Former NATO Commander Argues against Syria Strike

To the embarrassment of sane Canadians everywhere, Canada’s Prime Minister Harper is one of a tiny minority of world leaders foolish enough to clamor for military intervention in Syria.

Douglas Macgregor, retired U.S. Army Colonel and director of NATO joint operations for the Kosovo air campaign, argues about why such intervention will probably make no positive impact and more likely make matters worse.


I gather you think it is not a good idea for any kind of a strike in Syria, so let’s begin there: why is that?

We have no compelling strategic interest that justifies the use of force inside Syria.

There are two wars going on right now in the region. One is the civil war in Syria, and that’s between the Sunni Islamists on one side, aligned with Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, funded by Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and Turkey — and on the other side, a secular dictator whose protecting the various minority groups inside the country — Christians, Alawites, Shia — who most certainly will be annihilated if the Sunni Islamists expel him from office. We have no interest in, frankly speaking, any side being the victor, but we have spent the last 12 years killing the same people Mr Assad is currently fighting.

And then on a regional level, you have the larger war with Iran on one side, Saudi Arabia and Turkey on the other — the Sunni-Shia War.

What about responsibility to act though? We heard from the White House spokesperson earlier that the world has to act because, as he says, we know the administration in Syria has used chemical weapons more than one time. Is it not a case of having to go in a prevent further chemical attacks?

Well first of all, I don’t think you can, and in fact if you remove Mr Assad and his opponents win (who will benefit from any attacks that we launch) they will certainly gain control of the chemical weapon stocks and turn them against their enemies, which include Israel. So I don’t see how our intervention is somehow morally justified. These people could have just been slaughtered by machine guns and artillery fire. Indeed thousands and thousands of civilians, men, women and children, have died in this civil war since the beginning, so I find this an exercise in hypocrisy frankly.

It certainly sounds as if the US administration is at the ready for some kind of military intervention, so let’s talk about a “what if” scenario then. How would the US work with its allies in the region in that case?

First of all I don’t think we’ll have to work much with our so-called “allies” in the region. We will inform them of our intentions if we decide to launch these strikes, but most of these strikes will be launched from offshore, by naval platforms, various kinds of ships, and various aircraft that can launch cruise missiles without any violation of Syria’s airspace.

The Turks are no doubt very anxious to see the Sunni Islamists win in Syria, and also anxious to see them win in Egypt, will no doubt allow us to fly strikes from Turkish soil if we choose to do so. But these are very limited strikes, strikes designed to attack targets that we think are remote from civilian centers.

So how would they go about targeting? Especially if the goal is to prevent any further use of chemical weapons? That obviously comes with some huge challenges itself.

You’re not going to stop the use of chemical weapons in the future through strikes of the type that we are likely to launch. You would have to use frankly an enormous amoutn of explosive, ultimately even a low-yield nuclear warhead, in order to guarantee the destruction of chemical stocks, because you want to effectively burn them up and make them unusable in the future. We can’t really do that with the numbers of cruise missiles that we might launch. In fact if you are not careful you can make matters worse by causing chemicals to explode and be used accidentally. I think what we’ll do is focus on what we think are Mr Assad’s command and control nodes, his forces — things that we think we can identify with reasonable certainty  are not near civilian centers. We obviously do not want to cause the death of civilians.

As we know more than 100,000 people have lost their lives in this conflict. How tough would it be to avoid civilian casualties?

Well I think it would be very tough, and your point is well taken. We’re trying to tiptoe if you will through a minefield. And again, I don’t see any evidence that strikes will change the facts on the ground. Will they help the Sunni Islamists, allied with Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia? Probably. But will it be enough to bring down Mr Assad? That seems doubtful.

The larger problem is how does the rest of the world react? You mention people in London, Washington, and Paris who are a minority of people who think they should act as imperial policeman, essentially behaving as a large nanny-state in the world arena. Inside the United States there is virtually no support among the American people for this, and we don’t quite know how the Russians will react, or Iran. But we know one thing: If we launch these strikes, Mr Assad has no absolutely incentive to exercise any restraint. In fact the opposite is the case, we are likely to see much worse in the future.

So are you saying that you think the best option for President Barack Obama right now is no option at all? That the world has to sit back and potentially see more images such as those we’ve seen coming out of Syria in the last week — hundreds of people, children, women, killed by chemical attacks?

London, Paris, and Washington are not the world , let’s get that straight. They don’t speak for the world — they speak for themselves. This is a small minority of people who think they are morally superior to everyone else. There is nothing nice about civil wars. The civil war in the United States was far worse than anything you’ve seen in Syria. Civil wars are “no quarter given” conflicts. There are no good guys in the civil war. There is a winner and a loser. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, you probably shouldn’t watch. But as far as our intervention is concerned, the only thing we can do is make matters worse and then ultimately look ridiculous at the other end of the strikes, when things get worse and we end up changing nothing.

