Why The Missile Strike Proposal?

Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, Obama’s policy toward the Syrian Civil War has been to escalate U.S. support for the Syrian rebels in Friedman units, unless it’s an election year. By December of 2012, it seems that Obama’s policy toward Syria was to keep it in a perpetual state of civil war. It appears to me that the rumors of a missile strike on Syrian regime targets that began on August 26, 2013 as a result of War Hawk John Kerry’s remarks to the press and as a result of movement of U.S. warships into the Eastern Mediterranean and as a result of Obama’s recent remarks today are not the result of any coherent strategy that Obama has, but, rather, a coincidental, and potentially catastrophic unintended agreement between Obama’s policy of escalating support for the Syrian rebels in Friedman Units while keeping the regime largely intact, and the War Hawks’ intentions to end the war by taking actions that would lead to the fall of the Assad regime and an eventual victory for the supposedly “more moderate elements” of the Syrian opposition. Thus, the rumors of a U.S. missile strike on Syria that began in late August are not the result of a single coherent strategy, but of two mutually contradictory strategies being accidentally compatible due to a potential inner contradiction in Obama’s strategy.

Obama’s strategy since the beginning of the Syrian uprising has been to escalate support for the Syrian opposition in Friedman units (for my source on the summary of U.S. sanctions on the Syrian regime, see here), except during election season. At first (March 27, 2011), Obama’s Secretary of State considered the possibility that Assad might be a reformer. On April 29, 2011, Obama signed Executive Order 13572, which imposed sanctions on several Syrian government figures. On May 18, 2011, Obama signed Executive Order 13573, sanctioning Bashar al-Assad and senior Syrian regime officials. On August 17, 2011, Obama signed Executive Order 13582, imposing full blocking on all property and interests in property of the Government of Syria. Obama followed the Executive Order with a call for Assad to resign. Further sanctions were authorized by Obama on April 22 and May 1, 2012 on those cooperating with the Syrian regime.

On December 12, 2012, Obama recognized the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people”. In February of 2013, the U.S. began sending nonlethal aid directly to rebel groups. On June 12, 2013, a little over a week after the regime’s decisive victory at Qusayr, the Obama administration lifted some sanctions on rebel-held territory. One day later, overt and direct lethal aid was announced to be sent to Syrian rebel militias by the U.S.

The window of opportunity on Western ability to control the uprising ended on March 6, 2013, when al-Qaeda forced the last regime troops out of ar-Raqqa. Yet, the Obama administration did not conduct an attack on Syria then. Neither did Obama take any actions that would lead to the sure fall of the Assad regime, such as his 2011 actions that led to the sure fall of the Gaddafi regime. Thus, by June of 2013, it seemed to me that the Obama administration had a perfectly sane and perfectly cruel policy on Syria-to keep the war going for as long as possible. This policy had numerous advantages to American interests-it kept the war focused on a few strategic fronts (Damascus, Aleppo, Deir-ez-Zor, and the region of Idlib), it kept the terrorists in Syria and, consequently, outside of Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and it kept Iran and Hezbollah busy and exhausted. Any decisive action in favor of regime change would lead to Hezbollah and Iran withdrawing from the conflict and al-Qaeda in Syria to come into direct conflict with American interests.

However, it appears to me that in August, the contradiction inherent in Obama’s policy toward Syria finally caught up with him. That contradiction is that a policy of gradual escalation in support for the rebels and a policy of support for perpetual war may lead to the escalation in support becoming so great as to lead to an end to the perpetuity of the war.

In July of 2013, Christopher Harmer, a War Hawk, detailed how America could significantly degrade Syrian Air Force military capability using missiles launched from U.S. warships. This was apparently in response to the regime’s victorious advances in the cities of Homs and Hamath and its continuation of consolidation of its territory in central Syria and Daraa province. Harmer was later alarmed by Obama administration officials’ seeming lack of strategy, though he agreed with Obama’s implied conclusion that strikes on regime chemical weapons facilities would be better than allowing chemical weapons to fall into the hands of Hezbollah.

