Sunday, April 15, 2018

If the United States HAD a sane Syria policy...what would it be..?

I had a bit of a laugh this morning reading Matt Taibbi's rant about Trump and Syria. Taibbi writes well even when I don't agree with what he says, and it was worth the popcorn for stuff like this:
"The fate of humanity now rests in the hands of this Twitter-obsessed dingbat executive and his new national security adviser, John Bolton – one of the most deranged people to have ever served in the United States government, a man who makes Jeane Kirkpatrick look like Florence Nightingale.

With these two at the helm, we are now facing the imminent possibility of direct military conflict with a nuclear enemy. No one in the popular press is saying it, but there could easily be Russian casualties in Trump’s inevitable bombing campaign. Which will then put the onus on a third lunatic, Vladimir Putin, to respond with appropriate restraint."
But as I read Taibbi's polemic, I kept thinking...OK, very stable genius, if you were NSA and you had the chance to whisper into Orange Foolius' tangerine-hued ear, what would you advise? What would you suggest as an approach to the Syrian civil war that might be genuinely productive?
Option 1: A Grand Concert of the Middle East In which Trump is Metternich (which would make Pompeo Tallyrand or something I hesitate to speculate about) and through a combination of persuasion, bribery, discrete threats, and veiled force manages to pull all the stakeholders in the Levant region to a conference where the issues behind the current wave of instability are wrestled to the mat and choked out. This is something Pat Lang used to promote a lot (although even he seems to have given up on the idea more recently). The intended result would be some sort of "Treaty of Beirut" in which everybody agrees to some things they don't like - like co-existing with groups of people they'd rather exterminate - in return for a Great-Power-backed enforcement of some things they DO like, like peace and economic well-being.

Is it sane? Would it work? It's eminently sane. Making it work would would be fiendishly difficult for the REAL Metternich, let alone the sort of mooks and bozos that infest the Trump Administration. I think the single biggest problems would be that 1) SO many Middle Eastern wells are poisoned; just trying to get the Muslim residents of Gaza and the West Bank to forgive and forget 40 years of violent apartheid, or trying to get Israel to pony up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to expose and condemn the architects of that apartheid fills me with existential dread, and 2) SO many groups and polities in the Middle East are unwilling to abandon their hopes of maximal outcomes. Just in Syria alone can you imagine the difficulty of trying to get a former Assad government, a former congeries of salafi jihadis, and former Kurdish YPP fighters to trust each other enough to work out a functional government? The whole point of the civil war was they they couldn't, and they all wanted to either defeat the others outright or, in the case of the Kurds, win independence.

In particular, to be seen as an honest broker of this concert, the United States would have to renounce its unreserved support for the State of Israel and treat it was just another party to the conflict, and I don't see that as possible domestically. This is one of those ideas that would seem possible but that founders on too much reality. I'd love to see a U.S. Administration actually commit to trying this, but I can't see a way this overcomes the structural issues now embedded in the Middle East as well as global geopolitical conflicts. I'd love for someone to argue me wrong.

Option 2: Operation Desert Stormy Working off the premise that doing the same thing and expecting a different result is not the definition of insanity, the U.S. gins up a coalition of the willing-ish, invades Syria and occupies the place, installs a pliant government, and hangs about bashing wogs until the new "government" is firmly in the saddle.

Is it sane? Would it work? Hell, no. Ohfuckno. What didn't work in Afghanistan (due to social and political dysfunction largely produced by a generation of war, as well as choosing proxies poorly that included smaller tribes like the Hazaras that were traditionally booted around by the Pashtun that included a lot of the Talibs) and Iraq (due to a failure to understand the toxicity of the Sunni-Shia divide that had been suppressed by Tikriti despotism as well as a series of boneheaded mistakes like deBaathification and the disbanding of the Army) would work worse in Syria, where the sectarian and tribal toxicity is already an order of magnitude worse and the existing government rules only by a combination of brute force and the loathing of much of the Syrian population for the fanaticism of the jihadi rebels.

An invasion would probably work militarily - although likely with more losses than the 2003 invasion of Iraq simply because of the already-treacherously-chaotic environment in Syria - but an occupation would be horrific militarily, politically, and socially. Any "occupation" that had any hope of working - i.e. one that included a massively-larger-then-post-WW2-European-level infusion of civil government, economic, social, and political rebuilding, and straightforward cash injection - would inevitably founder on the damage inflicted on Syrian society. Post WW2 Europe was, at least, socially and politically intact. Syria is hopelessly shattered. As Lord Chesterfield is supposed to said about keeping a mistress, the pleasure would be transient, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable.
So, no. This one is right out.

