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My Favourite Planet > Blogs > Edwin Drood's Column > May 2013
back Edwin Drood's Column
7 May 2013
  Que Sarin sera!

DROOD
3

YEARS
In which Drood considers the role that a Nazi nerve gas may finally play in the future, post-conflict, organisation of the Middle East as well as in its ongoing, provocative dialogue with the West.
 
 
President Obama has called it a “red line”, which seems to be his soundbite equivalent of Mr Bush senior’s “line in the sand” speech, presaging what this author already referred to at the time as the “First Gulf War”. For weeks, months, more than a year, the world has wondered whether, when and how the US would engage in Syria. In view of America’s lack of credence in the Arab world in general, it was hoped by some that such engagement would be a highly significant step, once again placing the military might of a country that regularly celebrates its republican and revolutionary credentials on the side of a popular revolt against a repressive regime. America, these pundits argue, could restitch several scraps of a reputation shredded by indecision in Somalia and Sudan, wobbly cycling along the central reserve in Libya and Egypt and crass service to the national interest, at least as perceived at the time, in Iraq.

If only things could be so simple. Enter Sarin, one of Adolf’s cheap and nasty little discoveries and the disgruntled Japanese guru’s chemical of choice. It has been called the “poor man’s atomic bomb” and its emergence into international politics may turn out to be even more deadly and far-reaching than its obvious effects. So far it has effectively skewered all sides in Syria’s vicious civil war, ever since the office of Carla Del Ponte attributed its use to the rebel side, in contradiction of a previous US intelligence report (and we know how good those are, right?) insisting that government forces were spraying it near Aleppo, a city whose name is forever connected in my mind with Macbeth’s witches and various recipes involving eye of newt ... for all I know, an essential ingredient in the concoction of this asphyxiating nerve gas.

An obvious reaction, after the various denials have been batted around, would be to withdraw from the issue entirely. The Middle East is a can of worms, hand’s up if you didn’t know that already. However, notice that I said “skewered all sides” not “both”. What we have in Syria is an ancient world player, Russia, and its equally ancient client state. Yet ever since the British and later the French were kicked out of Damascus, they have managed their proxy politics through US intermediaries (ah, did you think it was the other way round?), which essentially comes down to some old North Africa lags advising the Yanks how to play the Great Game. Unfortunately, most of these people are either dead now, or severely calcified. So a new, more aggressive, US policy in the region is being forged on the basis of an almost total lack of positive historical experience.

Que Sarin sera! at the Mysterious Edwin Drood's Column
The US has never been quite as enchanted by the orient as the British were, only disenchanted by its jungle wars, its desert wars, its mountain wars, its radicalised warriors and decades of the mutually advantageous, but inwardly shaming, palliative care of sclerotic absolute monarchies.

But Sarin might be exactly the “game changer” Mr Obama has called it, both for reasons of security and policy. I have a hunch that the emergence of this particular gas on the mid-Eastern scene may turn out to be a catalyst for some quite significant developments. What do we know about Sarin? Discovered by accident in 1938 by German agricultural scientists working on pesticides, Sarin was never deployed by the Nazis outside of their “research” fields of gruesome experimentation in the death camps. This was probably because, at least during the early years of the war, Hitler still envisaged the willing capitulation of Europe in the face of a superior doctrine, and later on, once the Americans had entered the conflict, the risks were too high that an attack with such an agent might gravely backfire by opening the door to every possible kind of retaliation. Whatever the reason, peace came to the world and Sarin stayed in the bottle. Decades later, Saddam Hussein mixed it into a cocktail with laughing gas and mustard gas in the 1980s to blind, blister and convulse entire villages of Kurds. We also know how deadly it proved in the subways of Tokyo.