The idea that “Obama wants to strike Syria to avoid looking weak” apparently comes from Obama’s “we’re thinking of striking to deter the regime from using chemical weapons to prevent regime chemical weapons from falling into the wrong hands” (not a direct quote) rhetoric in his interview with PBS news hour. This is basically a repeat of Obama’s remarks on August 20 of 2012, in which Obama said that Syria’s use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” for the U.S. However, firstly, it is unlikely that Obama wants to strike Syria. Secondly, striking the sick man of the Orient while being the most powerful man in the world does not make the most powerful man in the world look strong- it makes him responsible for all the events resulting from the strike. And imagine the appearance of weakness that Obama would give off once the Assad regime continues on largely unaffected or al-Qaeda makes vast gains in Syria or, worse, spreads its military activities into Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon? Does anyone remember how weak Obama looked nearly a year ago when he couldn’t even save an ambassador from an indirect result of his 2011 policy on regime change in Libya?

For the War Hawks, a strike on Syria is the first step toward regime change. For Obama, a strike on Syria is most likely merely a concession made to the War Hawks in his administration and, possibly, a means to deter the Syrian regime from using chemical weapons. A short-term attack on Syria has no real purpose as part of a long-term strategy, though it is consistent with both part of Obama’s strategy toward Syria and the War Hawks’ plans of regime change. The strategic reasons and tactical objectives Obama gave in his statement on Syria today- “we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out” are remarkably vague. The best we can make of this statement is that the strike shall only be to prevent the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime by degrading the capability of the Syrian regime to store, produce, transport, and use chemical weapons, as though the U.S. thinks chemical weapons are the equivalent of AIDS or Ebola. I don’t think the supposed use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime is the main reason for why Obama has placed his support behind an attack on Syria, as Obama’s statements on the U.N. inspection- “While the U.N. investigation has some time to report on its findings, we will insist that an atrocity committed with chemical weapons is not simply investigated, it must be confronted.” and “I’m confident in the case our government has made without waiting for U.N. inspectors.” are ambiguous.

Which strategy will prevail? That of Obama or that of the War Hawks? For that, we have to wait and see. Even if Obama orders an attack on Syria, there is still a chance that the attack(s) will only be temporary, and that Obama’s apparent plan of continuing to keep the Assad regime besieged, but intact, will remain in operation.

I think that once the events leading up to Obama’s decision to support a strike on Syria are finally released to the public, we shall see that Obama was one of the most reluctant members of his administration to support a strike on Syria and that he accepted giving his approval of a strike only very reluctantly, and only on late August 30 or early on August 31, under significant pressure of such War Hawks as John Kerry and Samantha Power. I think Obama will be found to have accepted the stance that Assad’s regime used chemical weapons rather early on. I also think that it will be found that Obama did not think that a strike to degrade Assad’s chemical weapons facilities would be a good idea until August 30 or 31 due to the risk of Syrian regime retaliation, the lack of long-term strategic warrant for this attack, the risk of the Syrian regime being seriously hurt by the strike, or (unlikely) due to the strike making no impression on Assad.

I wrote the bulk of this post on August 30. It seems that my theory is paying rent-Obama has decided to bend to the demands of the War Hawks, but is trying as best as he can to prevent himself from ordering a strike by deciding to seek the approval of the ever-uncooperative Congress. Even I only placed a roughly 20% probability on Obama’s throwing such an important decision to Congress.

UPDATE (Sept. 1): It appears that even Obama did not seriously consider something as unnecessary as throwing the matter to Congress until late August 30. Obama’s National Security Council was befuddled by Obama’s decision to seek the approval of Congress.

UPDATE (Sept. 3): I’ve finally thought of a strategic reason for an attack on Syria “designed to be limited in duration and scope”, though it has nothing to do with the U.S.’s long-term strategy toward Syria: the Ledeen Doctrine.

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Even Fewer Words on Syria

The two finest cartoons I have found on cagle.com about the Syria-related events of the past few days.

The finest:

From here.
The second-finest:

From here.
I still don’t think the U.S. is going to directly attack Syria.

