Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Moderate Thinking

 --Broken Chains, anonymous 

Gonna pass me a brand new resolution 
Gonna fight me a one man revolution, someway 
Gonna start my rebellion today 
But here come the people in grey To take me away

 People in grey have gone and taken away 
My right to voice my complaint 
Her majesty's government 
have sent me a form
 I must complete it today 
--The People in Grey, The Kinks

 The only way to mobilize popular support 
for secret armies of resistance fighters during the war 
was to stage such dramatic acts of terrorism 
versus the German occupying forces 
--Winston Churchill, fr. Nihilist Monthly (Feb, 2012)

The stated United States' policy is to support moderates in the Syrian Civil War. What does this mean? Following are some questions regarding moderation in the Civil War business:
  • Does a moderate person engage in a Civil War?  
  • How does the State Department define "moderate"?
  • Why are we spending money encouraging Moderates in Syria, while Moderates in the states are becoming a vanishing breed?
  • What are we buying when we fund these Moderates?
  • What do we lose if we do nothing to support the Syrian revels?
  • Are the rebels legitimate?  
  • Do they represent the will of their people?  
  • Are the moderates foreign Jihadists?

Now for the money question:

Does anyone recall any revolution that was won by a moderate force?
"Moderate People of the World Unite" ... somehow that lacks the revolutionary zeal required by such a project.

Answer: Moderation is never the hallmark of a revolution.


  1. Just to quibble with terms, I'd define what is going on in Syria as a "civil war" rather than a revolution. The people the U.S. is supporting are largely Sunni Arabs fighting the Alawite Shia that have been the props of the Assad regime as long as there has BEEN an Assad regime.

    That said, I guess my answers would be:

    1. Yes, if the "moderate" is part of a group that has been historically oppressed and marginalized by the government; I suspect that in this case "moderate" simply means "not out-and-out islamic fundamentalist" rather than any sort of expression of political temperament.

    2. See #1 above

    3. Because we gain geopolitical benefits from excluding islamic fundamentalists from power, and the Assads are clearly on the way out.

    4. Probably some minor degree of influence for a modest price. But even that is unclear.

    5. The opportunity to have even that level of influence.

    6. In the words of Tokugawa Ieyesu: "The only justification for rebellion is success." And John Harrington said: "Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason." So if they win, they will be "legitimate".

    7. The U.S. has no legitimate interest in Syria other than U.S. interests. While I would argue that it would be good morals to try and facilitate a Syria with a legitimate democratic government it is also unlikely that a Syria obedient to the will of the bulk of the Syrian people would be at all deferential to or enamored of the U.S. So may answer would be "We'd better hope not."

    8. Some of them, probably. Others are domestic jihadis. Still others are domestic non-jihadi islamists (call them "The Russia-first Bolshevists" as opposed to "The Internationalists") who will still do their best to thwart and harm U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East.

    But, frankly, this is pretty small beans. We're tossing away a pittance on the slight chance of expanding our influence. Nothing to see here. Really...

  2. Chief,
    Pls help me out here.
    In Syria we are supporting Sunnis and in IRq we forced democracy down their throats by placing Shias in the cat bird seat.
    I'm confused.
    Do we have a strategic over view that i just don't understand.?
    Revolution or civil war? I know i split hairs a lot , but in this scenario i can't see the difference?

  3. In Syria we're betting that these Sunni rebels (regardless of who they bend a knee to) will replace the Alawite Assads. In Iraq we HOPED to replace a secular Tikriti kleptocracy with a Sunni exile; it was our deliberate ignorance that ended us up with a Shiite kleptocracy. In Afghanistan we funded Pashtun jihadis in the Eighties and ended up funding Tajiks and Hazaras in the Oughts.

    It's only confusing if you try and see some sectarian consistency, rather than a one-off expedience that tries to find a lever in every foreign civil war.

    The "strategic overview", as I see it, is dominated by two factors: "Love Israel" and "Hate Islam". We will back anyone whom we think will support our pro-Israeli, anti-Islamic positions. Unfortunately for us, we're ALSO trapped by our rhetoric into a default "support "democracy"" position, which accounts for our support for people like the Egyptian, Syrian and Libyan rebels; in fact, we really rather like the depots because they are buyable and pliable, unlike the unwashed Arab masses.

