Saturday, May 26, 2012

Killings in Houla: There's Hope in What Wasn't Said

This is bad news. Tragic.
"Syria crisis: Houla child massacre confirmed by UN"
BBC News (May 26, 2012)
"UN observers have counted at least 90 bodies, including 32 children, after a Syrian government attack on a town...."
But what isn't in this article makes me cautiously hopeful. I'll get back to that.

I'm covering quite a bit of ground in this post:

Houla Killings: Real? Very Likely

Interestingly, Syria's boss isn't claiming that the killings in Houla didn't happen: or that the place doesn't really exist. Maybe Syria's leadership learned about keeping a story plausible, after that experience in 2007. (October 17, 2007, September 23, 2007, September 18, 2007)

A major problem with denying that anybody got hurt in Houla is that someone took video of the aftermath:
"...Horrific video footage has emerged from Houla of dozens of dead children, covered in blood, their arms and legs strewn over one another. It is unverified, but our correspondent says such images would be difficult to fake.

"International media cannot report freely in Syria and it is impossible to verify reports of violence.

"A team of UN observers visited the town on Saturday and afterwards Maj-Gen Mood said they could confirm 'the use of small arms, machine gun[s], artillery and tanks.'

"But he did not say who was behind the killings.
(BBC News)
I hope the BBC correspondent is a bit more sophisticated than the folks at Reuters, who didn't spot what may be the worst bit of botched digital editing outside 'Photoshop 101' classes. I've posted about that before:
(Back to the list of headings)

Who's Said What

Here's a summary of comments on the houla killings, according to the BBC:
  • UN mission head Maj-Gen Robert Mood
    • "Indiscriminate"
    • "Unforgivable"
  • UK Foreign Secretary William Hague
    • An "appalling crime"
  • UN chief Ban Ki-moon
    • A "flagrant violation of international law"
  • Syria's government
    • The fault of "armed terrorist gangs"
  • "Activists"
    • The result of
      • shelling
      • Summary executions
      • Butchery by the regime militia known as the "shabiha"
  • Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi
    • A "horrific crime"
(Back to the list of headings)

Words and Actions

Those folks in Houla are dead, and nothing's going to change that. But in circumstances like this, survivors often expect some sort of action to be taken. Or at least an official statement to get drafted. Here's what we've got so far, apparently:
  • UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan, and the Arab League
    • Condemned Friday's assault
  • France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius Fabius
    • Making immediate arrangements for a Paris meeting of the Friends of Syria group
  • 250 UN observers
    • Observing
Giving credit where credit is due, the UN observers seem to have at least been keeping score:
"...The UN says at least 10,000 have been killed since the protests began...."
(BBC News)
Tempting as it is to write something sarcastic about arranging a meeting in Paris, I won't. Just 'doing something' can be effective in action movies: but this is real life.

Quite a few people in quite a few countries have to figure out what can and should be done. Maybe Paris is a place where the folks involved won't get into an argument over what city the discussion should be held in.

(Back to the list of headings)

Friends of Syria

That "Friends of Syria" outfit include Western and Arab nations, but not Russia or China. Russia and China don't seem to like the idea of sanctioning Syria's current boss, and have blocked United Nations sanctions before.

I'll grant that whether or not sanctions work in situations like this is debatable, and that's another topic.

(Back to the list of headings)

Promises and the United Nations

Briefly, here's the sort of concrete action that's been promised:
  • UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan
    • Contacting Syria's government to
      • "Convey in the clearest terms the expectations of the international community
    • Visit Syria
      • Do the same thing
  • UK Foreign Secretary William Hague
    • Will call for an urgent session of the UN Security Council
      • Pretty soon
  • Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi
    • Has urged the Security Council to "stop the escalation of killing and violence by armed gangs and government military forces,"
  • The opposition Free Syrian Army
    • Unless the United Nations Security Council can keep civilians alive
      • the ceasefire is off
I mentioned what the United Nations is doing in Syria before. UN observers are - observing:
"...A team of UN observers visited the town on Saturday and afterwards Maj-Gen Mood said they could confirm 'the use of small arms, machine gun[s], artillery and tanks.'

"But he did not say who was behind the killings....
(BBC News)
(Back to the list of headings)

"Just Refused to Come"

I don't really blame Maj-Gen Mood and the observers for showing up a little late, observing bits and pieces of people, and concluding that they'd been killed by a variety of weapons. My guess is that their orders limit what they can do: and that the UN observers lack both the authority and the means to do more than keep score.

