Streetwise Professor

January 25, 2016

The Wages of Incoherence: The Policy Feedback Loop From Hell

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 11:12 pm

Policies can be misguided, but coherent: that characterizes the Bush II Middle East policy for the most part. Then there are policies that are so bizarre and contradictory so as to be utterly incoherent. That’s the Obama Middle East policy.

On the one hand, for the past several years the administration has bent over backwards to make deals with Iran. In the months since the deal was sealed, it has made concession after concession to the mullahs, including obsequiously thanking the Iranians for releasing sailors whom they illegally seized and mistreated, and arguably paying $1.7 billion in ransom to secure the release of Americans held by Iran. The obsequious attitude to Iran is driving the Saudis into paroxysms of paranoia, which stokes proxy wars throughout the region, most notably in Yemen, Iraq . . . and Syria.

But in Syria, the US is on the side of the Saudis fighting Iran’s allies. Indeed, in Syria the Saudis pay for US covert support of anti-Assad forces fighting Iran’s puppet, the Assad regime. Just today John Kerry–who always has one more cheek to turn to the next Iranian insult–said: “The position of the United States is and hasn’t changed; that we are still supporting the [Syrian] opposition politically, financially and militarily.” You know, the opposition that is fighting Iranian forces on the ground in Syria.

But the US being on the side of the opposition may be old news. Now the rumors are rife that the US has backed away from its previous stance that Assad must step aside during the transition to a new government. This is setting off yet even more paroxysms of paranoia among the Gulf Sunni oil tick states. He said this, by the way, in the context of trying to arrange peace talks between the warring sides. How can you be a peace broker when you are “supporting the opposition politically, financially, and militarily”? That’s incoherence!

So maybe in its dying days the administration is groping for coherence, by going the full Monty on Iran. But I’m betting on continued incoherence.

More incoherence. Obama has been adamant about “no boots on the ground” (a phrases that triggers severe teeth-gnashing by yours truly) in the anti-ISIS campaign. Yet in the past few weeks Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has been going around saying yes, there will be American boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS. Which is it? (Annoyingly, as of yet I have not heard anyone demand an explanation from Obama for this glaring contradiction. Is Carter off the reservation? Or is Obama merely dodging responsibility, and the press is eagerly enabling? Don’t bother answering. Rhetorical question.)

Then there’s US policy towards the Kurds, where Biden simultaneously supports the Turks in their war against the PKK and supports the PKK’s Syrian offshoot, the YPG, which the Turks hate as much as the PKK.

Yet more incoherence. We frantically support peace efforts in the region (most of them futile) but attempt to appease Saudi and Qatari anger at our concessions to Iran by showering them with weapons . . . which the Saudis turn around and use to bomb the crap out of Iranian proxies in Yemen, which angers the Iranians. And around and around it goes.

In the region, this playing both sides is viewed with deep suspicion. Paranoia is part of the Middle Eastern DNA, and the slightest inconsistency is perceived as double dealing and backstabbing. As a result, we undo our attempts to mollify one element (e.g., the Iranians) by doing something to mollify their enemies (e.g., the Saudis) who are angry at our attempts to mollify the first element.

It’s a policy feedback loop from hell.

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  1. A bit like the Obama policies that have left countries like Georgia hanging, after Georgia’s massive (per capita) contribution to US efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan where their soldiers operated without caveat alongside US forces, they are constantly left facing the Russians basically alone. The regular Russian encroachments on Georgian territory are ignored by the west, or at best a feeble statement is made.

    My concern is, sooner or later the Georgians, Ukrainians, et al, will turn back to Russia out of desperation, as the feeling of being abandoned by the west after being used as cannon fodder is growing.

    Comment by Andrew — January 26, 2016 @ 11:08 pm

  2. Luttwak thinks the whole Sunni-Shia civil war is great for the U.S., and that Obaam stumbled into fomenting it through his incompetence. Maybe this is more of the same “accidental offense,” as they say in basketball.

    Comment by srp — January 27, 2016 @ 8:10 pm

  3. @srp-It would be a brilliant Machiavellian move. I think Obama is not Machiavellian. More like Mr. Magoo.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 27, 2016 @ 8:50 pm

  4. Our foreign policy is based upon what Israel and the neocons want. But Obama is a reluctant neocons. Regime change is the doctrine of Israel and the neocons. Obama has backed that evil doctrine but not with a lot of verve.

    Comment by Gary Anderson — January 31, 2016 @ 1:57 pm

  5. isn’t it normal that peace talks take place between opposing sides?

    isn’t it normal that one of the goals held by one side in those talks might b to slow the other side’s advance toward WMD capability?

    remember when we fought in concert with the commies against nazis and smallpox, and then opposed them

    obviously Obama deserves a lot of blame for leaving Iraq and pulverizing Libya (possibly breaking up Europe), but asking for coherence in the Middle East seems a bit much

    Comment by Dots — February 3, 2016 @ 6:39 pm

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