Archive for the 'Foreign Policy' Category



Foreign Policy Insane Clown Posse

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 6 months ago

So Chuck Hagel is confirmed as Secretary of Defense for the United States of America.  I don’t have a long, complicated assessment of what will follow, or why Hagel is a horrible choice for mowing my lawn, much less being SecDef.

But contrary to the notes I have received, the blog entries I’ve read, and the speeches I have heard the Senators make on how much he concerns anyone with a lick of common sense, it doesn’t really matter whether Hagel was confirmed or not.  It didn’t matter with Secretary of State Kerry either.

Anyone in this post will be implementing Obama’s foreign policy, and that makes for a very dangerous world for some time to come.  But it is noteworthy that Hagel acted so foolishly in front of the Senate, like a bumbling clown.

Together with Kerry, Obama has his insane clown posse, and they will do his bidding for an insane clown foreign policy.

I’m glad that my son is out of the Marine Corps.  The battle is now for the homeland.

A Middle East Foreign Policy for the 21st Century

BY Glen Tschirgi
1 year, 10 months ago

After watching the third and final presidential debate on Monday night, I was disturbed to hear the two candidates talk about foreign policy with such lack of focus or context.   Admittedly, Obama was intent on baiting Romney into a game-changing gaffe and Romney was intent on not committing any, such error.   Presidential debates, ironically enough, are the last place to hear what a candidate actually thinks about any particular subject.

Both candidates, for example, endorsed the comic notion that the Afghan Army will be able to take over the fight against the Taliban by 2014 as the precursor to an American retreat.  Both candidates vowed that Iran will not be allowed to field a nuclear weapon (Romney actually drew the line at “nuclear capability” which is better), but neither one mentioned that the deeper problem with Iran is its current, Islamist government and not their pursuit of nuclear weapons per se.    So, for instance, Romney seemed to accept the continuation of the Iranian Regime so long as it did not have nukes.

Reflecting on this event further I am reminded of  a post by Walter Russel Mead which is an excellent springboard, summarizing all that is wrong with the current American approach to the Middle East:

The anti-American riots that have been rocking the Muslim world since 9/11 have shaken the establishment out of its complacency. Increasingly, even those who sympathize with the basic elements of the administration’s Middle East policy are connecting the dots. What they are seeing isn’t pretty. It’s not just that the US remains widely disliked and distrusted in the region. It’s not just that the radicals and the jihadis have demonstrated more political sophistication and a greater ability to organize and strike than expected and that the struggle against radical terror looks longer lasting and more dangerous than thought; it’s that the strategic underpinnings of the administration’s Middle East policy seem to be falling apart. A series of crises is sweeping through the region, and the US does not—at least not yet—seem to have a clue what to do.

***

The Israeli-Palestinian problem, for example, cannot be settled quickly; the consequence of the region’s lack of democratic traditions and liberal institutions cannot be overcome in four or eight years; the underdevelopment and mass unemployment afflicting so many countries has no known cure; the ethnic and sectarian hatreds that poison the region will not soon be tamed; the deep sense of grievance and injustice that shapes the attitudes of so many toward the Christian or post-Christian West will not soon fade away; the radical and terror groups now roaming the region cannot be easily stopped or mollified; the resource curse will continue to corrupt and poison large parts of the region; the resurgence of Islam, even in less radical forms, inevitably heightens a sense of confrontation with the US and its western allies; and Iran’s ambitions are hard to tame and impossible to accept.

Mr. Mead challenged both Obama and Mitt Romney to articulate a policy or at least initiatives that might address these problems.  Neither has done so.

At the risk of being what Mr. Mead terms “an armchair strategist” offering simple solutions, I believe that the U.S. needs to fundamentally reconsider its approach to foreign policy and the methods and tools used to pursue that policy.

First, it is not enough, unfortunately, for the United States to be in favor of “democracy” or “freedom” for those around the world.  These terms are simply too amorphous and chameleon to be useful in building a coherent foreign policy.   Instead, the U.S. should be an ardent advocate for the foundations of civil society:  respect for individual rights;  free exercise of religion; freedom of speech; respect for the rule of law rather than resort to rioting and violence; the orderly transition of political power free from intimidation.   This is a sampling of the bedrock, Anglo-American traditions that are prerequisites  for a democratic republic.    As Mark Levin argues in his latest book, Ameritopia, you cannot hope to have a real democracy without the foundations of a civil society.

The Middle East is bereft of genuine democracies (with the notable exception of Israel) because it is bereft of the foundational traditions of a civil society.   That is why it was unforgivably foolish of George W. Bush to insist on the hasty installation of a “democracy” in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Neither of these societies had the foundations needed for democracy to take root.   Yes, Iraq and Afghanistan may have the outer trappings of democracy with parliaments and elections, but form is not substance.  Iraq is headed back towards civil war as the ethnic and sectarian factions escalate violence against one another.   Afghanistan is a cardboard cut-out of democracy propped up with billions of dollars of U.S. aid and military assistance.   Once the props are removed in 2014 (or sooner), the facade will collapse.

So then, it is a tragic and self-defeating mistake for the U.S. to blindly push for elections.   In Gaza, for example, such elections mean nothing.    They mean less than nothing since they serve to legitimate blood-thirsty ideologues, putting the U.S. in the untenable position of undermining what we previously declared to be a “freely elected” government.    No matter that said government throws its political opponents off of rooftops.