Option 3: Same Shit Different Day Keep on doing what the U.S. has been doing; inject small troop units and airpower, use proxies like the Syrian or Iraqi Kurds as footsoldiers, use political pressure on regional and local powers whenever possible. Attempt to "influence" events with aerial high explosive.

Is it sane? Would it work? Fuck, it's not working now.

Option 4: Just Walk Away, Renee Conclude that there are no national interests in the Middle East worth spilling blood - American or anyone else's - and treasure on. Pull the military missions out, cut off the arms supplies, reduce the American footprint to a minimal scattering of embassies and consulates, and let the occupants of the region go their own way to the degree that they don't directly impinge on the U.S. or U.S. allies.

Is it sane? Would it work? This seems to me to be eminently sane, largely because I don't think that the U.S. has a ton of "national interests" in the Middle East. I've said this before, but IMO the U.S. has three major "interests" in that troubled region; a regular supply of petroleum products, passage through the Suez/Red Sea chokepoint, and a relative degree of regional calm that will dampen the production of violent people with a grudge against the United States.

With the current prognosis for anthropogenic global warming I'd even kick loose the first "interest". I think that the United States should be committed to reducing, not securing, its need for petroleum. Let the Iraqis and Saudis sell the stuff to the Philippines. The sooner the U.S. becomes independent of the need for fossil fuels, the better.

But would it work? I'm not sure it would "work" completely. For one thing, the United States has spent much of the last half-century fucking up and pissing people off in the Middle East - see the timeline at the top of the page - going back to the Mossadegh coup in the Fifties. There's a lot of deeply-ingrained hatred (and a lot of that pretty well justified, I'm ashamed to admit...) there.

But old grudges do eventually die, and I think there's a hope that a United States that transitions to a genuinely neutrally disinterested party might eventually benefit from a lack of animus in the region.

I think the real problem with this would be U.S. domestic politics. For one thing, the American "conservative" (i.e. radical reactionary) movement is entirely committed to an unquestioning embrace of Israel and a reflexive hate and fear of political Islam. No contemporary Republican, and even some right-leaning Democrats, would forego Islamophobia, and tongue-bathing Israel is a bipartisan reflex. I don't think there is a Republican that could convince his or her party to abandon the former, and both parties seem incapable of releasing the latter.

One 9/11-type incident and the rage and fear that created the current disasters that are Afghanistan and the Fertile Crescent would come roaring back.

Add to that all but the furthest fringes of the U.S. political Left retain a Cold War sort of fear of Great Power insignificance in the global hustings. To put it bluntly, few Americans - politicians or ordinary citizens - would be able to sit back and accept "We're NOT Number One!" in the less-paved parts of the globe. Were Russian or Chinese - or both - influence begin to grow in a post-U.S.-involved Middle East I find it highly likely that the cries to return to the region in force would be irresistible. I think the instincts of American hegemony are too strong; otherwise the PNAC "New American Century" nonsense would have collapsed from pure derision and scorn, instead of, as it has, finding one of the most strident America-Firsters elevated to the point of advising on "national security".

My unfortunate conclusion is that the domestically-do-able policies for Syria - and, by inference, the greater Middle East - are neither sane nor workable, and the sane-and-workable policies are not politically do-able...without a massive and thoroughgoing reconstruction of the United States political order.

In other words, the problem here isn't the Middle East, as troubled as that region may be. The problem is that the current political (and social) tenor of the United States won't allow a U.S. government to make a sensibly sane and workable policy towards the Middle East.

To change our skies, then, we would have to change ourselves. Are We the People capable of doing that?
I'd like to believe so. But having observed American political life for forty years...I am not optimistic.


  1. I just wrote this in a comments discussion on my blog when asked for an alternative:

    "Chemical munitions are used in Syria because there's war, and the root cause of that war and the war in Iraq is factionalism. They don't have left vs. right programmatic/ideological politics. It's an "us vs. them" of ethnic-religious groups.
    The Sunni Arabs in Syria perpetually feel oppressed because the Assad regime uses minority support as its pillars. Sunni Arabs in Iraq perpetually feel oppressed because their Western-style majority rule democracy reliably pushes their minority out of positions of power on the national level.

    The only way to bring this region peace (aside from conflicts regarding Israel) is to move towards political systems with huge minority protection, similar to what Lebanon had before its Republic descended into civil war under pressure of outside forces.
    Head of governments from this group, head of state from another, head of parliament from yet another and so on - participation for all relevant ethnic-religious groups in national government.
    And then there needs to be a strong push for nation-building (in the minds) and programmatic competition instead of factionalism.

