general mood. Last week’s
sunshine, however, put us at odds with the stresses all around us in the world.

 

The third sad thing for me was the outcome of the
trial of Michael Dunn who shot Jordan Davis. Is this what America will be now,
people with guns picking off people (kids) who tick them off. Michael Dunn is
a stone-cold killer to me, protected by racial fear and the laws engendered by
it. Stand Your Ground is a terrible law which, if left on the books, should
only apply to situations where someone is obviously ready to take another
person’s life with obviously being the key word, and not just something that is
happening in your paranoid imagination. So we lose another good teen, a kid who
was perhaps being a bit provocative by continuing to play his music after
someone in the general area expressed his displeasure. That is just teenaged
stuff, the action of someone whose immaturity fights with his common sense,
something that might not have happened if he were not so young. I am shocked
that one young man shot by mistake was not enough. I am shocked that this same
senseless and tragic thing happened again and so soon. It doesn’t bode well for
the future, but it does suggest that this law is a bad law and should be
overturned. These two shootings, leading to the waste of two promising young
lives, could perhaps help us learn to stop living such separate lives. Many
white people no longer go into their inner city neighborhoods and many minority
people never leave their neighborhoods. There may be good cultural reasons for
this, but I don’t think so. I think this “separation by race and income” is
more likely to lead to misunderstanding and even mayhem than to healthy social
interaction.

 

And the fourth sad news of last week came out of
North Korea in that horrific report by the UN about what goes on in North
Korean prison camps. Those graphic drawings by someone who was no artist, but
who had to get these inhumane details down on paper in a way that would
communicate across language barriers, were unbearably reminiscent of the
accounts of the treatment of Jews and other prisoners in Nazi concentration
camps. We have no idea how to interfere in this, but we may not be able to live
with ourselves if we don’t.

So despite our sunny mid-winter thaw, last week was,
all in all, a tough week for the world’s people; (we can’t forget Venezuela)
both the participants and, to a lesser degree the observers. Paradoxes exist
everywhere, but we poor humans are not always comfortable living with this
coexistence of opposites.
 
By Nancy Brisson
This is the view from the cheap seats.
This blog post is also available at http://brissioni.com/
 

 

Basically A Rant

 

The correct strategies for America are not always
the most selfish ones. It’s not all about us all the time. Sometimes we must
look at the big picture because everything is interconnected. Some string that
is pulled somewhere else can unravel or re-knit our future.

And, then there is the truth that, at this point in
time, the Republicans will not allow Obama to pass any new laws that improve
the economy, the infrastructure, or jobs. If we don’t elect Democrats in 2014
we have almost 3 long years to concentrate on foreign affairs. If we truly do
not want to get involved in any more wars, I would trust Obama much more than I
would trust the Republicans to admonish a dictator without getting us involved
in a foreign war. The only way the war in Syria can escalate and suck in the
world is if a powerful force like Russia joins in. If Putin is serious about
helping get rid of the chemical weapons in Syria, then he probably is not
interested in starting World War III. If we stay civil and Russia stays civil
then perhaps we can pull this off. Americans do not appear to be too fond of
civility right now, sad to say. Instead all the little voices fall in line
echoing the charge that Obama is a weak President. I repeat; if Obama can end
the use of chemical weapons in Syria without starting a new war, then he is
anything but weak.

If there is anything this President does that is
weak it is to give Republicans another opening to tout his weakness and force
him to bargain when these Republicans know all along that they will say “no” to
him again and again and again. This does not make Obama seem weak to me. It
makes him seem like a President who respects the Constitution and who tries to
give Republicans every opportunity to cut out the partisan politics and do
their jobs as outlined in that very Constitution that describes how our
government is supposed to work. Nowhere in the Constitution I read does it say
that people outside the government should be promised a stronger allegiance
than is given to a fair consideration of the laws that build a stronger
America.

Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Grover Norquist and the
Koch brothers should be like the rest of us. They are citizens with one vote
each. But they have found ways to pull the strings of large numbers of
Americans turning them into disenchanted citizens and puppet voters who repeat,
like mantras, arguments drummed into them by skillful pundits. These pundits
know the fears some Americans hold in their hearts and minds and they stoke the
fires lit under these fears, bank the coals, and then stoke them again. They
have fostered a bunch of conspiracy junkies and they will ruin America if we
let them. These pundits have been primed to serve the interests of Grover
Norquist, the Koch brothers, the Tea Party and whatever other shadowy figures
are in the Conservative Cabal.