Rather, the U.S. must be very specific, unapologetic and insistent about the type of democracy and “freedom” we are talking about– an Anglo-American civil society that can support the pressures of representative government and tolerate religious diversity and dissenting opinions.

Furthermore, the U.S. must take a hard look at the nations as they are and not how we wish them to be.   It took hundreds of years for civil traditions to develop in the West.   It may take much longer in the Middle East, burdened as it is with Islamic notions of subjugation, subservience and nihilism.

As an example of this, consider this piece by Robert Kagan in The Washington Post.   Kagan argues in favor of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt mainly because it was “democratically” elected:

The Obama administration has not been wrong to reach out to the popularly elected government in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood won that election, and no one doubts that it did so fairly. We either support democracy or we don’t. But the administration has not been forthright enough in making clear, publicly as well as privately, what it expects of that government.  (Emphasis added)

First, it is not beyond dispute that the Muslim Brotherhood won the election “fairly” when it is essentially the only, organized political party in the country.   There is evidence that a sizable number of Egyptians do not support the Muslim Brotherhood but no, unified opposition party could be organized in the relatively short time allowed before the vote.    In any event, to say that an Islamist party received the most number of votes in an election does not lead ineluctably to the conclusion that it is a “democracy” that we are obligated to support.   In fact, Kagan goes on to point out that the U.S. must make it clear what a “democracy” entails:

Out of fear of making the United States the issue in Egyptian politics, the Obama administration, like past administrations, has been too reticent about stating clearly the expectations that we and the democratic world have for Egyptian democracy: a sound constitution that protects the rights of all individuals, an open press, a free and vital opposition, an independent judiciary and a thriving civil society. President Obama owes it to the Egyptian people to stand up for these principles. Congress needs to support democracy in Egypt by providing aid that ensures it advances those principles and, therefore, U.S. interests.

I would differ with Kagan to the extent that U.S. aid money is provided directly and up front to an Egyptian government that is showing every indication that it intends to implement its Islamist beliefs.  Egyptians must see that voting in an Islamist government will have certain and severe consequences.   In any event, the United States cannot be in the business of funding our enemies and, regardless of Kagan’s view that the Muslim Brotherhood is not clearly against us, a weak or failing Islamist regime in Egypt is better than one that is buying up the latest weapons systems (e.g., German submarines for example) with U.S. tax dollars.   Kagan and those like him are desperate to see a civil society where none exists and, so, are easily taken in by democratic happy talk that Egyptian President Morsi (and other Islamists in the region) are all too adept at feeding to willing dupes.

The second, radical change to U.S. foreign policy must be to view everything in terms of U.S. national interests and the tactics and lines of effort that best advance those interests.

For example, for the better part of four years, the Obama Administration has confused the agenda of the United Nations with that of the United States of America.   While it would be hoped that the international body that the U.S. founded at the end of World War II and funds disproportionately would be at least sympathetic to U.S. national interests, this is decidedly not the case.  The U.N. has largely been subverted and overrun by authoritarian member states with interests that directly conflict with those of the U.S.   In an ideal world, the U.S. would explicitly repudiate the U.N., evict it from its expensive quarters in Manhattan and rent out the space to a new organization made up of democratic U.S. allies.   Alas, the best we can hope for is to limit the damage of the U.N. by ignoring it, working around it and forging coalitions of allies to negate the U.N.’s malign influence in the world.

In the Middle East and around the globe, the U.S. needs to re-evaluate its position in the light of our national interest.  We must, for example, reconsider our relationship with Saudi Arabia in light of their unrelenting funding of Salafist and Wahhabist ideologies directly hostile to the U.S. and the West in general.   We cannot elevate the Saudis to the high status of ally or even “friend” when they are bankrolling our enemies.   This need not mean open conflict with them, but it surely must mean a reduction in relations.  (The fact that the U.S. is set to soon surpass the Saudis as the world’s largest oil producer should translate into tangible, state leverage).

Syria is another example where the U.S. must evaluate the opportunities and risks for involvement based primarily upon national interest rather than the threat of a “humanitarian crisis” or “instability.”  Even a Syria riven by civil war and instability will stalemate Iran’s ability to fund and support Hezbollah and bring greater opportunities for U.S. influence in the region as a whole.   The U.S. has been at war with Iran since 1979 and rarely have we had an opportunity to deal the regime in Tehran such a critical blow as exists in Syria.

Throughout the Middle East U.S. policy is plagued by a lack of a driving force.  The U.S. intervened in Libya under the pretext of potential civilian casualties but recoils from Syria with actual casualties.    The U.S. dithers over supporting former President Mubarak in Egypt while supporting the  no-less tyrannical Saudi royal family.   The U.S. spends tens of billions of dollars on a corrupt government in Kabul but argues whether to pull funding from Israel if it does not halt new housing settlements or show enough “flexibility” on Arab demands for land.   It is high time to clarify who our friends and enemies are and why.  Israel is not merely a kindred democracy, for example.   They are a vital ally because they directly serve U.S. interests in the region as a bulwark against Islamists.  There is, perhaps, no greater return on U.S. investments than Israel given the plethora of hostile, Islamist states in the region.   But here again, the U.S. policy is to adopt the hectoring, self-righteous tone of the international community, treating Israel and the Palestinians on equal terms for no good reason.

