Bust from the Ruins of Palmyra in Syria

In 2015, ISIS seized the ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria. They proceeded to destroy many of the standing columns, temples, and tombs while gloating over their “accomplishments.” To make matters worse, they captured and beheaded the Khalel al-Asaad, a Syrian archeologist.

This morning, I visited the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades and was delighted to find an exhibit on loan of mostly funerary statuary from Palmyra, most of which comes from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. It was titled “Palmyra: Loss and Remembrance.”

It was a revelation to me. Palmyra was neither Roman nor Greek. Their language was a dialect of Aramaic, which was the language of the Holy Land during the life of Christ and for some time after. Most of the items on display were funerary busts and reliefs from the tower tombs that dotted the landscape. The facial expressions were surprisingly realistic, though with larger, more pronounced eyes than found in Greek and Roman sculpture.

“The Beauty of Palmyra”: Obviously a Rich and Powerful Woman

Most women depicted in these sculptures were depicted holding a distaff and spindle in their hands. The statue above displays no such housewifely virtues. Instead she is bedecked with jewels on her headdress as well as her costume. The circles were once filled with precious and semi-precious stones which have disappeared in the course of time.

ISIS Gloating Over the Destruction by Explosives of the Temple of Baal Shamin on One of Their Websites

Naturally, I think ISIS’s actions in Palmyra and elsewhere show a total disregard for the antecedents of their own civilization. They will undoubtedly commit other barbaric crimes until this awful Jihadist movement is brought to account for their crimes against humanity.


Green Zones of the Future?

Is This What the Pentagon Wants?

Is This What the Pentagon Really Wants?

I love listening to the Republican Presidential Candidates for 2016 talk about foreign policy. All agree that Barack Obama is a “pussy” and that what we need is to destroy ISIS. But do they want to send in our troops and open new Green Zones in Syria and Northern Iraq? Urm, well, not really. Although Ahmed Chalabi is no longer around to say that we would be greeted with candy and flowers, I am sure that there are some Pentagon planners who would love to see an expansion of their powers, despite the cost.

Can the United States effectively wage war in an area where it doesn’t know the language, the culture, or the players involved? I myself think that all our direct efforts would be foredoomed to failure. Perhaps we can seal off parts of the country and reserve them for tennis courts, driving ranges, and chain burger restaurants for our boys and girls in uniform. But haven’t we already done that? And with what results?

As much as we love seeing ourselves as the mighty victors of World War Two, we’ve done precious little to add to our reputation since then. But, heaven knows, we keep on trying, piling up failure upon spectacular failure. The only thing our politicians can hope for is that the voters have a short memory and an even shorter fuse.

In the end, what we are doing in the Middle East right now is probably the right thing. ISIS will eventually collapse on its own. Isn’t it really quite stupid to build a caliphate on a bunch of foreign mercenaries, some of them not even Muslim, recruited through social media?


I Don’t Blame Hungary

Afghan Men Are Controlled by Hungarian Border Police

Afghan Men Are Controlled by Hungarian Border Police

For the last two weeks, the news has been full of a mighty onslaught of hundreds of thousands of people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries to Northern Europe, where the streets are paved with gold. The numbers of refugees are almost comparable to those of the Huns, Vandals, Visigoths, Lombards, and Ostrogoths during the later Roman Empire.

That’s why many smaller Balkan and Central European countries have had enough. Rather than be inundated by invasion-strength numbers of mostly Islamic refugees, they have elected to close their borders. Even Germany has to revise its original open borders policy: There are far more than 800,000 refugees currently enroute to being second class citizens in western and northern Europe.

According to a chart published on the BBC website, only a plurality of the migrants between January and August of this year seeking asylum in Germany are from Syria:

Note the large Number of Balkan Refugees

Note the large Number of Balkan Refugees (Source: BBC)

Hungary has been widely attacked for its decision to seal its southern borders and attack crowds trying to break through with tear gas and water cannons. Even Serbia, whose hands are far from clean (note the large number of Serbians seeking refuge) went so far as to call Hungary “uncivilized” for attempting to divert the invasion.

Don’t forget that all of these countries on the road to Austria and Germany had been attacked and occupied by the Turks, in some places until only a hundred years ago. Budapest and other Hungarian cities are still full of Turkish baths and fortifications, with an occasional minaret breaking the skyline. Hungary is one of the two main invasion paths to Western Europe (the other is Poland), and fearful memories among my people are still raw after half a millennium.

Many if not most of the refugees will eventually find homes in Western Europe. Some will find their dreams coming true; some will be poor and unemployed, a prey to jihadist recruiters; some, as in Italy, will sell themselves into prostitution.  The refugees are a diverse bunch, and will undoubtedly be a political football for decades to come.

Another War Nobody Wants

Just What We Needed!

Just What We Needed!

