Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn – ARGO

By Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes

ARGO movie poster

ARGO is a movie thriller based on Operation ARGO, a CIA undertaking lead by CIA employee Tony Mendez to rescue six US Embassy employees who avoided capture by the Iranian criminals who violated the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Ben Affleck directs and stars as Tony Mendez. He is supported by fellow stars Alan Arkin, John Goodman, and Bryon Kranston.

Bayard

George Clooney is one of the producers of this movie, and he makes his mark immediately. ARGO opens with an American apologist historical spin, implying Iran was a happy, thriving utopia right up until big, bad US came in to set up Shah Pahlavi and steal all of the oil. For an actual historical perspective of this time period rather than the fictional version George Clooney offers, see Iran’s Present is Iran’s Past – Part VI, Rise of the Ayatollahs.

Once past the first few historically offensive minutes, ARGO becomes an excellent movie that superbly conveys the intensity of the Iranian Hostage Crisis. In 1979, Americans were horrified at the unprecedented savagery of an attack on our diplomatic enclave. Even the ruthless Japanese Empire had not stooped so low during WWII. Across the country, we were united in front of the evening news, watching daily for something positive as the stress of the crisis and the brutal stories from friends and relatives who’d escaped became a constant background tension in our collective psyche as a nation.

image from ARGO movie

The escape of the six to Canada was a vital success for the West. It not only gave us hope through the long months of that untenable situation, but it renewed our faith in our good neighbors to the north, along with our other genuine allies. ARGO successfully captures the barbarity of the attack to Westerners and to decent Iranians, as well as the intensity of what the hostage crisis and the escape of the six meant to America.

One thing I appreciate most about ARGO is the sarcastic humor, which is expertly laced through the movie. There are some actual laugh-out-loud moments, usually thanks to Arkin and Goodman, that are just enough to prevent the dark subject matter from becoming overwhelming.

Overall, I thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed ARGO, and I would definitely recommend it.

Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez, image from ARGO movie

Holmes

I enjoyed the movie and I am glad I saw it. The story line does not completely follow reality and, fortunately, a few key players are left out of the movie version. Affleck was not attempting to produce a CIA training manual; he was trying to create a watchable movie and he succeeded. He and the producers can be forgiven, and in fact thanked, for not being completely accurate.

Before I give kudos to the folks who made the movie a success, I should take a moment to express my humble but heartfelt gratitude to then Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor and his wife Pat, Canadian Immigration Officer John Sheardown, the Government of Canada, the Embassy and Government of Sweden, and several other brave souls, including Iranians, who will remain unknown. Without their moral and physical courage, the movie would not have been made because the six Americans who escaped the attack on the US Embassy would likely not have survived.

image from US State Department, public domain

As for the movie version of what occurred, I congratulate Ben Affleck for a very good job of acting and directing. Ben, you DON’T look like Tony Mendez, and I’m sure that will help Tony keep his personal life peaceful.

Alan Arkin did what Alan Arkin always does. He’s believable and humorous. Arkin and John Goodman combine to add a great touch to the movie. They play a couple of Hollywood insiders who conspire to help the CIA pull off the unlikely mission. Their performances alone are enough reason to see this movie. To those who follow Hollywood, it might seem implausible that anyone from that world would ever help the CIA. But Hollywood did just that on both this and other occasions, proving not everyone there is a self-absorbed, ignorant degenerate. There are decent people there, as well.

John Goodman and Alan Arkin, image from ARGO movie

The acting was well done all the way through the movie, including those bearded bad guys and the screaming imbeciles in the streets. You might feel a need to cluster bomb them throughout the film, but that just proves they are doing a good job of acting. Leave your cluster bombs and any other heavy weapons at home, please.

The editors did a fine job of weaving in a bit of historical footage without causing the usual brain twist that we normally suffer when historical footage is inserted in a movie. The lighting, sound, and camera work were perfect.

If you want a historical documentary, this isn’t it, but it’s still close enough for the documentary seekers to watch since no good documentaries are available for the events depicted.

As a cranky old spook, it’s often difficult for me to sit through a “spook drama” but I enjoyed this film. Fellow Yankees fans should momentarily forgive the Red Sox fan Affleck his many sins, both real and imagined, and enjoy this tense thriller. I can’t promise that you will be thrilled, but you should be well entertained. However, reasonable and responsible parents should not bring children under twelve to have them frightened by this movie.

Tony Mendez and President Jimmy Carter, image from cia.gov

Holmes and I give ARGO a qualified .44 Magnum rating, which is our highest level of cinematic esteem. It won’t actually change your life unless you happen to experience some sort of spiritual epiphany while in the bathroom at the theater or with your significant other in a dark theater parking lot. But this movie can somewhat illuminate one’s historical perspective, and it can certainly entertain a wide audience.

Have fun at the theater, and don’t get caught being socially inappropriate in the parking lot.

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The End is Near (and we deserve it) . . . News Agency Cites “The Onion” as Fact

Fars, the Iranian government-backed news agency, last Friday cited an article from The Onion as fact. The article said most rural Americans prefer Iranian President Ahmadinejad that President Obama. I cracked up when I read this, but then I realized there might be some truth in it if the rural Americans in question don’t understand Farsi and don’t allow translators. Particularly during election season. . . The worst part? Some of those at Fars still believe the story even after they found out The Onion is a satirical paper.

image aljazeera.com

Read the full story here. Iran Apologizes for Citing Onion Spoof Obama Poll as Fact

Blogs and Articles in No Particular Order

New York Times Best Selling Author and Heckuva Guy James Rollins has a great new series about Apocalypse called Know it Now! Many sources predict the end of the world in just a few months. James Rollins looks at the possibilities for how that could happen and what we can do about it in a 12-week series that investigates different forms of Apocalypse. You can subscribe to these free videos at his blog, Know it Now! Introduction – Can We Predict the Future? Episode 1.

“Criminal Minds” should hire Catie Rhodes to help with their story lines. She finds the the creepiest facts. Early American Serial Killers: Jesse Pomeroy

By International Best Selling Author and Graceful Lady Vicki Hinze, What is Reversal in Fiction Writing?  Check out her latest romantic suspense, SURVIVE THE NIGHT, the first of the much-anticipated LOST, INC. series.

Tiffany A. White and Amber West are the two women I count on for my entertainment news now that there’s no TV guide in the Sunday paper.  Tiffany gives us a run down on the series premieres of October in New October Drama, and Amber gives us a peek at Lucy Liu’s modern day Sherlock Holmes series, Elementary, in Elementary, My Dear Watson.

Number One Amazon Bestselling Author Aaron Patterson directed me to this article, Average Price of E-Book Best Seller Rises Nearly $2 in Four Weeks.