A Few Words On Syria: Part 1

When I started this blog, Syria used to be the most stable country in the Middle East to the East of the Suez Canal besides Iran. When I looked at the Google Earth imagery of Syria three years ago and saw the webpages of excavation teams of western universities operating in Syria, it was easy for me to contrast the safety of the archaeological sites and museums in Syria to the peril of those of neighboring Iraq. I never could have predicted this present civil war. During the main phase of the Iraq war, Syria appeared to be an oasis of stability. Indeed,  Francesca Stavrakopoulou visited the archaeological site of Mari while Iraq was brimming with violence. According to Lemche, Qal’at al-Hosn and Mari seemed to be doing pretty well in 2010. They aren’t doing so well now.

What has happened to the World Heritage Sites? As I have never been in Syria, I cannot say much. I can, however, report what others have reported on the Internet. This is the Global Heritage Fund report from over a year ago. This is a newer report by an Italian scholarly publisher. This is NPR’s October 2012 program on the matter. This is a February 2013 report. See here for some images of damage. Follow these two Facebook pages for updates. Subscribe to this YouTube channel. It’s not a bad idea to follow the Syrian Coalition and Aleppo Media Center Twitter accounts to keep up-to-date about the war.

Bosra: Contested, overbuilt, damaged by looting and military operations. Expect the worst by the end of the war. Surprisingly, though, the locals are allied against looting, employees of the Directorate of Antiquities patrol the site, and no damage has taken place since December 2012. Edit: the site is still a battlefield.
Qal’at al-Hosn: Between rebel-held Houla and Tal Kalakh. Illegal excavations and architectural damage have occurred here. It has been a hideout used by al-Qaeda and has been bombed by regime forces. Though the outer walls are still standing, parts of the inner citadel have been destroyed. Expect the worst by the end of the war.
Villages in N. Syria: Solidly in rebel hands. Expect the worst by the end of the war.
Palmyra: In regime hands, but looting has gone on there by both regime and rebel forces. Very heavy damage has occurred due to combat operations. At least one temple has fallen and many statues have been looted. Regime tanks have caused much damage with their treads. Walls have been damaged by tank fire.
Damascus: In regime hands. Damage has occurred due to shelling and fighting. The Damascus Museum has not been looted.
Aleppo: Very heavily contested. Expect the worst. Citadel is currently in regime hands, though the Old City surrounding the citadel is in rebel hands. 13th century AD citadel door has been blown off. Citadel is covered with wood and metal rubble. Damage has occurred to mosques and markets. The Umayyad mosque is very heavily damaged.

It is safe to conclude that every Syrian archaeological site and museum to the East of the Euphrates or near it has been or will be looted, a good portion so severely that it will be impossible to salvage any ancient building remains. Syrian sites near or to the East of the Euphrates include Mari, Nagar, Tuttul, Shehna, Halabiye, Shadikanni, Gozan, Urkesh, Sikan, Chuera, Tell Hamoukar Ekalte, Emar, Basiru, Rezeph, Tell Sweyhat, and Dura-Europos. Curiously enough, most of these sites have not been heavily looted as of February 1, 2013. Dura-Europos is under rebel control and has been looted and illegally built upon. Mari has also been looted and will continue to be heavily looted. The Qala’at Jabar Museum is under rebel control and has been looted. Tell Hamoukar has been subject to illegal construction and looting. Tell Sheikh Hamad has been looted and will probably be found looted down to bedrock by the end of the war. The fort of Halabiye has been looted. The situations at Tuttul and the fort at ar-Raqqah are uncertain. Gozan and Sikan are safe enough, but expect the worst by the end of the war.

