Thursday, September 5, 2013

As I ramble, Syria crumbles

"Maybe somewhere in all of this there's a reason. Maybe somewhere in all of this there's a why. Maybe somewhere there's that thing that lets you tie it all up with a neat bow and bury it in the backyard. But nothing, not getting angry, not prayers, and not tears, nothing can make something that happened unhappen." - United States of Leland

In 1946, Syria gained its independence from France.  Syria established a democracy in 1954.  Egypt and Syria formed a unified state backed by the Ba'ath political party and stayed that way from 1958-1961.  Following a coup d'etat in 1961, Syria became the Syrian Arab Republic.  In 1963, members of the Ba'ath party staged a coup and dominated the new cabinet.  There was a bloodless coup led by current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad, established the Ba'ath's party dominance over Syria in 1970 until now.  

Bashar al-Assad assumed the presidency of Syria in 2000, after his father passed away.  The Syrian Parliament voted to decrease the minimum age of being the President from 40 to 34 to allow al-Assad to be eligible to be President.  He stated that he saw democracy as a tool to a better life in Syria; however, he warned that it would take time for democracy to take place and it should not be rushed.  He was expected to take a much more liberal approach to governance than his father. 

Following the death of Hafez al-Assad, there were a series of discussions and house protests known as the Damascus Spring.  There were actual thoughts that the Damascus Spring could lead to real change in the Arab world.  In November of 2000, the Mezze prison closed, releasing hundreds of political prisoners.  The optimism of real change faded in 2001 as President Bashar al-Assad returned to more repressive methods toward political prisoners.  The jailing of political prisoners is not the bedrock of democracy. 

On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center were hit by terrorist attacks, as was the Pentagon.  President George W. Bush declared war on an abstract idea, known as terror.  Part of the goals of the War on Terror, was to democratize the unstable region that is the Middle East. The idea of President Bashar al-Assad as a potential ally in the region became to look less and less likely.  But with the war on terror in full swing, President Bashar al-Assad was not a top priority of the United States government.

As the War on Terror dragged on, in both Iraq and Afghanistan with no clear directive for the military, we continued our efforts to stabilize the region, search for Osama bin Laden, avenge the terrorist attacks of September 11, search for weapons of mass destruction, and oust Suddam Hussein.  But there was no plan for what was supposed to happen once Suddam Hussein was ousted.  The United Nations ambassador opined that the US military was not interested in what the Iraqi people wanted, after Suddam.   

There were no weapons of mass destruction found, nor was there evidence of them.  Some members of Congress called for the articles of impeachment to investigate George W. Bush for lying to the American people about the weapons of mass destruction.  There were clear human rights violations, as Suddam did displace countless Kurdish people.  But they were largely ignored.


On November 6, 2003, President George W. Bush laid out a vision for democracy in the Middle East.  Because scholars had said that the waves of democracy had barely reached the Arab states, despite over half the Islamic population living under democratic rule, President Bush was determined to show that democracy was consistent with the principles laid forth in Islam.  Imagine if Barack Obama said that.  President Bush called out Syria stating that while they promised to bring back national honor to the country that they "left instead a legacy of torture, oppression, misery, and ruin."  He goes on to say that the people of the Middle East deserve responsible leaders.  

Beginning in December 2007, U.S. mortgage backed securities, which were hard to assess, were marketed around the world, as a more broad based credit credit boom fed into a global speculative bubble in real estate and lending which led to even more risky lending practices.  At the same time, oil and food prices sharply rose.  On September 15, 2008, Lehmans Brothers fell and the inter-bank loan market panicked.  The United States passed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 on October 3, 2008.  Not as many assume after Barack Obama was elected.  On September 19, 2008, with word getting out about the bailout, the US stock market rose 3%.  There were protests around the United States complaining about the bailout.  Because of the oil crisis and other factors related to the financial crisis depressed the auto market even further.  President George W. Bush extended loans to the Big Three automakers in Detroit.  

In November of 2008, the United States had a presidential election electing a Senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.  While there were plenty of rumors about Barack Hussein Obama, the most prominent were that he was born outside of the United States thus not eligible to be President and/or that he was a secret Muslim.  Despite numerous publications refuting these rumors, multiple times, they have continue to persist.

President Obama had campaigned, in part, that he was not a supporter of the Iraqi or Afghanistan War and that he would end these conflicts, as soon as possible.  He also championed human rights on the campaign trail, promising the closure of Guantanamo Bay detention facility.  At various points, he had gone around the world, claiming that we were in a new era of foreign policy and that he was trying to rebuild relationships that we had lost under the prior presidency. Prominent Republican figures called this an "apology tour."  Little did they know, their loser in 2008 would campaign largely on this idea in 2012.  He would actually title his book around this so-called apology tour.