Bad Police Sketches: a Photo Gallery

Reader Empathy: Catch It & Keep It with Guest Angela Ackerman. Angela also co-authored The Emotion Thesaurus, a MUST for every fiction writer. It belongs on the bookshelf right beside your Strunk & White.

Just in case you should need this one today, How to Escape from a Black Hole: Scientists Study Energy Jets.

My gift to my writing partner, Jay Holmes, along with all of you other guys who read this. “Miss Bum Bum” Pageant Seeks Brazil’s Best Butt

The 25 Funniest Tweets about the Debate

And an important health message for gamers from one of my all-time favorites, Nathan Fillion of Castle and Firefly fame.

Campaign Style Poll Daddy:

All the best to all of you for knowing satire from truth.

Piper Bayard–The Pale Writer of the Apocalypse

Speech, Religion, and Politics: Where is Our Red Line?

By Piper Bayard

My intelligence operative writing partner, Jay Holmes*, is not at liberty to issue a statement on the current “insult to Islam” situation, but thanks to Freedom of Speech, I am under no such restrictions.

The Muhammed Movie Trailer has stirred up quite a lot of passions in America and around the world. That’s because religion, like politics, is visceral and rational discussions of either are rare. Blame is flying in a chaotic whirlwind with nowhere stable to land. Let’s take a moment to calm our roiling viscera and look at some facts.

America has no established religion. America has Freedom of Speech. That’s what allows people of many religions to co-exist. Differing religions that produce violent conflict in other parts of the world co-exist peacefully here because Americans chose at the nation’s founding to value Freedom of Speech above the individual ability to do violence in the face of offense. It is part of the Social Contract, and it is based on the notion that human life and peace are more important and productive than any verbal insults.

Currently, Muslims are attacking our US embassies and consulates around the world because an Egyptian Coptic Christian living in America made a parody film of Muhammad and posted it on YouTube. The violence claimed the lives of four Americans, including the US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.

US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, image from US Dept. of State

Some Americans place the blame for those deaths squarely on the filmmaker and his backers. “He should have known Muslims would riot and kill people.” I would disagree for two primary reasons.

The Supreme Court has always had the right to regulate the time and place of speech. However, that is generally applied where speech is calculated to incite violence by Americans toward other Americans. A film parodying Muhammad that is rife with intentional religious insults is far more similar to the hateful speech of the Westboro Baptists, and the Westboro Baptist message of death to America and our soldiers has been deemed protected under the First Amendment.

The Westboro Baptists are every bit as offensive to Americans, to soldiers, and to actual Christians as the parody film of Muhammad is to Muslims. As a general rule though, Americans can count on each other to not riot and kill people, even in the face of grave and sacred insult. That is Freedom of Speech in practice. To hold the filmmaker responsible is to hold Muslims to a lower standard of civility and behavior than the average American.

This condones the idea that Muslims cannot reasonably be trusted to behave in a mature and civilized fashion. If I were a Muslim, I would be insulted by that notion. Also, by the same reasoning, shouldn’t the grieving soldiers’ families be excused if they decide to kill some Westboro Baptists? Is that the law we want in our land?

Speaking of the filmmaker, I’ve heard numerous theories about who was backing him. Was the Coptic Cigar just a Coptic Cigar? Were right-wing Republicans intending to highlight Obama’s weakness in foreign policy? Was this a plot by Israel? Was it sponsored by Iran as a way of inciting Muslims to violence to mask other, more insidious agendas on the part of that Shi’ite country?

Let’s look at Israel first. Israel certainly has plenty of schemes to go around, as do all countries, but this wouldn’t be a very smart plot for Israel. It had nothing to gain by simultaneously pissing off the entire Muslim world around it above and beyond what its mere existence already does. This chaos is a much more fruitful opportunity for so many other players.

So let’s turn to Libya. The vast majority of the Libyan people want America in their country. They are highly educated for the region with a literacy rate of over 70%, which is better than that of many American cities. With increased education comes awareness of the rest of the world and the ability to conceive of and participate in a nation rather than just a tribe. In other words, Libya has a chance at molding itself into nation of peace and prosperity.

Image from BuzzFeed: 15 Photos of Libyans Apologizing to Americans

There are many factions in Libya, some of them foreigners from other Middle Eastern countries, who want to see the new Libya fail. Those countries and organizations are always on the watch for some excuse to stir up hatred against the US and break our diplomatic ties.

Unorganized, spontaneous mobs in the Middle East generally throw rocks or shoot up the place a bit. They do not have mortars and rockets and do not perform organized attacks on US embassies and consulates. The nature of the attack on our US consulate in Benghazi would indicate that a foreign predatory country or organization like Al-Qaeda is behind it, and that Libya is as much a victim of that attack as the US is.

On Sunday, the US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told Jake Tapper on ABC’s “This Week” that the Libyan protest was completely spontaneous and a copycat of Egyptian protests. However, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich), former FBI agent and House Intelligence Committee Chair, tactfully pointed out that there were too many coincidences to conclude the Benghazi attack hadn’t been planned in advance. Arizona Sen. John McCain, top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, added that, “Most people don’t bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration.” I can only say that Rice will play this however the White House tells her to, and that this is the same UN that put Gadhafi in charge of Human Rights.

Iran, Yemen, and Egypt are another story. Unlike Libya, those countries are capitalizing on this moment.

Protests in Iran, image from news.kuwaittimes.net

The Iranian government is using this poorly-made parody film to incite Shi’ites around the world to violence, something their mullahs do at the drop of a Koran. Iran has openly declared in the past that it wants to turn all Muslim nations into its satellite states. It’s hardly a stretch to see Iran behind the attack in Libya, either as a well-laid plot or simply an opportunistic taking.

Another gem is Yemen. The Yemeni government didn’t simply fail to protect the US embassy. Yemeni security police were seen encouraging the few hundred protestors to pass through their check points to get to the embassy. These were the same police who were supposed to be protecting the embassy. In fact in some cases, they even joined the protestors.

These Yemeni security forces are still controlled by ex-Yemeni President Ali Saleh’s family. The Saleh faction wants Al-Qaeda defeated, but it also wants to generate anti-Western hysteria to help stall any democratic reforms in Yemen. It’s worth noting that over two million people did not protest in Sana’a in spite of the efforts of the Saleh-controlled security police.

Then there is Egypt. The Egyptian government, run by the duly elected Muslim Brotherhood, was too busy cashing our billions in aid money and begging Europe for more to bother to use its massive security forces to fulfill its diplomatic obligation to protect our embassy on their soil. In between panhandling in Europe and chumming with the wanted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is verbally condemning the violence. However, he also threatening America, saying that the Islamic prophet is “the red line.”

