Despite the constant cable news coverage about how a new Trump Doctrine is in effect in the Middle East, alongside Tomahawk cruise missile lifting off from destroyers on the back of plumes of smoke and flame, there is little strategic benefit for the West in this retaliatory strike either to stop Assad or more importantly to weaken Islamic State.
The Khan Shaykhun sarin attack on the 4th of April resulted in at least 74 people deal while injuring over 500 but this is hardly the first use of chemical weapons in the conflict nor is it the most deadly attack. A previous attack during Obama’s presidency killed over 700 but with an unco-operative congress and a president that obeyed the conventions of the use of American military force with congressional approval, rightly or wrongly, there were no consequences for Assad.
There were significant complications with respect to this strike. Russian forces, who have been in Syria since September 2015 following the almost collapse of the Syrian Army, were warned of the attack and they and their aircraft were evacuated from the base. Although there were images of destroyed older Syrian Sukhoi-22s, there are reports that the Russians also warned the Syrian forces who succeeded in evacuating some of their aircraft as well.
Minimal damage was caused to the base itself and its supporting infrastructure. Flight operations were up and running again within 24 hours and this speaks to the ineffectiveness of the weapons used. Tomahawks are precision weapons that are designed to take out three dimension structures, (buildings basically). We all remember watching footage from the nose of these missiles as they flew through windows in Iraq years ago. What they are NOT good for is destroying hardened aircraft shelters where there is open spaces each end for the overpressure to escape and equally, where there is no soft window to fly through before detonation which explains why each shelter was attacked twice.
Equally, Tomahawk cruise missiles are almost completely ineffective against two dimensional structures such as runways, taxiways and aircraft aprons. They do not have the kinetic force of a gravity dropped bomb nor the penetrative ability of the larger bunker buster weapons that can crumple an area the size of a football field and really complicate repairs. It’s these reasons why the Syrian Air Force was back operating from this airfield within a day after filling in what amounted to a number of car sized craters. Tomahawks do not scatter little bomblets around the field to complicate repair efforts nor do they have timed secondary effects designed to kill expensive to train engineers brought in for reconstruction. As such, it was simply a case of fill the hole, stamp it down, lay some tarmac, roll it and get those planes in the air again.
This is not to deny the psychological effect of the strike however. There is little doubt that Assad now knows that a cruise missile flying through his bedroom window is potentially the last thing he will see in this world however the Russian presence within his military infrastructure complicates even that potential action. Syria has been a Russian ally for decades and the relationship was previously seen as a counterweight for American support of Israel and Turkey as well as a useful export market for Soviet weaponry. With the breakup of the USSR and rise of Putin, the Russian Federation has been looking to expand its area of influence that it once enjoyed. Alongside this has been the constant search for warm water ports, particularly in the Mediterranean where its access was limited and strategic options in short supply for its Black Sea fleet that had to transit the Turkish Dardanelles.
The Russian support for the Assad regime as well as its presence at the airfield in Latakia and the port of Tartus finally satisfies Russia’ need for a permanent presence in the waters of the Mediterranean. Equally, recent statements from Russia that it intends to sell Syria its most sophisticated air defence system (S-400 SAM) in its inventory is especially worrying news. This system was initially deployed to Syria in limited numbers following the Turkish shoot down of a Russian aircraft that breached Turkish airspace and was limited to providing defence for Russian assets in the west of the country and remained under Russian control. So why would more of these create any further issues since their range of 400km puts a most of Syria under its umbrella.
Well two important agreements were put in place when Russian forces entered Syria. The first of these was a deconfliction hotline set up between US Central Command in Iraq (co-ordinating authority for coalition airstrikes in to Syria) and Russian Syrian forces command in Tartus. Since the missile strike, (according to news sources) this hotline has been dead and NO co-ordination or deconfliction efforts have taken place between Russia and the USA since that time. Although the likelihood or Russian forces firing on Western aircraft is improbable, Syrian forces would feel no such compunction.