It is my hope that Mitt Romney wins the election and does so in convincing fashion.   The next four years could be pivotal as a showdown with Iran cannot be delayed beyond the next term in office.  War is everywhere in the Middle East and the next President will need to have a clear-eyed view of what America’s interests are and how to achieve them.   The last 11 years have certainly taught us that “nation building” and “elections” are not effective tools of American power.   May President Romney absorb the lessons and chart a better course in 2013.

Foreign Policy de ja vu: Getting It All Wrong Again in Egypt

BY Glen Tschirgi
1 year, 11 months ago

Here we go again.

Max Boot over at Commentary tells us that we need to support Obama’s plan to send an immediate aid package of $450 million to Morsi in Egypt in order to keep Egypt from slipping into economic collapse which will naturally result in all sorts of terrible, awfable things like more terrorists.  Or something.

I can see why some influential Republicans on Capitol Hill would be reluctant to support the administration’s request to provide $450 million in emergency aid to Egypt. The recent mob attack on our embassy in Cairo, and President Mohammad Morsi’s slowness in condemning the attack, are hardly an advertisement for the new regime. But ask yourself this: Is Egypt likely to produce more or fewer terrorists if its economy collapses?

The question answers itself, and to the extent that an emergency infusion of cash from the U.S. and IMF can tide over the Egyptian economy for a while, it is likely to promote stability and deter the potential radicalization of Egyptian youth. It may even buy time for the new Muslim Brotherhood government to implement some of the free-market reforms it promised during the campaign, if it is so inclined and if it can overcome intense internal resistance from many sectors including the army. Conversely if the Egyptian debt crisis blows up, a la Greece or Iceland, the results are likely to be much more serious than in those countries, given the number of Salafist radicals already present in Egypt and given Egypt’s important strategic position as the largest Arab state.

This is exactly wrong and upside down.  The fact that such an influential commentator like Boot is peddling such nonsense is deeply disturbing.

First, America finally and firmly needs to get off this Train of Fear that our refusal to provide truckloads of cash to failing Middle East states that hate us will result in a new wave of terrorists.   It is simply not true.  The waves of Islamist terrorists are being born and bred literally all the time with the sole aim of attacking the West and its allies.   It has nothing to do with whether the economy is good or bad.  Saudi Arabia has produced, for example, more Islamist thugs per capita than anyone and they are the definition of a social welfare state.   Even if a bad economy in Egypt might result in more Islamists, what is the upshot?  The U.S. winds up spending that money on U.S. military instead and we are better prepared to take them out.

Second, who says we want to “tide over” the Egyptian economy?  Why do we want to help President Morsi out?   He is no friend of the U.S. and is arguably a declared enemy with his rants about revising our Bill of Rights and hints about amending the peace treaty with Israel.  His unconvincing performance with regard to the attack on our embassy in Cairo is further incentive to let him sweat this one out on his own.   Morsi is an Islamist and is bent on radicalizing Egyptian youth regardless of whether we give him money or not.   The U.S. needs to stop this insane co-dependency where we pay money to those who hate and attack us.

Third, it could very well be in U.S. interests to let the Egyptian economy fail.  The clear pattern in authoritarian societies which undergo crises like this is to revert to outright military rule.  Compared to Morsi, the Egyptian military is a better friend to the U.S. and far more likely to serve our interests.   Economic collapse and unrest will convince the majority of Egyptians that Morsi is incompetent and unable to get the international aid to keep society afloat.   In desperate times, people turn to the military as the last resort.    The U.S. should make it quietly known to the Egyptian military that we would be supportive (or at least not condemn) a military coup that restores stability and pro-U.S. government to Egypt.   The only choice in Egypt is the lesser of evils:  the Muslim Brotherhood and the Military autocracy.   Clearly the military favors the U.S.

Bottom line: the U.S. is badly in need of a foreign policy that has real spine.  A dash of Machiavelli and perhaps Sun Tzu.  If that means allowing Egypt’s economy to hit the crapper, so be it.   If it means providing weapons and training to Kurdish rebels in Syria in order to buy influence on the outcome of that civil war, so be it.   If it means, in Afghanistan, isolating Karzai and cutting off aid while cutting deals with regional tribes and warlords in exchange for putting Taliban heads on pikes, so be it.   If it means turning up the unconventional pressure on Iran by sabotaging oil refineries and wells and providing covert aid to insurgents in Iran, so be it.

Long Live Kurdistan! An Emerging Counterweight in the Middle East?

BY Glen Tschirgi
1 year, 11 months ago

As usual, Walter Russell Meade astutely notes the emerging Kurdish state in northeastern Syria:

Syria’s Kurds once waged a fruitless struggle with Damascus against discrimination and for basic rights like citizenship and official recognition of a distinct Kurdish language and culture. Now, however, the equation has changed, and large chunks of northeastern Syria are now under the sole control of the Kurds.

Back in July, Butcher Assad ceded the responsibility of governing and maintaining law and order in northeastern Syria to Kurdish leaders. In return they would keep out of the uprising. Syrian Kurdish leaders have taken this responsibility and run with it.