So we have plenty of time to take the big view, the
long view, while we wait for America to wake up and throw off the strings of
the mind controllers who have taken over the GOP.

What would we like to see happen in the Middle East?
Perhaps we would like to see strong, healthy Middle Eastern countries where
government and religion are separate. Perhaps people in the Middle East will
chose peaceful coexistence and tolerance over hate and aggression; these
nations’ peoples will find a balance that will allow the citizens to live
stable and productive lives in which there is no dictator holding on to all of
the nations’ wealth. What can we do to encourage this? Wouldn’t such an outcome
have a profoundly positive effect on us and the world? Playing a bit of referee
doesn’t seem too much to ask from the rest of the world community. After all we
have plenty of time right now to keep an eye on the violations of war behavior
which result in the horrors of genocide. If we allow these practices we will
never achieve that real peace, tolerance, and prosperity we wish for the Middle
East and the world.

If you want Obama to accomplish our goals for our
domestic future then you had better raise your voice and tell Republicans to
stop obstructionism in Congress, to stop encouraging red states to pass laws
that challenge the current laws in America, and to stop brainwashing and
scaring gullible Americans. We need to elect Democrats in 2014.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

 

This blog post is also available at www.brissioni.com

 

What is it with Men?/Syria

 
What is it with men? Do women draw “red lines”? I have
never heard a woman draw such a line, a line in the sand, a line on the
playground; a line which everyone understands means “cross this line and there
are consequences”, physical consequences, unpleasant consequences (well maybe women
do that with their offspring). Netanyahu drew a red line about nukes and Iran.
This red line has not been crossed yet but Israel lives in the hood and is used
to lobbing bombs at neighboring aggressors. Obama also drew a red line that
implied America would punish Assad in Syria if he used chemical weapons against
his own people. Is this a testosterone thing? But in the case of Assad, a
totalitarian monster who will fight in the face of millions of refugees (his
own people), and who will make them flee their own country; a little thing like
a “red line” won’t stop a man like this. It acts like a red cape acts on a
bull. But the red line has been drawn, the gauntlet has been laid down, and
Assad has challenged Obama to a duel. Dueling has been illegal for a long, long
time. A red line can be redrawn. That is one option. Just redraw the damn line.
It doesn’t really matter if we look weak because we aren’t weak. It shows
wisdom to be able to back down from a position when someone is baiting a trap,
baiting a trap with dead children. How does a decent man beat a monster? He
uses his brain, not his muscle.

If you can remember back far enough to remember the movie Dangerous Liaisons then I think we
could find a way to register our deep, deep disapproval without lobbing bombs
at a leader who is just waiting to have us lob bombs at him. (What if all hell
breaks loose?) If you remember, in the movie, an aging countess (Glenn Close)
had learned to use men as pawns to give to herself the independence and the
power to well live without a husband. She had affairs, as many as she wanted
and she manipulated the guilt and the fear of exposure the men felt in such a
way that when she ended the affair, they found they could not tell. She lived
above gossip and although women knew she was not quite the thing, they had no
proof and she was accepted by society. Until she fell in love. She sent that
young man (John Malkovich) on his way too, but as the film opens we meet a
woman who is now showing her age. She is still handsome, but not beautiful.
When that young man she fell in love with comes back and implies that he is
still interested, she plays her last and most dangerous game, which she loses,
rather badly. She still thinks that she has kept her secrets and has enough
social cachet to go on. When she appears at the opera and everyone boos her,
her reaction is visceral and I’m sure that from that time forward her social
isolation is complete.

 
 
Maybe we could all; in every city and town all around the
world, play, over very large loudspeakers,  at a certain time, like midnight at the Prime
Meridian on Monday, a sound track of people booing with all of the loudspeakers
pointed in the direction of Syria. I wonder if the sound would carry all the
way to Syria. Then everyone in the world could turn his/her back on Assad and
send Assad into a social isolation that would put him out of commission for the
rest of his life. Now that would be retribution and it would feel really fine.
I don’t imagine words or even world-wide approbation could affect someone like
that. You know what; I don’t even think bombs will do it.