Egypt is demanding that America ignore her own laws and values of Freedom of Speech and punish the filmmaker who made this parody film. Questions hang in the air . . .

Will President Obama make it clear that America is a country that stands behind its Constitution and the Freedom of Speech guaranteed in it, even when people are insulted by that speech? Or will Obama compromise our First Amendment to appease the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and punish the filmmaker for his legal activities? Will America continue to aid and do business with countries that refuse to honor their duty to protect our embassies?

Where is America’s “red line”? I wish I knew.

In the meantime, I appreciate this rational appeal from Syed Mahmood, “A Muslim’s Reaction to Muhammad Movie Trailer.”

All the best to all of you for remaining rational in the face of visceral reactions.

© 2012 Piper Bayard. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

Rescue Mission and Upping the Stakes in Somalia

By HOLMES

Yesterday, we received the pleasant news that a Navy SEAL team freed two kidnapping victims in Somalia, Poul Hagen Thisted and Jessica Buchanan.

I wish to express my gratitude to all of the members of the rescue team and to the many supporting units that made the rescue possible. Well done, ladies and gentlemen. Very well done. I am also grateful that the President made the decision to authorize the attempt.

A rescue team parachuted near a compound at night, walked to the compound, and killed the pirates. Then, helicopters picked up the rescuers and the victims and left.

There is never a guarantee that the victims will not be killed before the rescue can be affected. The President decided to order that the risk be taken, in part because one of the captives, an American named Jessica Buchanan, was ill and possibly in danger of dying of an infection.

One pleasant improvement over the press releases about this rescue as compared to the Osama removal operation is that, so far, fewer details are being released. My preference would be to not even state that Navy SEALS were involved, but instead simply say, “The US Military and its allies conducted a successful rescue of two kidnap victims in Somalia yesterday, and all nine pirates were killed without loss to the rescue team or the victims.” Which units? How many rescuers? How did they do it? Which allies? They did it with magic fairy dust and a light saber. Leave the world guessing.

There have been some interesting comments by members of the media in response to the rescue. One commentator focused on the fact that the US and its allies rarely visit the locations where the pirates are in Somalia. True. In my view, a few more unannounced visits by unidentified US military units would go a long way toward reducing piracy in the Indian Ocean.

Pirates have been left to live safely and comfortably in their warrens for too long, and many of them are increasing their inventories of military equipment. Saudi Arabia has openly accused the Iranian Revolutionary Guards of training and supplying the pirates. This would be consistent with the IRG’s past conduct, and consistent with its long-standing policy of supporting terrorism against nearly anyone.

The pirates have, in a couple of recent cases, used highly sophisticated electronics equipment to track and identify targets. It’s not the sort of equipment that one normally sees at garage sales in Somalia.

The equipment and training might, in fact, be coming from IRG units. The Iranian government would likely deny any allegations, but the IRG does not take orders from the Iranian “government.” They take orders from their own leadership and the simple-minded, bogus religious leaders who they support. These are no longer the Revolutionary Guards thugs of the eighties.

The mullahs may understand a limited number of things about the world beyond their personal harems and hash dens, but they have always clearly understood that normal Iranians would not indefinitely tolerate the sort of abuse that they intended to dish out. To deal with the fact that they have always known they deserved to be stoned to death by their countrymen, they have consistently poured oil revenues into expanding the IRG and improving its capabilities.

The mullahs have succeeded in their goal. The IRG is now very large and very capable. The one draw back to that strategy is the same one that Hitler had to deal with on “The Night of the Long Knives” in Germany on June 30, 1934. Hitler’s Nazi paramilitary, the SA, and its senior members had become too powerful, and it became a threat to the very man who it was supposed to be working for. Hitler had to use his other state police organizations to quickly wipe out Ernst Rohm, the leader of the SA, and disband his many followers.

Unfortunately, I am not aware of any pending IRG plots to replace the quirky mullahs who run Iran. It is, however, operating with increasing independence from its own unified command system, and that makes it more likely that the IRG is supplying the pirates.

The other source of weapons and technical support for the pirates is wealthy businessmen in the region. Certain wealthy businessmen are reputed to be supporting the pirates with the intent of the pirates conducting more lucrative raids and sharing the profits with them.

Given that most wealthy Middle Eastern businessmen live above the law (whatever small bit of law there may be in their country) this is a possibility. The fact that some pirates have now been operating out of Yemen supports this notion. Also, two hijackings have recently taken place far outside of the anti-pirate patrol area off of the coast of Somalia, which indicates that the pirates are vastly improving their operational capabilities.

The common thread among pirates of various culture groups is that they like profit and dislike loss. They especially dislike the loss of their own lives. By operating against pirate bases in Somalia and Yemen whenever the mood moves them to do so, the US military could, at a low cost in dollars and lives (our lives), change the profit/risk ratio in the pirating business in the Indian Ocean.

Most pirates are not suicidal. In my opinion it’s long been time to up the stakes.

Syria and the Sands of Time

By Jay Holmes

Since I published my last update on Syria in late November, the conflict remains in overtime, waiting for a tie breaker. It’s easy enough to watch the events play out from this safe distance, but for the 22.5 million people living in Syria, things must seem a bit more urgent.

Looking at the human side of the conflict leaves one with a grim view. Since our update, Syrian security forces have killed more than a thousand additional protesters. That indicates the death rate for Syrian protesters, according to UN figures, has sadly risen from approximately 15 civilians killed per day to 25 civilians killed per day.

photo by James Gordon wikimedia commons

photo by James Gordon
wikimedia commons

Bashar Assad, Syria’s dictator, would quickly point out that not all of those killed were unarmed protesters, but it’s clear that most were. According to UN figures, the death toll for Syrian protesters has now surpassed 5,000 lives.

Some Western observers and a few Arab observers are claiming that the UN figure is likely less than half of the actual number of protesters killed. In addition to the over 5,000, there are, depending on who you ask, somewhere between 7,000 and 40,000 prisoners confined in miserable conditions in Syrian prisons. Numbers aside, it is clear that, in spite of the presence of 65 Arab League observers (who are escorted by Assad’s security forces), the Assad regime has become more willing to kill his unarmed citizens.

To consider those deaths from another perspective, the deaths of protesters in Syria have now surpassed the total number of US combat deaths during the 2003-2011 Iraq War. The faces of the dead protesters are less visible to us, thanks to the tight media control in Syria. But if we think of how anguished we have been about our losses in Iraq, we can understand the growing anxiety of expatriate Syrians who have families in Syria.

