Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testified today on Syria. It seems that a large part of the administration’s thinking concerning military intervention touches on the regime’s air defenses.
“That air defense system,” said Panetta, “is pretty sophisticated.”
How sophisticated? “Approximately five times more sophisticated,” says Gen. Dempsey, “than existed in Libya,”
All this talk of sophisticated Syrian air defenses puts me in mind of “Karfan,” author of the now defunct, or perhaps merely stalled, blog, Syria Exposed. Karfan, which means “Disgusted,” started to post around 2005, a moment of real hopefulness throughout much of the Arabic-speaking Middle East. Iraqi elections, Lebanon’s March 14 movement, and the subsequent Syrian withdrawal gave rise to a host of bloggers around the region, writing in English and Arabic. Among the more popular citizen journalists pushing the freedom agenda were “Iraq the Model,” Egypt’s “Big Pharoah” and “Sand Monkey,” and dozens of different Lebanese sites. Syria, as I recall, offered only one blogger of note—the inimitable Karfan.
He posted irregularly and rarely, only 13 times over the period of his brief career. But his audience treasured each post, for their insight, mordant wit, and obvious anger at a world in which no one holds violent thugs responsible for wasting the lives of those whom they rule. More than one reader likened Karfan’s accounts of life under the Assad regime to a Kafkaesque account of the modern Arab nationalist police state.
The blog’s conceit was simple: Its English-language author was ostensibly a friend of Karfan, and narrated his thoughts and ideas:
“The ‘place’ Karfan knows, is very different from the ‘Syria’ we read about. Some people are trying to make the reality more apt for analysis and journalism. Others just want to believe what they know is false. The reality is different. Karfan has lived it and is living it. Here it is in this blog without cover. I am his friend and English writer. I know what he says is true even when I don’t want to believe it.”
Here’s Karfan’s recollection of his time in the Syrian army:
“Back when Karfan was forced to serve his country and waste two years of his already-useless life in the army, he was assigned to a radar unit in Lebanon. That was because his degree was in electronic engineering and all, although he himself did not have the slightest idea what did he study during those years he spent at university. Regardless of that fact, service at a radar station was both the most useless and most dangerous service in the Syrian Army. They were not allowed to ever turn on those junk backward radars the Russians had bullied Syria into buying. If they operate them, the Israelis would detect their location, send missiles and blow the whole thing up. You cannot think of any more useless way to spend a year and a half of your life: you have to sit inside a dead piece of junk that is supposed to detect enemy’s airlines, but you cannot turn it on because if you do, it would be blown away, with you in it of course. The biggest fear was that one asshole up in the upper command, might actually take the risk and order them to turn the radars on one of those days. Every one there knew what would happen then; they code named it: The Suicide Order.”
I’m certainly not suggesting that the Pentagon use Karfan’s post as a basis for military planning, should Obama decide to, say, level the presidential palace in Damascus, or turn the headquarters of Syrian Military Intelligence into rubble. But it should help American policymakers put the Damascus regime into context. This is hardly the formidable adversary that many seem to be imagining. Rather, the Assads and their friends are violent thugs, and nowhere are their evils, pettiness, and stupidity depicted more fully than in Syria Exposed.
Indeed, rereading Karfan for the first time after more than half a decade, it strikes me that you can already feel the revolution starting to take shape. I wish Karfan would pick up his blog where he left off and inherit the rebellion he gave voice to five years before it happened. Come back, Karfan—assuming that, nearly one year into an uprising which has left, by some estimates, more than 10,000 dead, you are still among the living.