I don’t really know what Obama should do on behalf of
America anymore than it sounds like anyone else does, but this situation seems
to call out for a creative and global strategy. People who do monstrous things, I’m thinking,
often have very hard shells.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

This blog post is also available at www.brissioni.com

 

Who Should the President Listen To?

 
 

I find it hard to believe that we can find anyone
who wants to be President of the United States even if you do get a jet and a
cool code name like POTUS. The dialogue around the issue of what the President
should do about Syria will give you whiplash if you really listen. First we
have Assad crossing Obama’s red line by using chemical weapons against his own
people (observers believe). Is he deliberately goading America? We have used
chemical weapons against our foes in war, but, so far, not against our own
people. Using chemical weapons, we have come to believe, is abhorrent and we
find that they should be banned on moral grounds. However if other countries
have such weapons we feel we must keep some also.

So as soon as Assad crossed that red line reporters
began interviewing persons who harangued Obama to do something to punctuate our
disapproval of Assad’s behavior. They are the hawks. They believe America must
fight on the side of the downtrodden especially if they are striving to be free
and that we must do this every time authoritarian monsters refuse their people
justice. Some of the hawks doing the verbal prodding are the usual hawks like
John McCain, but this time we also have Richard Engel, who we respect, urging
America to get involved in Syria.

So President Obama announced that he will bomb
certain key military targets in Syria and he will do it soon. He is looking for
some support from other nations. It looks like there will be a few takers but
not the UN, because Syria has big allies there. Perhaps Obama is remembering
World War I where big nations allied to a small nation started a huge war over
a small incident. Perhaps bombing a smallish country which has giant allies,
who are not our friends, makes Obama a bit nervous, as it should.

No matter, as soon as the President announced what
he planned to do the criticisms came in from the other side. They complained
that it is not enough. They said it will either have no effect, or it will drag
us into a new Middle Eastern war. They said that it is a declaration of war and
requires the approval of Congress. Is it a trap to furnish the GOP with grounds
for the much heralded impeachment of Obama if he acts without consulting
Congress? Whatever, it sounds like the fallout will be far more negative than
positive and yet if Obama doesn’t back up that red line statement the fallout may
also be negative, because then Obama will appear weak, they say (feckless is the new
preferred insult and applies equally, it seems, to both Obama and to members of
Congress).

Our actions in war no longer have the unified
support we experienced prior to Vietnam and which we have never really experienced
since the end of World War II. A President must walk his own line and ignore
the siren calls from both sides of the aisle, but it must feel like arrows to
the soul, especially when the right thing to do is not absolutely certain or
clearly apparent. At least if we decided to back the path our President chooses,
those actions would have the weight of America behind them, but this way we
just look like a bunch of cats in a canvas bag clawing each other. I don’t want
America to lose the weight it carries in the world of nations. I hope Obama has
a good idea of what decision to make, because I don’t have a clue.

This blog post is also available at www.brissioni.com
 

US Involvement in Syria

 
 
Drat! Those American ideals are pulling us back into
conflict in the Middle East, this time in Syria. Obviously, when nearly 100,000
people are killed anywhere on the planet we are grieved and angered. We want
the carnage to stop and we all think about whether America should help stop it.
In this case we have people who are also fighting against an authoritarian leader
who they want to be free of. It is written in our DNA that we will feel
sympathy for the rebels. We are always the Rebel Alliance fighting against the
Empire in our hearts. But – we have just slowed down the devastating parade of
maimed soldiers arriving back in the US everyday from our recent endeavors in
the Middle East. These soldiers have not even been processed by their
government to receive their benefits. We have not yet finished mourning our
dead soldiers who still arrive under their flag-draped caskets. We have hardly
given a breather to our soldiers who have been at war seemingly forever. Our
heads and our guts say that we should help this rebel army; our hearts can’t
bear to do it.