Which brings us to our second agreement. Since the USA expanded its air attacks on Islamic State from Northern Iraq into Syria as well as its ground forces working with Kurdish forces to negate the Turkish invasion of last year, Syrian forces were allowing American aircraft to fly through its airspace unhindered, under the proviso that no Syrian forces were attacked. It’s complicated but worth following. US forces could attack ISIS but not Syrian forces. Syrian forces could attack Syrian rebels (both US backed rebels and Al Qaeda backed factions) as well as ISIS (but did not bother since the Americans were sorting them out), Russia could attack all of the above but again did not bother with ISIS too much. That is why the US backed rebels have no air support from America and limited smalls arms. There’s that word again: deconfliction. US aircraft could go anywhere in Syria to attack ISIS but try and provide close air support to Syrian rebels and you will find a Russian aircraft circling or more likely Syrian helicopters lobbying incredibly destructive barrel bombs over the side. Suffice to say, the agreement that allowed US aircraft such unfettered access to Syria has now ended. An oppositional Syrian air force supplied with the most lethal air defence system in the world and potentially top of the line Russian aircraft in the future, backed up by the Russian air force itself and its veto power at the UN, has just made the Trump goal of destroying ISIS a whole lot harder. I said in a previous post that the only way we would rid ourselves of ISIS was with ground action backed by air support. Both of those just became near to impossible.
But at least Trump got an opportunity to look tough, right?
Yes, it’s been a very long time since my last post and I thought I would come back with the wonder news, at least for me, that the Japanese Film Festival has returned, for its 20th year as well!! This year’s festival has been complicated by the need for babysitting for two kids rather than one and well, let’s just say it requires some juggling and some finances. But enough of that. Down to business.
The opening movie of the festival is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s new film, After the Storm. I am usually a fan of Kore-eda’s work, having loved them all. However, this film was tough going for me. The story centres on Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) who works as an ethically challenged private detective who gambles away his meagre salary and then struggles to pay child support for his son each month.
This downtrodden existence is in contrast to an earlier highlight in his life when he won a prestigious writing prize but it’s hard to imagine from what we see which is a tribute to the acting skills of Abe who even affects a slump in his tall frame which tells us trying how tired the man is with his life. He steals from his mother, played by the national treasure Kirin Kiki, desperate to come up with the required child support that he is meant to deliver to his beautiful but fed up ex-wife Kyoko (Yoko Maki).
This movie is a slow burn and there are parts where the relationships could have been developed more deeply but perhaps deliberately, that was avoided to that the audience could be delivered to the mother’s house just prior to the arrival of the storm of the title. I found myself really hoping that the protagonist could sort himself out and do what needed to be done to repair the relationships around him and we get a glimpse of this with Ryota’s touching if clumsy interactions with his son who knows his father better than the father knows himself. There is also a wonderful moment of shared clarity between the ex-wife and her mother in law that left me deeply affected but sadly, a happy ending is not to be.
I think it’s this point that caused me such difficulty with this movie and I am aware enough to separate that from the quality of the movie itself. As such, I give it 4 stars out of 5.
The sun will rise, and later set
This hard road goes longer yet
My only witness, the damn black dog
At my heels, until the fog
Ahead, three lights call me on
I would make it if I were strong
But the strength left me long ago
The body wants, the mind says No
Nothing but echoes and the dog
I remain lost in this fog
Today I am going to write about something I am very far from being proud of. In fact, its something I cannot stop thinking about which is probably a good thing as a lapse like this should have me thinking long and hard about my reaction.
Today while riding the bus with my toddler daughter sitting on my knee, I had the misfortune to sit next to one of those particular types of arseholes who thinks the bus is their own private lounge room.
This guy was man-spreading and so I asked him to sit normally. His response was along the lines of “I’m comfortable so kindly F*$& off!”. That sort of language in front of my impressionable daughter is bad enough but when he continued leaning in to me when going around the bends as well as letting his knee deliberately bump me for the whole journey really set me off. Its at this time, I should have been the better man. Sadly, to my own shame, I was not.