I went to the trouble of sending a polite and innocent journalistic query to the Syrian security forces and the Assad government via a safe intermediary, but neither has responded. My best friends and Assad’s best friends don’t have a history of playing nicely together so their lack of response is no indication of anything other than the fact that they don’t like my friends.

Speaking to the rebels is a bit easier if we’re not too particular about which random rebel we speak to. While the rebels remain in agreement that Assad should depart Syria in his jet, his yacht, or a garbage bag, there is not yet a strong consensus about what a post-Assad Syria would look like.

The hordes of the interested outside parties remain unchanged in Syria. The Arab league does not want to see a change to a regime influenced by Russia, by Western states, or by business interests other than their own. To that end, they have promised to send more observers to Syria, and they have throttled Syria’s banking system by halting trade with banks from other Arab League nations.

Iran would like to see anyone “not Sunni” in charge in Syria as long as they are willing to continue recognition of Iranian suzerainty over Syria and Lebanon. Normally, Iran would be conducting more desperate efforts to influence events in Syria because Syria is important to it for the control of Hezbollah operations in Lebanon. The Hezbollah gang has what Iran considers to be an unfortunate tendency. It often starts imagining itself to be an independent political entity capable of being all grown up without Iran. Given that Syria is 74% Sunni, and that Shiites are hard to find in Syria, Iran’s long term prospects in Syria are not looking too good.

Russia, or at least the “Putinos” in Russia, would like to see anyone of any religion or no religion in charge in Syria, as long as they happily continue purchasing vast quantities of military toys from Russian factories allegedly financially controlled by Putin and his closest Putino pals. In Putin geopolitical theory, the “new” Syria would allow an expansion of Russia’s naval base in Syria to house the imaginary vast Russian Mediterranean Fleet that Putin fantasizes about while doing whatever it his he does at night before he goes to sleep. (His poor wife….)

My guess is that, after considering the ongoing nuclear disasters at Russian Northern Fleet naval bases, the average Syrian is not going to be thrilled by the prospect of becoming Russia’s latest Naval success story. Given that the average Syrian is aware that Assad and his tiny Alawite minority could never have taken and held power in Syria without Soviet intervention, it seems likely that Syrians would love to be nobody’s naval base, and they would likely spend their defense cash any place but Russia.

Western Energy moguls would love to see vastly expanded oil pipelines built to transport Arabian and Iraqi oil to a Syrian Mediterranean port like Tartus. That would be lovely for Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. It would be lovely for energy moguls, and for western oil addicts like you and I. It would be a dark nightmare for Iran. Threatening to cut off the straits of Hormuz would be no fun for the fake mullahs running Iran if the only tankers sailing the Straits were all Iranian.

Secondarily, Western energy moguls would like to see further natural gas development in Syria with taxpayer financed foreign aid from Western nations. Why let those silly Syrians use that natural gas if you can export it to Europe at huge profits while generous Western Taxpayers finance the deal and pay huge prices for the oil? That would be crazy. So who was behind the recent oil line attack in Syria? I can’t be sure, but the attack suited Assad, Iran and nobody else.

When energy moguls are not watching, other Western moguls would like Assad to be gone by any method that does not involve them having to spend cash, expensive cruise missiles, and political capital. Western governments would like a safe transfer of Syria’s nerve gas stockpiles (some of which once belonged to his neighbor, Saddam Hussein) for destruction and disposal. A Syrian government run by the majority of Syrians and not by gangsters claiming to be religious authorities would make the West happy.

So what abut the people doing the bleeding in all of this? What do the Syrians want?

Since having an opinion has not yet been legalized in Syria, and since a departure by Assad won’t guarantee freedom and justice for them, it’s hard to know for sure. I am willing to make a few guesses. They would like their security forces to stop killing them. They would like unemployment rates lowered. The religious leaning rebels in Homs would like a Sunni theocracy, but they are in the minority and might not be able to pull it off. If Assad leaves, dies, or in the unlikely event that he becomes a nice person, Syrians might be able to form a working parliamentary government.

And Bashar Assad? What he wants today is to not star in a you tube video about how unskilled Syrian teenagers dispatch nasty dictators. His long term hopes are becoming more difficult to imagine.

With Assad’s banking system crumbling and desertions from his military increasing, it’s hard to imagine a happy future for him. Assad may be using his rose colored sunglasses to see a future where Western nations are so busy with the nasty little mullahs in Iran and their uranium issues that they never intervene in Syria, and he simply remains in power.

The sands of time will continue to run, with or without Western military intervention, and Assad should know and remember that sand is always corrosive. Assad could perhaps call up the jovial director of the Venezuelan Club Commie Resort and ask if Uncle Momo’s reservation is still available. The trick would be getting from his house to Hugo Chavez’s resort without being shot in the back by the frightened and badly outnumbered clan he would be leaving behind.

Normally “Good Luck Bashar” would be a handy phrase for ending this article, but I won’t pretend to wish him any such thing. Instead, I will offer my humble best wishes to the people of Syria. In my estimation, the majority of them are decent and reasonable people. If it is left up to them, the better country that they build for themselves need not be a threat to anyone else. A Syria that concentrates on it’s own well being would be an improvement for every reasonable person concerned.

Syria is Heating Up

By HOLMES

This past Wednesday, November 16, the rebellion in Syria escalated significantly.* A team of rebel commandos lead by, and possibly completely manned by, deserters from the Syrian military attacked an important intelligence center that Syria’s secret police used to combat the rebels. On Thursday, November 17, a second raid was conducted against the offices of Syria’s Ba’ath party headquarters.

One of the interesting things about the raids is that the attackers may be based in Lebanon. A glance at a map indicates that, in geographic terms, launching a raid from Lebanon would make good sense. But in political terms, it represents a new turn of events.

Both Syria and Iran have maintained strong influence in Lebanon for several decades, and Syria has acted as Iran’s forward base for the Iranian controlled Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. My best guess is that Turkey has not yet reached the point where they will allow anti-Assad activists to conduct raids from Turkish soil. Therefore, if the raids are, in fact, being conducted from Lebanon, it begs certain questions.

Have the Iranian and Syrian governments suddenly lost so much control of events in Lebanon?

Also, as recently as a week ago, Lebanon had allowed Syrian government forces to repeatedly enter its territory to kill and capture escaped Syrians. So why would Lebanon now allow the Syrian Free Army or other Syrian rebels to conduct raids in Syria?

The answers will, at least in part, lie with Hezbollah, and Hezbollah makes no decisions without Iran first telling them in detail what those decisions will be. Has Iran decided to stab their only ally, Syria, in the back? Is Iran now betting against Assad? Is Iran placing more then one bet on the same game? It may be. If Iran is indeed burning a political candle at both ends, then what payoff is it expecting?

