Streetwise Professor

May 16, 2015

Spinning Like Dervishes on Iran, Syria, and Iraq

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:22 pm

Obama held his stop-worrying-and-learn-how-to-love-the-Iranian-bomb “summit” with the GCC at Camp David. Well,”summit” is something of an overstatement, because four of the most important GCC leaders (most notably Saudi Arabia’s King Salman) took a pass and sent deputies instead. The world saw this as a snub, but the administration spun it as no big deal.

Speaking of deputies and spin, afterwards Ben Rhodes, “deputy national security adviser for strategic communication”, came out spinning like a dervish. One statement was more ridiculous than the next. The Iranians would use the 11 (or is it 12) figure windfall to rebuild their sanction-stricken economy rather than to arm themselves or sow discord abroad. (If they are so anxious to address domestic issues, why endure sanctions for so long?) Further, Ben intoned, the the Iranians are indeed acting aggressively in the Middle East, but their preferred methods are inexpensive, so they have no need to spend the added billions on further aggressive measures. (That’s supposed to inspire confidence? Ever think that its current choice of methods is a concession to their financial straits, and with more money Iran just might adopt new, more expensive-and effective-methods? Further, I’m pretty sure they will pour a lot more into Syria once they get more to pour.) The administration also opined that there is no reason for an arms race in the aftermath of the deal. (Easy for them to say.)

My favorite, though, was Rhodes opining that the deal was “transactional” and not “transformational”, and was focused on the nuclear issue alone. Sorry, Ben, but you don’t get to limit the effects to the ones you intend. Unintended consequences are inevitable. And unintended does not mean unpredictable. The predictable implications-an arms race, including a nuclear arms race, increased Iranian aggressiveness, and higher likelihood of a confrontation that results in a war-are pretty transformational.

Later, Obama strode out to deliver his own spin. More unpersuasive, not to say delusional, bilge. The only real memorial moment was when he was asked about alleged Syrian use of chlorine bombs, and whether this breached his notorious “red line” (ha!) An obviously peeved Obama (he snarkily said he didn’t know why the Al Jazeera America reporter who asked the question was there) gave a lesson in alternative history. He said that “Chlorine, chlorine, itself, historically has not been listed as a chemical weapon, but when it is used in this fashion, can be considered a prohibited use of that particular chemical.” (Obviously, there was no teleprompter.)

Er, the first major chemical weapons attack, almost exactly 100 years ago at the Battle of Ypres (22 April, 1915), involved chlorine. Chlorine was widely used in WWI, and has been used subsequently. Try telling the French, Algerians, and Canadians gassed at Ypres that “historically” chlorine isn’t considered a CW. As Powerline put it, Obama’s epistemology is narcissistic. He believes (or says to believe) things because they are convenient and useful, rather than because they are true. Another Assad violation of the (already risible) chemical weapons red line is inconvenient, so Obama believes that chlorine is not a chemical weapon.

But the spinning didn’t end with the Iran deal or red lines. The administration has been spinning events in Iraq with particular fury, in large part because things there are spinning out of control.

Just yesterday, the chief of staff of Operation Inherent Resolve claimed that the US strategy against ISIS is working:

The coalition and Iraqi security forces strategy to defeat and dismantle the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant extremist group is clear and on track, the chief of staff of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve said today.

As he was saying this, ISIS was mounting a furious assault at Ramadi, and was capturing most of the government buildings. If you look at a situation map, you’ll see that ISIS controls the central position in the city, and that Iraqi units are in isolated pockets strung out around its perimeter, vulnerable to being assaulted and taken one at a time.

The official take on the battle is a barrage of euphemisms. “Contested.” “Fluid.” “Dynamic.” Well, maybe, but the best interpretation to put on that is that the battle has yet to be decided. One certainly cannot spin that into “our strategy is working.”

The execrable Brett “Slow Burn” McGurk, “Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter-ISIL” (doesn’t that strike fear?!), took the spin to Twitter, claiming that the coalition was mounting intense air attacks in Ramadi. Intense, as in four, which is a joke. Perhaps we are not able to hit more because we don’t have the necessary targeting assets on the ground. But if that’s true, it tells you that the campaign is doomed to be ineffective. (I asked McGurk to please point me to the military text which espoused the “slow burn” strategy. Curiously, he didn’t respond. He was probably too busy reading Clausewitz or something.)

The yawning divide between what appears to be happening on the ground in Ramadi, Baiji, and elsewhere and the Pentagon’s and administration’s Winning! narrative is bringing back unpleasant memories of a similar disconnect that cratered the military’s and government’s credibility in Vietnam. This is not good.

Iran, the Persian Gulf, Syria, Iraq. Everything is going pear shaped, but everything emanating from the administration is a mix of magical thinking and transparently ridiculous spin. Observing this, people in the region are going to figure that at least for the next 20 months, American policy will be adrift, and the administration will be content to watch the region spin out of control. And it will proceed to do so. But you can be sure that all the while, the administration will insist, Kevin Bacon like, that all is well, when anyone with eyes will know it isn’t.

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1 Comment »

  1. Operation Incoherent Resolve is more like it.

    Comment by The Pilot — May 17, 2015 @ 11:34 am

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