    The Western powers could help with this; they could negotiate towards such an end (tolerating that the Russians keep military bases in Syria and Assad remains a political leader), and bribe anti-Assad opposition into consent (educate their children, pay bribe money, offer Western passports as backup plan, bribe and consult them to have a headstart with political party-building).
    We could also educate war refugees in support of such a political settlement before they return. I'm thinking of lecture and roleplaying (in which they only achieve an objective for the greater good if they cooperate politically)."

    1. While I agree in general, I think the MOST difficult part of this will be getting the various parties and factions to stop thinking of politics as a zero-sum game.

      The key to peaceful internal politics is twofold; first, the guarantee that losing power doesn't immediately equal losing safety. Protection for minorities includes both political protection and physical protection. That's a problem in places where political power means you're faced with Thuycidides' nostrum of the strong and the weak.

      Once you've done that - and it's going to be devilishly difficult in societies that lack all tradition and structure to support it - then you have to get people into the mindset that losing power is okay because 1) there's the chance to gain it back peacefully, and 2) as above, it doesn't mean physical danger. And I think that may be even MORE difficult.

      Because look at the current U.S. The Republican Party as currently constituted is, or soon will be, philosophically unwilling or even unable to accept any other party in power. The GOP has spent decades turning their political opponents into what are not political opponents but traitors, betrayers, and illegitimate non-true-citizens. And this is in a system where peaceful transfer of power has been more the rule than the exception for almost 200 years, give or take a civil war.

      So to use your Syrian example, I don't think that negotiation or bribery would work. I think you'd need physical force; police and soldiers from neutral parties in place to make the Alawites and Sunnis and Kurds feel safe enough to be willing to negotiate. The same sort of physical security would be needed to make refugees feel safe returning.

      The problem being that the powers strong and rich enough to provide that security are all tainted, either by their actions as colonial powers or their actions as parties in the civil war. And the smaller states not tainted lack the power.

      I think this falls under Option 1, the Grand Concert of the Middle East, and as I noted above, I think the problem is that I don't see anyone in charge in the Great Powers with the patience and vision to see it through, and I don't see, in particular, the U.S. public willing to support that sort of person and foot that time and expense. It's sad that We the People are willing to be indifferent to pointless military adventures but impatient with what Dick Cheney used to sneer at as "nation-building"...but there you are.

    2. The Alawites would keep head of state (Assad, because of Russia), and would continue to be overrepresented in the officer corps for a while.
      The Kurds can trust in their militias which wouldn't be disbanded right away (they would merely stow away their equipment and be able to reform in a matter of days anyway).

      To convince every single relevant party would require a close look, a tailored negotiation strategy, an actual negotiator and a combination of incentives and "or else".

      I think it could be done. The problem right now appears to be that the West can't do purposeful and recognizable strategy.

      But my barbecue is ready. Life is good in Germany today. :-)

    3. I think it could be done, too. But I don't think it's because the West "can't do" it in the sense that the mental and political capability of formulating a purposeful and recognizable strategy just isn't there to begin with.

      It's because:

      1) The Assad government is winning. Why should it agree to show mercy to its enemies now? And the other parties have no reason to trust Assad, the Russians, the Americans, or each other. And the U.S. has a well-earned reputation for fucking up and then walking away whistling while those whose homes and lives it has fucked up are left to fight amongst the ruins.

      2) To do it would require - as you point out, a "close look, a tailored negotiation strategy..." and, I would add, an immense and implacable patience and willingness to be ruthless pressuring the parties to cut deals.

      Western democracies aren't set up for that. Western politics is short-term, and many Western parties have become bitterly unwilling to consider medium-term sacrifice for long-term gain. Why? In a decade your party may, probably will, be out of power. Why bother working for a decades-away solution to Syria if "we" aren't going to reap the benefits?

      So I'd suggest that rather than "can't", it's that the West "won't" do intelligent strategy, because to do so would require the various parties to be willing to stop thinking in terms of short-term political advantage in a system that ONLY rewards short-term political advantage.

      I'm glad it's a relaxing BBQ Sunday; I've got the BBQ, just not the home to sprawl about in.

  2. The arc of history is clear. The USA is loosing its power as hegemon. China's economy is about the same size as America's, but it is growing three times faster. India is also coming up (although slower, but its population will dwarf China's).

    To adapt, the USA has to learn to live in a world with actual peer powers (and even greater powers) The middle east provides an excellent opportunity for the USA to adopt to working within the global order as a responsible but non-exceptional citizen.

