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Serious unrest in Syria

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By John Barnhart

    As of this writing, American and allied air and missile strikes on Libya have helped level the playing field, somewhat, for Libyan rebels seeking to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi’s bloodthirsty regime. Although his air power has been neutralized, he still has the upper hand as he has tanks and artillery and the rebels don’t. But, maybe President Barack Obama has a plan to help the rebels in that area, although I wouldn’t count on anything until I see it. I have this strong feeling that he’s flying by the seat of his pants on this one.    

    So far, I think he’s doing the right thing and I’m more than a bit concerned about Speaker of the House John Boehner’s criticism of the president on this subject. It appears that he may be taking a page out of the “Democrats’” playbook — making a political football out of foreign policy. Speaker Boehner should stick to fighting the “Democrats” over the budget and leave foreign policy to the president.
    Meanwhile, there is some serious unrest in Syria. Protests have broken out in Daraa, a city in southern Syria, against Bashar Assad, the country’s dictator. They have been going on for a week and news stories report that protesters have been killed by security forces.
    As of this writing, the protests have been confined to Daraa and the Syrian government has responded by freeing people arrested in conjunction with recent unrest and promising to permit opposition political parties and loosen up press restrictions. The government has also handed out some economic incentives.
    There is a possibility that the Syrian government may try to create a distraction by getting its Hezbollah buddies in Lebanon to provoke a war with Israel. Syria is also closely allied with Iran, so another possibility would be for Iran to get its Hamas buddies in Gaza to provoke a war with Israel.
    At present, militants in Gaza have been sporadically launching rockets into Israel, and the Israelis have made some military responses. So far, the volume of rockets coming out of Gaza is far less than the attacks that provoked a major Israeli military thrust into Gaza at the end of 2008. However, as last week ended, the volume of rocket attacks seem to be increasing. The volume of protest in Syria is also increasing.
    If the Israelis respond to these Palestinian provocations in force, it could provide Assad with an opportunity to draw angry Syrians’ attention away from what his regime is doing domestically. A foreign enemy has always been a handy tool for an oppressive regime to use to keep a lid on domestic discontent. Dictators, from Napoleon Bonaparte to the Communists who ran the Soviet Union, have used it.
    Assad will get his propaganda machine in gear, call Syrians’ attention toward what the Israelis are doing to Palestinians in Gaza (never mind what the Palestinians did to provoke the attack) and away from what he and his cronies are doing to them. Maybe he can generate a rally around the ogre affect with Syrians actually lining up to back him as he portrays himself as standing up for Syrians Muslim Arab bothers who, according to his spin, are being oppressed by the Israelis.
    Of course, Assad will limit himself to bluster. He won’t want to actually get directly involved in a war. That could be dangerous.
    It will probably work for him — but maybe not. The problem with wars is that they don’t always go the way that those who start them anticipate. The controlled burn that he, or his friends in Iran, initiate could get out of control and create a conflagration beyond what they anticipate.