Monday, September 09, 2013

How To Cut a Gordian Knot

Ever hear of Lateral Thinking?  It's a problem-solving method of using non-conventional or unorthodox means to solve an otherwise intractable problem.  Where logic fails, you apply some illogical method that most people wouldn't see coming.

An example would be the legend of Alexander the Great confronting the problem of the Gordian Knot.  Where most everyone else tried to physically untie the knot, Alexander cut it with his sword.  It may seem like cheating, but it wasn't against the rules.  It symbolized how Alexander would conquer Persia/Middle East with the sword.

A modern-day Gordian Knot is the whole Middle East itself: war-ravaged, divided, tribalistic... if there's been a solution to stopping the ongoing violence that has plagued the region since, well, ever, no one's found it yet.

Part of the problem is that each region has its own internal issues that forces external politics to react disproportionately... and reverberates against every other problematic nation within shouting (or shooting) distance.  You've got 20 Gordian Knots adding up to one big Knot... and there's not a big enough sword to cut them all, not all at once.

For the United States, tied into the Middle East due to our alliances to various nations in the region (Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya) - and our opposition to other nations such as Iran and Syria - we're coping with the disastrous civil war in Syria by trying to enforce the unenforceable.  Syria is one of the nations with a sizable chemical weapons stockpile, and there's been recent usage of chemical weapons that's killing/wounding hundreds of civilians caught in the cross-fire of the civil war.  Obama tried earlier to push a "red line" stance on the use of chemicals... but now that they've been used, Obama's finding himself in almost no position to enforce it.

The standard response to what's happened in Syria is a "surgical" or tactical strike against key Syrian government targets, usually buildings that we plan to have as few people in them as possible when the missiles/bombs hit.  However, this most likely won't discourage Assad or his allies: it may actually make them react in the worst way.

Troubling Obama is the fact that this time the United States doesn't have many allies lining up to back any such strike.  The British Parliament voted against it.  NATO (outside of France, who will only provide political cover and not much else) is reportedly not in favor either.  There hasn't been an attempt to take this to the UN for a resolution, since the odds are Russia (Syria's biggest ally) and China will not play along.  It's gotten to where the only way Obama can get any political cover for striking Syria is by taking this to Congress to get a vote on a "limited military action", which he's kinda supposed to do under the War Powers Act but is something most Presidents haven't done in what seems like ages (or at least since the first Persian Gulf War in 1991).

Worst of all: most Americans do not want to get involved in Syria.  And it's not just the Far Right population opposing Obama's stance on Syria simply on principle (of hating Obama).  And even in the face of the growing humanitarian disaster that is the refugee crisis.  We've been burned out by 10-plus years of unending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Getting lied to by Cheney and Bush the Lesser about Saddam's WMDs is affecting the national mood.  If Congress votes No on Syria - and after my earlier contention that Congress might go along, there's signs now that the Far Right might not give Obama this - Obama will have no political cover to push for a strike.  He could still order it - the War Powers has yet to be constitutionally upheld, and it's in a grey area at best - but Obama would be held responsible on both the national and international stage for ignoring the people he's supposed to represent... and would be violating national laws he's supposed to uphold.

This is where Obama would be looking for a third option... an alternative solution to cut the Gordian Knot he's just tied himself into.

Who would have thought it would be diplomacy and NOT the sword that might actually solve the problem?

Secretary of State Kerry seemingly threw out there during a meeting with the UK Foreign Office the possibility that if Russia could talk Syria into giving up control of their chemical weapon stockpiles to international observers (UN most likely), it might resolve the issue and make a military strike moot.

When the State Department tried to talk back Kerry's statements, making it look like an off-the-record "gaffe" (wink wink), Russia's Foreign Minister quickly responded with favorable language, and Syria's foreign minister joined in.  This is kinda how Hollywood works when movie blockbusters have to be ironed out between supersized egos, I've been told.

If it turns into something that can get worked out between the key parties, the whole matter of chemical warfare - one of the Big No-Nos of fighting - could be taken out of the equation.

It won't resolve the civil war itself: Assad is fighting for his life, with his minority ethnic clan struggling alongside him, against a nationwide uprising against his family's brutal decades-long rule.  It will, however, get Obama and the United States out of a nasty political nightmare and give the major powers involved - Russia, US, France, Britain, Turkey and Iran - some room to maneuver regarding the Syrian disaster.

And who knows?  This diplomacy thing might catch on across the rest of the Middle East.  Trick is, of course, to make sure the goddamn killing stops first...

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