Of particular value is the accompanying map:

This illustrates the haphazard nature of current national boundaries in the Middle East, the result of post-World War I deals by the British and French.  Much of the conflict in the Middle East results from the incoherence of diverse ethnic groups arbitrarily compressed into a nation state.   As the Middle East continues to snowball into chaos and war, it may be that more sensible states will necessarily emerge.

Interestingly, Meade appears worried about the emergence (or re-emergence) of Kurdish nationalism in Syria and elsewhere, but from the viewpoint of U.S. national interests, the Kurds seem to be a natural ally of the U.S. in a critical part of the world where such allies are few and far between.

The Kurds are a distinct people group from the Arabs, Persians and Turks.   The Kurds in northern Iraq are one of the most pro-American populations in the entire Middle East and yet the Obama Administration has left them with little tangible support.   Syria presents an opportunity for the U.S. to establish a Kurdish enclave that can be a lever against an increasingly Islamist Turkey, as well as Iran, Iraq and whatever state emerges in the remainder of Syria.

The Kurds present an opportunity for the U.S. in Iraq as well.   After kicking ourselves out of Iraq last year, a new Romney Administration might take advantage of the autonomy of Kurds in Iraq to expand U.S. influence and presence there.  Iraq appears to be headed towards another civil war as the Shiite leadership in Baghdad increasingly excludes the Sunnis.   The U.S. could have a significant influence, through Iraqi Kurds, in curbing the excesses of the Shiite government or, failing that, to buttress the security and integrity of the Kudish region against pressure from the Baghdad government or Iran.

This is the kind of statecraft that the U.S. has seemingly forgotten.  We do not need infantry battalions on the ground nor billions of dollars in foreign aid to influence the direction of events in the Middle East.  The U.S. first needs to prove itself reliable as an ally (something that has suffered enormously under Obama).  Next, the U.S. must show the unique value it brings to vulnerable peoples like the Kurds:  expertise and training; economic development through private industry and trade; an unmatched (for now) diplomatic, military and humanitarian muscle available in times of need.   Like the Israelis, the Kurds have shown themselves to be fierce, independent, industrious, loyal and willing.   These are basic qualities necessary in an ally.   (Which is, perhaps, why, after 11 years, Afghanistan cannot be called an ally in any true sense of the word).

Marines Headed To Libya To Reinforce Security

BY Herschel Smith
2 years ago

From the AP:

U.S. officials say some 50 Marines are being sent to Libya to reinforce security at U.S. diplomatic facilities in the aftermath of an attack in the eastern city of Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador and three American members of his staff.

The Marines are members of an elite group known as a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, whose role is to respond on short notice to terrorism threats and to reinforce security at U.S. embassies. They operate worldwide.

The officials who disclosed the plan to send the Marines spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

There’s that word I don’t like again: “elite.”  You can disagree if you wish, but I think this is wrongheaded.  We don’t need “elite” forces, any more than we need “elite” SWAT team members when there’s a call for help in the typical American city, any more than we need “elite” law enforcement officers to come and rescue us in the case of threats rather than defend ourselves.

We need firepower.  We need an infantry mentality.  My son observed one day to me that with a Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) gunner laying down area suppressive fire, the leader with M203 40mm grenade launcher under his M4, and two other Marines with M4s or M16s providing defense of the SAW and leader, the typical Marine Corps infantry fire team can lay down an awful lot of effective fire, especially when conducting squad rushes or room clearing.  Given three fire teams in a squad, I would think that a few squads of Marine infantry would be very capable of providing the necessary security.

With our anemic and effeminate foreign policy, we’ve ceded both Egypt and Libya to the Islamists, so it’s better to bring the Americans home.  It’s done.  Our Middle East policy has been a failure, top to bottom, side to side, front to back.  But if you must keep a staff there, the next time Islamists try to suffocate an American diplomat, let the infantry lay down enough fire to kill them all as quickly as possible.  It matters not how many there are at the gate.  If they’re there, they are a threat.  Marine infantry tactics to deal with a threat is to kill the threat with extreme violence.  They’ll think before trying that one again.

We don’t need precise elitism.  We need firepower if we’re going to place diplomats in foreign countries that we intend to cede to the Islamists.

UPDATE #1: John Jay has some thoughts.

UPDATE #2: DirtyMick, who is a former employee of the DoD, brings us this report from Reuters-Africa:

Accounts of the mayhem at the U.S. consulate, where the ambassador and a fourth American died after a chaotic protest over a film insulting to Islam, remain patchy. But two Libyan officials, including the commander of a security force which escorted the U.S. rescuers, said a later assault on a supposedly safe refuge for the diplomats appeared professionally executed.

Miscommunication which understated the number of American survivors awaiting rescue – there were 37, nearly four times as many as the Libyan commander expected – also meant survivors and rescuers found themselves short of transport to escape this second battle, delaying an eventual dawn break for the airport.

Captain Fathi al-Obeidi, whose special operations unit was ordered by Libya’s authorities to meet an eight-man force at Benghazi airport, said that after his men and the U.S. squad had found the American survivors who had evacuated the blazing consulate, the ostensibly secret location in an isolated villa came under an intense and highly accurate mortar barrage.

“I really believe that this attack was planned,” he said, adding to suggestions by other Libyan officials that at least some of the hostility towards the Americans was the work of experienced combatants. “The accuracy with which the mortars hit us was too good for any regular revolutionaries.”