When it came time to depart, I leaned in closely and very quitely whispered to the guy exactly what level of F*$&wit he was and turned to get off, with my daughter in my arms. It was at this time that this hero pushed me in my back, forcing my daughter and I to fall into the seats opposite. Hence the animal spirits of the title. I let me daughter stay seated and turned around to absolutely clock this guy when another passenger got between us. Clearly words were exchanged and despite my martial arts training, I was ready to discard all rational thought and go to town on this guy but the passenger between us, plus the fact the arsehole was leaving by the rear doors stopped that. I am not saying it was elegant or that I am more noble that him, only that the situation quickly defused before it turned into one of those umpleasant youtube videos we see of two men wrestling on the ground over hurt egos.
By this time, my daughter was sobbing immensely and I realised just what sort of Neanderthal idiot I was being so picked her up and calmed her down. Not ideal at all and although the whole situation was started by some insensitive jerk, I was very far from being the better man. There was no high road taken.
Lesson learnt? By all means, respond to danger to your children quickly and appropriately, but once that danger is past, ratchet down quickly and try to be the type of guy you would want her to marry, rather than the type of guy she fears.
I write this article today in the afterglow of the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French magazine, as well as the sieges that occurred in the aftermath around Paris. And let me state at the outset that I clearly think terrorism is awful, tragic and sadly inevitable for the foreseeable future. I in no way condone violence against anyone, but most particularly for something as inconsequential as being offended by something they say or write.
However, having said that, and in light of the worldwide response to the Paris attacks, I wanted to question the idea behind people voicing their anger at this bloodshed with signs saying Je Suis Charlie (I am Charlie).
I am a supporter of free speech. Most people are. For me, free speech means being able to say, write or in this case, draw, whatever you want. I would draw the line at something designed to promote violent crime such as a paedophile recruitment notice or other such things. Equally, with that right to say what you want comes the responsibility to acknowledge that your free speech may offend some people. (Again, I reiterate that I do not condone murder as a response to free speech you do not like).
The artists and writers of Charlie Hebdo therefore can draw whatever they want and can offend whomever they want and, even if I disagree with what they draw, for me to be consistent with my beliefs, I have to agree with their right to do so. I stress here that I do not need to agree with their content. Speaking more broadly about other publications, just because you have the right to be racist, bigoted, homophobic or anti-Semitic does not mean you should be. Just because you can offend someone does not mean you should.
Satire serves a purpose to shine a light on absurdities and incidents in the civic square that need a light shone on them. When it works, it’s very effective but when it does not work, you just look like an arsehole. Or a bigot. Or a racist. Or an anti-Semite. In the rush to do something about terrorism, and I understand that rush, people are metaphorically standing next to Charlie Hebdo and saying, “yep, I’m with these guys. I am Charlie Hebdo!!”.
If our only response to terrorism is to passionately identify with their targets, regardless of the beliefs of those targets, then surely the Muslims of the world could do with us passionately identifying with them since there have been far more Muslim victims of Jihadist terrorism than non-Muslim. The solutions to terrorism are as complicated and nuanced as their cause. Simply jumping on a social media campaign to assuage our feelings of helplessness seems somewhat lacking and I think Charlie Hebdo would have had some choice words for those who suddenly found them acceptable who in the past did not.
I have held off writing this post for a long time. I was worried that my blog would turn into an anti-liberal whinge session where you, dear reader, would be continually pummelled into political submission, and where I, your earnest scribe, would be sitting here wondering what happened to all the feel good posts about cats, film reviews and holidays. NOTE: I have not posted anything about cats but trust me, I will be getting one in a few years when I move out of my rental and when that happens, look out!
Anyway, back to this post. This one is about clowns. There are five types of clowns. The whiteface, Auguste, contra-Auguste, character clown and the Liberal Prime Minister. Actually, I confess. It’s not really about clowns but it is about Tony Abbott. Again! Hence my initial apprehension. Below I am going to touch on just a few of the issues that surround this poor excuse for a leader at the moment.