    Frankly, I think this is a strategic mistake, but one that we're comfortable making because we've made it so many times and, frankly, the harmful consequences are really quite small.

  4. Chief,
    I missed the part about what we gain.
    Are we more secure, free or have any economic benefit regardless of who is humpin' the camel?

  5. The "gain" is purely on the elite level of foreign policy. "We" as in you and me and Joe and Molly? We gain two things; jack and shit unless the policy wonks guess correctly and their cunning little plan works out right.

    And the track record isn't good. Let's just take one example; Iran.

    Back in the Fifties the Iranian pols (pretty much doing what most Iranians wanted them to do) started getting antsy about them durn furriners mmakin' bank of Iranian petroleum. So they started doing what any red-blooded redneck would do - they kicked our ass and took their gas. Our reaction was to do what "benefited us" in the short term - our covert agents helped overthrow the Mossadegh government and install the Pahlevis.

    We might, had we really thought about it, given some consideration to the then-reality that the U.S. was already on its way to becoming a petroleum-dependent and -importing nation with all the implications that this would have on getting a death grip on our national interests. Instead, we went with cheap, quick, and easy and started Iran down the road that eventually led to the mullahs and the current standoff over Bad Scary Nukes.

    In the meantime we had the Hostages and Desert One and the Tanker War and Iran-Iraq and Saddam and so on and so on...

    So was there a "benefit" there? Well, for the people in 1953 who saw Mossadegh as a scary commie and enemy of the U.S., sure there was. Was there anything for "us"? Well, cheap gas in the short run. Was that a genuine "gain", really in the long term? Probably not.

    But our political system is set up for short run political game-playing. So we tend to get lots of people in D.C. doing this dumb shit. And our social system is set up to reward We the People for keeping our noses out of "politics" and staying fat, dumb, and happy the same way a cattle ranch rewards the steer for lazing around and stuffing itself with antibiotic-rich feed until the very moment it gets to the top of the ramp where the guy with the "humane killer" stands waiting.

  6. It's astonishing that this civil war has lasted for so long at the stage of open hostilities.
    The duration is even so long that the reason can't be a mere culminating point. It got to be a balance of power instead, with apparent superiority of defence over offence.

    The talk about delivering weapons is obviously aiming at breaking this stalemate (para)militarily, but it takes a proper arms embargo to keep other meddlers from compensating with support to Assad.

    You can keep Iran from supplying Assad and you can likely keep China from doing it, but I doubt the West would keep a convoy escorted by a flotilla of the Russian navy from reaching a Syrian harbour.

    Concerning the original post; even IF they found moderates interested in arms deliveries, I doubt those people would remain moderate once armed to the teeth.

    @MilPub folks in general; my own last two blog posts might be relevant to your interests.

  7. How many of the Sunni rebels in Syria used to be Iraqi citizens? There were many news reports back seven or eight years ago of many Iraqi Sunni emigrating to Syria when Bush Junior allowed Ahmed Chalabi and his Iranophiles to take over their country.

  8. jim,

    I think the term Moderate is a politically correct way of saying "anyone except Islamic fundamentalists like the Muslim Brotherhood or Shia revolutionary (read Iran) movements."

    We know deep in our hearts that it will take AQ and Iranian types to beat Assad. We are just hoping that religious "moderates" will be the ones who run the future government, that is who we are supporting.

    We just don't want to say that out of fear of offending people, and possibly of acknowledging what many in the government really believe, that Syria is a fault line war between Shia and Sunni. It isn't about freedom, democracy, or any of that crap, it is about an internal Islamic family feud.

  9. BG and all,
    It's best to stay out of family feuds.
    Feuds lead to feudalism.

  10. bg,
    I've been thinking about your cmt all day.
    The amount and intensity of US self deception is incredible. Our policies defy logic.
    We can't even verbalize our self deceptions.