By 2010, a new wave of Republicans had it up to here with this uppity Muslim usurper, Barack Obama.  Despite having a president who had greatly increased the federal debt and increased federal spending for a war in Iraq, these new Republicans fancied themselves as cost-cutters.  But first they had to separate themselves from the President who was there during the bailouts.  So they used the new healthcare law as a way to show that Obama was spending too much money and that he engineered the bailouts.  Because they had such a great view of history and no funding from rich corporate executives, they called themselves a people's party, actually calling themselves the Tea Party.

The Tea Party destroyed the Democratic majority in the House; people called it the wave of the Tea Party.  Influenced by a sense of history, the Tea Party ignored every other mid-term election in history and decided that they were the true representatives of the people.  They produced wonderful caricatures of politicians.  Whether it was Dr. Rand Paul, Allen West, or Mick Mulvaney, among countless others.  They campaigned heavily that Washington was broken and that they were going to clean it up, because they weren't career politicians.  Despite the majority of them not ever holding an elected position, they knew that they were the right answer to Barack Obama's usurpation of executive power.  They knew how foreign policy was supposed to be handled. They knew how tax policy was supposed to be handled.  They knew how to fix the economy.  It was just so easy for them.  They just looked at, what they called, facts.  These facts were indisputable.  Barack Obama was wrong.  Anything that he said or did was wrong.

Some got away with agreeing with Obama on some things.  For instance, the neo-conservative foreign policy of the Republicans or the Republicans in Name Only (RINO's) as they called them were gone.  Replaced with what was now called the anti-interventionist portion of the Republican party.  This has been best exemplified by Senator Rand Paul.  All of a sudden, notorious hawk, John McCain was too liberal to be of any use for the Republican party, especially with regards to foreign policy.

Around the same time, in January of 2011, the Middle East unbeknownst to many of the anti-interventionists now in power, a Tunisian man set himself on fire and committed suicide in a protest of what was just thought to be of Tunisian police practices.  What was determined was that this protest was a larger protest about the corrupt practices happening in the Tunisian government.  This sense of outrage towards the corrupt governments around the Middle East led to many protests throughout the region and the upheaval of a few of the governments.  These protests were a Democratic spark to a region that was playing too close to gasoline.  

Some of the protests turned violent.  This pleased some members of the newly elected leaders.  The leaders had spoken of how Barack Obama's government was infiltrated by the Muslim brotherhood and how members of the State Department were, Muslims in disguise.  The rumors of Barack Obama being a Muslim, grew more intense.  It became common for right-wing news sources to refer to Barack Obama as Barack Hussein Obama or Barack Hussein Soetoro.  The middle name being mentioned was meant to imply that Barack Obama was a Muslim.  There were also wide-scale accusations from the right that Obama was going to implement Shari'a law.  Oklahoma, in 2010, passed a law that banned Shari'a law from being implemented.  

In Syria, on February 4-5, 2011, there was a Day of Rage protests.  There was a massive amount of Day of Rage protests erupting around the region, largely inspired by the protests in Tunisia.  The man who set himself on fire in Tunisia was born in Syria, the city of Al-Hasakah.  Hundreds of Syrians marched there.  President Assad, despite his original message of democracy, was not too happy.  He allowed the Syrian security forces to arrest dozens of the protesters.

On March 15, 2011, protests emerge in major cities in Syria.  The city of Daraa is the main city.  Just 10 days later, 20 protesters were reported to be killed by Syrian security forces.  As the protests spread to other cities, the death toll climbed to 70.  Facing international scorn, President Assad decided to release 200 political prisoners.  Despite the release of political prisoners, the United States started to impose sanctions on Syria and the Assad regime in April of 2011.  

On April 22, 2011, the Assad security forces killed 122 anti-government protesters.  This was known as the Good Friday massacre.  The protesters were unarmed.  In May of 2011, the Syrian army entered the Baniyas, Hama, Homs, Talkalakh, Katakia, Al-Midan, and Douma districts of Syria.  On May 18, 2011, the Obama administration imposed sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad and six other Syrian officials.  The Treasury Department imposed additional sanctions on Syrian intelligence services.

Noted Islamaphobe and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich announced that he was officially running for the Republican nomination for President on May 11, 2011.  He had been talked about as a potential nominee prior to this.  In fact, some saw him as the favorite as early as 2010.  Gingrich had helped produce a film warning of the terrors of radical Islam in America.  Despite states passing laws that would protect them from the inevitability of Shari'a law, Gingrich thought everyone should be warned.  His production company helped produce this movie with the organization called Citizens United.  You might know them from their anti-Hillary video or from the fact that their Supreme Court case about campaign donations may have fundamentally changed how elections are done in America.

