Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Syrian lives... or American money?

Almost the only thing you can say with certainty about what’s going on in Syria is that it is ghastly. A humanitarian crisis on a large and rapidly expanding scale.
It looks like all-out war between the regime of President Assad and a very mixed rebellion whose precise personnel, aims and support are decidedly unclear. Murky.
It’s not just hard to see who the good guys are in this – it’s hard to see that there are any good guys at all. Except, perhaps, that almost-silent majority of the Syrian people who are on neither side but who are, almost inevitably, the real victims.
And should the United States and its line-up of Western cheerleaders launch air attacks “against Assad”, those ordinary people will be the real victims of that too.
One fears for them. And one dreads to think where the conflict might lead, especially with Russia standing out in support of Assad.
Of course, the world’s been used to America and Russia acting out their mutual aggression in the form of proxy wars elsewhere.
The Cold War wasn’t so cold in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Congo, Nicaragua, Afghanistan... And if the Cold War supposedly ended 20-odd years ago, with the fall of Communism, perhaps we are seeing now the onset of Cold War II (or III).
It would have advantages for both the major (off-field) players, in the form of hard cash from weapon sales. Which is the ultimate underlying motive for most modern warfare.
Early reports on last Tuesday night’s devastating attack on Ghouta questioned whether the apparent deaths of 1,300 men, women and children was a hoax. No one seems to believe that any longer. But what really did happen?
William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said this: “The only possible explanation of what we have been able to see is that it was a chemical attack.
“So we believe this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime on a large scale… It was the only plausible explanation for casualties so intense in such a small area.”
Grim indeed. But quite why the use of chemical weapons should be designated as the “red line” beyond which Assad would be the target of world disapproval is not clear.
Killing people with nerve gas is appalling. But is it any more appalling than, say, killing them with Cruise missiles, Colt 45s, Kalashnikov rifles or knives? With medieval siege-engines and broadswords? Or with drones?
Hague went on to describe as “vanishingly small” the odds that the Ghouta massacre had been committed by rebel forces to frame the government.
Really, Mr Hague? Smaller than the odds that Assad would order such a senseless killing – just when Barack Obama had drawn that infamous “red line”?
When investigating any crime, a sensible starting-point is to ask who benefits. It’s pretty clear in this case that it’s not the Assad regime.
The alternative view – that it was the foul work of rebels intent on drawing America into the conflict – was put forward by Russia. Of course. But it has also been very clearly argued in a less obvious quarter.
The online journal Zero Hedge does not exactly represent mainstream American opinion – in fact it tends to be described as “dissident”. But its main focus of interest is the US stock market, its writers are Wall Street insiders and it is one of the most widely-read and influential voices on American financial affairs.
And it predicted a month ago that “something” would happen soon to goad President Obama into going to war in Syria.
Not because it would suit him to do so. But because it would suit the flagging US economy to big up its spending with another good foreign war.
It’s happened before. One of the prime causes of the Second World War was the Great Depression of the 1930s, which started – like the present global recession – in America.
And the ultimate big winner of that war was the USA, which emerged with its economy reinvigorated and flourishing, while devastated Europe set about picking up the pieces.
Obama is said to be “cautious” about going in with all guns blazing. In that, at least, he appears to be saner and humaner than his predecessor in the White House.
Let’s pray he can resist the pressure from the more gung-ho elements in his own administration, the Federal Reserve and allies like Mr Hague.


For some reason – does anyone really understand how these things work? – photos of a gargoyle at Paisley Abbey near Glasgow have gone viral on Facebook and Twitter.
Well, it’s a very nice gargoyle, clearing depicting an alien creature very like the one in the movie Alien.
But before you go drawing conclusions about aliens visiting medieval Scotland, let me point out one thing. The abbey itself may be 13th century, but most of its old gargoyles were replaced by new ones in the early 1990s.
And no one in their right mind, surely, would suggest that mermaids, dragons and unicorns roamed the fields and shores of medieval Norfolk. Yet genuinely medieval carvings of all of those can be found in Norfolk churches.
One wonders, then, what mind the writers Graham Hancock and Erich von Daniken must be in to see ancient Japanese carvings of “men in spacesuits” as “proof” that extra-terrestrial forces visited ancient Japan. Or what possesses the History Channel to undermine its genuine programming by giving airtime to their poppycock.

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