[ ... ]

Of the eight American troops who had come from Tripoli, one was killed and two were wounded, Obeidi said. A Libyan deputy interior minister said a second American was also killed in the attack on the safe house. It was not clear if this was a diplomat or one of the consulate’s original security detail.

“It began to rain down on us,” Obeidi told Reuters, describing the moment the attack began – just as the Libyan security force was starting up the 10 pickup trucks and sedans they had brought to ferry the Americans to the airport.

“About six mortars fell directly on the path to the villa,” he said. “During this firing, one of the marines whom I had brought with me was wounded and fell to the ground.

“As I was dragging the wounded marine to safety, some marines who were located on the roof of the villa as snipers shouted and the rest of the marines all hit the ground.

“A mortar hit the side of the house. One of the marines from the roof went flying and fell on top of us.”

Read the entire report.  Consider the things I said above in light of the facts that we can glean from this Reuters report.  First, this was a complex, well-coordinated attack.  Second, it involved machine guns, RPGs and mortars.  Third, only a squad was included in the QRF that responded to the event.  Fourth, they clearly weren’t prepared for either the initial assault or the evacuation.  Fifth, more men toting M4s wouldn’t have been an adequate reponse, and clearly aren’t adequate for future consulate security if we intend to be in this part of the world.  A well-placed mortar or RPG beats an M4 every time.  Finally, the Marines had shooters (probably designated marksmen, or guys who have been through DM training), and this wasn’t adequate.  There is only so much that good shooters can do.

“Will The U.S. Attack Iran?” Having The Wrong Conversation

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years ago

Last week, Lee Smith published an article in Tablet that gave three, main reasons why the United States is not going to attack Iran now nor will it attack Iran under a President Romney, notwithstanding all the talk to the contrary.

This article got quite a bit of play in the Statist Media because, it was argued, the article seemingly showed that Mitt Romney is carrying on a charade of getting tough on Iran and that any criticisms of President Obama’s current Iran policy are hollow or hypocritical.

Lee Smith advances three, main arguments for why no Republican president would openly attack Iran:  1) Domestic politics;  2) History of Iran-U.S. relations, and;  3) the disguised reliance upon nuclear deterrence.

The article makes perfect sense at a certain level.   On domestic politics, Smith is correct, but for the wrong reasons.   While Smith points to the desire to avoid destabilizing economic effects of any attack, the real bar to Republican action is entirely political.   The Democrats established a clear precedent with George W. Bush that any military action abroad, even if a broad authorization is obtained from Congress in advance, will be subjected to the worst partisan attacks and scurrilous accusations.   Democrats will mobilize every resource to demonize a Republican president who dares to use force against America’s enemies.   Use of force is an exclusive, Democrat prerogative.

On the history of dealings with Iran, Smith also scores points:

No American president has ever drawn red lines for Tehran and enforced them by showing that transgressions are swiftly and severely punished.

It’s true that it was a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, who sat by idly when Ayatollah Khomeini and the founders of the Islamic Republic stormed the U.S. embassy and held Americans hostage for 444 days. But GOP hero Ronald Reagan provided the Iranians with arms—after the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese asset, Hezbollah, killed 241 U.S. Marines in the 1983 bombing of their barracks at the Beirut airport. When the FBI said Tehran was responsible for the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers, Bill Clinton failed to respond or even name Iran, lest it derail the “dialogue of civilizations” promised by the newly elected reform-minded president Muhammad Khatami. And the last Republican in the White House was no more proactive in countering Iran’s actual attacks on Americans: The more than 100,000 American servicemen and -women that Bush had dispatched to Iraq were targeted by the IRGC and their local allies, a fact that U.S. officials tended to obscure and did little to change when they did acknowledge it.

As to a hidden reliance on nuclear deterrence, Smith is also likely correct:

If you can kill Americans without any consequences and the Americans will in fact collaborate in covering up your malfeasance, you can certainly build a nuclear weapons facility without too much concern that the Americans are really keeping “all options on the table”; the White House is not and almost surely never will—no matter who’s calling the shots. Short of an American city suffering thousands of casualties in a nuclear attack that the Iranians boast of publicly, it is difficult to know what would compel a U.S. president to take military action against Iran.

Maybe U.S. policymakers just believe, in spite of what they say publicly, that Iran really isn’t that big a deal. Remember that even today, a number of American officials, civilian and military, cut their teeth on Cold War strategy, an era when the United States faced off against a real superpower. Washington and Moscow fought proxy wars against each other on four continents with the fear of an eventual nuclear exchange leading to mutually assured destruction looming in the background. Perhaps, if seen in this context, for American policymakers Iran just doesn’t rise to a genuine threat level.

The problem with Smith’s analysis (and many others who have been endlessly debating the pros and cons of attacking Iran to stop its nuclear weapons development) is that it fundamentally is the wrong conversation.

The focus of the debate should not be about stopping a totalitarian, Islamist regime devoted to martyrdom from getting nuclear weapons.   The focus should be on removing the Regime itself.  The Iranian people have lived long enough under the hand of an oppressive theocracy to know that the next government must be anything but that.  The Green Movement that began with the phony elections of 2009 explicitly called for a true, secular, democratic government.  The Regime immediately recognized the counter-revolutionary nature of the Greens and put it down with absolute brutality.  The Regime knows that the people of Iran want normalized relations with the U.S. and the West in general.  Any change in government is going to be a sharp repudiation of the current leadership and the mullahs.

