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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

"A Small, Victorious War"

A little more than a decade before the Bolshevik Revolution, Nicholas II, Tsar of All the Russias, was facing a domestic crisis.  The imperial economy was in serious trouble, and large numbers of people were demanding reforms, including that the monarch establish a representative national assembly.  To counter this domestic unrest, Nicholas (or one of his advisors) is said to have remarked that what was needed was a “small victorious war”—an outside conflict as a quick, decisive patriotism builder and distraction from internal issues.  Confrontation with the upstart Japanese empire, with its designs on the ever-expanding Russian Empire’s far eastern ports, seemed to offer exactly this promised scenario.  The Russian empire was THE great power of its day in terms of population, territory and the numerical size of its armed forces.  After the Japanese surprise attack on Port Arthur (south of Vladivostok) and later engagements hamstrung the Far Eastern Fleet, Nicholas announced that his Baltic Fleet would sail half-way around the world to redress this insulting assault.  There was plenty of advance warning that the Russians were on their way—it took almost a year for them to reach their destination.  And less than a day for the Japanese Navy to obliterate them almost entirely.  The small Asian nation had brought the giant to its knees.  Having concluded the embarrassing war with Japan through the diplomatic intervention of Theodore Roosevelt, Nicholas was forced to concede to demands for a national plebiscite, but the ongoing political and economic inequities in his enormous empire still eventually led to the overthrow of the Russian monarchy and thence to the rise of the communist system (which would itself be brought low by economic problems and the black eye of Afghanistan three quarters of a century later).

Rachel and I were having our weekly tea this morning, and a woman came into the Starbucks passing out protest flyers against American intervention in Syria.  I read over it—it was by Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, and alleged that Syria had not really used chemical weapons, and that the whole rationale for war was an “imperialist-inspired regime change strategy” and that the “politicians of western capitalism…routinely bomb and kill people in the Middle East, Asia and Africa who resist allowing their lands and resources to fall under the domination of western corporations, banks and business interests.”  This is lunacy from the leftist fringe.  I am sure there is equivalent, if contrasting, lunacy among the wild-eyed right.  I do not buy the conspiracy theories—I know from my own research that Syria is one of several countries that maintains significant chemical weapons stockpiles, and I also observe that if “western corporations, banks and business interests” are attempting profitable regime-change through warfare these days, they are doing a piss-poor job of it.  Neither do I assume that our governing officials have a peculiar personal reason for pushing us towards war.
However, there is certainly more than a grain of truth in the notion that this whole move warward is certainly (whether it is deliberately designed as such or not) a convenient distraction from the pressing economic problems that we continue to face as a nation [one of my military friends recently pointed out that there is no legitimate way that we can either pay off our national debt (it’s at such a height that we’d either have to default wholesale on our foreign loans, or deliberately devalue the dollar—both of which strategies would have further horrible effects on our domestic economy) or continue finance our armed forces to be deployed abroad as they are now and still protect our homeland].  I am not suggesting that President Obama is deliberately choosing to focus on Syria as a “small victorious war” in the sense Nicholas II did—hoping that we’ll all pick up little American flags, sing the “Star Spangled Banner” and ignore the continuing recession (we’ve been “recovering” so long I feel like we’re in permanent therapy) and the complications (particularly the considerable economic issues) involved in October’s advent of ObamaCare.  Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s genuinely horrified by the humanitarian nightmare that is Syria, and he’s been persuaded at long last that we should do something, based on considerable credible evidence.  Let’s say he’s motivated by the purest characteristically-American compassion, and he wants to go through the right legal channels to launch and land what he is completely persuaded will be a clear, decisive and limited victory for truth, justice and the democratic way.  Should he be given permission to do so?  What are his (our) real chances of success?

Briefly: Absolutely not, and horribly bad.  Although the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today already affirmed a resolution in favor of military action, which is to be voted on by the whole Senate on Monday (thank God for Rosh Hashanah, or it probably would have already reached the floor!), they have failed to consider the catastrophic consequences.  Like Obama, let us say that most of our elected officials in Congress are invigorated by the best motives and highest ideals.  They hate to see people suffer, they’ve seen the intelligence data and the YouTube videos of innocent people being murdered wholesale by Assad (some even remember his daddy’s regime, not necessarily because they’re really historically aware, but because they’ve been in office that long…) and they want to kick butt and take names.  The problem is, it’s not them who’ll be attempting the butt-kicking, but youthful American soldiers, sailors and airmen who have less cultural and historical knowledge than familiarity with the cool gizmos that comprise much of the US arsenal (and too much of its regular strategy), and neither the politicians in Washington nor the grunts in the sea, land, and air forces know whereof they are about to engage. 
Furthermore, the Syrians have certainly heard enough saber-rattling from us that they, and their allies, would be foolish not to have done some responsive planning.  How exactly should we react if a member of nearby country's military--I originally posited a "Russian naval man", but given the staff at the RF Tartus port is infinitesimal, the likelihood of this is equally so!--supposedly or really in fear of his life from an errant missile or bomb of ours, shoots down one of our planes?  How do we propose to secure the metric tons of poison gas the Syrians have no doubt already distributed hither and yon through civilian populations and in undercover arsenals if we don’t occupy every square inch of the territory?  Who is going to pay for all this?  And, from a purely practical perspective, if some other government than ours foots the bills, would they not also be calling the shots, making us little less than hired mercenaries?  And how does even the smallest, most victorious war bring about a balanced budget and the necessary domestic financial reform that we’re still waiting on?  Does no one in Congress remember that sequestration looms over us from month to month, or is each and every man and woman on Capitol Hill seizing the Syrian issue as a wonderful opportunity to move constituent attention away from these hard questions? 

I called one of my Senators today to (politely) express my concern about his support for the President’s proposal.  I heartily encourage all of my blog readers to do the same.  Your Representative also should be contacted.  If you don’t know the name of the person, just look ‘em up online. C’est tres facile.  Given that we do have universal suffrage and a technically representative republic, it is not yet necessary to take to the streets with placards; but it is needful to make your voice heard through established channels, or it will be willfully ignored.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Finally, an issue upon which we totally agree!!