You talk about the limited of capacity of airstrikes to have any effect on the chemical weapons. I wonder if the US does see a scenario where there is intervention, if there was boots on the ground — and the White House says “that’s not our plan” — but in your opinion would that be a better way to go to try and get at those chemical weapons and make sure they don’t get in the hands of anyone?

If you intervened in Syria, you’d have to use a lot of armor — tanks and armored fighting vehicles — to get into the country and execute the kind of mission you’re outlining. If you use boots on the ground, that is men with rifles, you’ll simply get large numbers of people killed and you won’t accomplish very much.

The real question is why would we do that to begin with? Where is the strategic interest on the part of the United States to do that? I don’t think there is one. The country in the region with an interest in what you’re describing is Israel, and the Israelis have been very prudent so far. They see no reason to intervene in this conflict for the reasons we’ve already covered. They understand if they embroil themselves in this they’ll be shot at from every side by everyone, as we would be. So I don’t see any good options and I think that’s why the president has said there will be no ground forces.

You touch on the effect on the region if there are strikes, and President Assad in Syria has warned that the entire Middle East would be affected. What kind of scenario would we be looking at then on the neighboring countries in the region?

We have to be careful of the hyperbole. Russia has said this would be a military catastrophe. No, I don’t think that’s accurate. Quite frankly the people who are most interested are those in the immediate vicinity: the Turks, Lebanon, Iraq. Their interests vary tremendously. They’re the ones with the greatest interests, they’re the ones dealing with refugees, Jordan as well. Israel has an interest. But beyond those countries, no one really cares what happens in Syria to be perfectly blunt. It just doesn’t affect the rest of the world. So I discount the regional war scenario. I think this is hyperbole designed to persuade everyone to stay away. I happen to agree that we should all stay away from it. But having said that, I don’t see a major regional war erupting as a result of all this.

 — Watch the interview at CBC — 


Mini-Review: CBC Documentary “The Secret World of Gold”

On April 18, CBC aired a documentary called “The Secret World of Gold.” Though flawed, the program was interesting and covered many issues.

Here are some things talked about in the documentary:

  • The Bank of Canada has sold almost all our country’s gold over the last 30 years.
  • Underwater treasure hunts for gold.
  • Secret government deals to control gold.
  • Futures market manipulation (this was by far the weakest part of the show — the futures market is not explained and the case made for manipulation is very thin).
  • Buildings with gold windows.
  • Wars for gold.
  • How Chavez got all Venezuela’s gold back from the US and Europe
  • Gold shifting to the East from the West
  • Death gold from Nazi extermination camps (some of which was used to fill Hitler’s teeth — WTF).
  • Allocation of central bank gold holdings — who owns the gold? Is the gold even there?

Think about taking 45 minutes out of your weekend to check it out. You can watch it here for free, the only drawback is there are a few dumb CBC ads.

UPDATE: You no longer need to watch it at CBC. The copyright police got to “The Secret World of Gold” on YouTube, so it looks like you have to watch on CBC…

Thatcher Was No Friend of Capitalism and Freedom

After a week of Thatcher worship, it’s not too late to insulate ourselves against all the post-death propaganda.

Rothbard on Thatcher:

Thatcherism is all too similar to Reaganism: free-market rhetoric masking statist content. While Thatcher has engaged in some privatization, the percentage of government spending and taxation to GNP has increased over the course of her regime, and monetary inflation has now led to price inflation. Basic discontent, then, has risen, and the increase in local tax levels has come as the vital last straw. It seems to me that a minimum criterion for a regime receiving the accolade of “pro-free-market” would require it to cut total spending, cut overall tax rates, and revenues, and put a stop to its own inflationary creation of money. Even by this surely modest yardstick, no British or American administration in decades has come close to qualifying.

Greenwald on Thatcher:

Whatever else may be true of her, Thatcher engaged in incredibly consequential acts that affected millions of people around the world. She played a key role not only in bringing about the first Gulf War but also using her influence to publicly advocate for the 2003 attack on Iraq. She denounced Nelson Mandela and his ANC as “terrorists”, something even David Cameron ultimately admitted was wrong. She was a steadfast friend to brutal tyrants such as Augusto Pinochet, Saddam Hussein andIndonesian dictator General Suharto (“One of our very best and most valuable friends”).

Raimondo on Thatcher:

Thatcher’s effect on the British right seems, in retrospect, to have been minimal: she wanted to bring off a “free market” revolution in the British welfare state, but instead wound up merely speeding the country down the road to serfdom. Paradoxically, where she had her greatest effect was on the Labor Party: her greatest success was cementing the “Atlanticist” foreign policy consensus presently shared by all the mainstream parties.

Ron Paul in Calgary

Last Friday, I attended the Ron Paul speech at the “Making Alberta Safe for Capitalism” summit.  This was at the Westin Ballroom in downtown Calgary. I was among approximately 300 attendees, which included financial professionals, publishers, IT nerds, engineers, students, neocons, and more.

