On Syria, LX interviewing me
Had a chance to meet my NSA friend L.X. in London this afternoon. Turns out he came to me because he wanted to interview me :-)
Below is the first part of the transcript that he just sent to me...
LX: Ok, so last time we talked was in Amsterdam and we were talking about Facebook, you were asking the questions and this time it's my turn.
Pascal: No problem.
LX: First and foremost, how did you know that Vladimir Putin would offer the Syrian army the promise of anti missile protection against the US missiles Tomahawk ? You said this few days ago and it was on the headlines only today.
Pascal: Because it was obvious. You see the (american) media present Russia as "friend" of the Al-Assad regime. Even if the relationship between the two countries could be called a friendship, this is missing the point with the current situation. Russia has essentially two points of interest in this story. First, their naval base in Syria is their only naval base in the Mediterranean sea, which in itself is enough for them to try and ensure that Syria doesn't fall into chaos. Second Putin is actually interested in international law, and despite recognising the complexity of the Syrian internal situation, it reserves its right to help Syria enforcing its sovereignty; but I do not think that it's because they care about Syria as much as preserving the notion of non intervention in sovereign countries internal affairs, which is also a counterstone of the Chinese foreign policy.
LX: Fair enough, but you have to admit that Russia being a signatory of the ban on chemical weapons use has a moral obligation to enforce it and punish the Syrian regime.
Pascal: Ok, so here is the problem. The attitude of the United States is, in few words: "Syrian has breached the ban, therefore they need to be targeted. In an ideal world we would prefer an approval from the United Nations, but if we don't have it, we will act alone, unilaterally". I would say that this is a very big mistake.
LX: To try and enforce the ban ?
Pascal: No, not at all. To hit Syria without UN mandate.
LX: But we both know that the US will never get it given Russia and China blocking any resolution they come up with.
Pascal: Yes, I know. But two things. First, the US should try and understand why exactly those two countries veto the US-sponsored resolutions. I am not at all under the impression that they even considered trying, above all that their media seem to be more than happy to sell the idea that it's just friendship and loyalty. Second, Without UN mandate, the fact that the US hit Syria, a country which has not posed any threat, in any possible way, to the US, can only be seen as an unprovoked act of war. Something that, I think, takes precedence over the solitary desire of the US (or any country) to hit Syria over chemical weapon use. This, of course, assuming that Syria and more specifically the Assad leadership is actually responsible for the attacks.
LX: You are not convinced that the recent chemical weapon attack are the work of the Assad regime ?
Pascal: Not at all. John Kerry, your State Secretary, is more than happy to go on record during congressional or senate committees testimonies to says out loud, to whomever, that he has the proof (or 'strong conviction' based on 'solid intelligence') that the Assad regime is behind them, but to me this is just rubbish. I would not go as far as to say that he is willingly lying, but his strong convictions are meaningless if he doesn't present them, and on this point Putin is right: if the US has any actual proof of their claim that the syrian regime is behind the attacks, then they should (and, as far as I am concerned, have the duty, if not the moral obligation to) present them to the United Nations. Anything else is a tacit admission that they do not have real case. After all, and not trying to bring back bad memories, but you, of all people, know what did happen the last time the US had "strong intelligence based on evidences".
Oh.. by the way what's up with that blonde state department deputy press secretary ?
LX: Blonde... Are you talking about Marie Harf ?
Pascal: Well I didn't want to name her, but yes. What's up with her ?
LX: Well...., where to start ? She is smart, for sure, but well... Oh never mind, I can see in your eyes that we think the same of her, and yes, before you ask, she is a kind to stab you in the back ;-)
Anyway, but then, do you have an idea of why exactly the US is so motivated into going to war ?
Pascal: Well, not the US. President Obama wants to go to war. He came up with that red line thing that was nobody was asking for, and yesterday talking to Swedish journalists, came up with the idea that actually this wasn't his red line but the world's red line. As much as I agree with him that it is pretty much a world agreement not to use chemical weapons on battle fields (or any fields for that matter), this, if any, shows that he must go to the UN to debate it, and not do what he has done of turning a "world red line" into a US-only internal lawmakers debate. This in itself not only doesn't make sense, but defeats the very purpose of having the UN in the first place.
LX: So if you were POTUS what would you do ?
Pascal: Make my case at the UN and debate Russia and China on the basis of real evidences. The thing, you see, is that at every single press briefing the White House or State Department spokesperson trashes Russia and China on their veto rights, but those two countries are themselves signatories of the ban, and Putin himself said that he could consider supporting the US on a strike against Syria should the US present compelling evidence to support it.
LX: And if you fail at the UN ?
Pascal: Well, if I then fail at the UN, it means that this time, the world didn't care. But then that's something to live with. At least history would remember the US has having fought its hardest to get a message heard.
