the war nerd on syria

this is a MUST READ! if you’re not a subscriber, the article in ungated for another ca. 10 hours from now (ca. 10 a.m. EST):

“Little Kerry and the Three Bad Options”

“Isn’t Assad a bad guy? Isn’t his regime evil? I don’t really understand those questions as well as everybody else seems to. The Alawites have reason to expect the worst, to stick together, and to fear Sunni domination. Those fears go way back to Ottoman rule.

“Under the Ottomans, Alawites were kaffir, ‘heretics.’ That meant, basically, ‘fair game.’ At the moment, there’s a lot of nonsense going around about how sweet and tolerant the Ottoman Empire was from people who read Said’s Orientalism, or at least got the gist from the back cover, and went from the old European cliché ‘Ottomans—evil’ to a new one, ‘Ottomans—good.’ It makes me tired, this binary crap. If you can’t handle anything more modulated than that, stick to tweeting ‘Miley Cyrus: Saint or Sinner?’

“Yeah, the Ottomans were occasionally considerate of minorities who had powerful connections abroad, like Western Christians (not Armenian, of course) or who performed useful state functions, like some Jews (not all) — but groups like the Alawites, without powerful foreign connections, huddled in the coastal hills hoping not to be noticed, were prey in the Ottoman view. The Alawites only survived by sticking together, fighting the Sunni when attacked, and above all, hoping not to be noticed. If the local authorities were kindly, they’d just be taxed to death for their heresy. If the Pashas were in a bad mood, troops would descend on Alawite villages and carry off all likely-looking women and children to be sold as slaves….

“The post-war years were full of wild experiments in the Arab world. The only constant was that military coups were the rule. Leaders came from the army — Nasser, Ghadafi, Saddam. So when an officer with coup-making skills happened to come from a tightly-knit community, he was almost sure to end up in charge. Saddam had his Tikrit clan in Iraq; Ghadafi had his academy buddies in Libya; Hafez Assad had his Alawite kin in Syria. The Alawites were perfectly placed to take advantage of this coup-centered polity. T. E. Lawrence said about them, ‘One Nusairi [Alawite] would not betray another, and would hardly not betray an unbeliever.’ With Alawite officers filling the armed services in Syria, it was inevitable that an Alawite would come to power, as Hafez Assad did in 1970. From that point, they did what they had to do to remain in power. When killing was necessary, they killed. And in Syria, it was necessary fairly often. But I don’t know of any records showing that the Alawites were particularly cruel by the standards of the time and place. In fact, from the start of their rule in Syria, the Alawites have tried, via Ba’ath Party secularism and a long-term attempt to make Alawite ritual and doctrine closer to Sunni norms, to integrate with their neighbors….

“Maybe I’m missing something. But what I think a lot of people like John Kerry are missing is what drove the Alawites’ grimmer measures: the simple fear of extinction. It’s a risk to go, as they did, from total obscurity to power in a place as fierce as Syria. Because when you fall, it won’t be to go back to Texas to paint puppies like Dubya. You and your whole tribe can reasonably expect massacres, mass rapes, ethnic cleansing, the works. When the Sunni revolted against Alawite domination in Hama in 1982, one of the slogans of the Syrian Ikhwan or Muslim Brotherhood was ‘Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the graveyard.’ The SAA dealt with the revolt by blasting rebellious neighborhoods with artillery, killing thousands….”

read the whole thing!

previously: syria and syrian tribes

(note: comments do not require an email. alawites!)

14 Comments

  1. The man comes across as disingenuous. “Look at me! I’m the War Nerd, I’m the cool nihilistic dude who understands how horrible the world really is, not like you losers!” And then suddenly he brings morality into it – “I just doubt that you want your air force to be what opens the door to it.”

    It seems fake. Come on, Gary, don’t you WANT those losers to stare in horror at what they helped create? At best, it might teach them a lesson for the future. And besides, if the downfall of the Alawites is going to happen anyway as you seem to believe, then what does it really matter?

    That said, if the Middle East is really the horrible place he describes, isn’t that an argument for making sure that WMDs aren’t allowed to proliferate there? He doesn’t address the motivation for a strike at all, other than dismissing it as “belligerent noise about red lines”.

    (Personally, I don’t really care if Syria is hit or not, but I think the alt-right and associates are overreacting to the idea of it. In all likelihood, nobody will remember this in a year.)

    Reply

  2. @ihtg – “The man comes across as disingenuous.”

    at least he understands a lot of the problems. you’ll never hear him arguing that, if we just get rid of the assad regime and get democracy going there, everything will be a-okay.

    @ihtg – “In all likelihood, nobody will remember this in a year.”

    i will. (~_^)

    Reply

  3. Well I do appreciate the way he strives for that much-needed “modulation” because it is an insanely welcome perspective after having to bear with our “binary Miley Cyrus” simplistic, bad vs good culture. When the world is burning, only the nihilist can comprehend vast human treachery in a purely objective, non-tribal manner.

    Reply

  4. You like the War Nerd and Ed West? As a regular reader of both I must say you do have good taste! ;) I was hoping for a productive Saturday, but since browsing you site further today I realise I’ve got a lot of hours of enjoyable reading of your posts to be tempted by instead! :)

    Anyway, another good piece from the War Nerd on Syria, depressing situation generally but particularly aggravating to see Western countries policy being as highly questionable as usual. I sometimes wonder if Western policy is guided by some greater strategy that makes good sense, or if as I think it likely really is just as foolish as it seems unfortunately.

