Are we ready for the Syrian “Cascade of Unintended Consequences”

When I started this post two weeks ago, President Obama had started his saber-rattling. Basha al-Assad of Syria had crossed Obama’s “red line” for allegedly using chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war. I say allegedly because the United Nations report is not yet in.

Since then we’ve seen an extensive public relations campaign by the administration attempting to rally the American people and Congress to back a plan of his to intervene in Syria militarily. He defines it as limited, or no “boots on the ground. But if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck. And this duck look a hell of lot like a another war.

Then last week we saw a step back as Obama said he wouldn’t initiate action until he got Congress’s opinion. I say opinion because he still reserves the right to blow Syria to a seat next to Allah even without Congressional approval. In his nationally  televised speech Tuesday he night still showed his desire to enforce the “moral imperative” by flexing those muscles of American Exceptionalism. And nothing does that better than a few ‘Made in America’ cruise missiles. All this time Vladimir Putin of Russia, a valued trading partner of Syria, spewed his venom of dissent.

And then the events took a 180° turn. Putin suggested Syria just disarm themselves of its chemical weapons stockpile and turn it all over to the United Nations. Unbelievably … Assad agreed! In fact last night Assad expressed his interest in joining the U.N. Chemical Weapons Convention. I could get into why I think all this happened, but why. It did. The proverbial “fly on the wall’ … well, it wasn’t me.

Talks between the United States and Russia are currently under way in Geneva in hopes of hamming hammer out the details of this agreement. And we will have to see how they play out. And even if the United States ends up on the same page with Russia, or least on the same chapter … the devil will be in the details of the execution of the deal Russia brings to Syria. Will the all the chemical weapons Syria actually has be turned over? How do we know?  And we have the rebels Assad is fighting. They don’t want an agreement. They just want him out. There’s a lot bumps in the road here looking to throw this deal into the ditch.

As I said above, Obama has made it clear he reserves the right to use force  with or without Congressional or public approval. He feels he has the moral authority to do so. But one thing that is fact – one American administration after another, regardless Republican and Democrat, underestimate the effect of the Islam. Religious ties in this region, the Middle East, are a much stronger bond than nationality. And with these ties come allies including Iran and Hezbollah. It’s hard for our leaders to understand this mentality and apparently cross cultural empathy is not a requirement to be a western political leader.

Let’s say somewhere along the process, it all falls apart and the deal does go in the ditch. Since Obama feels it would be a sign weakness to back off his “red line” threat – and those Raytheon Tomahawk sortes begin their journey to the land of Damascus and beyond … what would happen next?

No amount of war games, scenario predictions or military pundits can predict the cascade of events that can occur.

Imagine:

October 12, 2013: The United States launches three sortes of Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets (deemed related to chemical weapons or military communications) at Damascus, Hama and Ar-Raqqah. The attacks are initially viewed to be successful. Full confirmation could take weeks however.

October 14, 2013: The Syrian Electronic Army wages their own war from, well … nobody really knows. They attack Exxon Mobil refineries in Libya, UAE and Nigeria – as well several American media companies, similar their actions against the New York Times and Fox News in previous months. The refineries go off-line.

October 15, 2013: Literally within hours of the SEA attacks, Hezbollah rebels physically attack these same facilities. And at two locations, they take over the entire refineries including taking hostages.

offshore rig fire

October 16, 2013: If that wasn’t enough, another group of Hezbollah combatants attacked and set ablaze two of offshore natural gas rigs in Qatar’s massive North Field.  Within 96 hours of the American cruise missile attack on Syria, 20% of the oil and gas flowing to western nations from the Gulf is no longer available.

October 18, 2013: Iran joins the party and threatens to block the Strait of Homuz, of which 40% of Gulf oil flows through. This causes Brent crude oil prices to rise to $200 a barrel.

