Friday, October 2, 2015

The Cat and the Stove / Syria and the Middle East

Cat & the Stove

Many years ago I was in a classroom at University where our philosophy professor discussed the problem of the Cat and the Stove to elucidate the concept of induction.

One day a cat walks into the kitchen.  He leaps up onto the stove but his mistress has been brewing a pot of tea and it is very hot.  The cat leaps off of the stove and never goes near it again.

The cat has learned its lesson and will not be burned again.  The cat has induced from his painful experience that stoves mean pain.  But this also means that the cat will never go near the stove again and will miss out on many opportunities to recline on the stove when it is cool and has NOT been in use.  Experience is the name we give to our mistakes.
Destruction of the Temple of Bel
Palmyra, Syria
It occurs to me that the current appalling situation in Syria and the Middle East bears some resemblance to the cat's dilemma.  The Syrian refugee crisis is the worst since World War II and spilling across Europe.  Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in a brutal civil war.   Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people in order to maintain his grip on power. Putin's Russia cynically sells arms to Assad and hopes for a secure port on the Mediterranean.  And Isis has meanwhile metastasized into a major threat to life, liberty and now, with the destruction of Palmyra, even to history itself.  Now they have destroyed the Arch of Palmyra

The West, however, burnt its paws in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now unwilling to re-approach that menacing stove.  The idea of taking forceful action against a threat seems to have been repudiated.  We fret the cost of going to war (admittedly great) and NOT about the appalling consequences of our inaction.  We worry that we would simply be perpetuating the cycle of violence in the Middle East.  We have a million excuses for why nothing should be done.  And so we dither and the mayhem continues.
Syrian baby
Syrian lives matter
Those of us on the right are wrong to simply call this a failing of the Obama administration.  It is, much worse than that.  It is, in fact, a failing of the West as a whole.  The entire political spectrum in the West from Hollande's socialist regime in France to Merkel's center / right government in Germany deserves their share of the blame.  But the USA is a Superpower and, by far, world's greatest military power.  We have, by far the greatest capacity for decisive and sustained action.  It has been over four years since the start of the Syrian civil war.  Yet we refuse to act.   The power of Isis grows.  And the suffering and killings continue. A Jordanian pilot is burned to death.  More men are beheaded and more babies drown.  But because we touched the stove in Iraq and Afghanistan we remain paralyzed.  Incapable of decisive action.

Putin offers to take action and he has actually ordered bombing strikes but he is the flawed leader of  a dictatorship / kleptocracy

We feel powerless and unable to influence matters in any kind of a positive direction.

What should we do?  Are we stuck in a loop, where it is always 1938 and we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again?  What can we do when confronted with the hydra-headed villains of today's middle east?  Does history provide us with any kind of a guide?

I believe that it does.
Winston Churchill
In World War II the Western Allies joined forces with Stalin's Soviet Union in order to defeat Hitler.  Winston Churchill despised Communism but he also said, "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons."  Churchill did far more than make favorable references to Stalin -- vast quantities of war materiel were shipped to Soviet ports.  The USA provided the Red Army with 13 million pair of winter boots.  Four out of five German soldiers were killed on the Eastern front while the Western Allies bombed the German homeland with round the clock bombing.  America and her allies launched a series of invasions that also proved to be liberations in North Africa, Italy, France, Holland and, finally, Germany itself.  The Nazis were decisively defeated and the process of de-nazification could begin.

At the Tehran conference, "FDR mixed martinis for Churchill and Stalin. FDR asked Stalin how he liked his drink. Stalin answered that it was OK but cold on his stomach."  (Source: America Invades,
Not only did America Invade but, critically, America also remained militarily involved with Europe and remains so to this day.  The NATO alliance was formed.  We, for example, established bases in the Azores to combat the U-boat menace that are still there to this day.  In 2015 Europe, a continent scarred by incessant wars over many centuries, celebrated VE day which marked the 70th anniversary of a general peace on the continent with the exception of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.  Our invasions and our military involvement made an enormous contribution to winning a lasting peace.

It takes more than just invasion and decisive military victory to win a lasting peace.  It requires economic aid (a Marshall plan for the Middle East?) and support for the development of democratic institutions.  It requires sustained political commitment over decades.  Do we in the West have the intestinal fortitude for this?
Spirit of American Youth
Omaha Beach, FR
We remember the toll of invasions.  There were about 10,000 American casualties sustained on a single day on June 6, 1944 (  Wars are expensive and young men die.  But we must also remember the liberation of the diabolical death camps that followed. We must also remember that the world would have been a much darker place had it not been for those invasions.

We must now join forces with Assad in order to exterminate Isis.  Putin's Russia is already attempting to do so.  We should welcome his efforts.

We Americans are not really powerless; we have the strongest air force and navy in the world.  These can apply devastating pressure on Isis if and only if the political will exists in the West.  US Airpower and Western financial might together with mostly Syrian boots on the ground can crush Isis if they are ordered to do so.
The Big Three of WW2
We in the West must shake hands with this 21st century version of Stalin in order to destroy the 21st century version of Hitler that Isis represents.
Lest we forget
9/11 pool, NYC
And after Isis has been crushed we must remain involved in the middle east.  The painful lesson of 9/11 was that we made a fatal mistake in turning our backs on Afghanistan after the Russians were expelled with our help by the Mujahideen.  Invasion must be succeeded by sustained military involvement just as it was after World War II.  There are about 11,000 American military in Italy in 2015, seventy-two years after we invaded Sicily. The most painful lesson of America's mistake -ridden experience in Iraq has been the rise of Isis that followed our precipitate withdrawal from Iraq in 2011.

Moreover, Putin and Obama need desperately to reach a fundamental understanding.  After Isis has been defeated there needs to be a unwritten gentleman's agreement that Assad, after a decent interval, must go.  He and his family should be offered a secure and comfortable exile.  Perhaps to a mansion on the Black sea?  Anywhere out of Syria.  Forever.

Obama should be mixing a martini for Putin.  But then again I must be dreaming because Putin and Obama don't really get along, do they?

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Anonymous said...

By virtue of weakness (in leadership) is the U.S. deferring to Russian's initiatives against the depravity of ISIS.

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