There is a question of whether or not we will make America
irrelevant in the Middle East unless we stay involved with freedom fighters and
offer military support. Humanitarian support does not count apparently. We only
get points if we put blood and guts in the game. But we haven’t earned any
points by bleeding on the sands of the Middle East so far. The opinions of both
Iraq and Afghanistan seem distinctly tinged with anti-Americanism. Perhaps this
“revolution” in the Middle East is not as far along as we would like to think
it. Deposing an authoritarian leader does not mean that Syria is ready to be a
democracy or that the country ever will want to be democratic. There is also
the point that we could make our democracy look a bit more appealing if we want
to persuade people that our form of government works best. That might be a good
place to start. Although our politicians often give us idealistic reasons for
entering a war, their real reasons are often quite a bit more pragmatic. I’m
not sure what those pragmatic concerns are but they are the ones that make us
less than proud sometimes.

There are several complexities to consider when it comes to
jumping into the conflict with Syria on the side of the rebels and we have
heard those before. The rebels are not one unified group and, in our
experience, which has recently become very personal, we have learned that once
the rebels win the war a new civil war will often have to be fought among the
various rebel groups to decide which group will get to formulate the new
government, or perhaps a coalition will arise (not likely). And in Syria we
also have elements of terrorists groups which we have no desire to support; not
to mention that we would be pitting ourselves against Putin and Russia.

Call me crazy, but it seems as if there is a preponderance
of reasons not to involve ourselves in the revolution in Syria but that word
revolution has such a pull on the American psyche that we are almost powerless
to resist the siren call of people who are oppressed and longing to be free. I
am glad that I am not the President. I don’t want us to get more involved in
Syria, but I understand why we probably will.

 

Into the Fray, The Red Line

 
 
 
Everyone is up in arms. Obama made the use of chemical
weapons in Syria a red line. Late last week the news came across the seas that
some chemical weapons “may have been used in Syria”, and “that there is some
physiological evidence that some people exhibited symptoms of a chemical agent
having been deployed in their vicinity.” It is all very tentative and not at
all what we would imagine a full-scaled chemical weapons attack to be like. I
think Obama’s red line depended on a getting a little more solid evidence than
this about a chemical attack. However that may be, there have been rabid people
all over the media taunting Obama to deliver on his promise and to declare that
the red line has been crossed and to get more aggressively involved in helping
the Syrian freedom fighters gain their independence from Assad. Of course, John
McCain is the loudest and most strident of those who are apparently (they
think) calling Obama’s bluff.

But I have to wonder what it is that they want Obama to do
and I kept asking that of my TV on Sunday, which is Politics Day. I kept
saying, “Do we want a war? What exactly is it that you want Obama to do?
Surprisingly enough, after some initial difficulty getting through to my flat
screen I did get some answers. Everyone agreed that they did not want “boots on
the ground”. One suggestion is that we establish a no-fly-zone. Another is that
we get more involved in the care of the refugees in Jordan and Turkey and
elsewhere around the edges of Syria. There were also some caveats since this
group of freedom fighters is not one unified group but is rather a collection
of sectarian groups and even perhaps terrorist groups who may be at each
other’s throats once hostilities end.

There is also the “no good deed goes unpunished” rule. We
are likely to end up being hated and vilified regardless of what path we decide
to take. This is not a real win-win situation for us. We do like to treat
victims of abuse with compassion and the Syrian people looked pretty well abused
right now. And we do like to back freedom whenever possible. Will we feel good
enough about ourselves if we accomplish these goals, whatever the cost, and
whoever we offend? These are all questions Americans and our American President
must answer. Meanwhile all you hawks, stop acting like bullies. Stop yelling at
the President.  You imply that the
President and the US will look weak if we don’t act, but the President may also
appear weak if he lets people goad him into precipitous action.  Show some understanding of how difficult it
is to deal with the complex issues America faces in the 21st
century. Let’s let there be a little time to collect better evidence of
chemical weapon use and time to make a careful decision before we throw
ourselves into the fray.
Here’s a link to an article that gives some clear and
up-to-date information on this red line issue:

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/implications-of-possible-chemical-weapons-use-in-syria

This article appeared in the Daily Beast today, April 29,
2013:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/04/27/leslie-h-gelb-obama-is-right-on-chemical-warfare-in-syria.html