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Tag Archives: Cold War

Nuclear Chess

“It’s a proxy war by happenstance,” says Jeff White of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy about the situation in Syria. As if there ever was a pre-arranged proxy war.

This was a chess game for two, and had been so for almost half a century. Pawns were being traded between them, but the kings were hiding safely behind their wall of nuclear missiles. Neither would risk open conflict, especially after the crisis of 1962. And the entire world is thankful for that. Except for the countries which played the part of the chessboard in these seven decades.

The game is always played in turns. One side intervenes, directly or indirectly, in the affairs of another country. The other side responds accordingly. As long as no more than one side is directly involved, it’s a proxy war and as a friend points out, World War III has already happened, silently, in battlefields all over the world: Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iran-Iraq and so on. The casualty count of the Cold War rivals, or might even surpass, that of the two formally declared World Wars.

Most do not know that immediately following the end of World War II, Churchill had formulated a plan for an Allied attack on the Soviet Union. Thankfully, the rest of the Allies were not keen to continue the bloodshed. The world was divided, the war went on, but in small doses and with various degrees and forms of engagement. And finally, with the collapse of the USSR we thought that the threat of total war was behind us.

Until now, that the Cold War seems to be rekindled. But you can only play with fire so much before you risk getting burned. Even by proxy.

What Mr. White means is that when the CIA initiated the programme to train and equip the rebels to destabilize Assad, they did not expect that Russia would be directly involved. Is he naive or does he think that the rest of us are? The West is systematically undermining Russia’s allies: first Ukraine and now Syria. Putin was slow or reluctant to act the first time and he could not save the regime in Ukraine. He is obviously not going to let this happen again. Should he let his penultimate ally in the Middle East fall? Would the US do that in his shoes?

Assad is a despot, no doubt about it. But so are the Saudis, which are in the habit of crucifying and beheading dissidents. Not terrorists or armed rebels, mind you. Just bloggers. Never mind that, Cameron was all too happy to vote Saudi Arabia for the UN Human Rights Council in exchange for their vote.

What we now have is, essentially, an admission that the US and Russia are fighting another proxy war, even if by “happenstance”. Even worse, this “happenstance” is going to continue happening, since the US apparently does not intend to stem the flow of equipment to the “Syrian rebels”, a blanket term that covers also mercenaries, terrorists, and US-trained and armed Arabs from most countries in the region. Continued support of the US to the rebels means, at this point, that the war in Syria will cease to be a coincidental proxy war and will become an intentional one.

But what the US fails to realize or purposefully ignores is that the game is no longer played by two. There are many players crowding the board now, controlling different pieces: rebel forces, Assad’s regime, the abortive child of US policy in the Middle East (ISIS), Iran, Israel (which has been itching to attack Iran for years), Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Kurds, Hezbollah, the US (and allies), Russia and even China. This is no longer a game of chess. It is more like children playing with matches in a gunpowder magazine.

If ever there was a strong possibility for World War III (IV, if you prefer) to happen since the Cuban missile crisis, this is it.

The most alarming fact is that the US defends its policy and intends to continue pursuing it. It insists that the flow of arms is controlled, and it even claims that the plan was to supply the rebels with enough weapons to force Assad to step down, but not for his regime to collapse. So, what is the cut-off point? 100 TOWs? 300? How many rockets stand between Assad’s abdication and his total collapse? How can the US guarantee that the rebels will actually stop fighting, even if Assad does promise to step down? And what if the “moderates” stop and the fanatics continue? How many times does it have to repeat this strategy before it is forced to admit that it never works as intended?

Even in cases where the undesirable regime is toppled in a controlled manner, the one that follows is never stable enough to function without support: Iraq and Afghanistan should have proven this point by now. However, Libya is a more likely example for the future of Syria and this scenario is, sadly, the optimistic one.

The pessimistic scenario is a large scale, global conflict that will plunge the Middle East and Europe in chaos. If push comes to shove, even the use of nuclear weapons is not out of the question and then the repercussions will be unthinkable. Is this purely a result of short-sighted politics? Is it part of some bigger plan? It doesn’t matter much. What matters is that humanity stands on the brink.

War is not a game. It is truly the last resort and by this time in our course as rational beings it should not even be an option at all. The consequences of a modern global conflict are too terrible to imagine. In fact, there is no real need for imagination, as there are plenty of books, films, simulations and videogames that have explored these scenarios. No ideology is worth this. No religion and certainly no economic or geopolitical agenda is worth placing the fate of our entire race in the balance. Not global unification, nor population control. Even putting all sense of compassion and humanity aside, the gamble is too big and the stakes way too high.

There is a better way.

Intermission #22

A good friend of mine told me the other day about his intention to immigrate. He is not the first of my friends to consider a future abroad and I fear that he won’t be the last. He is thinking about going to New Zealand.

There are more sheep than people there, you know,” he told me excitedly. “Same as here,” I answered.

Sheep are afraid of the wolf and thus follow the shepherd blindly, under the watchful gaze of the herding dog. It does not matter that they have never seen a wolf with their own eyes. It is in their nature to follow without thought. The shepherd knows best. They cannot stand up to the herding dog. So, they go from pen to pasture and back, all their lives, until they are either butchered or just die.

There are no wolves any more. Our civilization has rendered them extinct long ago. However, since fear is necessary to keep the sheep in line, the system resorted to creating “wolves” of its own.

This is not something new. On the contrary, it has been tested throughout history. The most striking example is the “balance of terror” kept up between the two superpowers of the second half of the previous century. The nuclear arms race permitted them to effectively rule the world. The Americans protected the West from “evil communists” and the Soviets protected their own Eastern bloc from “corrupt capitalists”.