  11. bg: Not sure it's that simple. The Alawite Shiites are pretty far out of line with "regular" Twelver Shia beliefs, and under the Assads the Syrian state made even more concessions to orthodox Muslim tenets.

    My reading is that this is even more local than you suggest. This is an internal SYRIAN family feud over who gets to run the country, the Assads and their cronies or...someone else. The U.S. appears to be hedging their bets on the "someone else" while, I suspect, kidding ourselves about how that faction will shake out after Assad gets his conge'.

    It's a total fuckstory, but what U.S. Middle Eastern policy since '48 hasn't been?

  12. FDC, I was thinking I needed to clarify my comment. I agree with you, but let me clarify.

    jim, completely agreed about staying out of family feuds, and frankly, staying out of this fight has been the policy).

    The current fight, against the Assad regime, it not what I am talking about. The current fight is a fight against a repressive regime, fought by those who are in power and those who are not. Religion is not a factor, plenty of Sunni are backing Assad right now, because they were in power under his regime.

    The real fight that people are afraid is the struggle for power after Assad falls. You have basically 3 camps supporting righters against Assad right now. Fundamental Sunni (AQ and Muslim Bros), those supported by IRGC, Iranian surrogates (Shia revolutionaries), and then the "moderates."

    There are some who fear that after Assad falls, Syria will become a proxy war for Shia vs. Sunni powers. Many forget the Muslim Bros had a lot of influence in Syria until Assad Sr kicked them out. Since then, Syria has been a big proxy state for Iran.

    Another complication is how long it will take Assad to fall, something most consider to be just a matter of time. The longer it takes, the more the country will be devastated and potential to be divided, thus, a messier consolidation of power.

  13. BG/Chief.
    I understand the words , but i don't understand what the US is doing.
    Didn't we have a Monroe Doctrine?
    Didn't we fight a Civil War with the policy of keeping foreign involvement to a minimum?
    So why now do we do the opposite world wide?
    It isn't as if we've been wildly successful in our ham fisted mil/foreign policies.
    The elephant in the room (imo) is that all of the problems in the AO are resultant directly from the US PWOT.
    Words cannot ignore this reality.
    Powell/Rice/Clinton/and now Kerry are all court jesters pretending to be something else.
    There's not one STATESMAN in the group and we do nothing but react rather than control the flow of events, and this is b/c that control is beyond our ability to do so.
    We are reactive and in the vein of the writers on this site we will never win because we lack the initiative and more than that we don't even have a clue as to what game we're playing or what ball field we belong , or even what uniforms to wear.
    It's a sad day when an old soldier can see this , and have to say it.
    The problem is not in the middle east it's here in our convoluted heads.
    I for one don't give a rat's ass who or what runs Syria/Egypt/Libya/afgh/Pak/Irq as long as my tax dollars aren't involved.
    The criminality is that we the people finance these follies while our country is falling apart, and we have zero say in the matter.
    If i had a say i'd pull in the perimeter.

  14. I happened to catch a documentary on the British meddling with Iran in the early 50s. It showed that Truman was against the meddling and Mossadegh following the Brits around the UN and World Court in The Hague proving and winning their POV.

    A quote for jim at the top of that link, and it deteriates from there.


  15. A veteran offers his thoughts for the 10-year mark


  16. I've been thinking about the upcoming decade of the Mess-o-potamia, basil, and have some thoughts to offer myself. And - although I cannot match the depths of the speaker in your linked article - I can't say that they are particularly charitable, either.

  17. jim,

    I understand part of the thinking in Washington in this regard. Some feel we are damned if you do, damned if you don't, and therefore, politically, you are always better on the side of "we did something."

    Here is part of what I don't get. We have national interests in the Middle East. This is a fact. We weren't in Rwanda to stop the butchery there, despite knowledge and war planning to do so. There are lots of places, Dafur, for example, where we talk a little, but do even less. So clearly, our direct roles in the ME demonstrates the political belief of the significance of the region, and of we course, we all know what that is: Oil.

    Fact is, several different agencies have announced that the US will overtake Russia in Natural Gas production by 2017, and overtake Saudi as the word's leading oil producer around 2020, and completely energy independent (net exporter) by 2035. It will be interested to see how things will change foreign policy wise over the next decade.

