In the West the popular opposition to air strikes in Syria, because the Syrian government used nerve gas against its own (pro-rebel) civilians on the 21
st, has blocked any retaliation. Western leaders had loudly warned the Assad government that use of chemical weapons would bring retaliation. But the Western voters have had it with Arab duplicity and bad behavior in general. Western leaders have been slow to accept this unpleasant news but the voters, who pay for these attacks in money and blood, have a veto power and they are exercising it. The Internet has spread the personal experience of Western troops far and wide and the mindset of Arabs in conflict areas is now widely known in the West. The continued popularity of Islamic terrorism among so many Moslems, including many living in the West, adds to this sense of disgust and distrust.
This shift in attitude has been building for over a decade. Iraq demonstrated that, as has the after-effects of the Arab Spring, where Arabs, freed from log-time dictators, voted Islamic radicals into power. That was stupid even by Arab standards and the Arab public is now trying to repair that damage. But the corruption and lack of responsible leadership and general unreliability of Arabs has put off the West, even in the face of a great humanitarian disaster in Syria. It’s not the first time this has happened. The West pulled out of Somalia in 1993 because of frustration with trying to help people who won’t make much of an effort to help themselves and were more interested in killing and stealing.
The West is learning why the Turks were so glad to be rid of their Arab subjects after the Ottoman Empire collapsed a century ago. Then there is the corruption and intense hatreds found among the Arabs. It’s a very volatile and unpredictable part of the world and always has been. For centuries, the West was shielded from this reality because the Ottoman Turks ruled most of the Arabs. Western diplomats often heard the Turks complain about their Arab subjects. A favorite quip among the Turks was, “One should not involve oneself with the affairs of the Arabs.” Then, when World War I and the Ottoman Empire ended in 1918, Western nations found themselves temporarily in charge of these former Turkish Arab provinces. Before World War II broke out in 1939, most of these Arab provinces were cut loose as independent states. These new countries were not stable. After World War II began, for example, Iraq (a monarchy at that point) attempted to ally itself with Nazi Germany. Arabs admired the Nazi attitudes towards Jews (not realizing, or not caring, that Nazi anti-Semitism applied to all Semites, of whom Arabs were the most numerous). Britain could not afford to have a Nazi ally sitting on their major source of oil and gathered together a few divisions and invaded. Three weeks later, Iraq was conquered, and a more agreeable group of Iraqis were found to run the place for the rest of the war.
After World War II, there were problems in several Arab states, most of them involving reformers (who turned out to be dictators, once they took over) and the ruling traditionalists (who were less efficient dictators, for the most part). Then there was Israel, where Arabs had been demonstrating the religious intolerance they have long been infamous for. Around the same time Saudi Arabia was explaining to Western oil workers why the long list of lifestyle rules for foreigners (no non-Moslem houses of worship, restrictions on the dress and activities of women, and so on) was necessary and mandatory (on pain of death). But when the UN approves the establishment of Israel (and an adjacent Arab state) in 1948, the Arab world announced that it would not tolerate this. Arab states told Arabs living near Jews to flee, temporarily, while the combined armies of all Arab states in the region attack and wipe out the greatly outnumbered Jews. To the world’s amazement, the Arabs were defeated. Even though Arab military skill had been held in low esteem for centuries (and Jews were not considered much better), this defeat came as a shock, especially to the Arabs.
The newly created state of Israel studied all this and concluded that the Arabs were done in by corruption and self-delusion. These two problems continued to cripple Arab military effectiveness. There were a few exceptions. The Jordanians institutionalized the Western training they had received from the British, although that only made them a more difficult enemy for the Israelis to defeat in 1967. Since then, Jordan has maintained good relations with Israel. Egypt reformed its military in the early 1970s, but those reforms were gone by the late 1970s, replaced by the usual corruption and incompetence.
The Arabs have fought five major wars with Israel, losing all of them badly, even though Israel was always outnumbered and outgunned. Unlike Jordan, all the other Arab states continue to insist that Israel must be destroyed. Palestinians continue to believe the promises of these Arab states that this will soon be accomplished. In the meantime, the descendants of the Arabs who fled Israel in 1948 are still living in refugee camps because the Arab states those camps are in will not accept the Palestinians as refugees or grant them citizenship. In the West the Palestinians were accepted as refugees and allowed to settle and become citizens. The Palestinians are unimpressed at how Europe handled a similar situation after World War II, when many borders were changed and millions of people moved. After the Arab attack on the newly declared Israeli state in 1948 failed, Arab nations refused to take in any of the 700,000 Palestinians who fled the fighting. Had those Palestinians stayed, they would have outnumbered the 600,000 Israelis and the history of Israel would have been quite different. It's interesting to note that nearly all of the 25 million refugees produced by the aftermath of World War II in the late 1940s were resettled. This included 600,000 thousand Jews who fled Arab nations after Israel was established.