Based strictly on the open source news available from Syria and Lebanon, I will make a guess. Iran may likely have been trying to find a contingent replacement for their Syrian boy, Assad, for the last two months. Iran backs and controls Hezbollah, but it does not trust Hezbollah with more information than it absolutely has to. Any contacts generated by Iran likely occurred without the use of their Hezbollah Pizza and Bomb Delivery Service. But Iran may not have succeeded in “going to the mountain” as they say in that region. The mountain may have gone to Iran.

It was only a matter of time before one or more senior Syrian spooks or army officers approached Iran to offer their services as newer, better, more loyal despotic pals with great new features. What particular gifts might the would-be kings be carrying to Iran?

The gift that always matters most to Iran is any gift having to do with Israel. We likely will never know, but I can’t help but wonder if the latest spy round-ups in Iran came with help from some senior member of the Syrian intelligence community who needed a bit of assistance with his retirement planning.

Experienced analysts working on Syria won’t be betting on an overtly Iranian-controlled rebel succeeding in Syria. The Syrians have fallen out of love with Assad, but they haven’t fallen in love with the archaic Iranian leadership.

People seeking “progress” are not beating down the doors to get into Iran or hoping for Iran to drop in and settle things for them. There is an Islamic fundamentalist contingent in Syria, but it is badly outnumbered. So why would Iran place such a long shot bet?

Iran would bet against Assad for two reasons. For one, it’s a low cost bet. They are simply telling Hezbollah to allow certain events to occur. Even if Assad were to survive the uprising and become aware of Iranian duplicity, so what? In the first place, he never thought that the Iranians were anything but weasels. They were simply weasels who let him play on their team. With no other teams offering a place Team Weasel, was a great gig for Assad 1.0 and Assad 2.0.

And beyond that, what choice does Assad have? Is he going to become France’s new best friend? Is he going to be invited to take a front row seat at the christening of Kate and William’s baby? Is Michelle Obama going to give him a kiss on his robotic face? No, no, and no.

Assad has no choice but to put up with whatever Iran does. He needs Iran more than Iran needs him. From Iran’s point of view, it is better to pick the potential new despot or multiple potential new despots rather than allow someone else to decide the issue, because anyone installed in Syria that Iran doesn’t back is not likely to be its new pal.

The other reason why Iran would act with seemingly little concern for its own long-term interests is that it usually does. Iran is convinced that it can continue to get away with doing pretty much whatever it wants to do. It has, at times, paid a heavy price for its petulant, anti-social behavior, but that has never prevented Iran from repeating its mistakes.

If Hezbollah no longer has Assad’s back, then it’s time for Bashar Assad to dial up London and ask for a last minute date to the prom. If Assad had assurances that he would not face arrest after killing nearly four thousand Syrian rebels this year, then he might go down to the river and pay the boatman to cross back over to the UK.

London might not answer Assad’s call, but the UK would at least ask Turkey to call him back. (“We already have a date. . . . Why don’t you take Assad to the prom?”) At a time when Turkey is desperate to increase its stature in the Islamic world and, in particular, with the Gulf States, it would like nothing better than to be seen as the peacemaker in Syria.

A bigger blood bath in Syria can still be avoided, but time is running out.

Any questions about the situation in Syria?

Click here for a recent run down on Syria, Syria’s Assad has Crossed the Rubicon

Syria’s Assad has Crossed the Rubicon

By Jay Holmes

On January 27 of this year, protests began in Syria against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Bashar (a.k.a. Assad 2.0) quickly attempted to crush the protests before they could gain any momentum. He was unable to declare a state of emergency because Syria was already under a state of emergency. He did not revoke the civil rights of the people because they didn’t have any civil rights to revoke. The state of emergency and revocation of civil rights happened in 1963, and Bashar’s father, Hafez Assad (a.k.a. Assad 1.0), never lifted the state of emergency after taking power in Syria in 1970.

Assad 2.0 — Contrary to appearances and popular belief, Bashar Assad was not kidnapped by Western scientists and replaced with a remote controlled robot. This is an actual picture of the actual Assad.

So who are these Syrian protestors, and what do they want? They are a variety of groups from culturally distinct areas across Syria. They are, basically, a combination of anyone in Syria who doesn’t happen to be a member of Assad’s Alawi Islamic sect.

Like his father before him, Assad 2.0 has relied on his fellow Alawi sect members to fill most of the important government positions, including military and police leadership. However, 88% of Syrians are not Alawi. Most of the protestors are from the 72% Sunni, 10% Christian, and 3% Druze populations.

Bashar Assad replaced his dead father as Syrian dictator in January 2000. He has spoken of economic reforms since then, but effective economic reform in Syria would require Assad to reduce corruption. In order to reduce corruption, he would have to remove from office the same Alawi officials who guarantee his security and replace them with non-Alawi officials, eliminating that security for the Assad clan. By violently suppressing the Syrian “Arab Spring” protestors, Assad avoided this scary task, but the road of protest suppression took him somewhere he had not intended to go.

On a windy March morning, Assad woke up to find himself on the wrong side of the Rubicon. While the Syrian protestors failed to gain his ear, they succeeded in gaining the ear of the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”). The ICJ did more than talk. They listened. Now, Assad can no longer take his money, his wife, and his mistresses and buy an estate and some social standing in England.

Bashar Assad is, in large part, the product of the powerful Alawi sect, but he is also the product of a British medical education. During his father’s three decades of bloody gang war rule that included a bloody gang war between his father and his uncle, Assad 2.0 had been given the luxury of living in the comparatively bucolic Western Europe as an ophthalmologist.  Whatever pleasant visions he might have harbored concerning the future of Syria, they were quickly banished by the day-to-day reality of remaining in power in that country.

Standing now on the wrong side of the Rubicon with no way to cross to the peaceful, distant shore, Assad has few options and fewer friends. His minority ruling class can count as friends the Iranian-controlled Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon and the distant Iranian government. Syria had, at times, fantasized that Turkey was it’s staunch ally, but Turkey has now opened its country to political asylum seekers from Syria.

Key Syrian anti-Assad activists, such as Syrian Ba’ath party founder Shibliy Aisamy, mistakenly sought safe haven in Lebanon, and have been kidnapped by Syrian police. Hezbollah holds sway in Lebanon and will continue to back Assad as long as it is told to by the Iran’s ruling mullahs.

Turkey is another story. Hezbollah has no power in Turkey, and it cannot influence Turkey’s friendly treatment of anti-Assad protestors.

