Monday, October 27, 2008

Don't mention the war

The American attack on Syrian territory seems to have come as a shock, even to those who like to talk about an 'October surprise'. Is that piffle what an 'October surprise' looks like? Is another bombing of civilians the new standard of American incompetence? Was it an attempt to help McCain's dead campaign? Was it a last lashing out by the frustrated and largely emasculated neocons? Was it their attempt to start a World War, hoping against hope that the Syrians would act completely contrary to form and risk a suicidal retaliation? Was it a last-minute diplomatic 'gift' for the hated Obama? Nothing really feels right.

On the other hand, we shouldn't be looking at this as an aberration. The United States is currently conducting all-out wars against Somalia and Pakistan and (arguably) Iran, up to and including having (sub rosa) boots on the ground, and all without declaring war. Americans dropping bombs on civilians in other countries happens all the time. Acts of war without declaring war is the new style in the Pentagon. If you are an American military strategist, facing the huge problem of extracting yourself from Iraq and Afghanistan, all without appearing to have been kicked out by the Iraqi government, or beaten out by the Taliban, the prospect of having all the benefits of war without any of the responsibilities must be very appealing. The Americans are good at starting wars, but have no clue how to end them. Wars aren't popular with the people who run the United States now, so alternatives are welcome.

The Americans claim to have a problem with insurgents crossing the border from Syria to Iraq, and then taking shelter in Syria. The American action looks like a targeted assassination of a specific individual (of course, we'll never hear a name). The Americans have learned from the Israelis that it does not matter how many innocent civilians you slaughter as long as you come close-ish to hitting your intended target. You could call it incompetence (especially since it keeps happening), but it is closer to a racist indifference to life.

There is another big alternative explanation. The Syrians seem to be trying to help the Americans, but don't actually have control of the tribal border areas. It is quite possible that the Syrians secretly approved an American operation to take out a particular individual. Syria can hardly admit that it doesn't control its own borders, or that there are insurgents in Syria who don't like the central government. Syria also can't be seen to accept an attack by a foreign country on its own civilians. Thus, it allows the American attack and pretends to be angry, while limiting the actual diplomatic response.