Ebla and Hadrach (Tell Afis), both excavated sites, are in rebel hands. Expect them to be plundered to bedrock by the end of the war. Ebla and Hadrach have certainly been looted and have been damaged as a result of fighting. Arpad might be plundered to bedrock as well. The temple of Ain Dara and the city of Cyrrhus are presumably in Kurdish hands. Their fate is uncertain. There are reports the Idlib museum has been looted (Looting the Past, p. 44). Strangely enough, the antiquities at the museum at rebel-held Maarat al-Nu’man are secure. Qarqar is between regime-held Jisr ash-Shughur and the rebel-held tell/village of Qastoun. The fates of Qastoun, Qarqar, and the large tells of Awar and Gazal are uncertain. They are likely to be found severely looted by the time the war ends. The fates of the sizable tells of Daoud, Hassane, and el-Kerkh are uncertain, though they are also likely to be found severely looted by the time the war ends. Tell al-Ash’ari, three kilometers West of Tafas, has been illegally excavated. The fates of Ashtaroth and Sheikh Sa’ad are uncertain. Illegal building has taken place at Tell esh-Shihab, an important Late Bronze site thought, probably incorrectly, to be Yeno’am by Nadav Na’aman. The ruins at Daraa/Edrei have also suffered damage. Expect the worst by the end of the war. Between Hadrach and Aleppo, Chalcis, Arne (Tell Aran), and Tell Hadir are in rebel hands. Tell Tuqan at the Tell Sultan village E. of Ebla is also in rebel hands. The situation at the square-kilometer walled city of Qatna is uncertain. It is between the rebel-held Talbisah and regime-held Mukharram.

The sites of Shaizar/Shenzar and Tunip/Tell Asharneh are both under regime control, though damage and looting has certainly occurred at the former. The tels at Hamath and Homs, cities both largely under regime control, have almost certainly sustained some damage from military activity. The museum at Hamath has been looted. Tell Nebi Mend/Kadesh on the Orontes has been heavily damaged by regime and rebel forces. It came under regime control on April 11-12, 2013 after being taken by rebels a month before. Margat Castle, well in regime territory, has also been damaged by the installation of tanks and military equipment. Hamath and Homs have also suffered from tanks and the installation of military equipment on their tells. Tells Sakka and Sultan, on the outskirts of Damascus, are under rebel control and might be or might have been looted. Tell Ghizlanieh is under regime control. Suwayda/Dionysias is safely in regime hands, though it might have suffered from construction violations. The large ruin of Paradisus/Old Jusieh, at the foot of the Anti-Lebanon, is safely under regime control, though was in a contested area of Syria between November 2011 and early June 2013. There are a few looting pits, though I do not expect the worst.

Apamea has been very heavily looted by the rebels throughout the ruined city. Mosaics have been removed and bulldozers have been used on the site by government forces. It is also, according to PBS, contested between regime and rebel forces. Looting still goes on at Apamea. Shelling has also damaged the site. It is the most-damaged archaeological site currently and may have no ancient building remains left by the end of the war. By the May 3, 2012 satellite imagery, Tells Braidij, Baqalou, and Jifar have all been severely damaged by the installation of military equipment on them. Tell Jifar has been illegally excavated. Tell Braidij has also been severely damaged by tank treads. Tell Houaj has been dug into. Tell Salba has been illegally excavated. In short, all but one of the tells within a five-mile radius from Apamea are either already built over or had been severely damaged during this war by May 3, 2012.

What sites are safe? Ugarit is safe, as is Ras el-Bassit (Poiseidion). Masyaf/Mansuate, where Ben-Hadad was defeated by Assyria, is under regime control (albeit, long-overbuilt). Sumur/Zemar, Arvad, Shuksu, the tell and Roman city of Gibala/Gabala, Siyannu, and Marathus are also safely under regime control.

What is to be done in response to this massive damage to Syrian archaeology?

First, it is absolutely necessary for authorities to scour all antiquities auctions, both online and in the real world, to make sure that all antiquities of Syrian provenance are found and confiscated by proper authorities, as has occurred at least once in Beirut.

Secondly, it is impossible to help the situation by continuing to send arms and military training to the rebels. A rebel victory will guarantee a chaotic and insecure political future for Syria and will require a longer period of armed conflict to achieve due to the certainty of an Islamist-Secularist war after the regime falls.

Thirdly, the Syrian army must be commanded to severely punish all instances of looting by regime troops and should advise officers to avoid operations at or near archaeological sites that are not being looted. Bombing archaeological sites should be prohibited.

Fourthly, the Syrian citizenry should be educated about the danger of illegal construction and looting to Syria’s future tourism and archaeology.

Fifthly, victory in the Syrian Civil War is nowhere in sight. Museum antiquities should be moved out of the country in an orderly manner by the proper authorities, as this war may well last for over two decades, resulting in far more damage to antiquities than has already occurred. Museum antiquities have already been moved out of the museums.