The death of Libyan gangster Moammar Qaddafi was bad news for Bashar Assad. With Europe and NATO now free of their military obligations in Libya, Assad can no longer count on NATO nations being too busy to bother with him. But not all NATO nation taxpayers are anxious to burn more cash and spill more blood by intervening in Syria. If the future complexion of the Libyan government is difficult to discern, then any future Syrian government is nearly impossible to predict. NATO nations can’t know what they would be backing.

Hezbollah maintains a disciplined and ruthless rule in southern Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s puppet masters in Iran are desperate to prevent a secular government from forming in Syria. Various factions in the chaos that we call Iraq also want to avoid secular government in Syria. Saudi Arabia wants Saudi-friendly Sunni rule in that country, and Jordan, Israel, and the West would be happy to see a secular, democratic government installed.

So what do the Syrians want? It’s perfectly clear that the majority of them want the Assad cabal gone. It’s completely unclear as to what they want in its place.

In the short term, Assad will use what he calculates to be the minimum force necessary to remain in power. He does not want to attract intervention, but he does not want to leave, and his options for leaving Syria grow less attractive as the bodies pile up.

In order for the Syrian protestors to remove Assad from power, they will need outside help. To get that outside help, they will need to decide what their vision of Syria will look like, and they will need to share that vision with the outside world. If the Syrian uprising presents the world with a view of Syria’s future that is significantly more appealing to the West than the status quo, then Western governments might be motivated to intervene on their behalf.

That intervention, if it happens, need not be military. Everyone living on the shores of the Mediterranean understands what NATO is, and now they understand how far it will go in intervening to remove a despot from the Mediterranean shores. They also understand just how easily NATO can do that. Syria does not present Europe with the same petroleum motive that Libya did, but there are limits as to how much Europe, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States will tolerate from Assad.

If the Syrian Transitional Council succeeds in forming and sharing a vision beyond Assad’s departure, there will still be an easy way out of the potential violent mess that is brewing in Syria. If Assad is offered an escape from the hell of his and his father’s own making, he might be willing to board that ferry to re-cross the Rubicon. Trying Assad in court is less valuable and less important to mankind than allowing the Syrian people a chance to move forward into the twenty-first century without a repeat of the chaos that we now see in Iraq.

Whatever hopes and visions others might harbor for the Syrian people, only they can form and communicate those visions.

When I gaze into my crystal ball I don’t see the opposition going away. What do you see in your crystal ball? Any questions?

Protests in Yemen: Life on the Spice Trade Route

By Jay Holmes

The spice trade has dried up, and the 24,000,000 well-armed people in “The South” suffer an unemployment rate of close to 70%. The fragile economy relies on Yemen’s very limited oil supplies, and these are expected to dry up by 2017. Yemen has natural gas reserves, and, since its access to the Indian Ocean is outside the Straits of Hormuz or any other choke points, Yemen is well placed to develop liquefied petroleum gas exports. However, in keeping with strong, regional traditions Yemen is plagued by rampant corruption that sucks any efficiency from economic development. This is one facet of Yemeni life that fuels the recent protests.

Yemen is the only republican government in the region. Two houses of government share legislative power with a president. Everyone over the age of 18 is allowed to vote, including women and non-Muslims, though only Muslims can hold office. The president and the legislators pick a prime minister, who then acts as head of government operations while the president remains the Head of State. Ali Abdullah Saleh is the current president, and he has been since 1990.

Yemen was previously two countries, North Yemen and South Yemen. Prior to its unification in 1990, Ali Saleh was the leader of North Yemen from 1978 until 1990.

Beneath this seemingly manageable government organization lies a reality of tribal competition and outright warfare. In the North, the Houthi tribes are usually at war with Yemeni government forces, or anyone else unfortunate enough to wonder into their neighborhood. There is currently a truce between the Houthis and the government, but no one expects it to last much longer. If the Houthis have anything in common with Yemeni President Saleh, it’s a strong instinct for opportunism, and Saleh’s government is fragile now.

Saleh is a Shia Muslim and is ruling in a Sunni majority country, but the breakdown of loyalties is far more complex. There are multiple sects of both Sunni and Shia Muslims, and the sect alignments are reinforced by tribal lines. However, there is no reason to believe that the current protests in Yemen have anything to do with Sunni vs. Shia. It appears to be more a case of Young vs. Old driving unemployment protests, and Nearly Everyone vs. Saleh the Imbecile driving the growing Saleh Drop Dead movement. Yemen has a young population, and the youth in Yemen are likely no more impressed with Saudi, Omani, or Iranian propaganda efforts than they are with President Saleh.

Saleh is truly a self-made man. His formal education ended prior to 8th grade and did not resume until he received his unimpressive military training. His instincts and management style seem to resemble those of a post WWII Sicilian mayor. But, unlike the stable mafia mayors of Sicily in the fifties and sixties, Saleh presides over a community that lacks a sense of unity. In Yemen, Them vs. Us management techniques are hampered by the day-to-day Us vs. Each Other and Anyone Who Shows Up reality of rural Yemen.

To understand the protesters in Yemen today, it’s handy to look at a few high points in the Saleh Circus history. While Saddam Hussein was still warden of Iraq, Yemeni President Saleh simultaneously claimed strong fraternal ties and undying loyalty to both Iraq and its enemy, Iran. No, I’m not making this up. The usually humorless Iranian government tolerated the farce because, when your only other “friend” in the world is the oil-less Assad mob in Syria, anyone even pretending to be friendly is tolerable.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Saleh proudly entered the Guinness Book of Records under the Monumental Miscalculation category. To the quiet and curious amusement of realists on planet Earth, Ali Saleh backed Saddam Hussein. In response to this idiotic move, Saudi Arabia responded by sending home the nearly 900,000 Yemenis that were in Saudi Arabia doing what Yemenis can rarely do at home—earning wages without committing felonies. Many of those ex-wage earners and their hungry adult children are likely enjoying the protests in Yemen this week.

In 2000, an Al-Qaeda kamikaze boat attack bombed the USS Cole while it was fueling in Aden, Yemen, killing 17 American sailors and wounding 29 more. In another bout with Reality Deficit Disorder, Saleh claimed in 2005 that he single-handedly stopped the occupation of Aden by the United States Navy at the time the USS Cole was attacked by standing fast against the crews of eight US warships. If there had been any US warships in Aden besides the badly damaged USS Cole at the time, the claim might not have been quite so ridiculous.

Just in case anyone might question Saleh’s highly developed talent for absurdity, he also fervently supports Iran’s right to produce nuclear weapons. . . .Those nuclear weapons that the Iranian mullahs claim they are not producing.

Saudi Arabia has all but given up on Yemen as a neighbor and is constructing expensive border barriers to staunch the flow of smuggled goods, Yemenis, and Al-Qaeda visitors via Yemen.