Fortunately for the U.S. and the West, the Regime is clinging on to power on a cliff’s edge of explosive public unrest and simmering revolution.   All that is needed to effect the removal of the Regime is a little… more… time.

This plays directly into the debate over Israel’s decision whether to attack Iran.

The current debate suffers from the same mistake.   Critics endlessly point out that even if Israel could muster the nerve and assets to attack Iranian facilities any such attack would “only” delay the Iranian nuclear program, not end it.   If any attack could end Iran’s nuclear program that would certainly be preferable.   But that is, of course, highly unlikely.   Delaying the program, however, is the very point.   Delaying the program is more than a sufficient goal because it gives more time to change the leadership of Iran.

Obama has been doing everything in its power to subvert and forestall an attack by Israel against Iran’s nuclear facilities.   This is directly contrary to U.S. interests in bringing down the Iranian Regime.  An attack by Israel, even if incomplete, would undeniably set back the Iranian nuclear program by some years according to most estimates.   This additional time could be the crucial difference in allowing the U.S. to work, covertly, toward bringing down the Regime.

In the end, the U.S. must realize that it is not the possession of nuclear weapons in and of itself that should be feared.   It is the government that possesses such weapons.   Simply seeking to keep nuclear technology out of the hands of totalitarian regimes is, ultimately futile.  As North Korea demonstrated, with enough determination and sacrifice, even a poverty-stricken country can get nuclear weapons.  The goal must always be to eliminate any regime that evidences any intention to go nuclear.   It is a red line that cannot be crossed.

How and when we go about doing that is the conversation we should be having.

The Body Count Foreign Policy: Civilian Casualties in Syria Force U.S. Hand?

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 3 months ago

Here we go again.

In this article, we are told that the U.S. is now warning Syria of possible military action.

Is it because the U.S. has finally determined that Syria’s support of terrorist outfits like Hamas and Hezbollah is inimical to vital U.S. interests and pose a threat to national security?  Is it because the Assad Regime is the linchpin to Iranian aggression in the Levant?  Is it because the stockpile of biological weapons may find their way into the hands of Islamists to be used against Western targets?  Has the U.S. determined that the replacement of the Assad Regime by an even tepidly pro-Western government would be a game changer in the Middle East?

No.

It is because something like 100 non-combatant civilians were killed by artillery and tank rounds fired indiscriminately by Assad’s forces into the Syrian city of Houla.

I do not for a moment condone this rightly-termed massacre of women and children by the Assad Regime.  It deserves all of the condemnation that can be delivered (although it is somewhat hypocritical of the Russians– who used an absolute, scorched-earth assault to suppress rebellion in Chechnya including artillery barrages– and China– which routinely tortures and kills its civilian population).

Nontheless, as I argued in a prior post :

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.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration seems to be engaging in this very type of body-count calculus in weighing military intervention.   From The Guardian article:

The US’s top military officer has warned Syria it could face armed intervention as international outrage grows over the massacre of women and children by tanks and artillery in Houla.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said that following the UN security council’s condemnation of the slaughter – in which more than 100 people were killed, many of them children – there needed to be increased diplomatic pressure on Damascus. But he added that the US would be prepared to act militarily if it was “asked to do so”.

“There is always a military option,” he told Fox News. “You’ll always find military leaders to be somewhat cautious about the use of force, because we’re never entirely sure what comes out on the other side. But that said, it may come to a point with Syria because of the atrocities.”

The entire world is filled with governments committing atrocities against its own people, and all too often on a scale far larger than the massacre at Houla.   Sudan and its Islamist allies have been slaughtering and enslaving tens of thousands of largely Christian South Sudanese civilians for the better part of a decade.   U.S. response (both Bush and Obama):  Yawwwwwwwwwwwwwn.  North Korea’s forced starvation and Nazi-like concentration camps are legendary and indisputable.   U.S. response for 50 years:  too bored to bother.

Why should civilian deaths in Syria trigger any kind of threat of military action?  Determining foreign policy based on civilian body counts like this is absolutely bass ackwards.

If intervening in Syria is in the U.S. national interest, including all the factors that must be weighed and considered– and can be articulated as such to Congress– then that is all the reason we need.   If it is not in the national interest, then no body count should precipitate military action.

Does the U.S. Have A Moral Duty to Fix Afghanistan (or anywhere else)?

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 4 months ago

In an article for National Review Online, Patrick Brennan illuminates the thinking of General David McKiernan, commander of ISAF in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009.

To the extent that Brennan accurately reflects McKiernan’s thinking and, more importantly, that McKiernan is at all representative of widely-held views in the U.S. military,  it goes a long way to explaining the seeming paralysis of U.S. force projection in Afghanistan and globally.

