By James Howard Kunstler
There are times in the course of events when a society cannot tell what the fuck is going on, or what to do about it, and this is one of those moments in history here in the USA. The quandaries of life on the home front — how to make a living, how to care for ourselves and loved ones — get shoved aside by misadventures in foreign lands with their own quandaries. One delusion leads to another until you enter a zero gravity of the mind. Case in point du jour: Syria.
The persistent hyperRussomania of the US Dem-Prog alliance and its sob-sisters in the media seeks to make a bad situation worse in Syria and probably for the worst reasons. How many Americans have even the dimmest idea what’s going on in Syria, who the cast of characters there represent, and where the USA fits into all of it?
There is the head of government, one Bashar al Assad (son of the previous president, Hafez al Assad). The Assads had run Syria as a mostly secular Arab state until the civil war within Islam, Sunni against Shia, spilled out of Iraq. The Assads belonged to the tiny Alawite sect of the Shia. They comprise only 13 percent of the Syrian population, which has a Sunni majority. Under the Assads, Syria has tilted toward Iran, the Shia home state, and away from the Sunni Arabs elsewhere in the neighborhood. Russia has cultivated Iran and support its “friends,” the Assads.
A mash-up of Sunni jihad armies fights the Assad government in Syria’s civil war. These are Isis, al Qaeda, and Jabhat al Nusra. The US government had made official noise about supporting the more “moderate rebels” in the Syrian conflict. Who are they exactly? Do you have a clue? Which army among those three rebel groups are “moderates?” And what is their moderate goal under jihad? To topple Assad. And then what? To set up a new theocratic government perhaps? How is it in America’s interests to promote Islamic jihadi theocracy?
One hypothesis is that the struggle is over who gets to run gas and oil pipelines through Syria to get easier access to the Mediterranean Sea and the European energy market. Iran would very badly like to do that. But they are in competition with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the little giant emirate of natural gas. So, you have the Iran/Shia gang on one side and the KSA/Qatar/Sunni on the other side. Anybody who had scanned the news since 1979 can probably tell whose side the US is on. By the way, this hypothesis has had no airing among the mainstream media triumvirate: The New York Times, CNN, and The WashPo. These news orgs won’t even entertain that angle of the story… but as I said, it’s only a hypothesis.
It was not so many weeks ago that President Trump met with the crown prince of KSA at the White House to give assurances of American friendship and support. KSA is supposedly America’s chief ally against Isis in Syria. Yet, KSA and the USA are dedicated to getting rid of the Assad government as well as Isis. That is, we are against both sides in the Syrian civil war. Still wondering why the American public is confused by all this? Do you know who our choice is to replace Assad? Can you name an opposition figure? Of course you can’t. There is nobody. What the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the NSA seem to have in mind is the familiar failed state policy that has worked so well in the past (not).
Which brings us to the curious case of Bashar Assad’s recent supposed poison gas bombing of civilians in Khan Sheikhoun. The media triumvirate was avid to play along with the story. I don’t know about you, but I have to ask myself: what would Assad’s strategic goal be in gas bombing women and children? To gin up worldwide positive PR? To get the Syrian people on his side against Isis and other jihadis? What advantage could Assad possibly gain? In warfare generally, the tacticians strike against military targets. There’s a hypothesis that Assad’s air force sought to strike a rebel arms depot in Idlib province — a military target. The hypothesis goes further, saying that the depot contained phosgene and chlorine gas, but not Sarin. The wind carried these released gases among civilian homes and streets in Khan Sheikhoun. People suffered and died. Evidence for the absence of Sarin gas is that the gassing victims were handled manually by doctors and aid workers in street clothes. Sarin can kill on skin contact and doctors have to treat it in protective gear. So, maybe the gas wasn’t Sarin and maybe it wasn’t dropped in bombs from Assad’s planes. But, like the pipeline angle of the story, this hypothesis is missing in the media triumvirate’s pages.
President Trump was lauded mostly for the missile strike against the Syrian air force base that followed. The Dem/Progs and The New York Times gave him brownie points, if only for it being a swipe against Russia. It seemed so clever, what with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Mar-a-Lago dinner table where, presumably, the subject of the maniac in North Korea came up. Days later, a US aircraft carrier group steamed to the waters off Kim Jong Un’s fortress state. Which brings forth another hypothesis: that the Syria missile strike was solely a demonstration of US military will vis-a-vis the more ominous threat over in Asia — an attempt to get Xi to do something about the Kim Jong Un before we do.
It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out. The big fear is that in the event of a rumble, Kim will turn Seoul into an ashtray. The South Korean capital is only a few miles from the DMZ between the two states. The US couldn’t find a jucier enemy than Kim Jong Un, a character so improbable he might have been dreamed up in a Batman comic. Hence, he’s comprehensible to an American public that more and more looks like the ever-present crowd of perplexed bystanders in a Batman movie.
I was quite surprised to hear that a podcast called “S-Town,” about the dark doings in an Alabama backwater, had become a huge hit on the Web-waves. Back around 2012-2013, I had some email correspondence from John B. McLemore, the tragic figure at the center of the series. He was a real person, referred to by various people in the series as “brilliant,” “a genius,” “a real character,” and he was for sure.
Apparently, he was also a fan of my books. He got my phone number off my website and took to calling me on the phone. I probably had a dozen long phone conversations with him. Hours. It is well-known now that he called his home of Woodstock, Alabama, “Shit-town.” He regaled me with many a sordid tale of the home-folk, and even of himself. The place sounded like Hieronymus Bosch meets Dogpatch. Since John B seemed so unhappy under his mask of hilarity and mirth, I tried to encourage him to think about moving. He always had an excuse for not doing that, but clearly John B and the neighbors he disdained, fought with, looked for love with, had a synergistic thing going. They needed each other to play out their never-ending crazy scripts of cracker mischief, vengeance, and failure. After a while, John B went dark. I thought he’d just gotten tired of me telling him to move.
I was startled to hear in the second episode of the “S-Town” podcast that John B had made good on his constant intimations of suicide. Startled, but not especially surprised. He was more than a fish out of water. He was like a Martian suffocating in an atmosphere too heavy for him. I suspect the truth is there are thousands of places like “S-Town” all over America, places devastated by the poor choices of the last several generations — most particularly the way they threw away their livelihoods and surrendered to one vice after another in boredom, defeat, and self-loathing. It’s a very sad story and it’s not over yet by a long shot.