In a sense, Saleh’s dilemma is that Yemen has outgrown him. Many Yemenis have become more aware of the world outside of Yemen, and they are not enjoying the comparison.

Saleh responded to the recent protests with moderate rhetoric and promises of a new constitution. As the protests persisted, Saleh claimed that he would step down as long as he received a guarantee against any prosecution.

As ridiculous as Ali Saleh often is, I would be surprised to see him risk his life by remaining in Yemen after a change in government. Saleh has burned his bridges with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, and Iraq. Perhaps he can finally use his one real talent by moving to Detroit, USA or Sheffield, England and opening a comedy club. Both places could use a bit of his illicit cash.

Saleh’s only supporters at the moment are his frantic pals from Iran. The Iranian government wants to maintain access to Yemeni ports for the trans-shipment of weapons and trouble to East Africa and other locations. The Iranians are calculating that no other Yemeni would be crazy enough to ally with them, so they are desperate to keep Saleh from leaving office.

The Yemeni police also stand between the Yemeni people and reform. So far, the Yemeni police have been willing to respond with gunfire, even though their loyalty to Saleh is somewhat questionable.

Over 200 Yemenis have been killed since the protests began. Saleh has agreed to the Gulf Cooperation Council Proposal to resign in 30 days, and for his vice president to take over for an additional 30 days with elections to be held in 60 days. The protestors, however, are impatient and do not want to wait, as they might see this as a stalling tactic to give the security police a better chance to crush the protests.

Al-Qaeda has attempted to co-opt the protest movement, and Saleh has been willing to use that as a bargaining chip for gaining support from the US. Although Al-Qaeda survives comfortably in the mountainous areas of Yemen, they are not popular with the majority of Yemenis. The US and Saudi Arabia continue to track Al-Qaeda in Yemen. If Al-Qaeda were to grow as a result of the current chaos, it would, in fact, be simpler to deal with in Yemen than in Afghanistan and Pakistan. US carrier groups can operate safely off the coast of Yemen, and the Navy is in a position to deliver strong logistic support for any ongoing patrols there, making operations against Al-Qaeda in Yemen far easier than operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On the positive side, the Yemenis may not want or need a whole new style of government. They might be willing to accept the same basic structure of government if they could have a little judicial reform, an executive branch separate from the legislative branch, and new governors. That makes a transition in Yemen less difficult than in Libya. Yemen has a real government. It just needs real governors.

For the moment Ali Saleh still holds the microphone.

Related posts:

Who are the Libya Rebels? Part I

Who are the Libyan Rebels? Part II

Libya and Middle East Update, May 1, 2011

By Jay Holmes

I thought it was time for a renewed analysis of some of the Middle East and North African hot spots. Let’s look at a few of the ongoing domestic struggles, starting with Libya.

Libya:

On Saturday night, a NATO air strike hit a command center/Gadhafi family compound, and one of Momo’s dozen sons, Saif al Arab, was killed. Saif al Arab is one of the family’s least powerful siblings. Momo’s spokesmen claim that Momo was at the bombed home, but that he was unharmed.

The relative positions of the rebels and forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi haven’t changed much during the last month. NATO indicated that it will increase its strikes to include command and control centers (like the Saturday night strike), but it still declines to further arm the rebel forces with more powerful weapons. President Obama authorized the use of US drones to enable NATO to assist the rebels in Misrata against the besieging forces without unintentionally killing more rebels than Gadhafi forces.

The African Union visited Benghazi to try to negotiate a cease-fire, but the rebels gave them a cold shoulder. The rebels have made it clear that they have little confidence in the African Union. Also, if the Arab league is lending much support to the rebels, they are doing it quietly.

The rebels have shown a small increase in ability on the battle field, and they were able to take a border crossing post on the Tunisian border. This might open an avenue of supply to rebels in Western Libya. The rebels maintain a tenuous grip on Adjibaya, but have been unable to retake the valuable oil port in Brega.

Against the rebels’ small improvement in military performance, they are showing signs of strain in their leadership, the Libyan National Council. Their military chief of staff, General Abdel Younis, has repeatedly criticized NATO for its minimalist approach to assisting them.

Younis was Gadhafi’s interior minister until the rebellion began to take traction, and both the Libyan National Council and NATO respect his professional skills, but neither has any confidence in his ethics. As to his loyalty, Younis is undoubtedly loyal to Younis.

The UK, France, and Italy announced they will send military advisors to assist the rebels in their operations and in their communications with NATO. If nothing else, the advisors might be able to establish a clearer picture of who the rebels are, and, more importantly, who they will be if, and when, Gadhafi & Sons, Inc. are deposed. Keep in mind that the ousting of one dictator does not guarantee that another will not take his place.

The rebel forces claim that Gadhafi’s loyalists have organized systematic “rape patrols,” that these patrols have been issued Viagra, and that they have been responsible for raping children as young as eleven years of age in Misrata. International aid workers who are working in Bengahzi with refugees evacuated from Misrata say that these claims are consistent with a variety of refugees’ reports, and that the children have the signs and symptoms of rape victims. Whether or not Gadhafi, himself, ordered the rape patrols is unknown. It may be the work of tribal factions within Gadhafi’s army.

The rhetoric from Gadhafi spokesmen has shifted from confident threats of annihilating all rebels and their families to a campaign of seeking cease fires and negotiations. Neither the rebels nor NATO show any indication of believing anything Gadhafi and his pals say.

Major news outlets such as BBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post have all published articles explaining that the CIA has numerous agents operating in Libya to liaison with the rebels and to provide targeting data in loyalist areas. The news outlets all cite that charming and famous US official, Mr. Anonymous Government Official, as the source of their not particularly fascinating information. The CIA remains mute with the press, as they should.

Syria:

The Syrian people continue to protest against the government of Bashar Assad. Assad inherited an incompetent, despotic government from his ruthless father, Hafez Assad, in 2000 when Hafez died. Based on his Western medical training and his more cosmopolitan experience, many Syrians had hoped for reform under Bashar, but he has not taken the opportunity to reduce human rights violations in Syria. The Syrian working class and unemployed citizens might be at the point where denouncing the USA and Israel and serving as Iran’s lackey aren’t quite enough of an output from their expensive and annoying government.

On March 23: Reporters in Syria claimed that around 100 anti-government protestors were killed in the southern town of Daraa, Syria.

On March 30: Assad broadcast a public speech and announced that the protesters were part of a conspiracy. Yes, Bashar, the conspiracy rotates around the protestors’ notion that you would look better dead.

On April 10: Four protesters were killed in Banias, Syria. Nine Syrian soldiers were killed in an ambush the same day, but it is unclear who the ambushers were.