Fundamentally, Gen. McKiernan is a true believer in what seems to be called the Pottery Barn Rule of U.S. power projection:

In my conversation with him in his Boston office, General McKiernan demonstrates a vast knowledge of the problems of Afghanistan, as well as a keen concern for the fate of the country and NATO’s mission there. “In my experience with many different operations in the military over the years, when you intervene on the ground in a country, ‘breaking the china’ in that country and changing the regional status quo, you then own the problem,” he says. The U.S. is therefore obligated, at the very least, to live up to the commitments it has made to Afghanistan’s civil and military leaders, including fulfilling the new strategic partnership by allocating sufficient funds, which will become a year-to-year concern. A military intervention such as the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 inevitably means the obliteration of a country’s existing political order, as chaotic or oppressive as that might be. Without a continuing commitment to restore some semblance of order and stability to Afghanistan, McKiernan argues, we will fail in our moral duty and abandon our strategic interests.

At the conclusion of the article, Brennan sums up Gen. McKiernan’s thinking:

The U.S. was right to invade Afghanistan in order to exact revenge against al-Qaeda and eliminate the region’s terrorist havens. But McKiernan has seen the catastrophic side effects of that invasion, and they represent something of a geopolitical sin. With a more targeted, locally nuanced, and efficient strategy as penance, the United States can help the Afghan government construct and enforce some degree of order, General McKiernan believes. If we do not do so, we abandon our moral commitment to repair Afghanistan, and we will leave a gapingly insecure region that would remain fertile ground for international terrorism.

Pardon the gag reflex.  There is much else in the article that is deserving of comment and it is worth reading.  For example, Gen. McKiernan seems to recognize that Afghanistan is not a nation state in any true sense of the word but is, instead, a collection of different tribes, ethnicities and sects.   His takeaway from this fact, however, is to double down on the formation and training of a national army and police force that can someday, somehow hold the centrifugal differences of the country together.   As illogical as this seems, it is necessitated by the “you break it, you own it” philosophy embraced by McKiernan and others.

So this seems to me to be the fundamental debate for American foreign policy, not only for Afghanistan but for the next ten to twenty years as we face no lack of failing or failed states that become incubators for Militant Islam: what, if any, obligation does the U.S. have to another country or people when the U.S. uses military force in exercise of its national interests?

First let’s clarify some of General McKiernan’s muddled thinking.

According to his moral universe, when a nation “breaks the china” by intervening with force of arms to somehow change the status quo of another nation or region then the intervenor “own[s] the problem” and incurs a “moral duty” to “restore some semblance of order and stability…”   In the case of Afghanistan, this is nonsense.   The status quo of Afghanistan’s “political order” in September 2001 was, as the General himself describes, “chaotic” and “oppressive.”  By his own theory, then, the U.S. need only ensure that Afghanistan ends up no more chaotic or oppressive than it was pre-invasion.  The 2001 invasion alone made a vast improvement upon the existing political order by eliminating a pariah regime that gladly hosted international terrorists and imposed a cruel authoritarianism on its population.   If the U.S. had walked out of Afghanistan in January 2002, the situation in Afghanistan would have been vastly improved with the Northern Alliance in control of most of the country.

In fact, it is arguable that the U.S. only started to destroy the status quo of Afghanistan when it began meddling in its internal, political affairs with arrogant notions of 21st Century democracy and centralized government.  The problem, then, is not that the U.S. created a mess in Afghanistan by toppling the Taliban in October 2001, but that the U.S. stayed after toppling the Taliban in order to somehow save the Afghans from their own backward and stunted culture.   This was the “geopolitical sin” if Gen. McKiernan must find one.

What of General McKiernan’s larger premise, that the U.S. cannot intervene militarily without incurring a “moral commitment to repair” that nation?

This is a fundamentally flawed and mistaken view of U.S. power projection.  Originally espoused by General Colin Powell in 2002, Powell claims to have advised President Bush that any invasion of Iraq would be akin to breaking a dish and thereby taking ownership.  The so-called Pottery Barn school of  thought to which McKiernan subscribes assumes the existence of an unbroken Dish prior to U.S. involvement.  This is simply a fiction and a dangerous one at that.

Iraq was already in pieces under Saddam Hussein when the U.S. invaded in March 2003.   Once the Dictator and his police state were dismembered, the “dish” was already in infinitely better shape than its pre-invasion condition.   The U.S. would have been perfectly justified from a moral point of view in packing up and heading home at that point.   So, too, with Afghanistan: the “dish” was in far better shape after the removal of Al Qaeda bases and the Taliban than it was pre-invasion.

The Pottery Barn doctrine simply does not pertain to the exercise of U.S. military intervention at any point in U.S. history.   I cannot think of a single instance where the metaphorical dish was not already broken when the U.S. intervened.  If someone wants to argue about Nazi intervention in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria and France, that is a different matter.   The U.S. is not an imperial power that topples healthy, functioning nation states and the application of the Pottery Barn doctrine to the U.S. may say far more about how people like Colin Powell and David McKiernan view U.S. power projection than it does about the actual world as we have it now.

American leadership needs to forcefully and decisively reject this wrong-headed notion of moral commitments to fix other nations.  It is not and has never been about moral commitments.  It is ever, only about the U.S. national interest.  That is the only way to rationally debate both the decision to intervene militarily and the decision, once intervention occurs, of how and when to leave.  This is not to say that our national interest does not align with notions of morality.  Very often it does and morality certainly forms a part of defining what the “national interest” is in the first place.   But evaluating policies, tactics and strategy from a moral viewpoint rather than the national interest leads to all kinds of fuzzy thinking and misguided efforts.   Afghanistan is, perhaps, the textbook example of these hazards.