The anti-government activists struck back in Syria on June 6, 2011.  The demonstrators killed 120 Syrian security force members.  Because of this strong showing by the anti-regime protesters, President Assad announces that there will be government reforms and that there will be new parliamentary elections.  Despite these claims, the parliamentary elections become disputed and protests in Aleppo erupt on June 30, 2011.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann announced her presidential campaign on June 27, 2011 in Waterloo, Iowa.  I played a basketball game there, once.  That's the only reason I mention it.  Rep. Bachmann goes on to state a number of incorrect things about something as simple as the HPV vaccine and Obamacare death panels.  But after she's done running for President is when she does the most damaging.  She accuses the Obama administration of being infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood.  She is rebuked by the Republican leadership but the words of RINO John McCain fall on her deaf ears.  When Representative Keith Ellison, the only Muslim in Congress, asked her for facts or evidence of her claims, she asserted that she was merely asking questions about the security of our country.  Later, she tells a sane Glenn Beck that Ellison has been associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and the nefarious Council for American-Islamic Relations.  She repeated the allegations of the Obama administration being infiltrated.  Earlier this year, she remarked that she was retiring from Congress but that she would not remain silent.  

In July of 2011, Colonel Riad al-Assad led the formation of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with other defectors of the Syrian army who refused orders to kill civilians.  In an internet video released on July 29, 2011, the FSA announces its formation with its one stated goal.  To rid Syria of President Assad.

Pro-Assad forces attacked U.S. and French embassies in Damascus in mid-July.  This was largely not talked about, although Benghazi! hadn't happened, yet.  On July 31, 2011, Syrian security forces killed 136 of the opposition in Hama.  Because of this action, the Arab League and several members Gulf Cooperation Council condemn the Syrian government.  President Obama made an announcement that the United States would stand with the Syrian people.  The Republican presidential nomination debates were happening during this time.  Syria was not mentioned.

President Obama issued new sanctions on Syria's telecom companies and banks in August of 2011.  On August 18, 2011 after issuing an executive order blocking property of the Syrian government, banning new investments or exporting services to Syria, and banning imports of Syrian originated petroleum or petroleum products, President Obama issued a letter calling on President Assad to resign.

The anti-interventionists in the Republican party hijacked the foreign policy of the GOP and talked about how we should end foreign aide to every country, even Israel, depending on who you talked to.  The idea was that we were wasting money on the goal of democratizing the world and the money would be better off to pay the deficit.  It was around this time we were inundated with retorts that if we just were able to balance the budget America's economy would magically heal.  This talk has continued since.

During the Eid ul-Fitr celebration, the Syrian security forces killed 9 people.  The National Syrian Coalition began around this time.  The announced goals of the National Syrian Coalition is to overthrow the Assad regime, dismantle the security forces, unify and support the FSA, refuse peace negotiations with the Assad government, and hold accountable those who were killing Syrians.  Libya was the first country to formally recognize them.

On September 23, 2011, the FSA combined with the Free Officers Movement and became the leading opposition group in Syria.  There are now anywhere from 15,000 to 25,000 soldiers in the FSA.

The Arab peace plan was also introduced around this time, the goal of which was to halt the crackdown on the protesters, allow United Nations observers in the country, and issue a ceasefire.  As part of the plan, the Syrian government released 3,500 political prisoners.  The Arab Peace Plan was accepted on November 3, 2011 by the Syrian government.  On December 19, 2011, the Syrian government allowed UN observers into Syria and on the same day, security forces killed 70 army defectors.  While the ceasefire broke down, the United Nations found that both sides had violated the ceasefire agreement.

During this time, anti-interventionists claimed that we should no longer be supporting the United Nations.  The claim, like usual, is based on strange conspiracies that the UN would form one government to rule the world, I imagine.  There was a lot of talk about reforming our contributions to the United Nations.  Syria, again, was not mentioned.

On December 23, 2011, suicide bombers hit a security facility in Damascus killing 40 people.  At the start of the new year, there was talks about peace plans in Russia.  While the Russian government has declared it would not support any peace talks that removed President Assad from power.  There were informal talks in Moscow on January 30, 2012 that revolved around Assad ceding power.