On April 14: Assad’s new Prime Minister, Abdel Safar, announced he will creating a cabinet to lead reforms.

On April 15: The protests continue. Apparently, nobody believes Adel Safar, including Adel Safar.

On April 21: Assad declares an end to the 48-year “temporary” state of emergency and abolishes the extra-legal security apparatus courts. The Syrians remain unimpressed.

On April 22: Courts? Who needs a court? Syrian security forces gun down an additional 80 protesters.

On April 23: Assad’s thugs gun down 25 people at a funeral. Apparently, funerals are a capital offense in the new reformed Syria.

On April 24: Thirteen protesters were shot and killed in Jableh, Syria.

On April 25 thru 28: Protesters report 42 killed in Daraa, Syria.

On April 27: Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain summon their Syrian ambassadors to formally protest the crackdown against protesters in Syria. Two hundred, thirty-three members of the Syrian Ba’ath party resign in protest against Assad.

On April 30: The Syrian army used tanks and troops to seize control of a mosque which was a center of anti-government protests in Daraa, Syria. Witnesses report that six protesters were killed.

Critics of the US administration offer the opinion that President Obama should have gotten tougher on Syria “a long time ago.” The US is embroiled in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, to a lesser degree, Libya, while conducting humanitarian aid in Japan, and maintaining a strong presence in the northern Indian Ocean against threats from Iran. Ex US UN ambassador John Bolton and other Obama critics fail to specify precisely what measures the US should be taking against Syria this week.

Iran remains a strong supporter of their Syrian houseboy, Bashar Assad, but Iran has their own problems this week.

Iran:

In Iran, the vast state security apparatus operating on the theory that you can never conduct too many hangings and stonings continues to suppress smoldering protests.

At no surprise to anyone but the trained monkey, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, the Iranian dictator Ayatollah Khameni has grown weary of his pet monkey’s increasing influence in Iranian affairs. The notion that a mere president should pretend to direct the government of Iran is more than Khameni can tolerate. Ahmadinejad may find himself “resigned” due to health problems or to take over some urgent new project like conducting a donkey census for Iran.

If Ahmadinejad “steps down” (or falls down repeatedly and hurts himself) it won’t mean much in Iran. We will simply see a new pet monkey pretending to be President of Iran while Khameni continues to give the orders.

The distraction for the Iranian police state does at least mean that they will be momentarily slightly less troublesome for the rest of the planet while they plot amongst themselves. Plot away, guys. Have fun.

Who is Watching in Libya, What are They Learning, and What Does That Mean To Us?

By Jay Holmes

China, Syria, and Iran are watching the military operations being conducted by NATO forces in Libya with great attention.

China sent the 4,000 ton frigate, Xuzhou, into Libyan waters, supposedly to assist in evacuations of Chinese citizens from Libya. However, its real mission was likely an ad-hock attempt at quietly conducting SIGINT (SIGnals INTelligence) and ELINT (ELectronic INTelligence) operations against the Western powers involved in air operations in Libya. China will invest massive human resources into the analysis of any information it gathers, but it will use that information for long term planning and development rather than in any political decision making.

China expects no conflict with Western nations in the near future, and there is no reason to panic about China’s SIGINT efforts. Great Britain, Japan, and the United States conduct SIGINT and ELINT operations against China from international waters and air space every day of the week. In the last half century, China has come to understand that these operations do not foretell a pending invasion by Western powers. At the same time, we realize that any attempt by China to take possession of Hawaii will be conducted with real estate agents and stock brokers rather than frigates.

In the case of Syria, what they will learn is simple. They are (re)learning what their defeat would look like if NATO ever decided to invade Syria. The air power and missile barrage brought to bear in Libya are very minimal as compared to what a NATO launched attack could be. In Damascus, even the most politically connected, untalented general will have realized that moving or supplying Syrian forces anywhere in Syria will be nearly impossible with NATO air forces present.

The Syrian Air Force is far larger, better equipped, and better trained than the Libyan Air Force. But Syria is aware that the air power NATO is using in Libya is a token force by the standards of alliance, and that in any major conflict with NATO, the missile attack on Syria would be approximately four times larger and would destroy much of Syria’s air force within the first hour of war.

What Syria observes from the Libyan conflict will cause no major change in its strategy. It will simply continue with its sensible course of not provoking the West to invade, which, given the West’s generally defensive strategic stance, will not be difficult. The lessons learned from Libya will simply confirm the validity of that current strategic stance.

What Syria has newly learned from watching Libya is that it should avoid public threats to conduct genocide against its own citizens as protests are arising in Syria. That is a lesson that Gadhafi and his overconfident gangsters learned too late.

In the case of Iran, the Iranians will analyze information gained by observing the Libyan conflict with great interest. Unlike Syria and China, Iran does not assume there will be no conflict between itself and Western nations.

The two things about the tactical aspects of NATO operations that most interest Iran are the command and control methods of NATO air forces, and the effectiveness of the upgraded Tomahawk missiles employed against Libya. The strategic question of even greater interest to Iran concerns the fact that Western powers mobilized military force against Libya without waiting for the Western political tortoise race to conclude.

While the effectiveness of the air power of NATO nations and of the Tomahawk missiles will cause no great shock in Tehran, the fact that an attack took place in spite of the lack of complete agreement by Western powers is bad news for the ayatollahs and their generals. Iran may find itself recalculating the exact position of the “line in the sand” in their neighborhood.

In the twisted minds of the junta in Tehran, a military conflict with the West may seem like a glorious opportunity to be relished, rather than a threat to be feared. They see that as an improving opportunity over time as Iran improves its military capacity and accomplishes its goal of obtaining a nuclear weapon.

It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall in the weekly ayatollah update meetings in northern Iran this week. I would absolutely love to hear the well-educated Iranian generals trying to explain the implications of the conflict in Libya to the mostly-functionally-illiterate Supreme Council. Nothing in their years of memorizing the Koran and debating its obscure aspects have prepared the mullahs for leading a near nuclear power like Iran.

The Revolutionary Guard leaders are, no doubt, well-practiced in the art of smoothing over the most awkward of conversations between the megalomaniac ayatollahs and the frightened generals. After all, disagreeing with an ayatollah can cause spontaneous separation of the head from the neck.

I wonder how they draw lots to pick the poor fools that have to deliver the report to the all powerful and none-too-wise mullahs? Perhaps the medals that we see on the chests of Iranian admirals and generals were awarded for surviving some number of meetings with their political leadership. As long as Iran is unequipped by nuclear weapons I can enjoy laughing at their internal leadership situation. A nuclear weapon in the hands of the ignorant ayatollahs would not be quite so laughable.