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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

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rocktur_roger_waters_the_wall

I had the good fortune to be able to afford a front row ticket to what I think was the most important rock concert I will ever attend. Many in Greece couldn’t, and the company responsible for the event shamelessly denied Roger Waters’ request that people be allowed to attend with a low price ticket of 18 Euros.

If you are unemployed, like 1.6 million Greeks (or more) are right now, even 18 Euros is not a trivial amount.

After watching The Wall again all these years later, I can safely say that today it is more relevant than ever, more relevant than all the works of all other modern rock groups put together, at least in a political sense. It is as if the unmistakable rise of totalitarianism in the world today is accompanied by the steady muting of voices who argue, the dulling of modern music’s edge, the lapse of the collective artistic conciousness into an iStore-induced coma.

I am not talking about anger. Rage Against the Machine did that very well 20 years ago, but what did it amount to, when all is said and done? More on this later.

Darkness. A few eerie notes are heard in the distance and then the bass shatters the silence. Every notes strikes your chest, as if from inside. Somehow, the sound feels like it reverberates from your heart. Light, music, singing, screaming. A plane crashes above in a shower of sparks as a father dies and a baby is born.

And thus begins the journey of Pink into life. All the major actors in his life, his over-protective mother who guides and comforts, his teacher who punishes and conditions, his girlfriend which betrays (and is betrayed), all help him build the Wall.

The Teacher (Photo by S.M.)

The Teacher (Photo by S.M.)

Eventually, he becomes a rock star. By that time, however, the Wall has alienated him from everyone and everything around him, making him comfortably numb. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll try to fill in the gaping holes in his life, to no avail. Pink becomes violent and delusional. Finally, he loses all contact with reality, imagining that he is a dictator with absolute power over his audience, shooting anyone whom he finds unworthy.

Delusions of Fascism

Riddled with guilt, he puts himself on trial, with all the key figures in his life acting as witnesses against him. He is reduced from a man to a fleshy, faceless doll, waiting pathetically in a corner for his inescapable condemnation.

The human puppet (Photo by O.N.G.)

But the judge does not sentence him to death. Instead, he orders him to tear down the Wall and he does so, finally freeing himself as an eerily happy music fades in the distance.

The basics of the story are unchanged and still, 34 years later, they are all too relevant, as education deteriorates, people turn away from meaningful relationships, governments turn away from democracy, religious and racial hatred flourishes and war continues to thrive. The story is not just about one man, but also about the way each individual Wall becomes another brick in a huge structure representing our entire society.

The Wall

Waters enriched the original vision of Pink Floyd with modern elements, as the Wall is “painted” with graffiti inspired by Apple’s iDolizing marketing. iNeed, iBelieve, iTeach, iKill. Cleverly placed amongst them is iResist with the image of a protester tossing a molotov. In the end, this kind of resistance is another marketed product, aimed at the (rightfully) frustrated people but offering nothing more than a justification of violent suppression by the government. Experience has shown that massive, peaceful demonstrations are much more effective than setting the instruments of a government on fire.

The writing on The Wall

Other lines of graffiti on the Wall were no less insightful. “Enjoy Capitalism” styled as the Coca-Cola logo. And “if at first you don’t succeed, call an airstrike”.

Another striking image, shocking in its simplicity and truth, is that of the endless line of bombers dropping symbols: the dollar sign, the hammer-and-sickle, the Christian cross, the crescent moon and star of Islam, the star of David, the Mercedes sign, the McDonald’s logo and that of Shell falling like bombs and covering everything in red. All of them symbols used and misused to separate people with walls of greed, bigotry, fanaticism and hollow ambition.

And, of course, the image of the hammers doing the duck march in oppressively perfect rows of red and black. Today, 31 years after their appearance in the iconic film by Alan Parker they are reminding us not of the past, but of the possible and very likely future.

Another new concept was that of the wall depicting victims of war, terrorism and state violence from WWI to the Gezi park protests. Famous politicians, well-known activists together with largely “unknown”, but named soldiers of every war in between, civilian casualties, rescuers from the 9/11 Ground Zero, amongst them a Greek soldier who died in the Albanian mountains in 1940.

The Wall of the fallen

The Wall of the fallen

One could be tempted to turn criticism against the work itself, with all its special effects and high tech sound and imagery, the last g(r)asp of an ageing rock star for a few more dollars. Or Euros, as it were. But the essence of the work remains, regardless of any intention, selfish or not, of one of its main creators. I was reminded of my student years, when I used to mock my left-wing colleagues, most of whom had the latest cell phones of the time, while I still didn’t have one (and didn’t want one). Their half-serious answer was that “they used the system to fight the system”.

Well, “comrades”, if I ever saw anyone using the system to speak up against it, that would be Roger Waters.

Intermission #19

The intro

 The contempt of the powers-that-be towards the average citizen and their perceived intelligence becomes increasingly obvious today from the quality of the excuses which they use to justify war.

Once upon a time, on the eve of World War II, Nazi Germany elaborately staged an attack by Polish forces on a German radio station close to the border with Poland. SS troops dressed up in Polish uniforms attacked the station and transmitted a short anti-German message in Polish.

They even dragged along a prisoner, also dressed in a Polish army uniform, to shoot so that they would have some hard evidence to present to the Press. This was the culmination of a campaign of similar events, 21 in total, which led to the supposedly defensive invasion of Poland by the Nazis.