“No Cuts to the ABC or SBS”
The Libs have hated the ABC for a long time, but it came into particular focus when they exposed them for lying about the Children Overboard.
The night before he was voted into office, Abbott went on SBS (oh the irony) and said the above quote about no cuts. Low and behold, he announced that the ABC budget would be cost by $254 million over the next 5 years. Not a great deal but still, it’s a lie. He then tried to defend himself by saying it’s not a cut, it’s an efficiency dividend. WTF? He does not even have the courage to admit he lied or the intelligence to come up with a good excuse such as “the situation changed and I needed to go back on what I said to balance the budget”.
Don’t get me started on their proposal that they get to choose the Editor in Chief position. Government interference in editorial control anyone?
School Chaplaincy Program and the Separation of Church and State
Yes, even today in the 21st century, this is still a topic for discussion. Despite Australia being a multicultural and multi-faith country, we have a catholic and former priest in training PM (no problem with that) saying that the state will only fund religious leaders in the school system (BIG problem with that). Now one of my close friends used to be a chaplain in a school but I am sure even he would agree that religious leaders do not have a monopoly on ethics or counselling skills.
The cost of this silliness is about the same as what is being cut from the ABC but it seems some policies are too important to cut and state sanctioned religious counselling of our nation’s youth is one such policy.
GP Co Payment
One of the things that separate us from the animals is free healthcare. Look at the countries that have functioning civil societies and they have one thing in common; socialised health care. We as a society have decided that we are happy to pay taxes so that the government can use its bulk buying power to purchase cheaper drugs and doctor services. It’s a trade-off between that and stepping over the leprosy infected body that slumped up against your door overnight so when Abbott decided that he will charge people $7 for every visit to the doctor, you bet his popularity is going to fall. It doesn’t sound like much and in isolation, it’s not. But with a young child, I have been or have taken her to the doctors at least 15 times this year. $100 is nothing for me but for a single mum with two kids, that’s unacceptable and I am more than happy for some of my taxes to go towards the health of her children. The Liberals tried to wrap it up as an integral part of the Medical R&D fund they wanted to get up and running, but this sort of blackmail never works and especially from a bunch of hypocrites whose grasp of science is faltering at best. And don’t get me started on your lack of a Science Minister, cutting of funds to the CSIRO or that your Environment Minister gets his understanding of science from Wikipedia and won’t be attending the Paris Meeting on Climate Change. Again, WTF?
University Deregulation of fees
Another great thing about Australia that Toby Abbott is trying to ruin is our cheap education. Ideologically, you can argue that the conservative side of politics does not believe in government funding education for the masses. This idea leads to education being available only to those who can afford it. But an educated workforce, particularly in the information age, is a public good, not a private one.
Sure, universities should be able to compete with other universities in the global marketplace but universities are not about competing with other universities to have the best mass spectrometer or science professor or even the most Nobel prize winners. Their job is to produce the best educated workforce to take the country forward and our league tables suggest that we ain’t there. Interestingly, those same league tables suggest that the US is not there yet and they have had expensive degrees for ages.
Paid Parental Leave Scheme
This was a great idea that went too far. Abbott had a woman problem. Actually, let’s refine that. He has an old school attitude to women which has become a problem in the 21st century. What’s the best way to change that? Throw money at them. Now, I am as supportive of helping women achieve equality as the next person and ordinarily would support him in this but when its progressively skewed to help higher earners rather than lower earners, does nothing to alleviate the problems with expensive childcare after the first 6 months and is unaffordable to boot if we do have a so-called budget emergency, then it just appears to be what it is;- a short term thought bubble to get him out of his sexist hole he dug himself. Let’s have real reform, real equality, and less misogyny.
This whole experiment has been a failure and if the Libs actually knew anything about science, and sadly they do not, they would know to throw the microbes in the bin and start again.