4 April 2017   Leave a comment

Less than a week after US Secretary of State Tillerson indicated that the US was willing to see Syrian President Assad stay in power, the Syrian government has unleashed a toxic gas attack against Syrian civilians.  Tillerson’s statement was essentially a grant of immunity to the Syrian government since it reversed the long-standing US position that Assad had to be removed from office for crimes against humanity.  On 20 August 2012, US President Obama made the following statement about the use of chemical weapons in Syria:

“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.  That would change my calculus.  That would change my equation.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Obama never followed through on this statement.  It remains to be seen whether the Trump Administration will take a similar line against the use of these weapons.  According to the Huffington Post, Trump’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, made the following comment:

“Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world. These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution.”

“President Obama said in 2012 he would establish a red line against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.  The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable act.”

It is not clear how Mr. Spicer’s statement squares with the earlier statement by Mr. Tillerson.  Nor is it clear how it squares with Russian support for the Assad regime.  Opposition to chemical weapons and unflinching support for the immunity of civilians in warfare is not a Democratic or Republican principle.  The people of Syria have suffered horribly because of the unwillingness of the international community to defend these humanitarian norms.

David Wood has written a rather long article entitled “This is How the Next World War Starts.”  I thought long and hard about whether I should post my thoughts about the essay.  One of the strangest developments in recent years is how emphasizing the threats from Russia has become a gambit for attacking President Trump.  That purported link is a dangerous confluence of domestic and foreign politics, in much the same way that attacking Muslims in the US has become a way of addressing the threat of “radical Islamic terrorism.”  My concern is that we amplify the genuine issues raised by Russian behavior and by terrorists beyond legitimate concerns.  We need to assess those issues without the inflammatory rhetoric of domestic political objectives.  Ultimately, I decided to link the article by Wood because it does conatin very useful information.

Russian authorities have identified Akbarzhon Jalilov as the person who launched the bomb attack in the St. Petersburg metro.  Jalilov was born in the ex-Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and he had an interest in Wahabbism, a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.  But no links have yet turned up to any jihadist groups and there is little known about his motives.  The lack of any obvious motives in this case reflects a growing trend in the use of political violence:  profound disaffection does not seem to need an organized focus to pose serious threats to civil society.  If that analysis is even somewhat accurate, then addressing these acts of violence is incredibly difficult, if not impossible.

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Posted April 4, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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