December 20, 2011, midday

War rumblings -- North Korea, Iran and Syria

North Korea

The latest indications from N. Korea, now ostensibly headed by Kim Jon Un, the son, are that he has sealed off N. Korea's border with China. This stops trade across the border and if there is instability, stops the flux of N. Koreans refugees into China.

Any instability within N. Korea will result in massive movement of refugees into China and S. Korea. The U.S. may be lacking sufficient intelligence about the hermit kingdom. China, on the other hand, knows the score. The late father Kim met frequently with the Chinese government and introduced his son to them. China guarantees 90% of Pyongyan’s investments, accounts for 80% of its trade and boost its food and energy. It pays N. Korea for iron ore and coal. 

China shares 900 miles of border with N. Korea and seems to rather pay the price to support N. Korea, instead of risking refugees flooding across the border, fleeing political instability and/or foraging for food.  Any provocative moves by S. Korea, in fact, or moves just perceived  to be provocative by paranoiad N. Korea could cause N. Korea to attack or even launch another nuclear missiles test.  N. Korea has about 6 atom bombs and missiles that have a reach to Japan and probably to the U.S. shore.

N. Korea's stock-in-trade is its blackmail technique supported by its malleable population -- it blackmails China with unrest and refugees and blackmails Asia the U.S. with its nuclear tests.

After Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping launched reforms, creating an extremely wealthy China.  Will Kim Jon Un do the same?  He is unlikely to get out of his father's rut and who would risk pulling N. Korea out of its pit, unless there is a guarantee of regime change.

Panetta radically changes course on Iran

In a CBS interview on December 20, 2011, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said, "Despite the efforts to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program, they have reached a point where they can assemble a bomb in a year or potentially less. That's a red line for us and that's a red line, obviously, for the Israelis." Panetta warned, “If we have to do it we will deal with it." Panetta has changed his tune.  On December 2, 2011, he told the Brookings Institute crowed that attacking Iran’s nuke facility’s would deter its nuclear bomb program for no more than one or two years and would disrupt the world’s economy.  He referred to a nuclear-armed Iran as mainly a concern for Israel, whereas America's concern would be the interruption of the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf.  Excerpts from the Panetta CBS interview where he talks war:

Pelley: So are you saying that Iran can have a nuclear weapon in 2012?

Panetta: It would probably be about a year before they can do it. Perhaps a little less. But one proviso, Scott, is if they have a hidden facility somewhere in Iran that may be enriching fuel.

Pelley: So that they can develop a weapon even more quickly...

Panetta: On a faster track....

Pelley: Than we believe....

Panetta: That's correct.

Pelley: If the Israelis decide to launch a military strike to prevent that weapon from being built, what sort of complications does that raise for you?

Panetta: Well, we share the same common concern. The United States does not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. That's a red line for us and that's a red line, obviously, for the Israelis. If we have to do it we will deal with it.

Pelley: You just said if we have to do it we will come and do it. What is it?

Panetta: If they proceed and we get intelligence that they are proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon then we will take whatever steps necessary to stop it.

Pelley: Including military steps?

Panetta: There are no options off the table

Pelley: A nuclear weapon in Iran is...

Panetta: Unacceptable.

Panetta also told CBS News that while Iran needs a year or less to assemble a weapon, he has no indication yet that the Iranians have made the decision to go ahead.

Hillary’s Clinton’s latest round of crippling sanctions against Iran may not be working. In the Dec. 20 CBS interview, Panetta did not mention sanctions or escalating them to embargo Iran’s oil trade or blacklisting its central bank.  On Dec. 16, President Obama met with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Washington, while Panetta was meeting with Turkish leaders in Ankara, at which time Syria and Iran were obviously topics. Because the option of regime change Syria is looming, and Iran backs Syria, the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapon could halt any regime change in either country. On December 5, former Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Turki al-Faisal said that Riyadha was developing its own nuclear weapon because Israel and Iran would not give up theirs. Turkey has also been rumbling that it wants to develop nukes. The U.S. was brutally stung by Iran’s taking down the American RQ-170 stealth drone on Dec. 4 – as close to an act of war as it gets. N. Korea’s new leader, the son Kim Jong Un may step up assistance with nukes to Iran and Syria -- N. Korea has assisted them in the past.  A Mideast nuclear arms race such as that between India and Pakistan is in the heated works.