    I also am selling a recently renovated bridge over the East River.

    1. As I said; what I see as a genuine problem is that the "We're Number 1!" fixation has become so deeply rooted in American politics and even society that We can't imagine a multipolar parity that isn't threatening. We've become addicted to the idea that to be "safe" we need to be a monster without seeing how that makes us a monster.

      The problem isn't "them"'s us.

  3. It has been, and will be that the only policy we should have is supporting the Kurds.

    Aside from the Turks, the Kurds are the only ethnic group in that region to have...

    1) A national identity...albeit, without a nation, but they have, so far, not succumbed to sectarian infighting (the century is still young, so I'm hedging that with the right amount of support, supply, and mentoring we, and the world could head that off should it raise it's head)

    2)They have oil, which, granted, is finite, but again, with mentoring, and investment could become a functional country that
    2a-brings some stability, and perhaps, influences certain tribes in Iraq to...I don't know...calm the fuck down?

    3) The Kurds have no love for ISIS, or Al Qaeda, and as much as it chafes my ass to use that as a litmus for quality of friendship, it should be noted that much of Al-Qaeda's funding came FROM FUCKING SAUDI technically, our.../grrrr..."friend." :::cough:::BULLSHIT:::cough:::

    And, IF...we supported the Kurds, that would, in my opinion, calm Turkey down to start wanting to negotiate as Turkey under Erdrogan really isn't our friend...and to be's been a bit of a rocky relationship even in the best of times.

    Just say'n...which, I suspect, then with us backing the Kurds, and not any of the sectarian forces in Syria which seem to rise one day, and disappear the next, and whose shifting alliances and enmities change faster than I can keep up with...AND, it makes diplomatic and military sense to PICK ONE and stick with them.

    As for Syria proper, it was my contention back in 2016, and supported by physical evidence in 2017 which has come true to in 2018 that the FUCKING SYRIAN CONFLICT IS A GODDAMN TAR BABY WANTING TO BE HUGGED by any Nation with a military.

    We should never have gotten involved...but fucking done is done, and we're fucked.

    Tossing ordinance over the sand-dunes is NOT going to do anything to resolve the shit-hole conflict, and...

    I guess the worst part of it all is I have this nagging suspicion that no one in our government has any form of plan that doesn't involve some form of violent kinetics requiring no eyes on target, just...more of the fucking same.

    Now my fear is this...the US and Russia have mainline forces in Syria.

    The Russians have already made a push against us of which Mattis gave Putin an out by acting, "confused" as to "why would Russian Mercenaries attack an American reinforced base...very confusing."

    The thing is...if we do the same thing, except with our mainline forces...will Putin give us an out, or scream over the red phone, "It's on, bitches!"

    My own thoughts are Putin is not the forgiving type, and thus if it does go US vs Russia in Syria...then I think the USvRussian war will resolve the Syrian crisis, the Syrian culture, the Syrian society, and anything else that Syria thinks is Syrian...not much remains when two angry dragons tussle in the sand box.

    1. I loves me some Kurds, Sheerah; I agree that they seem like the most "decent" of the ethnopoliticsal groups in the Middle East.

      That said...supporting the Kurds immediately gets you crosswise with Turkey, the Assad regime, both Sunni and Shia in Baghdad, and Iran. Trying to vreate a Kurdistan - which IMO the Kurds richly deserve - means you are going to have to, eventually, fight all four of the current polities that contain Kurdish minorities.

      I'm not sure that helps.

      Was the a genuine possibility of a "Concert" I'd argue that the US should go into it insisting on a Kurdish state. But I'm skeptical of the former, so I doubt the practicality of the latter...

    2. I note that the Kurds have no access to the sea. Therefore, they are dependent on the good graces of at least one of: Syria, Turkey, Iraq or Iran to allow them to interact with the rest of the world. The Kurds need to cut a *deal* with at least one of their neighbors. The most logical candidate is Syria (because it is so weak). However, I don't see the Yankees allowing any actual deal making with the Syrian Regime.

    3. Though true, it's incredibly amazing how money can change a relationship...ISIS was shipping oil through Turkey, albeit, shhh-keep-it-dark, but with cash strap Turkey looking for a few extra shekels...ISIS gold is just as good as Iraqi Gold...and if memory serves right, the Kurds in N.Iraq have been transporting, I mean, oil through saying, relationships change when money is involved, and it's amazing how much a bad attitude can switch to a good attitude with a few extra zeros tacked at the end of the payment sum on a check.