I hope for a regime victory in this war. Though I sympathized with the anti-Assad protestors during the regime crackdown in early-to-mid 2011, after the transformation of this conflict into a regime struggle against an armed insurgency, I could no longer root against the regime. By mid-2012, I already hoped for an Assad victory. Right now, I’d rather have a servile Syria than a Somalia.

An opposition victory offers no better prospects compared with those resulting from an Assad victory. An Assad victory at least offers the prospect of a restoration of the order that existed before 2011. A rebel takeover of Damascus guarantees an enormous extension of the war, with the Damascene rebels now having to fight against not just one regime, but Alawite militia, Kurdish militia, and the Islamic Emirate of ar-Raqqa. If America directly attacks Syria, there will be hell on Earth between Lebanon and southern Turkey for at least half a decade. But I don’t think America will directly attack Syria. His Obama’s strategy has been to gradually ratchet up support for the opposition in Friedman units. If he continues on this course, the next logical step is to supply anti-aircraft weapons to rebels or begin limited strikes on easy regime targets. But limited strikes are not goal-oriented. They cannot bring down a regime. Thus, if America attacks Syria, a full-blown months-long American bombing campaign is sure to result. I think Obama is goal-oriented. I think he understands that “punishment” is not a coherent goal. I think he has learned the lessons of Iraq.

The Atomic Bomb Didn’t Have an Impact on Japan’s Decision to Surrender in WWII

To some, this might sound like utter foolishness. At least, it sounded that way to me when I first heard of the idea. However, in this article, Ward Wilson makes a remarkably convincing case that, as the Japanese leadership in 1945 cared remarkably little about the destruction of Japanese cities, the use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. in Japan had no impact on Japan’s decision to surrender. I’m amazed at how I could have been so wrong. The Soviet decision to declare war on Japan is usually barely discussed in U.S. High Schools, and is certainly not given precedence over the atomic bombing of Japan by the U.S.

Julia Fridman Actually Writes Something!

Julia Fridman of Tel Aviv University, who apparently has no papers uploaded on Academia.edu and whom I contacted regarding the Elah Socoh’s lmlk handles, has actually written something! Only it’s a popular article on sensationalizing Qeiyafa. One need look no further than my year-old YouTube video on Qeiyafa on this subject, but I don’t make your decisions for you.
I, of course, receive Google email alerts on the word “Qeiyafa”, which is how I found this article.

Edit: here’s Fridman’s Quora and FB pages. I’m using NoScript to block Quora’s “sign in” prompt.

Use the Custom Search feature on the sidebar if you want to search for anything here. Only one person has done this so far.
Edit: The unholy Occidentalis has quoted large sections of the article. Go ahead and read them-I’m using nofollow on my link to Occidentalis’s blog.

I Discover the True Location of Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham Fort!

Using the sound guidance of this image, I finally found the true location of the westernmost ancient Egyptian fort yet discovered. For information about the site, see this archived GeoCities page. For an article about the site (with inaccurate plan), see here. I’ve also updated the Wikipedia coordinates.

I Make A Better Equator

Did you know there are 3000 km from Rome to Babylon? You didn’t? You do now. I made an equator that, when allowed the + or – 50 km leeway given to themselves by these clowns (see this post), goes through or near
Many Roman towns in Spain
Ruscino
Mariana
Alalia
Rome
Many towns and villages in Italy
Appolonia in Albania
Florina
Mount Olympus
Olynthus
Mytilene
Pergamnon
Thyatira
Sardis
Blaundos
Apamaea
Claudia-Seleucia
Sagalassos
Lystra
Catalhoyuk
Seleucia near the Orontes
Mt. Zaphon
Antioch
Qarqar
Chalcis
Mari
Babylon
Marad
Nippur
Adab
Isin
Shuruppak
Zabala
Girsu
Lagash
Calicut
Kandy
Colombo
Melbourne (goes right through the city)
The largest island of the Galapagos
Volcán Barú in Panama
The Dominican Republic

Coincidence? I think so. Download kmz file here.