Streetwise Professor

August 30, 2013

Obama Does the Impossible: He Turns SWP Into a Pacifist

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 5:05 pm

I thought my capacity for astonishment and dismay had been exhausted, but I was wrong.  For today’s developments have show Obama to be even more strategically challenged than even I thought possible.  (That phrasing is incredibly generous, by the way.)

First, Kerry comes out and lays out a bill of indictment against the Assad regime.  He provides extensive evidence that the Syrian military used chemical weapons on civilians with malice aforethought. He makes an aggressive case that inaction is not an option.

Cut to the White House.  Well, not literally.  For although Kerry’s remarks were broadcast live, Obama refused to permit the networks to carry his statement live.  I can understand why.

Because after Kerry averred that inaction isn’t an option, and Obama said:

“This kind of attack is a challenge to the world,” Mr. Obama said, adding America cannot accept a world in which “women and children are gassed.”

but then he said that he hasn’t decided to act.  I see.  It’s unacceptable.  Except not so unacceptable that he’s decided to do something about it.

Then, he said that if he does act, the military actions would be “limited, targeted”:

President Obama tried Friday to assure a war-fatigued American public that his response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria would be a “limited, narrow act” and not the beginning of another extended conflict in the Middle East.

“We’re not considering any open-ended commitment. We’re not considering any boots-on-the-ground approach,” Obama said in brief comments on Friday.

Obama said he had not decided how he would respond, although his administration has acknowledged it is considering missile strikes to send a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Note that he focused on making clear what he wouldn’t do, not what he would.

And if he wants to  “send a message”, tweet something, FFS.  The military ain’t Twitter.

Furthermore, sublimely ignorant of history and the thought processes of dictators and totalitarians, Obama utterly misunderstands that the message that he thinks he is sending is the exact opposite of the  message that will be received:

The goal of the cruise missile strikes the United States is planning to carry out in Syria is to restore the smudged “red line” that President Obama drew a year ago against the use of poison gas.

If carried out effectively, the strikes may also send a signal to Iran that the White House is prepared to back up its words, no small consideration for an administration that has proclaimed that the use of military force remains an option if the leadership in Iran insists on fielding a nuclear weapon.

But the military strategy that the Obama administration is considering is not linked to its larger diplomatic strategy of persuading President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to yield power and support negotiations that would end the bloody civil war.

The message Iran (and Assad) will receive is that Obama is not serious; that he will do nothing to threaten their survival; that he will only  deliver ineffectual strikes that they can easily absorb.  Which means that they will not be deterred or prevented from acting more aggressively: to the contrary, they will be encouraged to act more boldly.  Obama thinks he is flashing a red light-or maybe a yellow one-but Assad and the Iranians will see nothing but green, and will put the pedal to the metal rather than slam on the brakes.

In other words: if you want to send a message, you have to use a language the intended recipient understands.  For those facing existential threats (Assad) and those on a Mission From God (Iran), the only message that will concentrate their minds is one that threatens annihilation.

Note too that the primary objective is to redeem Obama’s past mistake of drawing a red line he had no desire to enforce, rather than to achieve any objective that advances American interests, or which truly protects innocent lives.  Politicians are a narcissistic lot, but this is off the charts narcissistic-disgustingly so.

And look at the last sentence: the use of force is “not linked to its larger diplomatic strategy.”  Are you effing kidding me?  War is politics carried out by other means.  Force and diplomacy are complementary.  The primary reason to use force is to shape the conditions for a favorable negotiated outcome.  If you say that military action is unlinked to diplomatic strategy, you should just walk around with a sandwich board that says “I AM A MORON.”

Is it possible to be more divorced from an understanding of the uses and limits of military force?

And it’s not just me, people.  Walter Russell Mead has been critical of Obama on Syria, but he is broadly sympathetic with him: he voted for Obama.  But he is incredulous, not to say disgusted:

But it’s troubling in that, of all the justifications for the use of force, “restoring credibility” is about the lamest. Unless the attacks are going to be in far greater force than we have been led to expect, they will not do all that much to restore credibility. More importantly, the cause of that loss of credibility in this case goes far, far beyond the question of whether the US will use force when its “red lines” are crossed. The Obama administration’s credibility in Syria hasn’t sunk because of the red line comment; it has sunk because the statements that “Assad must go”, coming more than once from top members of the administration, turned out to be hollow: there was no plan to make sure that he would go, and no action came when he didn’t go.

A spasm of bombing in Syria that is unrelated to a broader plan for ending the conflict and changing the regime there won’t restore this Administration’s credibility on the Syria issue. As always, let’s hope that there are things going on behind the scenes that we haven’t read about in the newspapers—but based on the the facts available to the public at this time it appears that the United States is about to bomb Syria without really knowing what it hopes to accomplish. Clausewitz would not be pleased.

No shit.

Although I could, on a very narrow margin, rationalize using force aggressively against Assad to achieve strategic and humanitarian objectives, I cannot abide any military operation in Syria undertaken by this administration.  Its painfully obvious lack of any strategic sense and utter incomprehension of the way that people like Assad and the mullahs think means that any military action that this administration devises will be entirely counterproductive.

I am by nature a pugnacious person. (Who knew?) It takes quite something to turn me into a pacifist.  But Obama has turned the trick.  Quite an achievement.

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