Days later, the Assad regime launched an attack in Homs killing 200.  The Kofi Annan Peace Plan was launched in February 2012 and has been considered to be the most serious peace plan launched.  The Peace Plan offered six points:
1. Find the concerns of the Syrian people and address them.
2. Commit to stop the fighting on both sides; the Syrian government should commit to immediately end the movement of troops and cease the use of heavy weapons.
3. Ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance.
4. Release political prisoners.
5. Ensure freedom for journalists.
6. Respect for freedom of protest

It also asked for a cease fire to be issued on April 10, 2012. On April 12, the FSA agreed to it and the ceasefire was agreed to by the Syrian government on April 14.  Already on April 15, there were reports of the ceasefire being violated.  

On April 10, 2012, Mitt Romney's biggest competitor for the Republican presidential nominee, Rick Santorum announced he would be suspending his campaign.  At this point, Mitt Romney had all but officially sewn up the nomination at this point.  Foreign policy was never really addressed in the Republican presidential debates.  In fact, it had to be asked of Mitt Romney, what his foreign policy was.  Romney responded that our biggest geopolitical foe was, in fact, Russia.

On May 1, the United Nations placed blame for the ceasefire on each side of the Syrian conflict.  On May 30, the FSA announced that they gave the Assad government a 48 hour deadline to agree to an international peace plan.  Meanwhile, the FSA and anti-government protesters killed 57 soldiers.

After government shelling in al-Qubair, 78 civilians killed by the Syrian government.  Two weeks later, the Syrian government shot down a Turkish jet.  The Turkish government condemns the act and vows retaliation.  NATO announces that it, too, condemns the act.  Five days later, the FSA and other members of the opposition attack a pro-regime television facility and a military facility.  
On July 3, 2012, Human Rights Watch announced that the Assad government has a state policy of torture against civilians.  Just two weeks later, Russia and China veto a U.N. Security Council Resolution that would have placed additional sanctions against the Assad regime.  Two weeks after that, the Syrian premier defects, and cites genocide as the reason why.  

On August 20, 2012, President Obama announced that the use of chemical weapons from the Assad regime would be a red line.  If it was found that chemical weapons were used against civilians, that would be a gamechanger.  Despite this talk, President Obama does not announce what the use of chemical weapons would entail.

On September 4, 2012, the UN reports that 100,000 people fled Syria in the month of August, alone.  Exactly one week later, a consulate and CIA base in Libya is attacked.  This is the attack everyone talked about. BENGHAZI! A U.S. ambassador was killed and Barack Obama announced the attack as an act of terror.  Despite the Presidential debates that are happening around this time and shortly after, the only mention of foreign policy is about the attack on Benghazi.  Syria was not brought up in any of the Presidential debates.

France announced that it would openly fund the Syrian opposition and the FSA on September 7, 2012.  On September 15, 2012, the UN envoy announced that the Syrian conflict was a threat to world peace and stability in the Middle East.  

On November 6, 2012 Barack Obama is re-elected to a second term in office.  President Obama failed to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.  While he did announce a timetable for the troops to return from Afghanistan, the foreign policy of Obama is considered by even his supporters as uneven, at best. 

Despite calls from most countries for Assad to resign, he announced a peace plan on January 6, 2013.  Human Rights Watch has confirmed that there are government torture rooms and that 4,300 civilians have been killed by Syrian airstrikes.  The United Nations has announced that 93,000 have been killed in Syria.

On May 17, 2013 after Russia announced that they have been supplying weapons to Syria, President Obama announced he has ruled out unilateral action on Syria.  In the summer of 2013, the Syrian government was able to push back almost all of the advances made by the FSA and opposition.  The Syrian government has been supported by such American allies as Russia, Hezbollah, and Iran.

Meanwhile, the opposition groups which are large umbrella organizations have felt their differences grow.  Members of al Qaeda groups reportedly killed a member of the FSA supreme military council.  Other members of al Qaeda groups have been blamed for the assassinations of other more moderate leaders of the opposition.  In a video that became viral for less than 24 hours, showed al Qaeda linked fighters beheading two soldiers of the Free Syrian Army.  

Because the opposition is just a series of umbrella organizations, moderate fighters are often fighting alongside hard-line Islamist fighters, including those who are linked to al Qaeda.  Qatar was caught shipping weapons to the Syrian opposition that was eventually linked to the Nursa front.  

Prime Minister David Cameron announced in July of 2013 that he would no longer try to arm the Syrian rebels.  British military commanders advised Cameron that the trade of small arms would not sway the conflict.  Late August of 2013, David Cameron asked British parliament to vote on actions in Syria, much to the dismay and hardline talk that he made earlier, the British parliament voted against the authorization of force in Syria.