I would like to note how this attracted virtually NO media attention. I do not think there is any “conspiracy” here — rather, it is simply due to Ralph Klein’s memorial service being held at the same time. We all know how the media loves to fill its time with the glorification dead politicians whenever the opportunity presents itself. This week, they’ve got Thatcher.

Besides, Ron Paul’s ideas make Canadians uncomfortable. Most people don’t want to talk about such things.

Ron Paul’s speech was basically what you would expect if you’ve been following him for the last few years. I’ve been watching Ron Paul’s political career since 1998, so I was very familiar with all the themes: personal responsibility, free markets, small government, anti-war, and anti-central banking. Still, it was great to pay respects to someone who is more than just an honorable statesman (a contradiction in terms when applied to anyone else), but a man whose efforts have done more for the liberty movement than anyone else in the modern era.

Having retired from politics, this was Ron Paul without any filter that might have previously been imposed by the realities of being in political office. Yet since his message has always been fundamentally radical, there was no difference with post-politics Ron Paul. The message is just as unfavorable to economic, social, and imperial intervention as ever.

At various points throughout the speech, I would look around to gauge the response to certain statements. How delightful to see various attending neocons squirm uneasily when Paul declared there should be no income tax. Some folks scowled at the suggestion to replace government welfare entirely with private charity. Otherwise, the ideas of less spending, less tax, less regulation, and more civil liberties were received favorably. Paul age and manner makes is a kind, wise grandfatherly figure — part of his great success is due to his ability to convey radical arguments in favor of liberty while making them seem completely non-controversial.

The biggest opportunity that was missed in Dr Paul’s speech was HEALTHCARE. If there is a sacred cow in Canadian politics, it’s definitely government healthcare. Without a doubt, government healthcare is a disaster, and Canadians need to learn why it will always be awful regardless of the huge piles of money thrown at it. Unfortunately, healthcare was not covered at all in Dr Paul’s remarks. Too bad. Huge missed opportunity, I think.

He is a medical doctor and an economist who can speak with authority on the failings of public healthcare. He is also old enough to speak about American healthcare system before the government became heavily involved. Before Medicaid, Medicare, the HMO Act of ’73, and so on, there was relatively little government intervention with the provision of healthcare. Basic medical services were cheap and plentiful, and a greater portion of the population had health insurance compared with now. The audience would have greatly benefited from hearing his insights on this subject. He has effectively explained the necessity of free markets in medical care — it is a message Canadians desperately need to hear from somewhere. Virtually no one will touch the issue of public healthcare in this country. We will all be worse off as long as this condition persists.

I would have also liked to hear more war-related remarks. Essentially, anything that applies to the US wasting lives and money on Afghanistan applies to Canada as well. Paul spoke about Iraq more than Afghanistan — which is fine in and of itself, but Canada was not seriously involved in Iraq. Our participation in Afghanistan is another story. Sadly, Afghanistan is an issue that people barely seem to care much about. If they do, it’s because they are dumb enough to think we have Canadian forces there “fighting for our freedom.” Yuck. The lack of interest is even more critical now, because Obama has declared he is “bringing the troops home” in 2014. This is typical government strategy: declare “victory!” and suddenly no one cares anymore. Just like Iraq, where there was never any “victory”, and as I write this the country continues tearing itself apart.

Ron Paul’s speech included a few “fanservice” parts for the Calgarian audience:

He said, “Ralph Klein sounds like a guy I might have liked.” Fair enough, given the memorial was that day, and Klein actually did cut spending at one point.  So that’s cool, whether or not Klein was a principled friend of liberty.

He also gave his support to the Keystone XL — with the important qualification that one can get the permission of property owners, the government should not stand in the way of pipeline construction. This is an rather critical proviso, because in reality pipeline construction does involve government takings/expropriations. Remember: in Canada, the Crown owns all the land as a matter of law.

Anyone who attended this event specifically for Ron Paul could be described as “cutting-edge.” Canadians are not generally ready for the radical Paulian message. For many Americans, there is the emotional connection to ideas of independence, revolution and decentralization, even these are not embraced in practice. The Paulian message can get its hooks in that. For Canadians, the state is endlessly glorified in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. There is no element within our culture that reinforces skepticism about state power. The closest thing to this is Albertans’ memories of the NEP, but that is a regional sentiment and it is being gradually overwhelmed with the pleas for more government.

I hope that the mere fact that Ron Paul has visited Canada to give pro-capitalism speeches indicates that there is a growing audience for the message of liberty in this country. Just as the 20th century demonstrated communism was a lie, the 21st century will show us that democracy is a lie. Democracy’s death throes will be earth-shattering. Liberty’s natural elite must spread and shine the light through dark times, so that a better age may yet emerge.

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