On the other hand, I'm sympathetic with the local folks. Back to BBC News:
"...Our correspondent says local people are angry that the observers failed to intervene to stop the killing.

"Abu Emad, speaking from Houla, said their appeals to the monitors failed to produce action.

"We told them at night, we called seven of them. We told them the massacre is being committed right now at Houla by the mercenaries of this regime and they just refused to come and stop the massacre.'
(BBC News)
Again, I think it's very likely that the United Nations observers simply can't get involved: and don't have the equipment to take effective action. Or the authority.

The situation is sad, tragic, and intensely frustrating. Syria's current boss is, I think, unlikely to stop killing Syrians. Bashar al-Assad seems to like the newfangled title of "President," but his actions strongly suggest that he's an old-school autocrat.

There may have been a time when a country's boss could instill loyalty by killing large numbers of his subjects. These days, even the Arab League finally got fed up with the Syrian 'President' and his enforcers.

It's not the 20th century any more, and I think all but the most committed - or clueless - autocrats are beginning to realize that 'the good old days' are over.

(Back to the list of headings)

News About Syria: What's Missing

What impressed me about that news about the latest atrocity in Syria was what wasn't there. None of the people or organizations mentioned BBC News seems to have blamed Israel. That, in my opinion, is remarkable.

Maybe the United Nations will get around to condemning Israel for what happened in Houla. The rationale could be that, because Israel always starves Palestinians and does bad things, someone in Syria had to kill all those kids.

Putting it that simply, the idea sounds daft: and I think it is. Add enough emotionally-charged words, and I think some folks might still believe it. Or want to.

The rest of us, I suspect, are beginning to realize that it's a big world: and that killing folks who don't follow the local neighborhood association rules can't be tolerated any more.

We're a very long way from having an "international authority with the necessary competence and power"1 to deal with people like Syria's Bashar al-Assad effectively. But going nearly 24 hours without blaming the Jews for an incident like this is, I think, a hopeful sign. Maybe more folks are starting to consider the idea of living with neighbors: instead of killing them.

It's a start, and that's yet another topic.

(Back to the list of headings)
Somewhat-related posts:

1 I think the United Nations is an international authority: but I also think that it's a far cry from the "international authority with the necessary competence and power" I mentioned. That term is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.

"However, 'as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.'106"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2308)
Implying that it might be okay to develop an "international authority with the necessary competence and power" to handle regional troublemakers does not mean that the Catholic Church is plotting to take over the world. I've discussed government, Catholicism, subsidiarity, and lizard men, before:

Monday, May 14, 2012

Nukes, a Drawing, Iran, and Nowhere Near Enough Information

It's been about two thirds of a century since nuclear weapons were used in a war. I'm not happy about the people who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On the other hand, I'm not going to do the conventional hand-wringing, and apologize for an action that hastened the end of World War II. I've been over this sort of thing before. (October 16, 2009)

I'm also not going to express regret that so many people didn't get killed in a protracted land war in Japan: surviving to have children in the years following that war. Myself, and a great many folks in Japan, included.

Good News, Bad News, and Iran

The good news is that problems do get resolved. The Soviet Union bowed out of history a little before the 20th century ended, leaving Russia and nations under Soviet control with - a new set of problems.

Some of the bad news is that on September 11, 2001, airliners hit New York City; the Pentagon; and, due to the heroism of Flight 93's passengers and crew, another airliner crashed before reaching its target. Thousands of people were killed that day. Considering how many could have not made it out of New York City's World Trade Center, that 'bad news' could have been much worse.

Then there's North Korea's nuclear weapons program; Syria's whatever-it-was that Israel hit; and Iran's nuclear program that we're supposed to believe has nothing at all to do with weapons development.

Nuclear Wannabes

As Al Qaeda demonstrated in 2001, quite a lot of damage can be done without using nuclear bombs. But if someone wanted to make most of a city disappear in a single bright flash, a fission bomb is probably the easiest way to get the job done.

Of those three nuclear wannabes, I think Iran is the most obviously serious threat. North Korea's got a new leader, but the last I heard it's the same dynasty: with the same monumental economic issues. Someone in North Korea might start believing their own propaganda, might have a working nuclear bomb, and might have a missile that could send it to Japan, Hawaii, Siberia, or Alaska: but I think the odds are low. Syria may not be as much of a mess as North Korea: but leadership there has problems, too.

Iran, on the other hand, has economic problems: but not, apparently, crippling ones. The Ayatollahs, Ahmadinejad, and others, may not be quite on the same page: but Iran does have a functioning government.