      I think a Kurdistan is doable, and with right amount of cajoling, enticing, and economic incentives even Turkey would come around to accepting a Kurdistan that ships their oil through their country.

      Money is the key to many a locked relationship that only needs to be shown once, and the treasury opened to bring a soured relationship to a good one.

      I would suggest Iraq, but till the inhabitants (read: tribes) get their collective shit together (read: Sunni stop being assholes to the Shia, and the Shia stop killing Sunni's because they make convenient targets), and certain tribes (read: Southern tribes of Iraq) start resisting ISIS, Al Qaeda, and whoever else is gaming to start shit then we can look at Iraq.

      Right now, the favor in the region resides with the Kurds, they have a national identity, they have a tough, battle hardened people, and they are seemingly done being everyone else's jailhouse laundry bitch, and whipping boy.

    4. The problems I see with this are;

      1. There isn't enough money in the world to get the various polities with Kurdish minorities to accept de facto partition because they ALL have other minorities that would insist on the same privileges. That would mean the end of the fictions of "Iraq" and "Syria" and threaten even Turkey and Iran. It's nice to think that enough money can buy Kurdistan, but I don't think that's realistic.

      I can't remember which idiot politician said something along the lines of how he'd "solve" Iraq by telling the Sunni and Shia to just knock it the fuck off. But it was ridiculous then and time hasn't improved it. Get real.

      The "favor" in the Kurdistan region resides in whoever has the arms and the money and the will to use both. The current situation in Kirkuk and Afrin suggests the if the Kurds are

    5. ...not enjoying that "favor" at the moment. The arc of history doesn't have to bend to justice, or anywhere else.

      Sadly the Kurds, like a lot of geography's ill-favored peoples, have a hell of a hard road even if everything else breaks their way. And it hasn't, not for centuries.

  4. Syrian Kurds have no wish for a separate state. They will be happy with the current Assad regime if they get some degree of local control - i.e. elect their own mayors, councils, and governors. I doubt Bashar or anyone else in Syria will give them that. He (or they) will place family or clan members in charge in every province and district, backed up by force. As far as getting crosswise with Turkey, Erdogan is a bigger jihadi than the Caliph of ISIS.

    As for your options FDC, I would add a couple:

    Option 5: A coup d'etat. Hell, we have not been slick enough to engineer one of those in a long time. Haven't done one in Syria since Miles Copeland pulled it off in 49! And that went badly. We are no smarter now. And besides, the Assads have pretty much coup-proofed their country: generals all have family ties, majority of career soldiers are Alawite co-religionists, Republican Guard is 100% Alawite, multiple internal security directorates, minorities are kept paranoid against each other, etc. So sadly, I'll pass on this one.

    Option #6: Send Melania on a meet and greet with Assad's wife Asma. Oh wait. Asma, known as the Rose of the Desert, although equally lovely as Melania, was never a model. She has an Honours degree in Computer Science from King's College London and a dual major in French Lit. Plus she had a career as an economic analyst in investment banking prior to her marriage. Alas, our Melania, like myself, is a university drop out. I fear we will be outclassed and outcharmed.

    Option #7: Same as #1, get out of Syria now. With a few caveats. Get Turkey and Israel and Saudi Arabia out of Syria and keep them out. By hook or by crook, by blackmail, by influencing them economically, by working with Putin & Khamenei, or by working against Putin & Khamenei. Erdogan and Netanyahu and Salman are the primary problems in Syria. Easy peasy.

    1. About that option 7...

      for the fucking life of me...and I swear on top of a stack of history books...

      Israel...for fucks sakes...when enemy of your enemy is attacking each other...STAND OUT OF THE WAY.



      I don't care if Captain Dingersnatch Bin Boybanger of the Peoples Republic of Bombmaking makes a rare appearance on the battlefield of of Syria...keep your fucking planes on your side of the border!

      It's not hard strategic concept...let your enemies kill each other, and then when they're done killing each other...then, and only then do you go in and clean house, and take out the Captain.

      I'm beginning to question Israel's strategic thinking.

    2. Israel since 1967 has reminded me strongly of the French First Empire. Great at war. At figuring how to make an advantageous peace? Not so much.

      Of course, it has much the same problem Napoleon's France had; an enemy (or group of enemies) utterly unwilling to cede it legitimacy. So there was little hope that, even had Nappie been a cooing dove or a gentle lamb - and he was not, that his enemies would let him be.

      But, that said, Israel has lived by the sword for so long that I'm increasingly convinced that it doesn't know how to live any other way. Look at the ridiculous occupation of southern Lebanon that managed to wipe out the armed PLO faction and replace it with Hizbullah; several orders of magnitude more lethal and a LOT less reasonable.