I guess things have been going too well for us lately. It must be time for another war. Let’s dust off those “Support Our Troops” signs and wave that raggedy flag. We are about to step once again into that Tar Baby par excellence, the Middle East, which is full of people who hate us and want to get even with us for … for … I forget what. We don’t understand them, though they understand us somewhat from being exposed to our entertainment media for so long.

There is no possible good outcome from our involvement in Syria. Innocent Syrians will be killed by our weaponry, and thousands of people will thereupon discover they have a blood feud with the United States. I thought Obama was smarter than that.

Let’s say we have a super bomb in our arsenal that will seek out Bashar al-Assad and blow him to kingdom come. Then what? Even such a surgical strike will lead to a civil war among Islamists, al-Qaida, Baathists, Druzes, Shi’ites, Alawites, and others. Are we going to send in referees with striped shirts to declare who will be the winner and who is fighting fair. No one will be fighting fair, and of one thing I am certain: Before long, all weapons will be aimed at us. So much for gratitude, huh?


OK, Who Cut the Cheese?

It’s Best to Be Slow and Through on This Issue

It’s Best to Be Slow and Thorough on This Issue

I don’t really mean to be facetious about this, but there exist several possibilities regarding the use of nerve gas in Syria:

  • Most people think that Bashar al-Assad is responsible, and he might very well be
  • Arrayed against Bashar and his Baathists are a lot of Al-Qaida baddies, who might well have gotten their hands on some Sarin from Chemical Ali’s stock of it in Iraq
  • It could be that both sides are releasing nerve gas, which is not as outlandish as it may seem

Remember that George W. Bush had us going to war against Saddam in Iraq based on “weapons of mass destruction” that were never found. We cannot risk making assumptions that will lead to a massive loss of lives among Syrians or among our own armed forces.

Even if we are able to identify which side is employing nerve gas, I am reluctant about committing ourselves to bombing raids or, worse yet, “boots on the ground.” If we send in our bombers and Cruise Missiles, how do we know what targets to hit, considering that our military intelligence is god-awful or nonexistent. And do we want to set up another Green Zone, this time in Damascus or Homs or Aleppo, from which we cannot venture out without being blown to bits by roadside bombs?

And if we commit to either course, who stands to gain? Who stands to lose? Are we even asking ourselves these questions, or do we just assume that we’re still the world’s policeman after all these failed forays?


Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Yeah, Let’s Clean It Up and Rid Ourselves of More American Fighting Men and Women

Yeah, Let’s Clean It Up and Rid Ourselves of More American Fighting Men and Women!

Even at this late date, we can find Neocons and Universal Hawks like John McCain advocating that we intervene militarily in Syria. After all, it worked so well for us in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

Now first of all, whom do we support? The cruel Baathist dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, or the Islamofascists of Al-Qaida? Come on, quick! It’s one or the other. Or maybe we can just kill everyone and turn the country into a parking lot for future wars.

I am beginning to think that one characteristic of Americans is that they do not have the ability to learn from experience. Do you suppose it could be all that Oxycontin, or maybe there’s something in that bad beer that most Yanquis drink while watching (un)reality shows on the idiot box? In any case, as soon as the opportunity for another war in a country that we don’t understand (and—really—do we understand any of them?) presents itself, there’s a large contingent all gung ho for getting G.I. boots on the ground.

Let me look in my crystal ball: If we intervene on behalf of Bashar, we will be treated with contempt the world over. If we intervene on behalf of the rebels, we will be allying ourselves with Al-Qaida—and we will be treated with contempt the world over. If we don’t intervene at all, we will be treated with contempt the world over … but we wouldn’t have to bury the charred, exploded remains of thousands of young American men and women. I don’t know, but number three is looking mighty good to me.

The Arab Spring has shown us that the Middle Eastern man in the street wants to live in a democracy like Americans, but they have absolutely no idea of how to get there. The only people who are well organized are either the Islamofascists or the tyrants and their stooges. There are maybe a handful of others, but they are constantly disheartened by the actions of their coreligionists.

I think that the best thing we can do is not rely on the Middle East for anything and just let the people kill one another. Sure, we can send them Band Aids and antiseptics and such, but no weapons and none of our military personnel.

The Tar Baby and the Dead Zones

The Violence Is Inexorably Spreading

The Violence Is Inexorably Spreading

Around the world, in various locations, there are increasingly more dead zones—places where there is no effective governance, where everyday life is characterized by violence and murder, and where there doesn’t seem to be much hope for improvement.

Right now, a distressingly large number of these areas are in North Africa and the Middle East. As recently as a year or two ago, there was hope with the arrival of the Arab Spring. Egypt and Libya look good for a while, but are sinking back into the same old cycle of totalitarian rule accompanied by an increase of Islamic fundamentalism. (Has Islamic fundamentalism ever helped any Muslims—anywhere? at any time?) Somalia continues as a snake pit to be avoided by all, though some light is breaking through. Syria is a basket case that is only getting worse.and threatening to suck in its neighbors.

