Streetwise Professor

January 21, 2014

SWP Is Not Alone in Judging Obama’s Syria Policy “Feckless” and “Incoherent”

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 10:37 pm

This article in the American Interest (a fairly middle of the road publication overseen by Walter Russell Mead) presents a useful, if exceedingly depressing, dissection of the Obama administration’s policy in Syria.  I raised many of the same points, in real time.  I think the most important ones are related to Iran: (1) that Syria was of strategic interest to the US precisely because it was Iran’s major Arab ally, and that a primary strategic rationale for intervening in a way that increased the odds of Assad’s downfall  was because it would undermine Iran, but (2) that a major reason that Obama shied away is precisely because he was trying to achieve a rapprochement with Iran.

Strategically misguided, and a humanitarian disaster.

Read the whole thing.

Author Adam Garfinkle’s succinct summary about Obama’s policy also uses two words I have used, on more than one occasion: feckless and incoherent.

Recognizing this doesn’t require penetrating insight.  Just an ability (and perhaps more importantly, a willingness) to recognize the obvious.

And it is only getting worse.  The debacle unfolding in Montreux is so comical (in a tragic way) that it seems befitting, given the town’s most famous resident, Charlie Chaplin.  (Psst. Don’t tell the Russians and the Iranians about the Freddie Mercury statue.  Putin will try to outlaw it as gay propaganda and the Iranians will try to hang it.)

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  1. 1/ and 2/ are extraordinary.

    Reminds of Napoleon invading Russia in 1812. He needed to do this to enforce the Continental System against Britain. The Continental System was his counter-blockade, aimed at breaking Britain economically by keeping British goods out of European markets.

    He needed a large army to invade Russia. He therefore needed far more uniforms than his own suppliers could produce. In fact, the only textile producers capable of meeting the orders were, er, British. So he let the uniform contracts to British firms. Firms like Courtaulds in Manchester, for example, who made so much money out of it they’re still going.

    There was a discussion in the British cabinet at the time about the diplomatic shitstorm that would certainly erupt should Russia find out that her ally, Britain, was equipping her enemy, France, to invade her. The conclusion was that it was a risk worth taking; Britain should do nothing that might dissuade Napoleon from invading Russia.

    Napoleon himself is said to have remarked “Never interrupt your enemy while he’s making a mistake.” As the British cabinet then, one suspects the Iranian government now.

    Comment by Green as Grass — January 22, 2014 @ 3:33 am

  2. From Mead:

    “An early exercise of American leadership, in conjunction with Turkey and with NATO backing, could have staunched the violence before it metastasized, radicalized into sectarian camps and spread to other countries. ”

    We’ll have to see how American leadership staunched the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan and prevented radicalization and sectarian violence…


    In Iraq, a sectarian civil war broke out under American leadership, with a coalition including several NATO members, as sectarian militias drilled holes into kneecaps with power drills and exercised “sectarian cleansing” in Baghdad.

    And due to the American failure to control the Durand Line, the war in Afghanistan is radicalizing and destabilizing Pakistan.

    Face facts, Obama was right to be leery of intervention in Libya, and was drawn in against his better judgement. Obama is right to refuse to intervene in Syria.

    It’s you snarling, promiscuous interveners who need your influence on US policy ended.

    Comment by PailiP — January 22, 2014 @ 4:16 am

  3. I think one should come to grips with the fact that Iran’s becoming a nuclear power is a fact as it is too late to stop it. And it was already too late when the US operation in Iraq didn’t accomplish its goals due to bad planning, bad execution and the lack of political will to see it through. And as I have once conjectured, Iran might stop just short of producing the bomb while being convinced that she can produce it anytime she wants to – meanwhile creating and storing a sufficient supply of enriched uranium.

    The failure of the US operation in Iraq has created an unstable and volatile Middle East for ages to come. This is a fact to come to grips with as well.
    But if one believes that these are the facts, the important issue is not how angry we are with the situation but what is that US needs to do from this point on – how one does contain the impending combustion of the region – to complex of a relationship in the Arab world, rise of radical Islam, unpredictable situation in Pakistan, predictable failure in Afghanistan, etc.

    The US cannot and doesn’t have the will to maintain significant military power in the region and freeze out further escalation of the situation.

    So, I deeply believe that Iran can turn from a problem to a solution and to me this should be the goal of the US policy. It is not an easy task. In fact, it is a very hard task. But its alternative is even harder and more expensive both in terms of human life and material resources needed for it.

    While I believe a deal can be made with Iran, she is not sitting there in “romantic aspirations” and waiting for a deal. She knows she is strong in this game and she has the better hand. Thus, if you give your finger to her, she will bite the entire wrist. So, the deal to be made is not from the position “can’t we all get along?” but from the position of strength. Among other things it requires maximal possible reduction of US dependence on Middle Eastern oil. But that is not all.

    But such agenda will require first of all a different president of the United States and for sure a different secretary of state.

    Iran is the wedge separating the Arab world from Pakistan and Afghanistan. She distastes Arab nationalism, wahabism, etc. Moreover, she is very nervous of a strong Arab world. She doesn’t have aspirations of expansion of its territory beyond that of what she already controls. Her concern is that other powers don’t touch Iran and do not force upon them a different lifestyle – while I distaste the Iranian lifestyle and given the occasion could give stories on what repugnant implications it has, it is for the Iranian people to resolve this issue. And it is an illusion to think that this lifestyle is imposed simply by the mullahs. There is a very widespread support for it in Iran and Iranian women are not overwhelmingly opposed to it – in fact they know how to exercise their power under such lifestyle and rules.

    My bottom line is that there is an incurable conflict and tension between Iran and the Sunni world. The American foreign policy in Middle East in no way takes into consideration this fact and is not oriented at taking advantage of it. The American foreign policy has to first make a decision of what is her objective in the region. Stability, security, low old prices …? For a period of time or lasting…? At what cost?

    As a stand-alone statement, whatever the objective, it cannot be achieved if Iran is taken out of the context of that objective – there is no stability, security, peace, economic growth without Iran in this region.

    And a one last thought on Iran-Israel dichotomy. Clearly, Israel doesn’t need the Iranian headache and she is just worried about her security. On the other hand, while Iran may have religious, ideological, philosophical and rhetorical problems with the concept of existence of Israel, Israel is not a threat to Iran and there are no strategic and geopolitical problems between the two. Leaving Israel alone may be part of any deal with Iran – it is not a very high price for Iran to pay.

    Comment by MJ — January 22, 2014 @ 5:28 am

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