Ordinarily, I'd say that's good news: but since Iran also has a dubiously-innocuous nuclear program and a habit of blaming the Jews and the 'great Satan America' for problems? Iran's government might, maybe, decide to launch nukes instead of words one of these days.

Two Thirds of a Century: Never Again?

I hope that nuclear weapons never get used in warfare again. While I'm at it, I'll hope that war ends right now.

An end to war - forever - will require some major retooling of habits and attitudes. I think it's a good goal: but I also think we're a long, long, way from anything resembling Tennyson's "Federation of the world." I've discussed that sort of thing in another blog:
I hope I'm wrong about this: but my guess is that, sooner or later, someone with a nuclear bomb is going to decide that it should be used to kill people. Lots of people. Right now, one of the outfits that I think is least-unlikely to use a nuke against people is Iran's leadership.

Religious Crazies and Nukes

I don't have the conventional notion that all people with religious convictions are mass-murderers just waiting to go off. But Iran's leadership has the sort of 'criticizing me is attacking God' attitude it might take to launch a nuclear attack. I'm not making up that 'attacking God' thing, by the way:I noticed something in the news yesterday: it's an architectural rendering of a room with a whacking great machine that looks like part of a nuclear weapons testing system. That, and some vague - but plausible - information about a specific site in Iran is all that I've seen.

I really, sincerely, hope that whoever wins the American election this November has the good sense to realize that there are some folks with very dodgy attitudes out there: who may very soon have nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them to remote targets.

Here's what got me started:
"Drawing may provide insight into Iran's nuclear intentions"
Associated Press, via (May 13, 2012)

"A drawing based on information from inside an Iranian military site shows an explosives containment chamber of the type needed for nuclear arms-related tests that U.N. inspectors suspect Tehran has conducted there. Iran denies such testing and has neither confirmed nor denied the existence of such a chamber.

"The computer-generated drawing was provided to The Associated Press by an official of a country tracking Iran's nuclear program who said it proves the structure exists, despite Tehran's refusal to acknowledge it.

" That official said the image is based on information from a person who had seen the chamber at the Parchin military site, adding that going into detail would endanger the life of that informant. The official comes from an IAEA member country that is severely critical of Iran's assertions that its nuclear activities are peaceful and asserts they are a springboard for making atomic arms.

"A former senior IAEA official said he believes the drawing is accurate. Olli Heinonen, until last year the U.N. nuclear agency's deputy director general in charge of the Iran file, said it was 'very similar' to a photo he recently saw that he believes to be the pressure chamber the IAEA suspects is at Parchin.

"He said even the colors of the computer-generated drawing matched that of the photo he had but declined to go into the origins of the photo to protect his source...."
Related posts:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Six Battalions, the United Nations, ' - - - and it is the Fault of the Jews'

Israel has an ancient history - but it's a very new country. The most recent diaspora was a very long one. Descendants of Abraham and Israel didn't manage to re-establish a national government until the mid-20th century, after a hiatus of nearly 1,900 years. Quite a bit happened in their absence, and the current government is a new entity, not a continuation of what was around when the Roman Republic became the Roman Empire.

I think some problems in the Middle East stem from a domestic dispute that happened about 7,000 years after Jericho's founding, and 4,000 years before our time. (October 8, 2007) Israel's current government is new: the area Israel is in is anything but.

Israel isn't America

"Israeli politics in tailspin over Iran"
Jon B. Alterman, CNN (May 2, 2012)

"Israel, by necessity, has developed one of the most able security and intelligence apparatus in the world. There has been no necessity to develop a world-class political apparatus, however, and it shows.

"In a single week, the Israeli army's chief of staff, the former head of internal security and the former head of external security have all publicly questioned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judgment on Iran. While the current army chief spoke narrowly about the Iranian government, the former security officials directed their fire at Israeli politicians. On Friday, the former internal security chief told an Israeli audience, 'I don't believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings' -- and he was speaking not of Iran, but of Israel.

"Last week was Israel's independence day, traditionally an occasion of pride and celebration. Instead, Israelis are in a deep funk...."
America has a two-party system that's lasted as long as it has because folks in both parties have been moderately competent at appealing to a fairly wide swath of the voting public. My opinion.

Not all countries have a stable two-party system. When folks from the 'Dental Floss Party,' the 'Union of Thatch Roof Owners,' and whatever other outfits have enough backing to get a foot in the local equivalent of Congress: politics won't look like politics in America. But I think a system like that can work. Take France, as an example.