There are still U.S. legislators (like Senator John McCain of Arizona) who think we should get involved, but I keep remembering the Uncle Remus story of the tar baby:

How to Get Irretrievably Stuck

How to Get Irretrievably Stuck

As you may recall, Br’er Rabbit encounters a stick figure plastered with gooey tar. He asks it some questions. When it doesn’t answer, he gets riled up and starts hitting away at it. But alas, he is hopelessly stuck in the tar and can’t get loose.

Ever since the end of the Second World War, the United States has been getting stuck by such tar babies as Viet Nam, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And what do we have to show for it other than fresh plantings at veterans’ cemeteries around the country.

Increasingly, I am becoming a non-interventionist, at least where “boots on the ground” are involved. We can’t alleviate the mess of these dead zones, but we can certainly get stuck in various “Green Zones” such as the one in Baghdad from which we are afraid to venture out without risking being blown to bits.



Stay the Hell Out of Syria

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire

It’s now official: That crazy old man from Arizona, Senator John McCain, is shopping around for another morass for the U.S. military to get stuck in. Let’s look at the possible consequences:

  1. If we align ourselves with the rebels, we are aligning ourselves with Al Qaeda and Wahhabi Sunni Muslim militants.
  2. Fighting against us would be not only Bashar al Assad, but Hezbollah, the Shi’a, and Iran (indirectly).
  3. Russia is supporting Bashar with weaponry, so we will end up with the best that Putin can throw at us.

I can’t see that either side deserves our support. I would not venture a single American life against the whole lot of them. As much as they say they need our help now, what is to keep the rebels from doing a 180° turnabout whenever it suits whoever is in power during a particular fifteen minute slot.

Not only can we not predict who will win, but we can’t figure out what kind of governance would result. My guess is that it would be another Iraq, with sectarian bloodshed lasting for years to come—and with America, once again, identified as the “Great Satan.”

My belief is that we should provide both sides with medical help and sit back with a box of popcorn to see who comes out on top. That would be a refreshing change of pace for once!


News On Demand

A Horrific Video of Bashar’s Jets Bombing a Village Filled with Refugees

A Horrific Video of Bashar’s Jets Bombing a Village Filled with Refugees

You don’t have to watch Faux News any more to find out what’s going on in the world. Salon.Com has published a link to Ifiles, which contains links to investigative reporting you may not get when you watch rancid sausage being squeezed through Sean Hannity’s lips. I was entranced by two videos currently available:

The first is almost half an hour long and shows footage of a bombing raid by Bashar al-Assad’s air force on the village of al-Bara in the north of Syria. Some dozen or two people were buried under rubble when two heavy bombs hit within 400 meters of each other. Typically, the jets make one pass, and loop around and return about 15-20 minutes later, when a crowd has gathered to dig out the victims of the first blast. We owe this frightening footage to FRONTLINE reporter Olly Lambert, who does a great job showing us the panic and the community spirit of people trying frantically to help one another when they don’t have the wherewithal to do so effectively.

The second was an amusing commentary on the failures of international reporters to get to the bottom of one continuing story: Somali piracy on the high seas. Naturally, it’s too dangerous to go to Somalia; so reporters are going to Kenya and interviewing enterprising Africans (some of whom are in fact Somalis) pretending to be pirates. This way the news media get their story, and the “pirates” get some money to support themselves in their nefarious venture. These pretend pirates have probably never even been in a boat.



Syria’s Hezbollah Connection

Hezbollah Fighters

Hezbollah Fighters

You may recall that, when Israel last invaded Lebanon in 2006, they got a bit of a surprise: the fighters of Hezbollah, “the Party of Allah,” fought them to a standstill. Long used to winning all their armed conflicts with the Islamic world, Israel found itself flummoxed at every turn by a well prepared military force based in undetectable underground bunkers all along the border.

Hezbollah is a Shia paramilitary group, founded and bankrolled by Iran, operating in several states in the Arab world that are mostly Sunni. To ensure their survival amid changing conditions, the Hezbollah made a devil’s bargain with Bashar al-Assad in Syria to help them against the anti-régime rebels. If Syria loses its conflict, Hezbollah fears it will lose its influence to a new Syria in which the political power will rest with the Sunni.

As a step to maintaining its power in Lebanon, Hezbollah has done something it never wanted to do: It became a political party. When you’re predominately an insurgent group, it’s difficult to take care of issues like healthcare, education, and sanitation. The Hezbollah legislators are a quietly sullen group doing what they feel they have to do to survive.

What could happen is that Hezbollah might find that politics are to its liking. And then they will become just another terrorist group (like Kenya’s Mau-Mau and South Africa’s African National Congress) that became legit.