Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

Mixed Bag

March 15, 2016

First, the good news: Russia troops and warplanes are (allegedly) leaving Syria.


Now, the bad news: they’re headed toward Kaliningrad Poland.




Swimming From Cambodia

February 13, 2016

I’m not sure what they’re smoking in the editorial offices at the New York Times, but it can’t yet be legal in the Empire State.  And it probably never should be.  How might we best describe the decision to publish this particular vacation travel article at this particular time?

  • tone-deaf
  • callously insensitive
  • completely clueless
  • just totally fucking oblivious

I didn’t think our Mediterranean vacation could get much better.  [We] had already swum several miles a day through astonishing turquoise waters off Kas, a remote village on Turkey’s southwest coast, where cliffs soar up from the sea, the soft air is scented with jasmine and views of the glimmering bay are downright therapeutic.

Amid a ring of seven islands, our group of open-water swimmers glided alongside limestone coastlines, the sunlight spangling the underwater landscape of smooth boulders and serrated pillars.  We swam over marine forests swaying in the current.  We crossed into the open sea, pulling rhythmically through a panorama of royal blue, a laser show of sunbeams funneling into a gleaming ring in the depth.

“It’s like swimming in the sky.”

That’s right, at a time when hundreds of Syrian refugees have been drowning in the Mediterranean as they attempt the ocean crossing into Greece, the Times decides to publish a puff-piece celebrating an American family’s weeklong swim vacation idyll in Turkey amid “translucent waters under mighty peaks … arcing our cupped hands into the water in unison, catching views of one another with each breath.  It was bliss.


Out of thirty-seven paragraphs, only one sentence buried halfway through the article acknowledges the elephant in the room:

The captain of the daily ferry between Kas (Turkey) and Meis (Greece) said that of the roughly 400 refugees crossing the water into Greece each month, most of them from Syria, 10 to 20 brave the [ 5 kilometer ] swim, waiting for nights with no moonlight so they would be undetected.

But quick, let’s change the subject, avert our eyes, and return to fantasies of paradise:

We swam a foot or two above the cragged shelves of submerged rock, as if soaring over canyons.  We would swim about 20 minutes and stop to rest and drink from water bottles or to check out a turtle floating below, some passing trumpet fish or another otherworldly seascape.  One minute we were peering underwater at the waves plowing fizzily into an island’s limestone bank; the next, we were in open sea more than 100 feet deep, as if drifting through an indigo dome, with no bottom in sight.

This sudden queasiness I feel isn’t seasickness, it’s utter disgust.  I can (resignedly) accept the fact that wealthy Americans are willing to blithely disport themselves in exotic Third World locales while the locals quietly starve within their quaint hovels.  I can (somewhat) sympathize with the staff of the Times travel section, who’ve seen their usually-reliable winter season ‘escape’ destinations suddenly rendered off-limits, ravaged by Zika virus.  But this is too much.  America’s haste to aid the Saudis in their Sunni reconquista has blown back in a big, big way and Syria’s little people are paying the price.  If you’ve already forgotten little Aylan, there are plenty more just like him washing ashore on those craggy limestone beaches.  For them, another kind of paradise awaits.



Bear-Assed Nekkid

October 10, 2015

OK, it’s obviously “a thing” now: in his big-stage public appearances, Barack Obama is making damn sure that he gets photographed in front of a state flag that sends an additional message beyond the usual shoutout to local homies.  This time, it was port-of-call San Francisco –for an in-and-out DNC fundraising performance at the Warfield Theater.


Introduced by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Steph Curry, Draymond Green and a half dozen of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Obama arrived in California riding his highest approval ratings in the Golden State since the start of his second term in 2013.  Sixty percent of the state’s registered voters approve of Obama’s performance, while 33 percent disapprove. [ The remaining 7 percent are too high to care. ]

And although POTUS’ public remarks ostensibly focused on a hot-button domestic political topic  –“the gun massacres that we see with growing frequency in this country“–  that big-ass bear behind him was marching under a red star that evoked ongoing massacres in another country … on the other side of the world.

Talkin’ ’bout Syria, where Comrade Bear is strewing his scat all over the countryside.  I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that Saturday’s fundraiser was held at San Francisco’s Warfield Theater. Get it? War Field theater?  Golden State Warriors?  This time, Team Obama’s intellectual montage imagery is making a veiled statement about international affairs in the Middle East. But what, exactly?