    Oh I would also recommend the War Nerd piece from December last year if you can access it, ‘Syria’s Fractal War, Playing Out On Every Scale’, also quite a good one on the Syrian civil war and how the conflict breaks down on religious/ethnic/tribal lines.

    Anyway I’m going to be exploring your site in more detail now, something to look forward too! :)

    Reply

  5. @silken thomas – “As a regular reader of both I must say you do have good taste! ;)”

    but of course! what did you expect? (~_^)

    @silken thomas – “I was hoping for a productive Saturday, but since browsing you site further today I realise I’ve got a lot of hours of enjoyable reading of your posts to be tempted by instead! :)”

    but that WILL be productive! (i hope. (*^_^*) )

    @silken thomas – “I would also recommend the War Nerd piece from December last year if you can access it, ‘Syria’s Fractal War, Playing Out On Every Scale’, also quite a good one on the Syrian civil war and how the conflict breaks down on religious/ethnic/tribal lines.”

    oh, thanks! i’ll definitely take a look for it.

    @silken thomas – “Anyway I’m going to be exploring your site in more detail now, something to look forward too! :)”

    well, welcome! (^_^) hope you’re not too disappointed (the place is a bit of a mess — been meaning to tidy it up for a while now….)

    Reply

  6. > isn’t that an argument for making sure that WMDs aren’t allowed to proliferate there?

    Yes, surely. (Except for Israel of course.)

    Reply

  7. @RS ‘Except for Israel of course’

    Actually, while reading the piece about Alawites I was thinking on how Israel’s jews would compare with them in the event some day jihadist arabs where about to win over them.

    In a sense, jews had a history of persecution and depising broadly similar to alawites (ok, no nazi persecution, but you get the point). In a way, jews have responded to that by building a state dominated by them and aimed at providing them with security. Probably, if the day came that jihadist arabs were able to conquer by force the whole of Israel, we could watch massacres, mass rape and ethnic cleansing of jews in a scale similar to what may happen in the coastal hills of Syria if jihadist sunnis win the Syrian war. And I’m very sure that if Israel jews see such armaggedon is about to come upon them they would use ANY weapon they could deploy to stop that, even chemical weapons and nukes.

    In such a case, would we bomb Israel defences to open the door for the “may be justified” revenge of arabs? I don’t think so. Why? Do israeli children look more alike to our own children than alawites children do?

    (Anyhow, I don’t even think Assad has been so dumb as to use CW on a civilian neighborhood while all world were watching and UN inspectors where lodged a few miles away. Nothing to win, everything to lose. See this interesting report by AP journalist Dale Galvak:

    http://www.mintpressnews.com/witnesses-of-gas-attack-say-saudis-supplied-rebels-with-chemical-weapons/168135/

    on how some Ghouta rebels claim that Jabath Al-Nusrah jihadists stored CW in the tunnels under Ghouta neighbourhood… these depots could have been hit by the intense artillery barrages unleashed by Syrian army those days… or they could have exploded by wrong manipulation by inexpert handlers)

    Reply

  8. Brecher’s analysis of the Syrian civil war is the most insightful one I have read. I linked this post over at The Long War Journal, the best source for reports on military goings-on in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other jihadi-afllicted places. Syria is moving up on that list, obviously.

    Reply

  9. Chemical weapons aren’t even WMDs, despite being banned in warfare, they are less lethal than conventional weapons and can’t actually destroy anything

    isn’t pepper spray, which US police use all the time, a chemical weapon?

    Reply

  10. > Chemical weapons aren’t even WMDs, despite being banned in warfare, they are less lethal than conventional weapons and can’t actually destroy anything

    They ain’t no nukes. ‘WMDs’ is a marginally useful term, outside propaganda purposes. But are you saying a sarin missile is generally not much more destructive, against people, than a conventional explosive warhead? Doubt it bro. Read about the Iran-Iraq war: Hussein used chems all the time, not just on Kurds. Most of the world was on his side, and apparently didn’t care much about it.

    Reply

  11. Opinion piece in The Wall Journal

    Why I Voted Against Syria Intervention

    What’s more, the recent reports of chemical-weapon attacks raise more questions than they answer. Both the British and American governments say only Assad could have carried out the gas attacks, but the evidence is not clear-cut. Even the U.K. government’s own Joint Intelligence Committee admits it cannot understand why Assad would use chemical weapons when he knows this could force the West to intervene on the rebels’ side.

    This also raises questions about how much Assad knew about the gas attacks. American spies have reportedly intercepted phone calls in which a furious Syrian military commander demanded to know why army units had deployed chemical weapons. This could suggest the attacks were ordered by rogue or panicking officers, without Assad’s knowledge or permission. It might suggest they took everyone in the Syrian army by surprise.

    The gas attacks may even have been the work of the Syrian rebels. President Obama previously identified the use of chemical weapons as a red line for the U.S., and with Assad gradually gaining the upper hand, the rebels have a clear motive for trying to drag America into the conflict. There have been some credible reports, one from a U.N. representative in Syria, that Assad’s opponents have some access to sarin and are not afraid to use it. Without better intelligence about what is really happening on the ground, Britain risks being tricked into battle.

    David Davis is a Conservative member of the British Parliament.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324432404579048461976397956.html

    Reply

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