Of course, what is most important to Obama is that he not be shamed by Iran in the midst of his re-election campaign, --by Iran taking down another drone, or worse, conducting a nuclear test or that he be shamed by N. Korea's baby-faced son test-firing more nukes or missiles. Obama would find himself in a a wag-the-dog situation and his propensity to strike fast and hard with the U.S. military, especially its covert branches, and with the CIA’s intervention forces, is his signature.

Syria faces regime change launched out of Turkey.

On December 20, nearly 50 people were killed in Syria, two days before 150 Arab League officials are due to arrive on Thursday to monitor Syria’s stemming the bloodshed.  Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby told Reuters in Cairo, “In a week's time, from the start of the operation, we will know (if Syria is complying)." Meanwhile, 23 were killed fighting President al-Assad’s forces in the northern province of Idlib on the Turkish border, and 14 members of his forces died in a rebel ambush in the south. The Syrian opposition has underground bases at the Turkish-Syrian border. Syrians are fleeing into Turkey. One refugee camp is in the village of Yayladagi.

On December 20, 2011, the Syrian air force and navy held live fire exercises.

U.S. sanctions have caused the Syrian pound to drop 17% of what it was before the crisis and the Syrian economy is hurting -- the ministries are cutting their expenditures by 25%.

According to Today’s Zaman (Turkish media) of December 11, 2011 as obtained in a report by Sabah Daily Sunday, Syria armed its medium-range missile arsenal with a 1,200 kilometer range with 600 one ton chemical warheads to deter foreign intervention and deployed 21 missile launchers along the Syria-Turkey border. Today’s Zaman reported:

According to the daily, the Syrian military keeps its stockpile of chemical warheads in secret facilities in and around the capital city of Damascus. In mid-November, President Assad held a special meeting with top commanders of the Syrian army and argued over how to respond to a possible military intervention by the international community. Additionally, Russia, which stood by the Assad regime’s defiance of international pressure on Damascus, sent 3 million gas masks to the troubled country. Most of those masks will be distributed to the regime’s loyalists, the families of soldiers and Baath supporters. The distribution of the masks is set to be completed by the end of December, according to the daily.

Syria is believed to have had a chemical weapons arsenal for more than three decades. Following heavy defeats against Israel in conventional warfare, international defense sources believe that following the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Hafez al-Assad, the former general of the Syrian Air Force, decided to bolster Syria’s strategic position through the development of ballistic missiles to counter Israel’s superiority in conventional warfare. The unchallenged superiority Israeli air forces led Syrian generals to push for other means to protect the regime. From then on, Syria has launched clandestine efforts to develop chemical warheads with ballistic missile delivery systems.

Turkey is a staging ground for U.S. intervention to back regime change in Syria.  Turkey, of course, can also invade. Several weeks ago, Secretary of State Clinton called for regime change and predicted a civil war. If the mostly secular regime of al-Assaid fails, Sunni vs. Shia vs. Alwaite civil war will result.

NATO and the U.S. are already covertly involved in a Syrian war. Turkey’s foreign minister Ahmet Davitoglu said his country is ready to invade as soon as Western allies agree.It is likely the “responsibility to protect” doctrine, created and used by Obama in Libya will constitute the surface reason to invade. The first order of battle will be establishment of an expanding buffer zone at the Syria- Turkey border.   Allepo, Syria’s biggest city, will be the opposition’s main target. Meanwhile, NATO warplanes are arriving in Turkey near Iskenderum, the seat of the Free Syrian Army, part of the Syrian national Council, and are delivering weapons and troops from the Libyan Transitional National Counsel.  U.S., French and British special operations are assisting the rebels.

by Walt Whitman

Beat! beat! drums!—Blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows—through doors—burst like a ruthless force.
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation;
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet—no happiness must he have now with his bride;
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, plowing his field or gathering his grain;
So fierce you whirr and pound, you drums—so shrill you bugles blow.

Beat! beat! drums!—Blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in the streets:
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? No sleepers must sleep in those beds;
No bargainers’ bargains by day—no brokers or speculators—Would they continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums—you bugles wilder blow.

Beat! beat! drums!—Blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley—stop for no expostulation;
Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer;
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man;
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties;
Make even the trestles to shake the dead, where they lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump, O terrible drums—so loud you bugles blow.

                                       Wouterman, White Horse