65 years later, only the vague accusation from the US and Britain about the possession of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq was enough to start an invasion whose death toll is still counting, and will continue to do so for years to come.

Now, the shelling of a Turkish village close to the border with Syria by a position within Syria is apparently enough to trigger an armed response from Turkey, which could very quickly escalate to a large scale conflict in the Middle East and beyond.

The innocent victims “were struck by a mortar round fired from inside Syria and thought to be aimed from the military base at the Tal al-Abyad border post, which fell into Syrian rebel hands last month.” The response from the Pentagon was the following: “This is yet another example of the depraved behaviour of the Syrian regime, and why it must go. We regret the loss of life in Turkey, a strong ally.”

It is remarkable how quickly the US and Turkey became strong allies again, since in this particular case the Turkish government’s expansionist policy serves US interests in the region.

Reports at this point are inconsistent. Even within the same article it is unclear whether the mortar shell was fired against or from a rebel occupied border post. This whole incident brings to mind the shellings of Muslim graveyards during the Bosnian War, which often originated from friendly positions.

Even supposing that this attack actually came from the Syrian Army, to claim that it was not accidental defies all reason. What could the Syrian government possibly stand to gain from shelling a small village and killing innocent people? When faced with an 18-month insurrection in your country the last thing you wish to do is to anger your neighbours and drag them into it on the side of the rebels.

Need I remind my readers of the countless reports and incidents, some of them even recorded on video, of US army attacks (accidental or targeted) against unarmed civilians and journalists, embassies, hospitals, even school buses?

I am not in any way a supporter of totalitarian regimes, such as that of Bashar al-Assad. However, most countries in the Middle East are not democracies. It becomes interesting, then, to note which countries are picked by the West as targets for subversion and, most importantly, why.

In the case of Syria, the most likely reason would be that it is merely the doorstep to Iran, the next target in line for “liberation”. It should be clear by now that this kind of intervention does not and will not result in a transition to a stable, democratic state. It failed in Afghanistan, it failed in Iraq and, so far, it doesn’t seem to be succeeding in Libya either.

It is almost certain that Syria will not be any different, but that is irrelevant to the decision makers. They do not care about democracy, because if they did they would try to reinforce it in their respective countries, instead of attempting to enforce it in the ruins of “liberated” regions.

It is a sure sign of arrogance and hypocrisy when the West is professing to teach the East democratic values which it no longer respects, and preaches peace while it constantly breeds war.

People in most of these countries are not ready for democracy of the “instant” type. People in the developed world have grown complacent in the “fast food” democracy of their own. We all have to fight for true democracy, but (hopefully) not with weapons and not as invaders in foreign lands. It seems, though, that any attempt at reason is going to be drowned once again by the sound of bombs dropping and the televised green flares of missile launches as the “fight for freedom” show will go on.

Intermission #15

WAR

What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing.

I’m waiting. The clock ticks the seconds away. Ruthlessly. Ceaselessly. Relentlessly. I’m still waiting. What should I write about? About our hospitalized government? About the troika, lurking around the corner like a predator? Days passed in the green. We kept ourselves busy with the Euro Championship and not the euro currency. A bad thing? Not necessarily so. An essential thing? Definitely not. However the Euro Championship will continue to be after the year is through. I wouldn’t bet my life on the euro achieving the same feat, though.

Weeks pass like a river flowing into the sea. The sea that carries monstrous carrier ships. Towards faraway Syria. Perhaps not far enough from us here in Greece. The West is knocking on the gates of Persia and those gates lie in the land which Assad has been painting red. For months. But he is not the only one. Nor the first to do so. The difference between a dictatorship and a “legitimate government” in “these” countries lies in the colour of the ruling dictator’s underwear. If it bears the stars and stripes, then it’s fine.

Unless, of course, politicians and their puppeteers decide otherwise.

I read about horrifying things in the news. Robberies, murders, suicides. Infanticides. Cannibalism. Like a daily, macabre litany. In the sidebars I can see the windy upskirts, the failed plastic surgeries and the wet bathing suits of the famous. The contrast  is surreal, hideous. Inexplicable.

I read everything. Financial analyses. Political analyses. Social analyses. Football analyses. I even read about prophecies from holy men. Unserious, one would say. Droll, even. However, I just can’t shake the impression that some of them are beginning to look dangerously plausible. Even more than all these analyses.

The days have turned from football green to sandy gold and sea blue. For some. For a little while. Most of us, however, will just go back to gray. Others, many more than normally acceptable (?) never left the black. Nor will they, unless they shut the door behind them. But I hope they won’t. Perhaps things will change. Perhaps we will hit rock bottom before starting to climb again. But those who “leave” will never find out.

Please don’t shut the door.

Chaos? War? Some mock the Mayas and their prophecies. Forget about meteors, sun flares, earthquakes and volcanoes. We are safe from those, as a race. But do not forget man. He is the worst threat of all. The Mayas did not foresee disaster. They implied that the end of an era will come, a great change of some kind. Such things rarely come peacefully, however.

And everything seems so peaceful right now. Like the quiet before the  storm. In Greece and abroad. Unpredictable. Torrential. Unending scenarios. No certainty at all.

Months pass slowly. Falling, like rain drops. Blood or oil. Or, perhaps, both. I don’t know what to write about. I’m waiting. I am no prophet.

 Intermission #14

Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone
Riders on the storm