As 6,000 people per day flee Syria, the neighbors of Syria have become increasingly burdened with the refugees.  Jordan, Israel, and Turkey formed a coalition of forces to help combat the Assad regime and help the Syrian opposition.  These troops have been trained by the CIA much to the dismay of Congress.  

Former President and saxophonist Bill Clinton has repeatedly said that his biggest regret is the fact that he did not get involved in Rwanda.  President Obama has taken to this heart.  But at the same time, he has feared the impact of getting involved in Syria.  While President Obama originally campaigned as a peaceful man in 2008, some of the doves in Congress are becoming frightened of President Obama.  While he said that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line or a game changer, the administration reportedly denied two separate reports claiming the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.  Finally, one report of chemical weapons was finally confirmed by the Obama administration.  According to the report, over 1000 people have died by chemical weapons and over 400 children.

President Obama could have used the War Powers Resolution to commit to limited military strikes, like the Presidents before him have frequently done.  There has not been a declaration of war by Congress since World War II. There have been over 125 military strikes not authorized by Congress since then.  Despite this overwhelming evidence, that it is, in fact, legal, Republicans and Democrats alike have condemned the military authorization without Congressional approval.  President Obama was advised by many to not take the vote to Congress.  But after a 45 minute walk he decided to take his case for military action to the legislators.

Speaker of the House John Boehner was asked by Barack Obama to schedule an emergency session of Congress to vote on Syria prior to the September 9 return.  But Rep. Boehner declined and Obama let him off the hook.  The Senate took action by scheduling a committee hearing about the Syria conflict.  Some people took it more seriously than others.  Others seemed like they were not prepared for the discussion.  Regardless, the authorization passed the Senate Committee and will be considered before the entire Senate next week.

Notorious RINO John McCain and his best friend Lindsey Graham issued a joint statement saying that they would not vote in favor of the authorization unless it was larger than Obama was calling for.  They do not believe the air strikes will be enough to topple the Assad regime and end the conflict.  They want a broader use of authorization.

Rep. Peter King whined that Obama was bucking his responsibility and limiting power and authority of future presidents.

140 members of Congress signed a letter asking for a new session of Congress asking to vote on the issue of Syria.

Rep. Justin Amash was among the leaders of this letter.  He also praised the president for boldly setting a new precedent for presidents to follow their constitutional limits.

Rep. Raul Labrador, too, praised the President for following the Constitution and welcomes the vote in Congress.

Senator Rand Paul, meanwhile, stated that the Assad regime was nice to Syrian Christians and maybe shouldn't be taken out of power because he was just killing Muslims.  This was, in no way, a ploy to get votes with a demographic he struggles with in a primary.

But despite the praise of Democrats and Republicans alike for asking Congress for authorization, some Republicans, mostly unelected were not happy with it.  They still prescribe to the notion that things are wrong just because President Obama wants it.  If President Obama said that we should invade they would have complained that he did not ask for authorization.  Because he didn't, they have to complain that President Obama isn't doing enough to get Congress to vote quickly, enough.  Even if their party's leadership is the one also holding it back.  Or they're complaining that we shouldn't get involved, while praising what Senators McCain and Graham have said about the conflict.  All of a sudden, we need to get more involved. But only if Obama doesn't want us, too. 

I could write for a much longer period of time about how the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent, how the human rights violation of President Assad are terrible, how the opposition in Syria needs to be more unified, or why the attacks are a problem.  But I'll just be preaching to the choir.  You see, the problem I have is we have a political party in this country that is so obsessed with proving that Obama is wrong they're willing to compromise whatever values, ideals, ideas they claim to hold to prove it. 

It's entertaining as hell to watch people elected on the idea that they're not in politics or government try to claim they know foreign policy.  It's fun to watch people who choose not to be briefed by the Obama administration condemn the actions by the Obama administration before they happen.  Or to watch them consciously ignore talking about it when they are at a conservative conference like so many of the 2016 presidential hopefuls did.  It's glorious to watch people complain about the constitutionality of Obama's actions before he announces that he will seek Congressional authorization unlike every fucking president before him.  It's great to see people say, Obama is abusing the executive power and talk nothing of the precedents set by other presidents.  

Maybe we should learn something from this.  We can't ignore a situation and just assume it'll go away.  That's what we've been doing for two years.  We should be talking about it, more.

Note: I know that Congress has authored plenty of bills about sanctions in Syria, supporting the opposition, condemning the Assad government, and stopping proliferation of weapons to Syria.  Some members of Congress have talked about this issue.  But for some reason, people will believe, and continue to believe, you don't win votes by foreign policy.  



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