Weekend Wrap-up

1) The Bomb Didn’t Beat Japan…Stalin Did: The most interesting read of the week goes to Ward Wilson’s argument in Foreign Policy that the Japanese surrender had far more to do with the Soviet Union’s entry into the Pacific Theater than with the dropping of the atomic bombs. Revisionist bits like this are nothing new, and the debate on Japan’s surrender has raged on for more than half a century. However he does make a convincing case, which I encourage you to read. But in the end, Wilson is not completely right or completely wrong; there is no silver bullet in history that explains a particular event. Whether you agree with him or not, the significance of the question of surrender and the experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are at the heart of everything we think about nuclear weapons.

2) Syria’s future tied to freedom for captured Christian leaders: Prior to the Syrian conflict roughly 10% of Syria’s population was Christian. If the Christian community wants any future as a tolerated minority in their home-country, the release (or lack-thereof) of two Orthodox Christian bishops may decide their fate. Moreover, while uncertain now, the future for any minority group’s survival in Syria, be it religious, social or political are also at stake. But the op-Ed calls for the Turkish government to negotiate their release. Considering what they have been doing to their own minority Orthodox Christian community, this may be wishful thinking; or you can make the argument that Turkey does not want any more Christians in their country, and the threat of Syrian-Christian refugees flooding their country may be enough for Ankara to push for a guarantee the Ancient Church has a future.    

3) The most embarrassing graph in American drug policy: A few decades and hundreds of billions of dollars later, the policy community has little to show for their argument that billions of dollars spent on supply-side narcotics interdiction works. The theory of “Incarceration is a proxy of risk” is not being played out in the real world.

4) Another piece on Turkey this week, but only because of the monumental historical event that took place: The Fall of Constantinople. On May 29, 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks. The fall of the city marked the end of the Byzantine Empire and the significance of this cannot be overstated. Some have argued that many Byzantines fled to Italy, bringing with them ancient literature, philosophy and art that would culminate into the Renaissance. As the new capital of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople became a symbol of Islamic power, and the religion gained a foothold in Eastern Europe. The Fall is celebrated by Turks to this day, as it marks the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire. In recent years, fears of a “neo-Ottoman revival” have been circulated but I don’t buy it; that assumes Turkey completely dominates the Middle East again, which is unlikely. What is more likely however, is Turkey’s “soft power” in politics, economics, and diplomacy. Turkey may very well be the key to a more stable Middle East. 

Syria and the Israeli Mind

Some speculate that the Israeli airstrikes in early May were tied with a message to the Iranians. A less conventional reason is tied to the operational/tactical reasons for the strike: to send a message to the U.S., the U.N., and anyone else that has called for restraint against significant intervention, citing sophisticated Syrian air-defenses as a chief reason. Israel just proved to the world that the Assad regime is but a shell of its former self and cannot protect its own airspace.  A no-fly zone and/or an airstrike, therefore, is back on the table.

Some have wrongly speculated that this is the beginning of an alliance between the rebels and Israel. But the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” argument does not hold water here. Israel has had a relatively stable informal security understanding with the Assads, granted, with some flare-ups every now and then and it would much rather deal with the “devil you know” than something far more unstable and unpredictable.

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The truth is that there are no good options in Syria. Do nothing and the war drags on indefinitely. Funnel money, arms and training to the rebels, the best fighters of which have ties to al-Qaeda, and blowback is inevitable. There are also reports of Russia considering equipping the Syrian regime with sophisticated anti-aircraft systems, helping rule out Western intervention. Israel has conveyed that it would consider destroying such shipments before they reach the regime’s forces.

Israel has a long history of preemptive attacks to set back weapons programs, facilities, convoys, etc to protect its very survival.  This strike is a continuation of its policy to prevent weapons systems from getting into the hands of its enemies that are capable of striking the country. Given the fact that Hezbollah has formally committed to the Assad regime’s survival, count on Israel continuing with the status quo: not involving itself in an all-out war, but conducting limited strikes if it feels its security is being threatened.