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Bernie Ziebart

The Engineering Perspective

The blog is a view of life, science, politics and education from an engineering perspective. As engineers, we are taught to view the world objectively. We can hope, believe and calculate a particular outcome, but natural laws are inflexible and pay no heed to who we are or what we believe. We must approach the objective dispassionately, while compensating for our own distorted perceptions. Balance is also a key element; balancing between the ideal and the pragmatic, balancing cost and functionality, balancing analysis with action, etc.

Scheduling routine critical self-analysis is the foundation to objectivity. If we do not fully understand and compensate for our own failures, tendencies, habits and skewed thought processes, we will not see the world as it is. Without a regular critical self-analysis we will see the world as we are and then fall prey to self-delusion.

Failure is a great teacher. When failure is coupled with perseverance, it produces the fruit of patience and humility. An engineer, fresh out of engineering school is typically set up for failure early and often. The failure breaks the new engineer of any ideas of self-importance, arrogance and book smarts. Only then can the new engineer be formed and molded into a productive element in the industry.


The Syrian conflict

I have been following the conflict in Syria with great interest and I am trying to get an understanding of the cause of this conflict and how it will affect the region. US media sources have implied that the conflict is a natural home-grown rebellion against the dictatorship of Assad.   Of course, I believe that this is a much more complex issue.  

Forces aligning with the Syrian rebels:

  • Saudi Arabia and Qatar have both pledged $300 million in support of overthrowing the Assad regime
  • Turkey has provided bases for training the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
  • Egypt and Libya are supplying the surplus weapons to the FSA
  • NATO and the US are actively supporting the rebels
  • Sunni Muslims
  • An economic depression has created fertile grounds for anti-government resentment

Forces aligning with the Assad regime:

  • Iran has provided weapons and funding to Assad
  • Russia has provided weapons and military intelligence to Assad.
  • China has been a vocal supporter of Assad and has denounced the rebels.
  • The minority population in Syria consisting of Alawite Muslims, Druze, Christians, Kurds, Shi’ite Muslims and Jews are fearful that the Islamist rebels will follow the lead of Egypt once they have control

Israeli position:

The official Israeli position is that they are neutral on the conflict. But Israel has been at war with the Syrian funded Hezbollah for many years and Israel is officially still at war with Syria since 1974. According to an IDF website, Israel is concerned that if the Assad regime is toppled, Syria could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists and engage in a cold war similar to Egypt. Others, however, see a regime change in Damascus as serving Israeli interests because the effect would be Iran's loss of its key regional ally. 

Unlike the Egyptian revolution, in which most Israelis agreed that the overthrow of Mubarak was bad for Israel, there is no such consensus about the overthrow of Assad.

What we know:

  • In 2011, a contract was signed between Iran, Iraq and Syria to build a natural gas pipeline by 2016 from Iran’s giant South Pars field to the Syrian Mediterranean coast in order to supply Europe with natural gas.
  • Turkey is the current exporter of natural gas to Europe, originating from the Russian oil fields and the Caspian Basin.
  • The Ba’ath party has a long history of conflict with Islamist extremists and Salafists. This includes the 1982 crack-down in the city of Hama; known as the Hama massacre by Sunni Muslims.
  • A treaty of mutual assistance was signed between Tehran and Damascus
  • With the rise in tension between Iran and the Gulf states, the US has benefited greatly. The latest contracts to sell F-15 fighter jets to the Royal Saudi Air Force is valued at $30 billion, the United Arab Emirates bought an anti-missile system and Chinook helicopters worth $4.5 billion, and Oman ordered fighter planes for $1.4 billion.
  • The US is paying massive amounts of foreign aid to Middle East countries. This includes $1.56 billion annually to Egypt.
  • The total value of Syrian contracts with the Russian defense industry likely exceeds $4 billion, according to Jeffrey Mankoff, an adjunct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies Russia and Eurasia Program.
  • China and Russia vetoed another Security Council resolution in October that would have called for the condemnation of Assad for the Syrian conflict.  
  • The Russian-Syrian economic trade exceeds $20 billion annually
  • The German newspaper Bild had revealed that members of the BND (German intelligence) stationed on ships near the Syrian and Lebanese coast and at the NATO base near Adana collect intelligence on the movement of Syrian government troops and share this information with the forces of the FSA 
  • Elements of al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood have surfaced in Syria among the FSA forces.
  • The EU has slapped an oil and arms embargo against Syria
  • Obama had created an executive order to impose sanctions against Syria

Claims by Assad:

Assad had claimed that the unrest in Syria is not an uprising but a Qatari-instigated aggression designed to dominate the country and ensure Qatari access to the Mediterranean Sea for its gas export.

Position of US politicians:

  • Senator John McCain has been leading the charge to declare war against the Assad regime.
  • President Obama expressed great concerns about the alleged atrocities committed by the Assad regime.
  • Hillary Clinton has indicated support for the FSA
  • Representative Ron Paul has been critical of the US sanctions against Syria and the administrations’ support of the FSA 

Four main voices have emerged to provide objective data about the conflict;

Professor Michel Chossudovsky, director of Centre for Research on Globalization

Jonathan Steele, former foreign editor of the Guardian and Middle East analyst 

Aleksey Pushkov, the chair of the Russian parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs

Professor Guenter Meyer is chairman of the German Middle East Studies Association (DAVO), president of the European Association for Middle Eastern Studies (EURAMES), and chairman of the International Advisory Council of the World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES).

The best summation of the situation:

Patrick Seale, Middle East analyst wrote, “The Middle East is facing an acute danger of war, with unpredictable and potentially devastating consequences for the states and populations of the region. A "shadow war" is already being waged - by Israel and the United States against Iran; by a coalition of countries against Syria; and by the great powers against each other. A mere spark could set this tinder alight.” 

My opinion:

Syria has had the misfortune of being the host of a major conflict between multiple nations: Iran against Saudi Arabia and the US and NATO against Russia. And the Islamic extremists are at war with the secular government. Syria appears to be chosen because of its strategic alliances.   It appears that the sponsoring Middle East nations are vying for control and the US and Russia are vying for the defense contracts, as well as US opposition to Iran. Turkey is in it to be the sole supplier of natural gas to Europe.  About 10 nations have a vested interest in the conflict in Syria and are pouring fuel on the fire.  

This conflict is similar to the Vietnam War in which Vietnam was essentially the host nation for the US-China war. But in this case the US is creating strange bed fellows. In an attempt to oppose and isolate Iran it finds itself in league with Islamic extremists. 

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