It gets much worse. As hundreds of billions in oil revenue poured into the Persian Gulf states, the Arab nations there did not invest in their economies, instead they created government jobs for most of the males and imported foreigners to run the economy (pick up the garbage, build and maintain everything, run the stores, hospitals, and so on). East Asian nations, without oil, invested what they had in education and their economy. Fifty years later, the Arabs still have their consumer society, run by foreigners, while the East Asian states (some of them Moslem) have achieved economic independence, with vibrant, self-sustaining economies. Some Arabs have noticed this but the majority have not.
The madness continued, especially when it came to the lack of tolerance for other religious or political ideas. For example, in Iraq a Sunni minority had long ruled a Shia Moslem majority, often using a lot of brutality to keep the Sunnis in power. A Sunni dictator, Saddam Hussein, came to power in the late 1960s, and in 1980 ignored thousands of years of history (where the more powerful Iranians kick the Arabs around at will most of the time) and invades Iran. There is a revolution going on in Iran at that time, and Saddam believed he could seize some oil fields just across the border and then negotiate a peace deal with the distracted Iranians. That’s not how the Iranians operate. They never have. A bloody war ensues. Total casualties are several million dead and wounded. In 1988, both sides agree to a ceasefire. The armies were basically sitting on their pre-war borders at that point. Iraqi gained nothing, except a lot of debts (needed to buy weapons and loyalty from Iraqi Shia). The insanity continued in 1990, when Saddam decided that he could invade Kuwait (to whom he owned over $10 billion) and add their oil to Iraq’s already enormous reserves. Saddam overlooked the fact that the West (and most Arabs) considered him an unreliable maniac and would not tolerate the seizure of Kuwait. Within six months a coalition of Western and Arab troops drove Saddam’s forces out of Kuwait and demanded reparations for all the damage Iraq did to Kuwait. The UN put Iraq under an embargo until the debts were paid and weapons inspectors are satisfied that Iraq has no more chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. Note that the Arab states joined this coalition only after the United States promised not to invade Iraq and remove the Sunni Arab minority from power. This was part of the long struggle between Iranians and Arabs. Iraq had a Shia Moslem majority (as did Iran) and the Sunni Arab oil states did not want a more pro-Iran Shia government running Iraq.
Syria is very similar to Iraq, except the Shia minority is propped up by largely Shia Iran, which also created a powerful Shia militia (Hezbollah) in Lebanon in the midst of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-90). The Sunni Arabs always found the Shia (Assad) dictatorship in Syria offensive. But the founder (in the 1960s) of that dynasty (Hafez Assad) took advantage of factionalism among the Sunni majority (75 percent of the population) and formed a ruling coalition that got a boost in the 1980s (when the Iran-Iraq War was raging) when the Assads, who had many political disputes with Saddam Hussein, decided to become a client-state of Iran. The Assads cynically supported Sunni Arab terrorists in Iraq after Saddam fell to Western invaders in 2003, even those Sunni fanatics were mainly killing Shia. Iran was technically against this but was so eager to kill Americans that they were willing to let 20 Iraqi Shia get murdered for each American soldier killed. The Iraqi dead were, after all, only Arabs and not ethnic Iranians. It’s that sort of thinking that has enraged the Arab world in the last decade and created an increasingly brutal conflict between the Iran led Shia and the Saudi led Sunnis. Neither side wants to fight each other directly, at least not yet. In the meantime these proxy wars will do and the West (especially the voters) is not interested.
The failure of the West to deliver the promised post-chemical weapons use attacks has been declared a victory by the Assads. Two weeks have passed since the nerve gas killed 1,400 Syrian civilians, about a third of them children. Syria expected the air attacks and there were clear signs of this inside Syria. For example, the exchange rate for Syrian currency soon went south (with 270 Syrian pounds required to buy one dollar) but has since recovered (to about 220 pounds per dollar). Inflation is still running at about 200 percent a year and that will continue until the economy can be restored.
Iranian cash is keeping the crippled economy going in government controlled Syria (essentially Damascus, most of central and southern Syria and the coastal region) and Iranian financed mercenaries (Shia volunteers from all over and battalions of Lebanese Shia ordered into Syria by their Iran-financed Hezbollah leaders) are keeping the rebels from rolling over the demoralized Syrian armed forces. The rebels are divided by ethnicity (Kurds and Arabs), religion (Shia, Sunni, Christian, Druze, and so on), tribal loyalties, and politics (Islamic radicals want a religions dictatorship, most Syrians want some kind of democracy). The Islamic radical rebel militias are the most powerful but are divided into mutually hostile factions as well. Despite the obvious mutual benefits of forming a common armed opposition to the Assads, the rebel factions are increasingly fighting each other. The Assad forces are more united and believe that, despite having the majority (north of 70 percent) of Syrians arrayed against them, they can prevail. This could happen but it would be a costly and bitter victory, with more than ten percent of the population in exile outside the country and most of the Syrian population hostile and requiring a more extensive and expensive police state to keep them in line. That will have to be paid for by Iran, which has lost half its oil income in the last year because of stronger international economic sanctions (to force Iran to stop developing nukes, which Iran sees as essential for its goal of world conquest). Because of the rebel disunity, Iranian subsidies, and Western repugnance the Assads have reason to believe they can prevail and preside over a ruined, resigned, and resentful Syria.
