To Bomb or not to Bomb Assad
Assad’s use of chlorine based chemical weapons to kill 60 odd civilians appears to be an extraordinarily counterproductive gambit in , what I assume, is his central civil war aim, the continuation of his own brutal regime.
The, as yet, undefined military action by the United States, France and The United Kingdom as punishment for the killing of 60 odd civilians with, as yet, no defined end point is equally puzzling.
On the other hand the discourse around whether to bomb, or not to bomb, does have political utility for some, and none of it is about the humanitarian dimension of the death of 60 Syrian civilians. The supposed humanitarian dimension is in truth, for the cheer leaders for bombing utterly irrelevant.
If it were relevant, that is underpinned by principles pertaining to egregious civilian death, then the political community, here and abroad would be talking about the Saudi led, and U.S./U.K backed war in Yemen.
If it really were about such humanitarian principles then the proponents to bomb in this case, would have been talking about the Yemen case. They would have been talking about it not only yesterday, the would have been talking about it in the days weeks and months before yesterday. Moreover they would be talking about it now until the genocide going on Yemen ends.
Clausewitz concluded that the purpose of war was to achieve certain aims, war aims. That is changes in the political behaviour of others so that they would at worst fall into line up to and at best display political subservience.
Quite what the war aims of those who propose to bomb the Assad regime are not at all clear. Is it to change the regime? To remove Assad and replace him? And to replace him with what?
If it is not that then what?
Is it rather all a political performance? A manifestation of political theatre if you will? Political theatre of a televisual nature. A performance with certain deadly consequences for some to be sure. However if it were that then that would be bad enough. However it is important to understand that the stakes are potentially much greater, particularly if the “choreographers” of this “production” slip up.
Its worth looking at the requirements that need to be put in place to ensure that only those “on stage” might be killed and not members of the “audience” for who’s edification the production is being staged in the first place.
The two key performers who absolutely must get there moves right are the USA and Russia. The actions of both have the potential, if not carefully managed, to kill members of the audience too.
For the political elites, in the upper balcony, the danger is slight, but by no means non existent.
The arms manufacturers, on both sides, have already gobbled up the tickets for the boxes, to hand out to potential customers who require ring side seats better to asses who missiles and air defence systems to buy.
The production is an expensive one. But please do not misunderstand me, I’m not referring to civilian casualties. As the war in Iraq drags on, with demonstrably no serious attempt to find a resolution the lives of civilian Iraqis is demonstrably cheap, though no where near as cheap as Yemeni’s.
The real expense will be in Tomahawk missiles, fired off in numbers by the US Navy and of course to a much lesser extent, by the Royal Navy, if they can get a one of the Astute Class boats in theatre in time before President Trump tweets the opening of the performance.
Also expensive will be the Russian countermeasures that, so the Russians claim, will be deployed to shoot down the tomahawks. Like the tomahawks these air defence systems are expensive, particularly for the Russians who’s military expenditure is not what it was during the glory days of the Soviet Union. The Russian bear’s vocal chords are still in good order but the claws are not quite what they used to be. After all contemporary Russia ranks only number ten in the military expenditure arms league table.
It one thing for Russia to use “bin end” decades old ordnance, (due for decommissioning soon anyway) to bomb civilians in various iterations of 21st century civil war sieges. It’s another to use the really expensive stuff, particularly when the USA has much, much more of it.
But the really key people in the stage managers control box will be the air traffic controllers, specifically the military air traffic controllers, both Russian and American. They will , we can assume, be in constant communication with each other during the entire performance.
If it turns out they are not in constant communication with each other then for those in the “upper circle” I suggest they try and ensure a seat is near the fire exit.