Israel doesn't have a generations-deep tradition of two-party politics. On top of that, America is over three and a half times as old as Israel's current government. We've had time to thrash out a modestly adequate system. When the country I'm in was as old as Israel is now, filibusters were new; war with Mexico was brewing; a major internal war wouldn't come for a couple decades: and that's almost another topic.

I think it takes time for a country to work out a system as comparatively practical and SNAFU-free as what America has.

I realize that CNN has to attract readers, and that criticizing the way foreigners run their country is a perennial crowd pleaser. Oh, well.

The United Nations is "Appalled" by Israel: Again; Still

"UN 'appalled' by Israel treatment of hunger strikers"
Yolande Knell, BBC News (May 2, 2012)

"A UN expert has said he is appalled by the 'continuing human rights violations in Israeli prisons', as Palestinian inmates continue a mass hunger strike.

"Special Rapporteur [!] Robert Falk said Israel had to treat hunger strikers in line with international standards.

"Israel's Prison Service says some 1,550 Palestinians in jail are on strike.

"Doctors have expressed serious concern about two men who have been refusing food for 63 days in protest at being detained without charge or trial...."
"Without charge or trial" may or may not be a valid complaint.

The hunger strikers, who decided to be hunger strikers? I suppose Israel's government could force them to eat. Which could be showcased as appalling indifference to the hunger strikers' conscience, or religious feelings, or whatever.

Given the sort of knee-jerk 'blame the Jews' reaction to unpleasant realities I've come to expect from the United Nations and other 'civilized' folks: this latest complaint sounds like more of the same.

'The Jews starve people' is another perennial favorite in some circles. (April 19, 2008)

Moving on.

Sinai Peninsula: Remarkable Coverage

"Tel Aviv boosts troops at borders with Egypt and Syria"
RT (May 2, 2012)

"Israel is to deploy at least 22 reserve battalions on its borders with Egypt and Syria, claiming the growing instability in the two countries makes it necessary to be ready for possible external security threats.

"The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has been given an approval of a call-up of additional force by Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee although they exceed the average. Reservists from six battalions have already received their orders, even though many of them are soldiers who have already completed their annual reserve duty.

"Israeli generals say these troops are needed to deal with security threats which are coming from Israel's borders with Egypt and Syria, and also because of growing instability in those countries.

"The situation on the Sinai Peninsula which borders Israel is becoming unmanageable, RT's correspondent Paula Slier reports from Israel. Since the ouster of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, she said, Sinai police have been attacked more than 50 times by local Palestinian jihadist groups, as well as by the local branch of Al-Qaeda which is operating in the region. ..."
RT's coverage is remarkable, I think, for not trotting out 'experts,' 'concerned citizens,' and the United Nations being appalled, for the usual 'and it is the fault of the Jews' show.

Maybe they're part of that vast conspiracy of Jews we keep hearing about. Or, not.

The Wall Street Journal: 'Well! What Do You Expect?'

"Israel Fortifies Border Fence With Lebanon"
Associated Press, via The Wall Street Journal (May 1, 2012)

"Israel has begun fortifying a fence along its volatile border with Lebanon, reinforcing an especially dangerous section that has been susceptible to sniper fire and other threats, military officials said Tuesday.

"The military said the project was strengthening a half-mile (one kilometer) section of an existing fence in Israeli territory, and no modifications to the route were being made. Even so, to avoid friction, it said construction was coordinated with the Lebanese army and the U.N. peacekeeping force in the area, UNIFIL.

"Israel has no diplomatic relations with Lebanon. The two countries have been in a state of war for six decades.

"The project is taking place near the spot where an Israeli officer was killed by a sniper two years ago. The shooting took place as the Israeli army was clearing brush that it said Lebanese guerrillas could use for cover...."
This Associate Press article, on The Wall Street Journal's website, is another fairly calm discussion of what sadly is business-as-usual in the Middle East. I suppose a dedicated conspiracy buff could be convinced that 'the Jews' really control the AP and The Wall Street Journal - and the Internet - and the brains of everybody who doesn't have aluminum foil inside his hat.

A bit more seriously, I don't like the way Egypt is developing, now that the old strongman got booted out. Still, it could be worse. A lot worse. Iran is a case-in-point.

If I seem indifferent or unconcerned: sorry about that. What's been happening for the last several decades in that part of the world is not good news. But what I've seen in the news recently, although reason for concern, isn't all that different from what I've been seeing for most of my life. I'm not going to go ballistic over 'more of the same.'

Related posts:
Background, the United States at 64:
A tip of the hat to Patty Garza, on Google+, for the heads-up on news from the Egypt-Israel border.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.