      I question OUR strategic thinking in binding ourselves to the Israelis. They're like that annoying pal who gets blind drunk every time we go out in public and picks fights with the baddest dudes in the bar. Sheesh. I need that like I need a freaking hole in the head...

    3. Ain't that a fact...Israel has a hammer, and after 70 years everything, strangely looks like a nail!

  5. >>it's that the West "won't" do intelligent strategy, because to do so would require the various parties to be willing to stop thinking in terms of short-term political advantage in a system that ONLY rewards short-term political advantage.<<

    That's the Crux, isn't it? If we, and the other Western Democracies don't have our Houses in order, how can we handle putting other people's into good order? Splinters, beams and eyeballs.
    Europe is muddling about trying to discover their identity, and we have Trump. Who, as I contend, is the natural result of US politics over the past several decades. If we're looking for a "Stable Genius" in the West, who's left but Putin? For all his faults both alleged and proven, he's appears to be sanely running his realm. And in the East, China's Xi. If you were an alien ambassador from another star system, who would you want to deal with in First Contact? Both are dictatorships and does that tell us something of use?
    Instead of constructing intricate solutions to other people's problems all of which have possibilities but also serious drawbacks, maybe we should figure out the best way to run a Homo Sap Existence


    1. The U.S.' electoral system was designed for a small agrarian polity at the far edge of the "developed" 18th Century world by people who kidded themselves about the natural cupidity and short-sightedness of their fellow citizens. The naive insistence that no patriotic Americans would put party over country tells you all you need to know about that.

      I would opine that the past half-century's development of electronic media and communications has helped shorten the horizon for many, if not all, Western politicians, and the U.S. has led the way - probably because it's lack of a parliamentary legislature encourages parties to work against each other rather than forcing them to form coalitions on occasion.

      There is not now any real impetus for an American politician or political party to look even to the medium-term, much less the long-term; the GOP is Patient Zero for this "hold my beer" sort of politics. Their policy positions, as I keep reminding everyone here, range from ludicrous to truly horrific in even the medium term. Pimping for a New Gilded Age while ignoring the Sixth Extinction and climate change? Who the fuck wants that outside of a handful of old white guys who'll be long dead by the time the chickens come home to roost?

      But there's no reward for long-term thinking. Jimmy Carter was laughed at when he wore a sweater and advised people to turn down the thermostat. Michelle Obama was scorned for recommending that kids eat healthy and exercise. Americans want to drive 110 down the freeway with a beer in one hand and a cheeseburger in the other, and they'll vote for the party that promises that they can do that without any consequences whatsoever.

      So, yes. The problem isn't "them". It's "us". But as a student of history my confidence in "We" figuring that out and taking action is about the same as my expectation to win the Irish Sweepstakes.

    2. Oo...BB, not liking the choices.

      Putin is an old school monarch of the Henry the VIII caliber...and by that, I mean there isn't a human being under the sun who wasn't expendable for one reason or another.
      The other salient point should be made that Putin, for his stellar adroitness to use our own technology against us, and then stand out of the way doesn't wipe away the fact that he's still a ham-fisted-mouth-breather when it comes to subtlety.

      Remember, he's no Ivan the Terrible, though he fancies the methodology of his fore father, he's way to much into brutish, "kill him, and him, and...t'ah...him, no, the other one, we'll get to that one later." we gett'n into some diplomatic and social/economic nuances that are a Gordian Knot of epic proportions.

      China history is mastery of trade...I'm talking thousands of years of international, serious as shit...we're playing with stone Jenga blocks in the West, and China has a culture that makes Egypt look like stone age barbarians...and Europeans were stone age barbarians.

      And right now we, the United States got a PAL league team of cutie Kindergartners in State going head to head with a nation of people who have thousands of years of experience in Trade Negotiations, and Trump with Tillerson defenestrated

      If I were an Alien, I think Xi's China would be point of Contact.

  6. Basilbeast has it right! How can Trump devise a strategy for Syria when he is too busy screaming invective or trying to cover up his various scandals. Same for his minions. How can the so-called imperturbable and impartial foreign policy analysts and envoys conduct diplomacy when they have an unhinged president who is not in his right mind?

    So maybe the answer is option #5, but not for Syria.

  7. "My unfortunate conclusion is that the domestically-do-able policies for Syria - and, by inference, the greater Middle East - are neither sane nor workable, and the sane-and-workable policies are not politically do-able...without a massive and thoroughgoing reconstruction of the United States political order."