LX: So definitely you are against those strikes ?
Pascal: No, not at all. I am not against them in the absolute. I am against those strikes for the reason(s) the US want to strike and without UN approval.
LX: Fair enough, you made your point. One thing, you said "(...) assuming that Syria and more specifically the Assad leadership is actually responsible for the attacks". What did you mean by "specifically the Assad leadership".
Pascal: Oh yes, that's a good point. I do not exclude the fact that those weapons were used by members of the Al-Assad military without leadership knowledge or approval.
LX: What make you think this might be the case ?
Pascal: No, I do not think this "might" be the case, I only said that I do not rule the possibility out.
LX: Ok. fair enough. So, how sympathetic are you to the idea that Syria (I mean the Assad regime -- or military) is not behind those attacks and that they could come from the rebels themselves.
Pascal: Ok, that's a delicate one. First of all, I do not agree one second with the US proposed idea that "those attacks are the making of the regime because the rebels could not have carried them out". This is insulting to intelligence. Second, we have to understand who those rebels are. Half of them are a bunch of jihadist thugs who would not not lose any sleep over the idea of striking poor civilians in order to get the US involved if this is the only way for them to get the upper hand in the fight against Assad. I mean did you see today's NYTimes video of the rebels behaving like savages and executing people point blank ?
LX: Yes, I have seen it. But would not it then be a miscalculation from their part that the US wants limited strikes ?
Pascal: Yes, of course, but I am sure that those rebels are not one miscalculation short. And while being at it. Who is the moron who came up with the idea of starting a war that you do not want to win ? What good, if any, are those "limited" strikes going to have to start with ? I mean even Obama himself said that he is not interested in regime change (at least he would not say so publicly). If all this wasn't real, I would call it a very very very back movie plot.
LX: Well, you have to agree with the fact that by those limited strike Obama is at least consistent with the fact that he is only interested in acting in response to the chemical weapons attack. Don't you trust the fact that those so called limited strike could achieve just that ?
Pascal: Ok, one second here. I do not dispute the fact that the US military is able to fulfil their mission efficiently. I just wonder what are we actually trying to achieve here ? You see, the very reason why we have this ban, or at least a part of the reason, is that those weapons kill indiscriminately. Assad has been killing more than 100,000 people indiscriminately for the past two years. I have no problem with Obama having a fetish on chemical weapons, what I have a problem with is the lack of... basic logic. What is the point of being suddenly so picky about people dying by chemical weapons, if for two years you didn't seem too concerned about people dying to start with ? See my point ? But then, if this was only it... in fact, this interview haven't even started yet :-), isn't anybody concerned about the fact that both sides of this conflict are people we should not support in any possible way ? And that the brutality aside, the secular-friendly Assad regime is much, very much, better than anything that could replace it ? Thinking of it I am sure that the US gov knows that, and this might explain why they do not want to hit Assad too hard.
LX: I know that you are not too fuss about the Arab League of Nations, tell me more about that.
Pascal: The Arab League is a bunch of useless, pathetic, muslim morons with qurans so high up their asses that it doesn't even feel anymore. I don't remember who pointed this out but should not the US just provide intelligence, and maybe logistic, and let the Arab League strike Assad themselves. Those morons are keen to go on TV to say how much they support the idea of a strike, but it would never ever occur to them to grow a pair and do it themselves. Those muslim countries are always the first to complain about the US, but never fail to rely on the US for anything that is too difficult for them. This is pathetic at best.
LX: Do you stand by "Qurans so high up their asses" or should I remove that from the tape ?
Pascal: Replace "Quran" by whatever they are using nowadays...
LX: Fair enough :)
To be continued...
LX: What do you think about the British parliament decision not to follow the US this time.
Pascal: If any, that was courageous. It was obviously a real setback for David Cameron, but to his very credit I loved the way he handled it and I think that he deserves recognition for it. Because of this the UK has been looking more like a democracy than the US. On a personal level, and this is a thought I had only few days ago, I am happy. As a regular (daily) user of London public transports, the fact that the UK won't actively take part of an unprovoked war, somehow decreases the probability of an islamist moron blowing me up, or blowing somebody I care about, in the morning before I even had a chance to have breakfast.
LX: An what about the attitude of France ?
Pascal: I have no particular comment (and do not carry either positive or negative feelings) on what France does or say, mainly because I am not familiar with what's been going on in the mind of President Hollande (I do not follow their news networks).
LX: Ok, now going back to the US. What do you think of President Obama idea of reserving his right to strike even if the US congress rejects the idea of military action in the upcoming vote ?