The rebels have long pressed the West for air support. What that sort of help did in Libya is well known but Western air power commanders point out that Syria has a larger air force and air defense system that would require a substantial effort to destroy before air support could be provided as it was in Libya. The U.S. and France are still ready and willing to carry out some air strikes, but everyone is waiting on the American leadership, which is locked in a political stalemate over whether to proceed.
Large scale starvation is becoming more likely in Syria. The government has been unable to buy food in the last few weeks because the major international suppliers do not believe the government will be able to pay. The government is scrambling to make more convincing financial arrangements, including payment in advance. This is complicated by all the economic sanctions on Iran and Syria which limit how both countries can use the international banking system.
The death toll for over two years of fighting is now at least 110,000. Most of the dead are rebel fighters and pro-rebel civilians. But it is believed that 27,000 soldiers and 17,000 pro-Assad militia have also died, along with over 21,000 rebel fighters. The government has been growing more callous in its treatment of pro-rebel civilians and civilians in general. When it was thought American air strikes were imminent, some military equipment was moved to residential neighborhoods, to ensure civilian casualties if this gear was attacked. Providing the international media with images of civilians killed by American bombs is also an essential part of the Assad victory plan.
China has joined with Russia to oppose any use of foreign military force against Syria, especially in the UN. This was prompted by the recent Syrian use of chemical weapons against pro-rebel civilians. The U.S. and other NATO countries had earlier told Syria that such use of chemical weapons would bring military intervention. China and Russia have long been supporters of the Assad dictatorship and similar tyrants around the world. China and Russia are also bitter about what happened to their old friend Kaddafi, who lost his life clinging to power in Libya two years ago. Kaddafi was largely done in by NATO providing air support. NATO is reluctant to do that for Syria because the post-Kaddafi government (and post Arab Spring governments in general) tend to be tolerant of Islamic terror groups. But the Syrian civil war is dragging on and that is becoming embarrassing for the West. Assad losing power would be an even bigger embarrassment for China and Russia.
September 1, 2013: The U.S. has ordered a carrier task force (a carrier, cruiser, nuclear sub, and four destroyers) to the eastern Mediterranean. Such a force could launch over 400 cruise missiles and many more smart bombs and air-launched missiles at Syrian targets. The U.S. already has five destroyers off the Syrian coast, each armed with about fifty Tomahawk cruise missiles.
August 31, 2013: Syria has declared victory over America because the threatened air strikes (because of the Assad government use of nerve gas ten days ago) have not occurred and might never happen because of political disagreements in the West.
August 30, 2013: The U.S. announced that it had proof the Syrian government launched a large scale sarin nerve gas attack on a Damascus pro-rebel neighborhood. Some 1,400 people were killed and the U.S. says it has analyzed material from the neighborhood and victims and found evidence of sarin. The UN is waiting for its analysis to be completed (in Sweden). Russia no longer denies an attack but now insists it was launched by the rebels. American analysis shows that to be highly unlikely as long range rockets were used and the evidence on the ground shows these particular weapons are only used by the government and were fired from territory controlled by the government.
August 29, 2013: The British parliament voted against the government proposal to bomb Syria in retaliation for the use of nerve gas against their civilians. Such a “no vote” is rare in Britain and the last time it happened was in the aftermath of the British defeat at Yorktown in 1782 (during the American Revolution). The no vote blocked British continuation of the war in the American colonies and led to a peace treaty.
August 27, 2013: The Arab League agreed that the Assad government had used nerve gas against its own people. But the Arab countries are still unwilling to intervene militarily, feeling the risks of high losses and the subsequent embarrassment is too likely and not worth the possible benefit to the rebels. The Arabs would be willing to join in if Western nations were to intervene.
August 26, 2013: The 11,400 ton Russian cruiser Moskva has been ordered to go from Venezuela (where it is paying a visit) to the coast of Syria to demonstrate Russian support for the embattled Assad government. A Russian electronic intelligence collecting ship (the SSV-201) was also ordered to the same area, apparently to monitor any American naval and air operations.
Rebels (al Nusra) killed a senior Alawite (pro-government) cleric, in revenge for deaths among Sunni clergy. The dead man had been captured on August 5th when Islamic radical rebels raided into the largely Alawite coastal region.