  8. Eight years ago we discussed in comments what's a vital interest at all.
    All-too many topics - including the current one - come down to this one question.

    Why the fuck does the U.S. military kill some people on a distant continent? What's the reason, motivation, justification, interest behind this?

    I do very often see claims by Americans that indicate a disgust for military-industrial-congressional complex, but the habits and the mobilisation by vilification of groups of 'other people' are still strong.

    Hence ours are the only English language mil blogs that I consider to be reliably anti-war of aggression (not quite the same as anti-war).

  9. Today's copy of the WSJ has an article titled U.S. Seeks Arab Force and Funding for Syria.

    Reportedly Bolton is talking to his counterpart in Egypt. Plus there have been suggestions made to the Saudis and the UAE. Blackwater's Prince may be interested. Whole scheme sounds pretty dumba$$ to me. Just what we need to further inflame the major Shia/Sunni divide. But perhaps that is the intent?

    Link is here:

    But it is behind a paywall. I don't buy the Journal, but read it while waiting for my bride at the doctor's office. Hmmm, maybe I should get her a different doctor.

    1. The plan may be to waste precious Russian resources by keeping a conflict lit that Russia got entangled in.
      Many people belive that the Soviet Union collapsed due to the stress of occupying Afghanistan (which is bollocks), single trick ponies like Bolton may hope to eulate/repeat that.

      In this case it would be a most cynical effort in which the Syrians and Kurds are mere sacrificable pawns. It would make sense to use lots of auxiliary forces in such a strategy. The U.S. "funding" might be largely limited to buying from Lockheed Martin, Academi et cetera so half of the funds return as taxes and the election campaign/Super PAC activity funding flow is strong. Similar to how military aid to Israel works.

      When has U.S. foreign policy last succeeded in healing a conflict between two very hostile factions abroad? The Camp David Accords of 1978 came the closest IMO.

    2. Sven -

      I suspect it is more of an attempt to set up the Iranians and the Saudis/Gulfies into a shoot-out. Face to face rather than thru Yemeni proxies. Where we could then conveniently intervene. I would hope that the princes and emirs are too smart to take the bait. Sisi has already said that Egypt would not consider it unless American troops remained.

      But perhaps you are right. Or it could have been thought of as a combo, a twofer as we call them.

    3. This "Arab Force" sounds like the sort of thing only a fucking dolt who still believes that Operation Mess-o-potamia was a roaring success would think possible.

      First, al-Sisi has NO interest in throwing Egyptian troops into a nightmarish counter-guerrilla operation in eastern Syria. For one thing, he has a nasty little counterinsurgancy in the Sinai to worry about. For another, if anything, the al-Sisi government aligns with Assad; they're not going to back some sort of independent American proxy outfit that will blunder around getting in the Syrian Arab Army's way. And the Egyptian Army HATES expeditionary war - the Saudis wanted them to get into Yemen and the Egyptian brass told them to fuck right off.

      As for the Gulf princes, their own military isn't worth much of a shit outside the SANG, and the whole Saudi leadership just got sacked for their forces' performance in Yemen. So it's unlikely that the Saudis will come up with anything better, even if they wanted to.

      No, I think this is a typical Trump grift. He wants out because he can't see a way to make money or good press out of it, plus his default setting that the brown bastards are laughing at and making bank off of "us". But...the moment he opened his piehole and said that he got shit from everybody from Left to Right, and his wingnut fanbois were the worst.

      So...this is a way to "get out" without, y'know..."getting out". It's despicable and fake, but that's right in the Trumpster's wheelhouse. It lets him cover his capacious backside while scuttling away to the next con.

    4. Not so quick. A deployment of troops to Syria would take their commanders out of the picture regarding possible coups against al-Sisi.

    5. True...but I'm not sure his senior officers are unhappy w al-Sisi. Right now he's giving them the defenestration of the Muslim Brotherhood and the crushing of the "Arab Spring" rabble they want. And with Trump on the throne there's no pesky nagging from D.C. What's not to like?

  10. Below is a link to another article on the subject of Arab troops to Syria. It also goes into the history of the Egyptian & Syrian troops in Kuwait and Iraq during Desert Storm in 91.

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  12. Since this post was put up, I've seen a number of doubts about the veracity of the chemical attacks, WRT 1) Did they actually occur or 2) if there were such attacks, did Assad do it?
    Just like last year. And just like last year, IMO, we're left with a boiling pot of idiocy and soaring defense industry stocks.
    Stavridis' comment about "fatigue" popped my cork.


  13. Basil -

    I have seen those same doubts.