Pascal: Ok, so let me be clear on this. I don't think that anybody could come up with any way to insult the US congress more than what Obama proposes to do. And even if he doesn't do it, the fact that he might have suggested it in the first place is insulting. Let me assume for one moment that the US presidency actually has the authority to strike in this case, just an assumption for the moment and only for the sake of argument, then the two correct courses of action would have been (1) the US executive branch pursues the attack and deal with the internal media fallout (which might not necessarily be negative actually) like grown ups, or (2) they decide to go to the congress and then stick to what the congress decides. Not because the congress decision is legally binding, but because this would be the right thing to do. Doing the opposite will be a subtle way for the white house to tell the american citizens: "Fuck you, I do what I want!". I mean, are they running a constitutional democracy of just being guests on the Jerry Springer show ?
LX: Nice one :-)
Pascal: ... wait a second. I am not done yet :-) In fact I think that the Nobel committee should take their peace prize back and give to Obama the award for invention of the year. He invented the notion of PR War. It's a war you don't want to win, that you fight to promote your image (more exactly to satisfy your ego), that might be an opportunity to insult the office that you hold as well as the very people who put you there, and that brings no benefits whatsoever, either to the people you fight or their opponents.
LX: Ok. Let me focus on other players for a little bit and in particular Iran. Do you think that Iran has the right of retaliation should the US strike ?
Pascal: As much as I hate the Iranian regime and would like them to depart the Earth, my answer is that yes, they do have this right. They would lose it, to my humble opinion, if the US gets an UN mandate to act, but as long as the US (executive branch) is thinking of unilateral declaration of war against a sovereign country then yea, allies of Syria do have the right to support or retaliate, for whatever reasons they want.
LX: You do realise that an Iranian retaliation could mean a regional war.
Pascal: Oh yes, I do. And it's precisely because we might not want this to happen that we need to think twice about illegally declaring a war.
LX: But wait, you are also aware of the fact that Iran could retaliate even if the US gets an UN mandate.
Pascal: Oh yes, of course they could, but then with a UN mandate the US's strikes would be a completely different game.
LX: What would you do if in the shoes of POTUS, with an UN mandate and Iran retaliating.
Pascal: Easy. I would first give them, through very official channels, a strongly worded warning in which I would point out that if they have a problem they should talk to the UN, would make it clear to them that they are playing with fire, and if they persist I would hit them with the full force of my military.
LX: You would destroy them.
Pascal: Completely and without a single millisecond of hesitation.
LX: Fair enough. Ok. You somehow suggested above that the White House doesn't have the legal authority to strike. Expand on this.
Pascal: First of all I am not a US constitution expert, but I am pretty sure that in the case of the Syrian crisis the presidency doesn't have and never had the authority to strike without congressional approval, letting aside for the moment the UN mandate. I understand and somehow share the US president feeling that he has a moral obligation to do something to degrade Assad's chemical weapon use capabilities, but he simply doesn't have the legal authority to do it.
LX: Do you think the congress will approve the use of force ?
Pascal: I don't know, to be honest. This is a very fluid situation in the US in this moment, and to complicate things, the spectrum of reasons in favour or against the strike in the American collective counciousness, at least the part of it I can perceive, is relatively wide, making any analysis or prediction that much more difficult. But then let me say something I think is important and fundamental. In many ways, what to do is not obvious. The geopolitical situation in the middle east, the equilibrium at the UN, the Chinese and Russian interests, the Western and European interests, the Iranians own calculations and the worrying unknowns about the so called rebels, all in the balance show that despite the undisputed moral obligation (or motivation) to enforce a ban on chemical weapons, what should actually be done and whether or not it will improve anything anywhere, including in Syria is not obvious. So now, I am old enough to know one thing: when a complex situation seems to have to alternatives to choose from and it is not obvious at all which one should be chosen, then this is the sign that you haven't actually understood the problem you were trying to solve.
LX: I concur, we learn that in Game Theory class at NSA induction.
Pascal: For instance, there is some sort of an assumption that everybody (at least the people who support military action) are taking for granted but which is not obvious to me at all: that a military action the only way to "punish" the Assad regime (assuming that they are behind the attacks). Is there really nothing else we can do to achieve what we want which is to prevent the use of those weapons again ?
LX: Fair question. Do you have suggestions ?
Pascal: I do, but they would only make sense if I have a bit more intel than what I currently have.
LX: Ok. What do you think of the strategy currently proposed by the US military ?
Pascal: If I have to take the resolution draft being sent to the congress with any amount of truth of what might actually be voted on, this has to be a joke. The idea that the US is "just" going to strike few missiles and call it a day is so mind blowingly ridiculous that, again, it wouldn't even pass the desk of a Hollywood movie studio exec secretary. They would have to shot it as "independent" film.
LX: Last question. Who do you think between the Assad regime and the rebels is going to win the civil war ?
Pascal: If the US doesn't intervene. I truly honestly don't know. If the US intervene, Israel is going to kick Iran's ass.
LX: Do you mean that you think that...
Pascal: Yes, I do.