  18. bg: ???? Dunno which agencies those are, but I find that extremely difficult to credit. I still keep my thumb on the energy business a bit, and I've never seen any predictions similar to this.

    Natural gas production has increased, largely due to the increased price making marginal fields more profitable. I don't know of any significant large reserves proofed in the past several years. Petroleum production has been steadily declining in U.S. waters for some time; only deep offshore reserves in the Gulf have shown any real promise, and we all know the risks involved there.

    If anything, the relative gain re: Saudi has more to do with the depletion of the main Saudi oilfields. This is very difficult to determine; the Saudis have not released well and geophysical data from their fields since the Eighties. At lease some observers - Sadad al Husseini, former VP of Aramco is one - have said that they believe that overpumping has caused saltwater contamination in many of the big fields and that useable reserves may be as much as 40% less than claimed.

    To my thinking, our "national interests" in the Middle East are confined to petroleum. There is no real reason to "takes sides" over that; petroleum is fungible and will flow to the highest bidder.

    But more to the point; why aren't we working on a serious national strategy to reduce our "interests" there? Conservation, production of alternative energy sources? Why hasn't the federal government announced a Manhattan Project to wean the U.S. off the oil tit?

    Could it be...FREEDOM!

    Nah. Probably has something to do with the Free Market or Magical Sparkle Ponies or something...

  19. FDC, it was announced last November.

    It is all about Fraking, and also assumes that current consumption policies (MPG laws) remain in place. More studies have come out since saying the same thing, even OPEC agrees with the data.

  20. The reason to stay in ME politics will still be oil, but not really oil, but the price of oil. Fact is that most of our oil comes from Venezuela anyway. But China is super oil hungry and they will be consuming most of the ME oil. Problems in the ME that affects China's flow of oil will affect the price in the greater argument (thus the argument that we will have to maintain pretense in the ME and the Indian Ocean region.

  21. bg,
    correct me if i misunderstood your claim re;China.
    Are you saying that we're in the middle east to protect the flow of oil to China?
    If this is what you are saying then the world has really turned upside down.

  22. Yes, jim, you read that correctly.

    Check out that article I posted, Pickens (the Texas oil/gas guy) said exactly that. He didn't understand why we have a Navy fleet keeping open sea lanes for oil to China. It has to do with keeping the global price low. Fact is, ME oil doesn't really come to the US, it goes to China and EU. But the global market is all connected. If ME oil production lowers through OPEC, then Venezuela bumps up the prices. All part of the new and improved "Great Game."

    CENTCOM CG, Gen Mattis, has said on more than one occasions, that if you really want to mess with China, he can shut off their oil supply in less than a week with a blockade in the Straits of Malacca. What's that quote from Dune, "He who can destroy a thing can control a thing."

  23. The other thing is that the only other option open to China at this point is coal, and Chinese coal-burning has played an immense part in anthropogenic global warming. So in that the U.S. benefits from anything that keeps the Chinese (and the Indians, who are in the same position) from exploiting more coal.

    bg: Shale gas (what fracking is designed to do; release methane that was previously unextractible due to low permeability of the reservoir rock) HAS increased the provable reserves of NG. But I'm not sure if that means what the WSJ thinks it means. There are some pretty significant (though mostly manageable, from what I've read) downsides to fracked gas reservoirs. And the stuff is still difficult to use as vehicle propellant, and that's still the biggest single user of petroleum. Where NG will help will be in reducing coal- and oil-fired power plants, and that's all good. But barring any significant sort of development of genuinely renewable power (and right now NG is a problem there, because many generating agencies are going to NG rather than straight through to renewables) as well as a well-organized and thought-out plan for energy conservation and reduction all a turn to NG will do is push "peak oil" back another century or so while not really solving the imported-fuel problems we face.

    That's not bad - any crisis that can be delayed gives more time for a real solution - but it's not a magic bullet for Middle Eastern politics.

  24. Hello mates, its impressive piece of writing regarding cultureand entirely explained, keep it
    up all the time.

    Here is my homepage :: best registry Cleaners