It is basically what Orwell described in “1984”. There is always a threat and the media propagate this idea until it becomes the commonly acceptable truth. When the threat disappears, then a former ally can turn into an enemy in the blink of an eye. There must always be an enemy. There must always be fear.

So it was that the Soviets after the end of WWII turned immediately from allies to enemies of the West. The system worked well for four decades. However, after the Soviet Union disbanded, the West was left without an opposing force.

Therefore, a new enemy had to appear, one which could strike anytime, anywhere, even at the heart of the USA. The new enemy is terrorism: invisible, unpredictable and omnipresent. The fear of the unknown is greater that the fear of a known enemy. A terrorist could hide anywhere, they could be anyone, their motives are obscure and undecipherable. In other words, terrorism is the perfect tool for the propagation of fear.

Fear is the best weapon in the arsenal of governments wishing to impose measures, which in every other case would push citizens to the brink of unrest. Such as limiting their freedom, all for the sake of their security, and of course sending troops thousands of miles away, in order to liberate oil fields, opium plantations, gold and uranium deposits, and so on.

Fear is the best weapon at the disposal of a state attempting to restrict the basic freedoms and fundamental rights of its citizens, in the example of any totalitarian regime, without actually being branded as one.

Freedom is not having the potential of taking consumer loans to buy SUVs and expensive vacations. It is having the right to protest when the state enforces taxes on you, yet fails consistently to provide basic social benefits.

When Justice turns a blind eye to an unending series of scandals and crimes by politicians and their sponsors/partners, while it punishes its citizens mercilessly for even the slightest oversight.

When Ministers profess ignorance about the laws they have approved, while citizens must be aware of any trap on the laws governing employment, social security, real estate and any other aspect of their lives.

Laws which mutate constantly like viruses, insidiously and without warning, instead of developing in accord with the requirements of a healthy state, whose purpose it to serve its citizens. Of course, if we trust the words of the great Noam Chomsky, such a state does not exist.

Many Greeks are well aware by now that our state dreams of passive citizens who stand as sheep while they are milked dry and left to die once their usefulness wears out. “Sheepizens” who, unlike other Europeans, have no right to a referendum about matters which will determine their future. Sheepizens who depend on a non-elected government to determine the proper date for the next elections!

All of the above cannot in any way fit under the definition of Democracy.

Democracy is the form of government which holds the freedom and opinion of its citizens as its most sacred ideals. If a state doubts the ability of its own citizens to decide on their own future, then it is no longer democratic. Especially so when it suppresses and subverts the peaceful protest of the people.

And this is achieved by using  so-called “anarchists”, which for some reason seem unwilling to burn ministries, the properties of politicians or the Parliament itself. Instead they torch banks, loot department stores and wreck cars. Not even cinemas are spared from their “righteous cause”.

I truly cannot fathom what kind of anarchist fails so consistently to strike  targets owned by their natural enemy, the state. As I cannot fathom what kind of anarchist terrorist would place an incendiary device, without warning, in a train car with the sole purpose of causing human casualties.

This might not strike someone who is not living in Greece as something out of the ordinary, however it is unheard of in our country. All terrorist groups in recent memory placed anonymous calls to warn before a strike in a public place. There is no instance of fundamentalist or nationalist terrorist activity in Greece, which would explain attacks on innocent civilians. On the contrary, terrorist groups in our country belonged to the radical left or the anarchists, targeting political figures, businessmen, state buildings or media outlets.

Another tragic first was the arson of a bank during working hours, which marked the last time Athens knew widespread riots, two years ago.

That incident resulted in the death by suffocation of three employees, one of them a pregnant woman. The perpetrators were never found. Testimonies which claimed that the bank management allegedly threatened to fire any employee who departed early to avoid the riots were never investigated.

Even more tellingly, the findings by government officials and the police concerning the almost complete lack of any kind of safety precaution in the bank building itself never led to any legal action. In short, the tragic event and the protests which were cut short by it were buried together with the four victims.

It is all but certain that any investigations about this last terrorist attempt will also prove fruitless.

Given the facts, the only way to reach any reasonable conclusion is to determine who is harmed and who benefits from these actions. Who felt guilty when innocent lives were lost because of their attempt to protest? Who felt responsible when several buildings in Athens burned during what was the most massive demonstration in recent memory?

Who is terrorized now that the Athens Metro is threatened? It is the most widely used means of public transportation in the capital and also happens to be the best way to reach the city centre during protests in front of the Parliament.

Do you think that this bomb would scare our politicians who never set foot in the Metro after the inauguration ceremonies of new stations?

Or is it us who are terrorized, scared little people who should be grateful for our jobs granting us less and less money, as we pray for the bad wolves to go away?

Sheep do not protest, nor do they vote. They do not have, nor claim any rights. They do not think, they just survive. If this is the future we want, then all we have to do is follow the same “shepherds” which we know and trust.

We should let them shear us to clothe themselves, milk us to eat, we should hand our children to them so that they can refresh the herd when we will no longer be here.

I just hope that the butcher’s knife won’t hurt too much.

Intermission #6

Constantine P. Cavafy, one of the most important Greek poets of the previous century, devoted one of his most famous poems to the seemingly paradoxical relationship between a state and its enemies, real or imagined. The very meaning of the “civilized” society is put in question and the barbarians are even thought of as a possible solution.

Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

      The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?
Because the barbarians are coming today.
      What’s the point of senators making laws now?
      Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.
Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?
Because the barbarians are coming today
      and the emperor’s waiting to receive their leader.
      He’s even got a scroll to give him,
      loaded with titles, with imposing names.
Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?
Because the barbarians are coming today
      and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
Why don’t our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?
Because the barbarians are coming today
      and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.
Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?
Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come.
      And some of our men just in from the border say
      there are no barbarians any longer.
Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems
Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
Translation Copyright © 1975, 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard