Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 7 Comments

Next City: In a war, anything can be a weapon. In a particularly ruthless war, such as the conflict that has been raging in Syria for more than three years, those weapons are often turned against civilians, making any semblance of normal life impossible. Such is the case, experts say, with the way the nation’s water supply is being manipulated to inflict suffering on the population. According to an article posted by Chatham House, a London-based independent policy institute, water…… [read more]

It’s the Regime, Stupid: Missing the Point on Iranian Nuclear Weapons

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 5 months ago

Here are the key, closing paragraphs of an opinion piece by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in The Washington Post on March 5, 2012:

As for Iran in particular, I will take every measure necessary to check the evil regime of the ayatollahs. Until Iran ceases its nuclear-bomb program, I will press for ever-tightening sanctions, acting with other countries if we can but alone if we must. I will speak out on behalf of the cause of democracy in Iran and support Iranian dissidents who are fighting for their freedom. I will make clear that America’s commitment to Israel’s security and survival is absolute. I will demonstrate our commitment to the world by making Jerusalem the destination of my first foreign trip.

Most important, I will buttress my diplomacy with a military option that will persuade the ayatollahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions. Only when they understand that at the end of that road lies not nuclear weapons but ruin will there be a real chance for a peaceful resolution.

I am not seeking to pick on Mitt Romney.  Rather, his approach to the obvious Iranian drive for nuclear weapons is emblematic of a far wider phenomenon.   As James Carville so succinctly pointed out, the 1992 presidential campaign primarily turned upon the economy and not national security (“the economy, stupid”).   It must be pointed out (repeatedly) in this context that the primary issue is not the development of nuclear weapons per se but the nature of those who would control such weapons.  In short, It’s the Regime, Stupid.

It is a fool’s errand to simply “check the evil regime” or “persuade the ayatollahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions.”   This is akin to persuading water to flow uphill.   The Iranian Regime seeks nuclear weapons because they rightly surmise that possession of such weapons provides them with the same kind of invulnerability that has allowed a succession of dictators in North Korea from being threatened by the West.   No amount of sanctions or finger-wagging or diplomacy will convince them otherwise.

We must face the fact that the nuclear genie is already out of the bottle when it comes to Iran.   They have the scientists and industrial resources right now to re-build or re-constitute their nuclear program even if the U.S. and/or Israel successfully destroyed the present facilities.   According to the German newspaper, Die Welt, the Iranians have already successfully tested a uranium nuclear device under cover in North Korea.

This is not to say that the United States should throw up its hands and accept the inevitable.   By all means, preventing the Regime from advancing further and producing multiple devices in the near future is an imperative.   But it is simply not enough.   As Jamie Fly and Gary Schmitt argue in Foreign Affairs :

The Obama administration has avoided the choice between a military operation and a nuclear Iran — relying on the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions that Iran has not made the final decision to develop a weapon. But if history is any guide, its faith in receiving any intelligence to the contrary in a timely and unambiguous way is misplaced. Kroenig is correct then to argue that a military strike should be in the cards. But he is wrong to suggest that a limited strike is the only one that should be on the table. If strikes are chosen, it would be far better to put the regime at risk than to leave it wounded but still nuclear capable and ready to fight another day.

But even beyond this view, the real hope— the only hope, really– is that the Iranian people will reject the militant Islamist policies of the Regime and return the country to its pro-Western, democratic norm.   If an open, pro-Western government is installed in Tehran, the fears and difficulties associated with nuclear weapons dissipate.   In the end, it is already too late to keep Iran from possessing nuclear weapons if they truly want them.   We can only ensure that those possessing such weapons are at least as unlikely as India to use them for nefarious ends.   The 21st Century, in fact, will largely be about not only preventing the spread of nuclear weapons but, perhaps more than anything, about ensuring that dangerous regimes who seek them are toppled quickly and remorselessly.

The Better War

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 5 months ago

There are a lot of Milbloggers, military aficionados, knowledgeable members of the military, and veterans of wars that can and often do weigh in on issues of policy, strategy, tactics, techniques and procedures.  But occasionally a real warrior-scholar steps into the fray, and we are always blessed with insights beyond what we could normally bring to the table.  Gian Gentile is just such a warrior-scholar.  I do not believe that a man has to have waged war in order to be a scholar and great historian on it, but with Gentile, we have the entire package.  He has both studied it and lived it.  He is both a friend and a genuinely good man, and we are richer for having his insights.

Gentile uses the occasion of a new book to give us insights into Vietnam, extending his lessons into Iraq and Afghanistan.  The book is Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam, by Lewis Sorley.  Gentile begins his review thusly.

DID GENERAL Westmoreland lose Vietnam? The answer is no. But he did lose the war over the memory of the Vietnam War. He lost it to military historian Lewis Sorley, among others. In his recent biography of William C. Westmoreland, Sorley posits what might be called “the better-war thesis”—that a better war leading to American victory was available to the United States if only the right general had been in charge. The problem, however, is that this so-called better war exists mostly in the minds of misguided historians and agenda-driven pundits.

[ ... ]

In 2008, former secretary of defense Robert Gates chided the American military establishment, and the army in particular, for its affliction of “Next-War-itis.” Parts of the American military, lamented Gates, were too focused on fighting hypothetical future wars rather than the immediate wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the secretary also might have noted another dangerous affliction suffered by parts of the U.S. Army: “Past-War-itis.” Those afflicted with this disease obsess about a Vietnam defeat they believe should have been averted.

Sorley titles his book Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam. This is “Past-War-itis” run amok. Is it possible that a single man actually lost the war and all of Vietnam? The question is pertinent today because many seeking to bring logic to the past ten years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have embraced the simplistic concept that to win those wars we just need to put the right guy in charge. One such example is the Council on Foreign Relations’ Max Boot, an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars … another example is writer Thomas Ricks, one of the purveyors of the better-war thesis for Iraq. Ricks wrote a glowing jacket endorsement for Sorley’s book, and he also noted on his military-affairs blog that it would probably end up as the “definitive” biography of Westmoreland. If one is interested, however, in a fair and balanced historical biography of William C. Westmoreland, Ricks is wildly off the mark.

The better-war thesis argues that there was a tactical panacea in Vietnam—a golden cipher of success—just waiting for the right general who could grasp and apply it. Instead, for the first three years of the war beginning in 1965, the U.S. Army was led by a fumbling general named William Childs Westmoreland, who did not crack the code that would have produced victory for the United States. Luckily, as the better-war thesis continues, once Westmoreland was replaced in the summer of 1968 by a savior general named Creighton Abrams, everything changed for the better, and Abrams’s army actually won the war in the South by 1971. The tragedy, according to this thesis, was that weak American politicians undermined the victory by eventually cutting off material support to South Vietnam after the United States departed in 1972.

Weak American politicians and an unwilling American public did indeed undermine the campaign, but I’ll basically state my agreement with Gian’s thesis on the better general, while I’ll also [later] demur with some of his specific findings on Vietnam and Iraq. We’ll continue with Gian’s observations.

The tale of a better war in Vietnam is seductive. It offers a simple explanation of an army redeemed through tactical innovation brought about by a savior general. But the United States did not lose the Vietnam War because it didn’t have the right general in charge at the start, or because of weak politicians toward the end of the war. Washington lost because it failed at strategy. It failed, in short, to discern that the war was unwinnable at a cost in blood and treasure that the American people would accept. There was never a “better war” in Vietnam.

THIS FAITH in the promise of better tactical wars with savior generals has emerged in full force in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In August 2007, as the violence in Iraq dropped precipitously, Clifford May, former New York Times reporter and current president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, identified Petraeus as the main cause of the reduction in violence. May wrote that this enlightened general replaced a failed general and then equipped his army in Iraq with new methods for conducting counterinsurgency. Later, in October 2009, Sorley penned a New York Times article that praised the counterinsurgency tactics of General Stanley McChrystal, then senior American commander in Afghanistan. May and Sorley saw Iraq and Afghanistan as better wars in the making based on the arrival of savior generals.

[ ... ]

But the conditions in Iraq that would lead to the lowering of violence in late 2007 were already in place. They included the spread of the Anbar Awakening and the decision of Shia militias to end attacks against Sunni civilians. Recently published databases such as the Iraq Body Count project’s show quite clearly that the sectarian violence peaked in December 2006 and then started to drop a good two months before Petraeus ever rode onto the scene with his new counterinsurgency manual in hand. Petraeus, the savior general, played only a marginal role in the greater series of events and circumstances that brought down the level of Iraqi violence.

I do indeed think that there was a “better war” in Vietnam – not in the sense that Gian critiques – but we’ll get to that later.  His observations on Iraq contain a number of things I have personally addressed with Gian, but it will be useful and productive to lay it out for closer inspection.

First, let’s address the so-called Anbar Awakening.  The Awakening – primarily in 2006 and beyond – was significant.  It certainly truncated the Marine Corps campaign for Anbar shorter than what it would have been.  But it was primarily a feature of Ramadi, and it was primarily a feature that obtained as a result of hard Marine Corps combat operations in the Anbar Province convincing the population that the victor would ultimately be the Marine Corps.

In Haditha late in 2006 and early in 2007 pacification is primarily attributed to a former officer in the Saddam Hussein army known simply as Colonel Faruq, with the power and charisma to bring the town to heel, along with sand berms around the city (constructed by the Marines) to prevent transnational insurgents from coming in from Syria and causing problems.

In Al Qaim, the fight against al Qaeda began in 2005 when Abu Ahmed took them on, lost, fled to the desert, and sought (and obtained) help from the U.S. Marines to defeat AQ.  In Fallujah in 2007, al Qaeda fighters were so firmly ensconced in the city that the people, fearing for their lives, were sending their own children out to mark and encircle Marine patrols with balloons (at the direction of the AQ fighters) so that the patrols could be targeted with crew served weapons.

It took the 2/6 Marines using extremely hard and aggressive tactics, coupled with local IPs and block captains, or Mukhtars, recruited from among the population, again using extremely hard and aggressive tactics, to drive AQ from the city.

My point is that invoking the Anbar Awakening has become in many ways symptomatic the campaign.  It’s as if without it, the Marines wouldn’t have been successful, but with it, Anbar was Shangri La.  Neither view is true.  Nor is it true that the Marines weren’t grateful for what awakening that did occur in various parts of Anbar.  The truth is more complex than simple narratives can possible convey.

Similarly, to say that the Shia militias decided to end attacks on the Sunnis misses the point, and in the superlative degree.  Perhaps they did, but this bit of historical myopia is tailor made for constructing false narratives about Baghdad and the Shia South.

In 2003 the 3/2 Marines had Moqtada al Sadr in their custody (this is as conveyed from the Battaion Commander to Andrew Lubin).  They were ordered to release him.  Then as the U.S. Marines (BLT 1/4) and U.S. Army Calvary swept through al-Najaf in 2004, for all practical purposes they obliterated the Sadrist militia.  The year of 2004 could have seen the virtual end of the organized Shi’a militia threat.  The 1/4 Marines had surrounded Moqtada al Sadr (see this John Burns interview, beginning at 17:20 into the discussion).  Sadr and his militia were essentially finished twice, once in 2003 and again in 2004, due to 3/2 and 1/4 Marine Corps combat operations.  Both times they were ordered to stand down.*

We could have chosen to kill Sadr, finish the Shi’a militia, and end the threat of a violent Shi’a uprising against the Sunni population.  We chose unwisely, and the order came down to let Sadr go.  To say that the Shi’a militia later decided to end attacks against the Sunnis is to miss the bigger picture, i.e., there wouldn’t have been any Sadr to command them, and likely no militia to speak of, had we engaged in the “better war” in Iraq when we had the chance.  Instead we had Paul Bremer, the British and horrible leadership.  It was a toxic combination, and it cost precious lives.

Meanwhile to the West, campaign command pulled the Marines back from Al Fajr I, creating the necessity for Al Fajr II, more loss of lives, more time wasted, and more legitimacy lost.  We didn’t fight the better war in Fallujah either.  And when we completed the job, we sent Marines on wasteful MEUs rather than into Fallujah to ensure stability, and thus the 2/6 Marines had to deal with an ensconced al Qaeda in 2007.

But something tells me what while Gian and I may disagree on the details of the campaign in Iraq, he would concur with my general theme.  Gian observes of Vietnam:

The better-war thesis argues that if only the U.S. Army had concentrated from the start on building up the South Vietnamese armed forces and winning the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese people through limited applications of military force, we would have won the war. But the question remains: Precisely how could tactical adjustments early in the war have overpowered the political constraints placed on the army by the Johnson administration, which kept it from taking the fight to the North Vietnamese? Or the dysfunctional nature of the South Vietnamese government and military that precluded them from standing on their own? Or the declining popular support and political will in the United States as the war dragged on without a decent end in sight? Or, perhaps most importantly, how could tactical adjustments toward better methods of counterinsurgency have overpowered a communist enemy that fought the war totally while the United States fought it with limited means? In his Westmoreland biography, Sorley essentially ignores these questions.

Could the United States have prevailed in Vietnam? Yes, but it would have had to commit to staying there for generations, not a mere handful of years. The Vietnam War was an attempt at armed nation building for South Vietnam.

The better fight in Vietnam to which I earlier referred has nothing to do with staying for generations or armed nation-building.  These are the policy mistakes we have made in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We tend to see campaigns as failures unless they install governments and re-create populations that never pose another threat to the U.S.  But this isn’t reality, and this is certainly not the way the U.S. Marines think about these issues.

This last point isn’t mere inter-service rivalry.  I cannot count the number of times I have heard Marines express their desire to end campaigns quickly, and then go back and do it again in two, five or ten years if the need arises.

The better war to which I refer was alluded to by Gian when he posed the question, “Precisely how could tactical adjustments early in the war have overpowered the political constraints placed on the army by the Johnson administration, which kept it from taking the fight to the North Vietnamese?”

If this question isn’t explored, the book is essentially worthless no matter how many endorsements the author obtained.  Consider for a moment how we dealt with the threat from Germany during World War II.

The burning of Hamburg that night was remarkable in that I saw not many fires but one.  Set in the darkness was a turbulent dome of bright red fire, lighted and ignited like the glowing heart of a vast brazier.  I saw no flames, no outlines of buildings, only brighter fires which flared like yellow torches against a background of bright red ash.  Above the city was a misty red haze.  I looked down, fascinated but aghast, satisfied yet horrified.  I had never seen a fire like that before and was never to see its like again.

Roads melted, and some people were seen stuck in the melted asphalt, having put their hands out to try to get out, only to get their hands stuck as well.  Many were seen on fire, eventually melting in their own fat.  Eight square miles of Hamburg were completely burned out that night, killing 45,000 Germans.

If we had not done this, countless more American lives would have been lost, and the war may not have been won by the allies at all.  Destruction of the will and industry to wage war was necessary to end the war, whether this fits into the American clinical view of bloodless war or not.

Compare this with the decision to refuse to take the fight to the North Vietnamese.  Consider for a moment what would have happened if we had bombed the dikes and dams on the Red River Delta.  To be sure, the cost in human tragedy would have been staggering, but this is exactly the point.  We wish to wage war, but only partly.  The Viet Cong insurgency in the South was for all practical purposes defeated (in spite of the succor given to them by the North via the Ho Chi Minh trail), and it was the entrance of the NVA regulars that saved the insurgency.  A hobbled North Vietnam from having bombed the Red River Delta for year wouldn’t have been able to give the kind of assistance that the VC got.  It might have even brought down the regime.

Back to Iraq, if we had taken on the Syrian pre-deployment camps for AQ fighters (80 – 150 fighters per year crossed the border to fight in Iraq), and if we had fought the Iranian Quds forces by targeting them in Iraq and elsewhere (while we also engaged in a program of targeting Quds generals like Suleimani), and if we had allowed the Marines to kill Sadr and finish off his militia, and if we had allowed them to continue the sweep through Anbar like they started it in Fallujah, and if we had sent more Marines into Anbar instead of on wasteful MEUs … what would the campaign have looked like?

Gian continues:

In war, political and societal will are calculations of strategy, and strategists in Vietnam should have discerned early on that the war was simply unwinnable based on what the American people were willing to pay. Once the war started and it became clear that to prevail meant staying for an unacceptable amount of time, American strategy should have moved to withdraw much earlier than it did. Ending wars fought under botched strategy and policy can be every bit as damaging as the wars themselves.

The better-war thesis, with its seductively simple cause-and-effect schema, buries the reality of American strategic failure in Vietnam.

The campaign in Vietnam was unwinnable under the stipulations dictated by the President, Congress and perhaps the Secretary of Defense.  And the campaign was unwinnable if winning was defined as building an American-like democracy (in which Gian is correct, taking multiple decades of toil).  On this Gian and I concur.  The proposed end was wrong, and the means weren’t defined in a manner that matched the proposed end.

Gian goes on to supply data that contradicts Sorley’s theses.  Again, I concur.  Westmoreland didn’t lose the war in Vietnam any more than Creighton Abrams could have won it with alternative tactics.  Tactics, techniques and procedures don’t replace strategy, and they certainly don’t replace policy.

The “better” general in Iraq didn’t win Iraq.  As we have [briefly] discussed, the hard work of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps was done before and during the tenure of all the generals who commanded the campaign.  It was a matter of time, endurance and professionalism by the U.S. military.  To the extent that we attained success in Iraq, it is attributable to the U.S. military.  To the extent that we failed in Iraq, it is attributable to lack of vision or clear policy by the administration(s), e.g., the failure to fight Iraq as a regional war, the support of corrupt Iranian apparatchiks like Nouri al-Maliki, the failure to secure the borders, the engagement of protracted nation-building, etc.

Afghanistan is lost due to the same reasons.  I generally give the U.S. military more credit and attribute more capabilities to them than does Gian.  But one thing the U.S. military cannot pull off is replacement for national policy.  Gian reminds us again that seeking out military heroes to do just this is a distinctly American pastime, but it is mistaken and dangerous, at least for the thinking men among us.

* Thanks to  Wes Morgan and Andrew Lubin for assisting me to get the Marine Corps units and dates correct regarding operations in 2003 and 2004.

U.S. Foreign Policy and Syria: What is Best for the U.S.?

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 5 months ago

Syria today is a text book conundrum for the Left.

Obama and the Left have a strange habit of embracing authoritarian and dictatorial foreign leaders among whom Bashir Assad is only one of many: Hugo Chavez, Vladmir Putin, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, Fidel Castro and Saudi King Abdullah.  When these authoritarians, however, let their security forces run amok and kill too many civilians with the gumption to call for individual liberty (too many for even the Left’s media to ignore), they tie themselves in knots trying to figure out a response.

So we have the recent publication by the left-leaning think tank, Center for New American Security (CNAS), Marc Lynch, “Pressure Not War: A Pragmatic and Prinipled Policy Towards Syria.”

Lynch’s paper is a classic example of the Left desperately seeking a rationale and a non-military approach to the recurrent problem of 21st Century dictators– terror-sponsoring ones at that– who must use increasingly bloody means to suppress the natural– dare we say God-given?– desire for freedom of common people.

Consider this summary of the problem presented by Lynch:

U.S. and other Western officials assert frequently that the collapse of the Asad regime is only a matter of time. Indeed, President Obama stated on February 6 that Asad’s fall “is not going to be a matter of if, it’s going to be a matter of when.”4 But Asad’s fall could take a long time. In the interim, many Syrians will die, and the conflict could evolve into an extended regional proxy war that victimizes the Syrian people.

A drawn out internal war could shatter the possibility of a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Syria and reverberate across the region. Within Syria, a civil war could entrench sectarian identities, shatter communities and stoke a desire for revenge that makes reconciliation after Asad impossible. A civil war would also destabilize Syria’s neighbors, including Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey, and the political instability and movement of people and arms could create new security risks for both Israel and Iran. It might also create opportunities for jihadist groups to establish a foothold in Syria, a danger that U.S. intelligence fears is already beginning to materialize. 5 If the peaceful Syrian uprising transforms into an insurgency backed and armed by outside powers against a ruthless but still viable regime, Syria could replicate Lebanon of the 1980s, on steroids.

Beyond these strategic concerns, there is a humanitarian imperative to help the Syrian people. The horrifying evidence of massacres and regime brutality make it difficult – and wrong – for the world to avert its gaze. Some critics accuse the United States of double standards and hypocrisy for focusing on Syria while turning a blind eye to abuses in Bahrain or defending Israel against international pressure, but these accusations ring hollow given irrefutable evidence of massive human rights violations and the use of deadly force against thousands of civilians. The United States has a real interest in preventing atrocities, especially since the outcome in Syria will inevitably either strengthen or badly injure the international concept of the Responsibility to Protect and other more limited efforts to establish regional and international norms against impunity for those who commit atrocities against civilians.6

[Emphasis added].

When I read this recitation of justifications for intervention, it is the case of the dog that did not bark.   Notice what is entirely missing from all of the reasons highlighted above for U.S. involvement in Syria  (Hint: it is the same element missing from the Obama Administration’s justification for intervening in Libya): a vital, U.S. national interest.

It is almost inconceivable to me that any analysis of a foreign intervention of any kind does not start and largely end with a careful consideration of vital U.S. interests at stake.   Lynch cannot even bother himself to mouth the words, “vital U.S. interest.”   Instead, Lynch writes that the United States merely “has a real interest in preventing atrocities…”   A “real” interest?  What does that even mean?  Is that in contrast with a “feigned” interest?  An “imagined” interest?  A “concocted” interest?

Furthermore, this “real interest” is supposedly strengthened because a failure to prevent atrocities would “badly injure the international concept of the Responsibility to Protect.”   What is this?   Lynch helpfully explains in a footnote  that:

The Responsibility to Protect is a relatively new international legal doctrine which gives the international community the obligation to act to prevent atrocities against civilians. Key documents explaining this doctrine are available at http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/index. php/about-rtop/core-rtop-documents

Whatever the good intentions or noble purposes of this doctrine may be, it is clear that creating an international “obligation to act to prevent atrocities against civilians” is the proverbial Pandora’s Box to any number of unintended consequences and unforeseen disasters.  It is one thing to oppose the wanton killing of civilians by, for example, the Iranian Regime, and consider whether and what action to take.   It is a far different and potentially ruinous thing to create an international obligation to act.   To throw out just one example: what would stop the ever-enlightened U.N. from determining that innocent civilians were being killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan (or Yemen, or Somalia, or Afghanistan) thus creating an international obligation to prevent such “atrocities” ?  Such “action” would not likely take military form (although who can foresee a future China or Russia emboldened by deteriorating U.S. military capabilities), but it very well might take the form of sanctions, trade embargoes, freezing of assets abroad, etc…

In essence, then, the Left cannot bring themselves to posit a vital U.S. interest in anything.   Syria is proof of that.   Lynch cites humanitarian concerns and “regional proxy wars” that boil down to more human suffering, but he never reaches the point of articulating why, precisely any of these events necessarily threaten or enhance vital U.S. interests.

My theory is that the Left cannot make the argument because, in the final analysis, they do not believe that there is any, such thing as a U.S. interest insofar as such a thing might conflict with or run counter to international interests.  This type of internationalista thinking is based almost exclusively on emotional appeals to humanitarian concerns and is highly selective.  Where was this urgent, moral imperative, for instance, when the democracy movement in Iran was being beaten, killed, tortured and raped on a massive scale in 2009 and 2010?  Assad and his father before him were torturing and killing civilians all along, but not only did the Left not call for intervention, Obama rewarded Assad with an ambassador and monikers such as “reformer.”

But U.S. interests can and very often do run counter to the interests of other nations and even international agendas.   Any analysis of Syria, then, must start with the U.S. interest in Syria and what is best for the United States of America, not Bashar Assad, not the holy grail of “regional stability” and not even the Syrian people no matter how innocent they may be.

Using Mr. Lynch’s own criteria for intervention, we get an entirely different view of Syria than the internationalista approach.

For instance, Lynch (and the internationalistas as a whole) never asks the question of whether U.S. interests are better served by the status quo ante bellum or in the current state of civil war.   In fact, Lynch assumes without question that Syrian civil war is not in the interests of the U.S. and is something that should and must be stopped.   Furthermore, Obama and his acolytes were more than happy to accommodate the Dictator Assad prior to the civil unrest in 2011.  For the Left, stability with a dictator who views the U.S. as an enemy and is allied with arch-enemy Iran is preferable to instability.

If , however, we examine the Syrian civil war purely from U.S. interests, the conclusion is surely that, despite the current, deplorable suffering of the Syrian people, the uprising by Syrian civilians, to the extent it is a genuine attempt at democratic reform, must be seen as an enormous opportunity to further vital U.S. interests in a critical area of the world for U.S. energy supplies and national security.

An Assad Regime that is battling for its life is no longer an effective state sponsor of terrorism and Iranian cat’s paw.  The fact that Iran and Russia are investing heavily in resources, rhetoric and military units is ample evidence of the value of Assad in power and the perceived loss should he be toppled.   Even assuming that the Regime is not toppled any time soon, anything that keeps the Regime preoccupied with internal strife and in a perpetual state of unrest is a great, immediate benefit to the U.S. and its allies in the region.   Though it sounds Machiavellian to say, in the case of Syria, civil war at the moment is a good thing for the U.S.

Unlike Lynch, our analysis does not stop with whether the civil war in Syria is beneficial to the U.S. or not.  Lynch assumes ipso facto that the civil war in Syria is a bad thing for the U.S. and, a fortiori, intervention by the U.S. must occur in some form.  In our analysis, however, we see that the civil war is actually beneficial for the U.S. (at least for now and in its present form).   The U.S. could well be justified in allowing the civil war to take its course and weaken the Syrian Regime as much as possible.   But a foreign policy based on U.S. interests asks the further questions:  would intervention in Syria further benefit the U.S. and, if so, what form might that intervention take?

U.S. foreign policy cannot be dictated by logarithms of civilian casualties.   Instead, the U.S. must enter into a complicated calculus of risks and benefits in seeking to topple Assad and the methods necessary and appropriate to the task.

On the benefits side of the equation, the outright removal of the Assad Regime, would strike an enormous blow to the chief enemies of the West in the Middle East: Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.  Syria is a kind of linchpin for all three of these Islamist terror groups and it is questionable whether Hezbollah and Hamas could obtain anything like the Syrian support from either Egypt or Turkey.   Beyond severely wounding these groups, the removal of Assad opens up at least the possibility of a resurrection of the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon which has been increasingly strangled by Syrian-sponsored Hezbollah.   Lebanon has great potential to be a second pro-Western bulwark alongside Israel, a huge, net gain for the U.S.   This seems to be the key to assessing Syria: what can the U.S. hope to gain?  What is the potential payoff?  If the game is not worth the prize, best not to play the game at all.

This marks a real difference between Syria and Libya.  Even in hindsight, it is difficult to envision much of a benefit to the U.S. from Qaddafi’s removal.  Qaddafi ceased to be a national security threat to the U.S. in 2004 when he willingly abandoned his WMD programs.   Qaddafi himself was more of a circus act, useful for entertainment at the U.N., but of no international consequence.  He was not even using Libyan oil production as a weapon.   So the removal of Qaddafi and his replacement by even a pro-Western government does not seem to yield much of any benefit to the U.S. in contrast to the central importance of Syria in the Iranian terror web.

On the risk side of the equation, people like Marc Lynch and the Left make much of the dangers of “civil war” in Syria if the U.S. were to support the armed opposition, the so-called Free Syrian Army.   While it is true enough that civil war is brutal for those going through it, we have already seen that, for U.S. national interests, even a civil war is better than having Assad free to do the bidding of Tehran and cultivate Hamas and Hezbollah.  In any event, Syria is already in a state of civil war with the population increasingly arming itself and attacking the Assad Regime.   As even Lynch points out, faced with a murderous regime, the civilian population is going to find a supplier of weapons somewhere and the potential for Militant Islamists (as well as Salafist Saudi Arabia) to provide the weaponry and reap the inevitable loyalty is a very real danger.

Another risk, a more substantial one in my view, surprisingly not cited by Lynch, is the potential for Militant Islamists to come to power, as seems to be happening in Egypt and Tunisia, a bitter fruit of the Arab Spring.  Might the U.S. be repeating the mistakes made in Egypt by backing armed opposition to Assad?

Can we guarantee who will wind up governing Syria once Assad is gone?  Of course not.  But from a strategic point of view, Assad is already, in many ways, the worst case scenario.  It is difficult to imagine an Al-Qaeda Syria, for instance.    That is not their style, for one, and would open them up to the kind of U.S. power that they studiously avoid at all costs by hiding within a State.  What about the Muslim Brotherhood gaining power (as they seem poised to do in Egypt) ?  This is a real concern, of course, but not one that should leave the U.S. in paralysis.

First, it is unlikely that Syrian can be controlled by the MB in anything like the way that the Assads have controlled Syria.  Without the complete, police-state control of the Assad Regime, the MB will not have anything like the free hand that Assad enjoyed to enforce Tehran’s will in the region.  While the MB may be popular to even a large segment of the population, they would be quite unpopular with other, large segments.   Even if we could imagine an Egypt-like, worst-case scenario in which the MB gains overwhelming control of an eventual Syrian government, that is merely a possible eventuality and by no means, at this point, grounds for doing nothing.  Such thinking is taking the counsel of our fears (something at which the Obama Administration excels it seems).  If anything, the prospect of a MB government in Syria should be positive grounds to do something now, while we still can, to prevent it.

Having wrestled with the benefits and risks, it would seem that there is a clear balance in favor of intervening in some fashion.  But how?

Marc Lynch spends the better part of his paper advocating a diplomatic approach.  Granted, he wants a “forceful diplomacy”, more energetic and better coordinated, but, in the end, it is diplomacy.   Worse, it is diplomacy that has no chance of succeeding.  It is perfectly clear that the Assad Regime (and its backers in Tehran and Moscow) are not going to let go of power without a long, bloody fight.  No amount of sanctions or international condemnations are going to do anything to dislodge Assad from power for the simple reason that his backers will do what it takes to evade, veto, defeat and otherwise de-fang anything that the international community can wield diplomatically.   This is the point that the Left and the internationalistas cannot bring themselves to admit: for many problems in this fallen world, there is no peaceful solution no matter how sincere or well-intentioned the advocates may be.

Lynch does consider various military options being proposed: a no-fly zone; limited air strikes (a la Libya); civilian safe havens protected by some kind of military force; armed observers, and; arming the opposition.   He dismisses each one in turn but, again, for reasons that are steeped in humanitarian concern rather than blunt, U.S. interests.

So what form of action might U.S. intervention take, one that is founded acutely upon U.S. interests?

There is no, one right answer but an incremental approach that starts with providing at least covert, military assistance to some, select opposition fighters promises the best chance for advancing U.S. interests in Syria.

What does Lynch say, specifically, about arming the Syrian opposition?

Providing arms to the FSA might hasten Asad’s fall, but at the cost of a far bloodier conflict, greater divisions among the opposition groups and a more difficult transition if Asad falls from power. First, the regime would respond by quickly escalating its attacks, and would likely discard whatever restraint it has thus far shown in order to avoid outside intervention. It is unlikely that arms will give rebels enough power to defeat the regime on the battlefield and overthrow it, given the immense imbalance in favor of regime forces. It would also be very difficult to stop Russia, Iran or others from supplying fresh arms and aid to Asad once the opposition’s backers are openly doing so. Providing arms to a relatively weak opposition will not necessarily close the military gap – it might simply lead to a bloodier conflict.

Second, this option would likely further divide the different opposition groups, rather than encouraging their cooperation. The Syrian opposition remains fragmented, disorganized and highly localized. The FSA remains something of a fiction, a convenient mailbox for a diverse, unorganized collection of local fighting groups. Those groups have been trying to coordinate more effectively, but remain deeply divided.15 However, providing weapons is not a politically neutral act. Those with greater access to the networks that distribute Western guns and equipment will grow stronger, politically as well as militarily. The arming of the Sons of Iraq in 2006, for instance, dramatically shifted the political power of competing Sunni tribes and families in unexpected ways, and the effects continue to unfold today. Better armed fighters will rise in political power, while groups that advocate nonviolence or advance political strategies will be marginalized.

Third, arming the opposition also would radically reduce the prospects for a “soft landing” if and when Asad falls. It could further frighten Syrians who – fearing large scale sectarian violence – continue to support the regime, and make them less likely to switch sides. Arming the weaker side in a civil war is a recipe for protracted, violent conflict, and it would be foolish to assume that an insurgency once launched can be easily controlled.16 If Asad does fall from power, the armed opposition groups are unlikely to demobilize or disarm quickly. Instead, these armed groups would operate in a political and security vacuum amid accumulated fears and rage, with every possibility of reprisal killings and clashing militias.

However, if arming the opposition fails to solve the crisis relatively quickly, which is likely, there will inevitably be calls to conduct the airstrikes discussed above. In other words, what appears to be an alternative to military intervention is actually more likely to be a step towards military intervention. Arming the opposition is therefore a misguided, risky and potentially disastrous option. That said, arms are likely to flood the country if the civil war continues, regardless of U.S. preferences. That flow of arms into Syria will increasingly work at cross-purposes with diplomatic and political efforts to find a managed transition that avoids the worst outcomes.

None of Lynch’s arguments are persuasive.   Some, in fact, point towards arming the opposition.  Lynch’s three main arguments consist of reducing bloodshed, preventing the rise of factions (particularly ethnic/sectarian factions) among the opposition, and preserving the possibility for a smooth, post-Assad transition of power.

As to bloodshed, the blood is flowing quite freely right now and, tragically, it is all on the side of innocent civilians.  To argue that arming the opposition will only result in greater bloodshed may be strictly true, but amounts to the comforting notion that the opposition can bleed to death slowly rather than quickly.  If this rationale prevailed, French support for the American Revolution was wrong as well.  Lynch resorts to the ridiculous notion that no amount of arms can overcome the military advantage enjoyed by Assad’s forces.  Tell that to the mujaheddin who drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the 1980′s (or, for that matter, the Taliban who seem to be driving the U.S. out of Afghanistan with primitive explosives and small arms).   Equally absurd is his notion that Iran and Russia will supply even more weapons to Assad if the opposition starts receiving weapons.  A civil war is never about who is supplied with more weaponry but, rather, who will crack first.  As long as Assad’s thugs can shoot civilians with relative impunity, they will never desert him.   Once helicopters are being shot down, tanks are being destroyed and columns are being effectively ambushed, the regime’s soldiers will quickly re-think their loyalties.   Some already have.

As to the second argument that arming the opposition will lead to factions and potential sectarian warfare, Lynch again departs from an analysis of what is best for the United States.  In fact, he makes an extremely effective argument in favor of arming the opposition when he writes, “providing weapons is not a politically neutral act. Those with greater access to the networks that distribute Western guns and equipment will grow stronger, politically as well as militarily. The arming of the Sons of Iraq in 2006, for instance, dramatically shifted the political power of competing Sunni tribes and families in unexpected ways, and the effects continue to unfold today. Better armed fighters will rise in political power, while groups that advocate nonviolence or advance political strategies will be marginalized.”

Exactly.  This is precisely what the U.S. should be counting upon when it decides which opposition militias it decides to support with weapons, training and intelligence.  Lynch and others assume that arming the opposition somehow requires a weapons free-for-all or that the U.S. is completely incapable of figuring out which groups to support and which to work against.  The U.S. should seek to pick winners in the Syrian conflict.   The U.S. should always seek to support those who favor a pro-Western policy (or, at the very least, a policy that is counter to Militant Islamists).   If that means arming the Kurds against the salafist Sunnis, then so be it.   The U.S. policy in arming the opposition must ensure that all militias recognize that those who side with the U.S. or against the Islamists are going to be the best armed, best trained and best resourced fighters, period.   The U.S. can never lose sight of its ultimate objective which is not the toppling of Assad per se but the disabling and destruction of the Iranian/Islamist threat.  If that means a prolonged civil war in Syria, so long as Syria is neutralized in the war with Militant Islam, vital U.S. interests are served.  Lynch’s reference to the Sons of Iraq in 2006 is perhaps the best example in favor of arming the Syrian opposition as it forced the Sunni tribes to decide whether they would continue to support Al Qaeda or support the U.S.   The result was an overwhelming success for the U.S. in eliminating Al Qaeda, particularly in Anbar Province.

Lynch’s third argument about a “soft landing” after the fall of Assad has been addressed above.  In short, for U.S. interests, we do not want any “soft landing” if that involves giving any power to salafists or the Muslim Brotherhood.   The notion that a unity government that is heavily influenced by or under the control of the MB is a good thing must be denounced.  Far better to see Syria split up into ethnic or sectarian regions than to see a MB government in power.

In summary, when an influential think tank like CNAS produces a paper that is almost wholly inimical to U.S. interests, it is time to look at the leadership in our country and demand that they (Democrat or Republican) reaffirm the primacy of U.S. interests in the making of foreign policy.   What is best for our country should always be the first and foremost consideration.  No other nation on earth plays by any, other rules.

The TSA Wants Legitimacy

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 5 months ago

From Forbes:

Believe it or not, only 7 years ago, TSOs went by a more deserving title, “airport security screeners.” At the time, their title and on the job appearance consisted of a white shirt and black pants. This was fitting because airport security screening is exactly what’s required of the position. However, this is no longer the case.

In the dead of night, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) administratively reclassified airport security screeners as Transportation Security Officers. The TSA then moved to administratively upgrade TSOs uniforms to resemble those of a federal law enforcement officer. They further completed the makeover with metal law enforcement badges. Not surprisingly, government bureaucrats at the TSA left out one crucial component during the artificial makeover – actual federal law enforcement training as is required of Federal Air Marshalls.

While TSOs may have the appearance of a federal law enforcement officer they have neither the authority nor the power. If a passenger brings a loaded gun or an explosive device into an airport screening area there is nothing a TSO can do until the local police step in to save the day.

If TSOs are truly our nation’s last line of defense in stopping an act of terrorism, then the TSA should immediately end the practice of placing hiring notices for available TSO positions on pizza boxes and at discount gas stations as theyhave done in our nation’s capital. Surely, this is not where our federal government is going to find our brightest and sharpest Americans committed to keeping our traveling public safe. I would contend that we can surely strive for a higher standard and may want to look first to our veterans returning home from the battlefield.

Interestingly enough, as TSA officials like to routinely point out, their agency’s acronym stands for Transportation Security Administration, not the Airport Security Administration. This fact has extended the TSA’s reach has far beyond the confines of our nation’s airports. Many of my constituents discovered this first hand this past fall as those familiar blue uniforms and badges appeared on Tennessee highways. In October Tennessee became the first state to conduct a statewide Department of Homeland Security Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) team operation which randomly inspected Tennessee truck drivers and cars.

VIPR teams which count TSOs among their ranks, conduct searches and screenings at train stations, subways, ferry terminals and every other mass transit location around the country. In fact, as the Los Angeles Times has detailed, VIPR teams conducted 9,300 unannounced checkpoints and other search operations in the last year alone. The very thought of federal employees with zero law enforcement training roaming across our nation’s transportation infrastructure with the hope of randomly thwarting a domestic terrorist attack makes about as much sense as EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s Environmental Justice tour.

I have seen this.  Its scary.  No, not the look of the “officers” or the demeanor they exude, but the belief that these people are law enforcement officers.  I saw a gaggle of them a few months ago walking the light rail in Charlotte, N.C.  They were sporting body armor, drop holsters, Tru-spec pants and other tactical gear, and ‘TSA’ in huge letters across their chests.  Swaggering, they were.

It occurred to me that if they had wished to seek out or prevent some perpetrator from harming the transit system or those who frequent the same, then hiding their identity would be the best bet (no gear, IWB holsters).  The existence of TSA screeners swaggering down the sidewalk for the light rail wouldn’t have prevented me from doing harm to the system if I had chosen to do so.  It wouldn’t be hard.  Dress in a suit, carry a gym bag full of C4, slide it under a seat when you exit, and then watch the explosion from a safe distance.  It sounds so cold, and yet it would be this easy to pull off.  And again, the existence of TSA screeners walking down the rail line wouldn’t have made a bit of difference in this scenario.  They need to think outside the box to ensure safety.  Strutting around in this garb won’t cut it.

My son spent a combat tour in Fallujah, Iraq, and I asked him about all of this tactical gear.  He reported to me something like the following:

The body armor is heavy (of course, he wore the SAPI plates too), and it makes you sweat, it constrains your breathing, it constrains your movements and motions, and the other gear is equally terrible.  I carried a SAW as you know, and so I routinely had enough stuff on my vest, including SAW drums.  I would do everything I could to minimize my PPEs and move things about to keep them from getting in my way.  When your CO dictates your PPEs there was only so much you could do.  As a SAW gunner I carried a handgun, and there wasn’t any place left for it on my vest.  I had to wear a drop holster.  It got in my way.  Go around a couch when clearing a room, it got caught.  Go through a doorway, it got caught on the doorjamb.  It flopped around endlessly like some loose appendage to your body that had been damaged and was barely hanging on.  Drop pouches are the same way, except worse.  If you ran in all that stuff, it banged around and beat you up without mercy.

No one in their right mind would voluntarily wear that crap.  There is nothing going on in Charlotte, or any other major American city for that matter, that requires a peace officer to wear that stuff.  If you see someone wearing it, whether TSA or Charlotte Police, they want to look tacti-cool.  There is no other reason.

Yea, and I won’t have one ounce of respect for a TSA luggage screener stopping me on the road wanting to know what’s in my car or where I am going.  If they want to legitimize their role, then get training, stop molesting children and old women, stop looking at cute figures in the body scanners, and perform their jobs like everyone else has to in America.  Or better yet, install explosive trace detection portals in airports, negating the need for groping children and old women, just like we have in nuclear power plants around the country.  Then, contract airport security out to private contractors.

Either way, simply declaring yourselves to have legitimacy doesn’t change the fact that you’re a laughingstock and nuisance.  Legitimacy comes with service and skills, not oafishness and bullying.


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