Well, for one thing, Brer Bear appears to be walking right toward the Stars and Stripes.  That may not be such a good idea, and may not turn out well.  Why, just last week, a resourceful Montana hunter heeded his granny’s advice and fended off a bear attack in hand-to-paw combat:

While hunting elk, Chase Dwello came face-to-face with a grizzly. The bear, who had been asleep, was now awake and startled. Dwello was knocked to the ground and tossed around by the grizzly, his head clenched in the bear’s powerful jaws. He survived by keeping his cool … and shoved his arm down the bear’s throat when he got the chance. He was lucky; the grizzly gagged and left him beaten and bruised.

Turns out that large animals like bears have a sensitive gag reflex.  Let’s wait and see what Comrade Bear will choke on.  Perhaps a hockey stick.



Change of Fuels

January 10, 2013

Whether you call them ‘revolutionaries-in-waiting’ or ‘governance transition scholars,’ students of regime change have an abundance of works-in-progress available for their critical review at this particular time.  Life lessons lie thickly strewn across the terrain in places like Mali, Libya, Central African Republic, Italy and (of course) Syria.  There’s certainly more than enough material to serve as a basic armature for a fully fleshed-out chapter or two of the Idiot’s Guide to Regime Change.™   F’rinstance:

Rebels fighting Assad say they have set up [an intelligence service] of their own to “protect the revolution,” monitor sensitive military sites and gather military information to help rebels plan attacks against government forces. “We created the unit formally in November.  It provides all kinds of information to (opposition) politicians and fighters. We are independent and just serve the revolution,” said a rebel intelligence officer who uses the name Haji. “Our work is organized, we have internal regulations and we are committed to international laws and human rights,” he said, speaking briefly over Skype.

Intelligence agents are also documenting [crimes by rebel forces themselves, such as] … torturing and summarily executing opponents, looting state and private property … so that the perpetrators could be held to account. “We are watching everybody. We have gathered information about every violation that happened in the revolt,” he said. “Those we cannot punish now will be punished after toppling Assad. Nothing will be ignored. We have our members among all the working brigades. They are not known to be intelligence officers and they operate quietly [ undercover as activists, citizen journalists or fighters.]”

Haji said most of the [organization’s] members were army defectors and former intelligence officers, and that the information they gathered was distributed to all anti-Assad factions and rebel brigades without discrimination. The organization appears to operate independently from the main opposition Syrian National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army, effectively answering to itself alone.

Morale of government officials is low and many are secretly helping the rebels as an insurance policy in case they win.  “They approach us and they give us information. We do not pay them.  They say all they want is protection for their families later on.”


Learnable Lessons

  • Intelligence is an indispensable component of regime change capability. Therefore, the logistical process of transforming information into intelligence should be understood as indispensable for regime changers.
  • Expertise is needed to reliably process information into intelligence.  If the insurgency hasn’t developed its own expertise, it must be ‘borrowed’ from those who already have it: disaffected “army defectors and former intelligence officers.
  • Some functionaries in regime preservation agencies have a strong sense of social justice, ethical responsibility, and a personal moral compass.  That’s why they’re defending the established order in the first place.  But they will defect once the insurgency has demonstrated a stronger commitment to justice, ethics and morality than the incumbent regime.  John Boyd can tell you why.
  • Security is the core social service.  “All they want is protection for their families.
  • Fear and security are Siamese twins.

“The word ‘security’ should mean the security of the people,” said an opposition activist. “Unfortunately, the regime’s security bodies changed it to mean preserving the security of the government against the people.”


Unanswered Questions … for seminar discussion:

  • Who’s paying the freight?  The concept of an all-volunteer people’s intelligence operation is certainly an inspiring and almost noble one, but collecting and processing all-source information into intelligence is a protracted and costly logistical undertaking.  Does the Free Syrian Intelligence Service have a reliable, culturally acceptable revenue base?  Or is this organization actually the stalking horse of a shadowy foreign power?
  • Is there any kind of  framework in place to guide and prioritize intelligence requirements?  Would anyone other than an intell geek care?
  • To what extent should this Reuters article be viewed as an information operation in its own right?  Whose interests would thus be served?  See Question #1.