Streetwise Professor

August 6, 2012

More Transparency For Sure: More Imbecilic Moderation Too?

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 11:45 am

Last week Reuters reported that Obama had signed a secret finding authorizing the CIA to provide assistance to anti-Assad forces in Syria.  Uhm, the fact that it was splashed all over Reuters, and then in every news outlet worldwide, means it isn’t secret.

This part jumped out at me:

The White House is for now apparently stopping short of giving the rebels lethal weapons, even as some U.S. allies do just that.

. . . .

The State Department said on Wednesday the U.S. government had set aside a total of $25 million for “non-lethal” assistance to the Syrian opposition. A U.S. official said that was mostly for communications equipment, including encrypted radios.

Perhaps this is just a dodge, and the Saudis, Qataris, and others are going to provide weapons that will permit the rebels to combat more effectively the heavy weapons, artillery, and fixed and rotary wing aircraft that the Syrian military has in its arsenal while the US retains sort of plausible deniability.  But maybe this is just another example of Obama’s lead-from-behind, half-in, half-out approach to military matters, Afghanistan being another prime example.  Commit enough to generate significant casualties, but not enough to achieve any decisive or lasting result.

Unless the objective is to encourage a protracted and brutal civil war in Syria, such half measures are catastrophic, both as a matter of policy and as a matter of humanity.  Strengthening the rebels some, but not enough to overcome the government, will prolong the suffering, and also prolong the uncertainty in the region, which is the last thing it needs.

As Fisher (or was it Macauley?-sources disagree) said: moderation in war is imbecility.  As Napoleon said (no disagreement about attribution here): If you want to take Vienna-or Damascus-take Vienna-or Damascus.

But that’s probably the nub of the problem.  Obama doesn’t know what he wants, or if he knows, is unwilling to take any political risk to get it.  So he continues the cynical game of leaking information about his “secret” military aggressiveness, while failing to make hard decisions about what to do with Assad.  This moderate course is a recipe for stalemate-which will condemn thousands to death and injury.  We know by hard experience that we cannot dictate outcomes in that region, but we can influence them.  No outcome is likely to be all that desirable, but letting things go on their own without a more robust attempt to influence them seldom works out well in that part of the world.

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  1. Obama’s foreign policy is basically 1) Say nice platitudes that no one can argue with (this is also part of his domestic policy), 2) don’t do anything that might fail or backfire, 3) engage with the people who are doing something so that you can take credit for anything good that happens, and 4) take credit if something good happens or deny you had anything to do with it if something bad happens.

    This isn’t necessarily a bad strategy. If your country has no real interests int hat part of the world, it is probably the best thing to do. The problem is that this is his foreign policy all the time everywhere, including areas where the US has vital interests.

    The problem is that either Obama doesn’t know what American vital interests are at stake, or doesn’t know how to achieve them. I think the latter is most likely, as let’s face it, the problems are large. Most people wouldn’t have an idea on what to do. However, those people generally don’t decide they want to be President, and Obama did.

    In general, Syria before the revolt was already high on America’s enemies list. It was already engaged in various activities that we fear may happen after he falls. It’s in our interest that he falls. The problem is that the regime that replaces him probably also won’t be in our interests, and that we knew Assad had certain limits he wouldn’t breach. The most important thing the US can do is prepare for what happens to Syria’s large stockpile of WMDs when Assad’s regime falls – ideally to secure it and destroy it. That’s the only real “win” we can get, as we certainly can’t determine the future of the Syrian state. We should be reaching out to the rebels, to certain people within the Assad regime (not Assad though), and even the Russians on this issue, and make it the priority. We can offer all three groups real benefits (military aid, an escape clause to their personal families after the fall of the regime, and that the Russians also don’t want these WMDs to fall into the hands of radical Islamists) to them for cooperating with us on this one issue. That is the only vital issue, anything else would be nice, but not essential.

    Comment by Chris Durnell — August 6, 2012 @ 1:08 pm

  2. @Chris. Good analysis. I would add some refinements.

    First, another element of Obama’s foreign policy is to betray or diss allies, and suck up to enemies. Case in point of both: Poland is still incredibly burned at Obama’s decision to terminate the plans to locate missile defense interceptors in that country. This counts as a twofer because it shafted an ally, in a (futile) attempt to suck up to an adversary (Russia). And believe me, Russia views itself as our adversary.

    Second, with regards to Syria. Yes, it was high on the enemies list. The reason is that it is in our interest that Assad falls, even if a rather hostile Sunni state takes its place is that this would deprive Iran of its only real ally. More than that, it would seriously undermine Hezbollah, which is Iran’s main proxy force. Yes, if we can keep even a hostile successor state from capturing control of WMDs, by depriving Iran of its only real ally and its vital connector to its main proxy force, that would be a major win.

    But Obama’s strategy does not seem designed to achieve that objective.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 6, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

  3. Trust me, it’s not in the US interest to have another failed state where Al-Qaida can operate.

    This undeclared war on a sovereign state is unconstitutional, and we will only harvest another enemy from this. This is just like us supporting the Mujahedins in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, or Israel funding Hamas to destroy PLO. How well did that go? Nothing good will come out of this. The Christians in Syria will like the Christians in Egypt now, be destroyed by all of this. Ok, so Israel will destroy Irans nukes, maybe. But at what price?

    Comment by Ted — August 9, 2012 @ 4:25 am

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