November 1, 2013: Two weeks after the Iranian threat, unrealized but still a hovering specter,  gasoline prices in the United States rise $2.00 to a nearly $7.00 national average. For the first time in forty years Americans see rationing and gas lines. This is exasperated by the fact many stations already on the edge financially, just close their doors. The effects in other parts of the world are even worse where gas prices were already high. This ripple in other industries is also starting to be felt. Full-blown worldwide recession, if not depression – seems inevitable. Only this one will make 2008 seem like nothing but a road bump.

December 3, 2013: Out of nowhere, Assad and his “still in power government” rise up like a Phoenix and launch a full-scale attack targeting the rebels any and everywhere. There are rumours of more chemical weapon use. The United States responds by unleashing more cruise missiles, this time at more conventional military targets.

December 7, 2013: The conflict officially spills over into the United States. What started a month ago as just spirited rivalling protests between pro and anti Syrian factions … turn violent. In two cities with large  Syrian populations, Houston and Detroit – businesses and homes are burned, reminiscent of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1993. To make matter worse, as in Los Angeles, others that aren’t Syrian join in the mayhem. Vandalism and looting becomes rampant.

December 10, 2013: Russia boycotts US goods and imports, and enacts blanket travel restrictions – even for diplomats. The United States abandon their embassies.

December 15, 2013: As an early Christmas present to its elite athletes, the United States retaliates by announcing they will boycott the 2014 Russian Winter Olympics … again. Welcome to “Cold War – the Sequel.”

LA-riots

January 1, 2014: Threats of increased terrorist attacks force the cancellation of hundreds of New Years Eve celebrations around the United States and their allies, even Australia. The Department of Homeland Security declares a nationwide state of emergency and ratchets up “Big Brother” surveillance efforts on everyone. The National Guard is mobilized to control  the streets and enforce mandatory curfews in many cities. Uprisings are frequent and often deadly. The most unlikely bedfellows emerge as Tea Party extremist libertarians in rural areas band together with urban youth of all color and ethnicities. Both have a common enemy and are on the same side concerning Syrian intervention. That enemy is the United States government.

2014 and beyond:  ?

The above is just a scenario, but it’s a scenario probably every bit as plausible as anything the Obama and his merry band of hawks have thought of. It’s like they say about those vaunted economists predicting economy. Throwing darts at a dart board is every bit as accurate.

The problem with war is it’s unpredictable ~ especially in the Middle East. Things are never what they seem. You can never account for all the variables no matter how hard you try. It’s arrogant to think you can. And that’s been the problem with U.S. policy in the Middle East. It is based on arrogance.

I’m sure a lot of you are thinking there’s no way any of those countries in the Middle East are going to mess with the United States, especially after we tomahawked Syria. But then I’m guessing England felt pretty confident at the beginning of the American Revolution. Do you think Lyndon Johnson predicted Vietnam would turn out the way it did? Or the Soviet Union did when they invaded Afghanistan in 1979? Probably not. One can never underestimate their opponent, especially when they’re playing on their home field.

Add to that America’s low tolerance for adverse consequences. Just two days ago, we held another nationwide memorial service for the 9/11 attacks, which happened twelve years ago. While this was most definitely tragic, there are plenty of countries around the globe right now loosing every month more of their people than the 3,ooo we lost on that day. And what about the increase in terrorist activity that could happen here in the United States if we engaged Syria. Imagine if casualties are twice as much, or five times, or god forbid ten times. The distaste for war amongst the youth could result in a full-blown generational civil war.

While I don’t condone Assad’s actions, that doesn’t mean that we should just rush in. I don’t know what the answer is. But I don’t believe we should just default to thinking we have the “moral authority” because we’re THE MAN, as John Kerry and Barak Obama appear to think: “The United States is Exceptional.” I can think of many things in the United States not exceptional that institutionally border on civil rights violations … all in the name of war. The government strips away constitutional rights in the name of the War against Terror. They decimate lives and communities all in the name of the War against Drugs. Where’s the moral authority there?

We just need to be prepared, prepared for the inevitable scenario that we can never predict.

Because with each action … there will always be “Unintended Consequences.”

Update: As of Saturday, September 14 – the United States and Russian reached an agreement on disarming Syria of their chemical weapons.

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You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google +

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