    Regarding your #1): I do not trust Trump. I believe he could make up such a story to wag the dog so that his other troubles could get lesser priority from the media. But I do not believe that President Macron and Prime Minister May have any such reason to blow smoke up our butts. So yes IMHO the chem attacks actually occurred. Many of the doubts are rooted in Russian dezinformatsiya.

    Regarding #2): We will never know if it was Assad himself. It could have been very easy for one of his subordinates to have ordered the attack without Assad's knowledge. It may have been done to save lives of Syrian Army troops. The Jaysh al-Islam in Douma was putting up stiff resistance. And it was taking its toll in blood within the elite Tiger Forces. This despite the propaganda that the Syrian Army was already winning there so had no reason to use chlorine or sarin. That was not true, the regime was winning overwhelmingly in the rest of the Ghouta pocket, but not in the Douma section against Jaysh al-Islam. Or it could have been done by someone high up in the regime with political aspirations wanting to discredit Assad.

    In any case the threat of future chemical attacks has apparently demoralized many other opposition groups. The Eastern Qalamoun pocket has just fallen. Many of the jihadis there are taking the promised bus ride to the Turkish controlled areas of Syria like Idlib or Jarabulus. And there is a report that one FSA group from that pocket has decided to join with the regime and are being mustered into a pro-Assad militia.

    1. Having said that, i also say it is not our job to be the planet police.

    2. The U.S. hasn't been the planet police / global policeman after 1951. It was such for a few months only.

      Vietnam was great power influence sphere gaming that was maqueraded as anti-domino strategy.

      Most of what came after Vietnam was more akin to a schoolyard bully than a rule-bound policeman. Then again, I'm thinking of Western European-style policemen.

  14. Does whatever news and information that comes out of Syria from whoever or who kills whoever by whatever type of weaponry really matter anymore? Everyone whose hands are in this mess is corrupt and filthy.
    Macron apparently is not all that French voters hoped he would be and May? With the history of the UK and Iraq and Blair Bush's Poodle? May needs to be sent back out to the cornfield.
    What used to be respected and trusted institutions no longer are and that condition has been many years in the making.
    Recall the discussions held here WRT Obama and Hillary getting us into Libya? Our America has a long history not just being Mike's "planet police" but also the planet's Americaforming agent in shaping our fellow human beings for our benefit.
    It just doesn't matter anymore, Chief, who's right and who's wrong. And I don't have the answer, I'm convinced no one has.
    I've got as few notions, mostly hope.


    1. Well, basil, it's usually not good to be "wrong" as in "ethnic cleansing" type wrong, if only because that's a truly vile kind of person to be and I personally wouldn't want to be that.

      But in this case it's not really an issue of right or wrong, simply practicality. A nation has only so much bold and treasure, and it has to live with the results of spending both. Regardless of the cause - and I suspect that the Assad regime wanted a simple solution to a difficult tactical problem, and took it - the response was pointless. Every death, and every dollar, was a waste; if anything, it left Syria worse off than before.

      As a US citizen that's irking. But as a historian and an observer of the ongoing history that is current events it's REALLY annoying to the degree it shows how badly the people who are supposed to be running our foreign policy are truly out of ideas. When the best option truly is "do no harm" and you do harm anyway, because you have a hammer and feel obliged to swing it? Right or wrong, that's just goddamn stupid.

  15. Sven -

    But many today also see the Syria conflict as a proxy, imperial war between Iran and the US/Israelis/Saudis/Gulfies, or between Russia and the West. IMHO that ignores the R2P aspect and suffering of a quarter to half a million Syrians that got the US involved there in the first place. The US did not invent the ideals of R2P. That was Kofi Annan, the African Union, and the Canadian establishment of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), later endorsed by ALL members of the United Nations in 2005.

    Unfortunately the US jumped in to the R2P arena with both feet even though we did not conceive the concept. But we botched it with our usual ham-handedness, bipolar politics, and reliance on kinetics. And we do not apply R2P evenly. We ignore Turkey's genocide of Kurds in Afrin and in Southeast Turkey to keep them in NATO. Perhaps if Russia is the great world power that it aspires to be it should carry the torch for R2P instead of encouraging Assad to commit more atrocities. Or China should get off the sidelines.

    In any case, I and every American I know, denounces further US intervention in Syria.

    But denouncing intervention and condemning Assad's atrocities are not mutually exclusive.

    1. 2nd to last sentence in 2nd paragraph should have read:

      Perhaps if Russia is the great world power that it aspires to be it should carry the torch for R2P instead of encouraging Assad and Erdogan to commit more atrocities.