Friday, September 06, 2013

Ooh, this is not good

The CSM is reporting that Russian warships are sailing toward Syria.

This could easily become a replay of the Cuban missile crisis, except this time we are the ones on the Russian's back door.  I wonder if either Obama or Kerry has a contingency plan for dislodging Putin from the moral high ground of preventing an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation  by an imperialistic superpower.  Given how badly they have botched this game of geopolitical chess so far, I'd give long odds against.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Well, of course if you build a parabolic reflector in the middle of town it's going to cause problems

A new building in downtown London has a concave mirrored surface as one of its sides.  Predictably, it is causing problems:
A British property developer said Tuesday it was investigating after sun rays reflected from its half-finished London skyscraper melted parts of several cars, including a luxury Jaguar. ... Local businessman Martin Lindsay said he was distraught when he returned to his parked Jaguar XJ near the glassy tower in London's financial district to find the car's panels had warped along one side, while the wing mirror and Jaguar emblem on the front of the car had melted. ... He "could not believe" the extent of the damage...
But this bit really made me laugh:
The developers said the phenomenon was caused by "the current elevation of the sun in the sky", and that as Britain heads into autumn the problem should disappear.
These guys really should have paid more attention in high school physics class.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The worst possible reason to bomb Syria

Although I strongly oppose initiating any kind of military action against Syria, I do concede that there is an argument to be made for it.  But this ain't it:
A failure to take action over Syria's use of chemical weapons would damage the credibility America's pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress on Tuesday. 
"A refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America's other security commitments - including the president's commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," Hagel told a Senate hearing, according to prepared remarks. 
"The word of the United States must mean something."
Here's the thing: the United States never committed to any action in Syria.  The president of the United States shot his mouth off in an ill-considered comment that he clearly did not think through.  But the president of the United States is not the same thing as the United States.  Equating a nation with its chief executive is the very definition of a dictatorship, and the United States is not (yet) a dictatorship.

As long as I'm on this topic, have you noticed how Obama takes great pains never to accuse Assad of violating international law, only international "norms"?  This is because Obama knows that as long as Assad has Putin in his corner the U.N. will never approve military action against Syria.  So Obama is hanging his hat on the international "norms" peg precisely because it's not a well defined term, and so Obama can apply Humpty Dumpty's theory of semantics and make the word mean whatever he wants.  (You know, bombing sovereign nations that have not aggressed against you and pose no security risk to you is also arguably a violation of international "norms.")

But this leaves Obama with a very serious problem: our allies have (wisely IMO) abandoned him. The U.N. is paralyzed by Russia, so his only remaining option is unilateral action.  But think about this: if he orders an attack on a sovereign nation for no reason other than that its leader violated international norms (whatever that might mean), what exactly remains to distinguish Barack Obama from Osama bin Laden, other than that Obama has a better PR department and a bigger arsenal?  Here's the thing everyone tends to forget about the so-called "terrorists": they don't think of themselves as the bad guys.  They think they're fighting the good fight just as much as we do (maybe more).  The only claim we have to any moral high ground in this conflict is that we adhere to the rule of law and they don't.  If Obama bombs Syria on his own initiative, not because Assad broke the law but merely because he violated norms, then Obama alone will have to bear the terrible consequences of that decision.  And I think that in his heart of hearts Obama knows that he has screwed the pooch, and he's not willing to go further out on this limb by himself.

I think this is the reason he decided to go to Congress, to provide himself with butt cover.  He wants to be able to share the blame in case this thing goes south (which is not at all unlikely -- we have an exceptionally poor track record when we try to meddle in the Middle East).  And he doesn't want to go down in history as the man who cut down the last law to go after the devil.  Not even George Bush ever went that far.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Against war (again)

Last Thursday I labeled Obama and Biden hypocrites for threatening war against Syria without Congressional approval, which they had both opposed when they were senators.  Yessterday, Obama announced that he is planning to seek Congressional approval, so for the  moment I withdraw my charge of hypocrisy (at least with regards to Syria -- the NSA thing is another matter).  The reason my withdrawal is tentative is that it remains to be seen what Obama will do if Congress turns him down, which seems likely given the fact that the Republicans control the House, and popular opinion seems to be running strongly against entering yet another war in the Middle East.

It probably goes without saying, particularly for anyone who reads my blog regularly, that I oppose bombing Syria. just as I opposed invading Iraq back in 2003, and for the same reason.  The parallels between then and now are truly extraordinary.  The rhetoric is almost exactly the same, only the names have changed.  Instead of Secretary of State Colin Powell saying we need to invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein gassed his own people we now have Secretary of State John Kerry saying we need to bomb Syria because Bashar al Assad gassed his own people.  Because everyone seems to be once again reading from the same script, I'll follow suit and quote what I wrote back in 2003:
Yes, Saddam Hussein is an evil man. Yes, the world will be better off without him. But Saddam is hardly unique in this regard, and solving this problem by starting a war sets a horrible precedent. What is to stop any country from launching a war against anyone that they judge to be evil?
Indeed, the horrible precedent has been set.  Someone in the world does something evil (and make no mistake, launching a Sarin attack is evil), so the U.S. bombs them.  And I get it: it's really hard to watch innocent civilians suffer while you stand by and do nothing, particularly if you like to fancy yourself as the Good Guys.  So we have to do something, but we don't have the stomach (and maybe not even the ability) to put boots on the ground.  So we send in the drones and the cruise missiles instead, because that's clean and easy (though a tad pricey) and we don't get American kids coming home in body bags.

But here's the problem: in a situation like this, cruise missiles and drones won't do any good.  Whatever infrastructure we manage to destroy, they will simply rebuild with the help of their Russian sponsors, and then we'll be right back where we started, except that we will once again have set the precedent that, when the chips are down, the world is not governed by the rule of law but by the rule of power.  It's OK for us to bomb Syria -- but, of course, not OK for Syria to return the favor -- because, well, because we can.

So we bomb Syria, and they rebuild.  Then what, Mr. President?  Then what?