A dog will not bite the hand that feeds it. Mark Twain famously contended that this was the most significant difference between dogs and humans. The mujahideen trained at great expense by the CIA to fight Soviets in Afghanistan have since proved equally adept and even keener to fight the Great Satan.  There is no one who would put money on the West if a real battle of civilisations came to pass. And in this NEW New World Order, a major biological or chemical attack on and in the West has now moved up from a faintly possible scenario to simply a question of what, when and where. The news that Sarin is currently a battlefield option for some holy Sunni warriors taking the struggle to the holy Shiite warriors of Bashir Assad has added immediacy to the almost insoluble problem of how to be prepared for such a highly soluble agent. Once the civil war in Syria is over, if ever, these people are most unlikely to return to their valleys and their farms. They are far more likely to look for other fish to fry.

Massively present in the stockpiles of NATO and the former Warsaw Pact nations, Sarin is black market gold dust. It is easy, though dangerous, to manufacture, a risk that will not stop back-street chemists from ensuring that every little group with five thousand dollars and a bone to pick may soon have a bottle hidden somewhere. And Sarin is easy to deliver if you are willing to sell your own life cheaply. Failing that, it can be concealed in a tiny glass perfume vial, the kind you get samples in, and left in a discarded coke can with a timer. A drop the size of a needle’s eye would already be enough to kill a camel. Most scary of all, there is simply NO WAY that Sarin’s use in a terror attack in any enclosed or partially enclosed space can be prevented by security means alone. It is colourless, odourless and cheap. Furthermore, in what a cynic might call “the acid-throwing nations” of the world, where dangerous chemicals of any type are ridiculously easy to acquire, there is no shortage of angry idiots to act as couriers. Though not the only candidate, Sarin is the most likely of the current range of readily available chemical weapons for any future attack on US soil, or US aircraft etc., as an eye dropper of the stuff can take out an entire jumbo jet!  It’s time to think of long-term structural prevention strategies, both the carrot and the stick.

By way of carrots, and working on the assumption that a “war” rather than a “debate” with Islam is un-winnable, the advancement of meaningful economic ties with eastern nations susceptible to Islamist arguments is an essential step. Only when an American or European company is delivering part of your pay cheque are you likely to reconsider whether wipe-out in the name of jihad is really such a good idea. But this economic investment will have to be devised in such a way as not to offend the sensibilities of indigenous populations, no matter how backward their ideas may seem. The economy must be allowed to develop of its own accord into an agent of change, without forcing anything on anyone. Less Monsanto, more Mount of Olives. For the rest: complete military withdrawal and political disengagement should be an immediate aim. Let these nations really manage their own problems. Let them make their own mistakes, fight their own wars, build their own societies and form their own governments.

However, and this is where the carrot turns into a stick, the West must simultaneously install a robust policy of return and a complete closure of the doors of Europe and the US to all MALE immigration from Islamic nations. Women and girls should be the only ones we allow in, regardless of qualifications. Indeed, women and girls should automatically receive refugee status and have no need to prove it, since we know of a certainty that they are, by nature of their gender alone, vulnerable, second-class citizens of the countries they have left. I am not saying that no almond-eyed maiden is ever going to unclip a test tube of Sarin from her garter belt in a crowded high-rise. What I am saying is that, despite poison being a female weapon, so far women have shown themselves to be harder working, more upwardly mobile and thus relatively immune to jihadist doctrine (possibly because they end up with their husbands in paradise, rather than with 70 virgins) and are thus an all-round better choice for the largesse of the state. In addition, since Islamic women are forbidden from marrying unbelievers, there would be very little danger that the population explosion our Arab quarters are at present enjoying might continue indefinitely.

Meanwhile, the simple fact of knowing that your wives and daughters might leave you at any time to find immediate, ensured safety and a good life in the country of their choice could become the most important impetus for permanent, in-depth change in the status of women and girls within the nations of the Middle East. In the strangest of ways, Sarin, and our intense fear of its release in our cities, could turn out to be a life-saver.


© Edwin Drood, May 2013



Illustration: photo by © David John
Edwin Drood's Column, the blog by The Mysterious Edwin Drood,

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