To give but a few examples:  what is the U.S. national interest in pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into road, school, hospital and other construction in Afghanistan?  It certainly is a nice thing to do, a moral thing to do.  But how, precisely, does this make America more secure?  In a predominating culture that is so alien (indeed hostile one could say) to American values, the idea of changing that culture with billions in aid money can only be driven by a moralistic– an almost missionary– zeal that simply has no place in American foreign policy.   The national interest is solely concerned with ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a threat to American security again.   That was the only reason we invaded in 2001 (contrary to Gen. McKiernan’s idea of “revenge”).  There are many ways that this fundamental, U.S. interest could be achieved without any resort whatsoever to changing Afghan culture.

To look at another example briefly, consider Syria.

From the moralistic, Pottery Barn approach, intervening in Syria is a case of balancing the suffering of the Syrian people under the Dictator Assad with the unavoidable suffering of the people after a military intervention (whether that is invasion, air strikes, covert support for rebels, etc…).   This is why the Obama Administration and much of U.S. punditry is tied up in knots over Syria: there is no, clear way to evaluate human suffering in this manner.   (Anyone who doubts this need only look at Libya where, again, the scales of suffering seemed to tilt in favor of ousting Qaddafi only to find, now, that the increasing lawlessness and rise of Militant Islamists is beginning to make Qaddafi look rather tame by comparison).

Instead of playing these sorts of moral games, U.S. leadership should be looking at Syria from our own interests.   This clarifies things immediately.   Syria under Assad is an enemy of the U.S. and moves in lockstep with arch-enemy Iran.   This is a very, very broken dish (to use their parlance).  Toppling Assad by itself does not worsen the dish and is certainly in the U.S. national interest as it enhances our security immensely.

There is, of course, the question of what sort of government will replace Assad.   Here again the moralists and national interest part ways.   The moralists would say that the U.S. would “own” all of Syria’s problems if it intervened which means, presumably, another 10 or 20 year program of building schools, hospitals roads and civic institutions.   The national interest, at a bare minimum, however, doesn’t really care so much what comes after Assad so long as it is not worse than Assad.  We do not care, for example, if Syria falls into civil war so long as Syria cannot be the cat’s paw for Iran.   It is certainly in the national interest to back rebels that are sympathetic to U.S. values and goals, but if they are at least hostile to Iran and global jihad, that is enough.

In essence then, to the extent that U.S. policies and strategies are guided by the approach espoused by General McKiernan, we will find ourselves a vulnerable paralytic Power unable to intervene in the world where critical U.S. interests are at stake because to do so would automatically obligate us to an endless commitment of fixing the “broken dish.”   In such a world, we leave it to hostile powers all around us to shape things to their liking, one that will be little to our own.

Reset With Russia Didn’t Work So Well

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 4 months ago

Remember this visit to Moscow?  Remember this goofy-ass picture?

Perhaps the button has malfunctioned.

Russia’s most senior military officer said Thursday that Moscow would preemptively strike and destroy U.S.-led NATO missile defense sites in Eastern Europe if talks with Washington about the developing system continue to stall.

“A decision to use destructive force preemptively will be taken if the situation worsens,” Russian Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov said at an international missile defense conference in Moscow attended by senior U.S. and NATO officials.

The threat comes as talks about the missile defense system, which the U.S. and its allies insist is aimed at Iranian missiles, appear to have stalled.

“We have not been able to find mutually-acceptable solutions at this point and the situation is practically at a dead end,” Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said.

Perhaps a better idea would be a reset in our so-called “smart diplomacy.”

U.S. Outsources Syrian Policy to Islamists

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 5 months ago

One month ago I advocated here that arming selected groups of Syrian rebels would best serve the U.S. national interests in the Middle East.

According to this report, however, it appears that the Obama Administration is on the verge of outsourcing this important task to Islamist countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  (Hat Tip Drudge Report)

The US and its allies have warned president Bashar al-Assad that unless he halts his attacks on the Syrian population and implements a UN-backed peace plan, the rebels fighting him will be given more weapons,[sic]

The move, made at an Istanbul conference of the Friends of Syria, a grouping of more than 70 countries, in effect gives Washington’s blessing to a Saudi Arabian bid to arm the opposition.

It contrasts with the administration’s previous stance that arming the rebels could drag Syria deeper into civil war and increase the risk of innocent people being killed.

US officials made clear there was no prospect of Washington itself providing the rebels with weapons, not least because of a UN arms embargo on Syria. Countries such as the UK and Turkey also rule out arming the opposition themselves.

But all three signalled [sic] on Sunday that they could welcome Saudi and Qatari efforts to give weapons to the rebel Free Syrian Army.

If this report is at all accurate, it serves as further proof that this Administration cannot find its own rear end when it comes to U.S. interests.

First, arming the Syrian rebels only makes sense to the extent that the rebels serve U.S. interests to some extent in exchange for weapons and other support.   As pointed out in my prior post, there are many groups of fighters in Syria vying for dominance in the struggle to overthrow the Assad Regime.   The U.S. has important national interests in ensuring that the Regime is not replaced with an Islamist one.   Now is the time to identify and nurture any rebel groups in Syria that oppose an Islamist takeover.  Second, if we are not going to step on the scales in favor of rebels friendly to U.S. interests, we certainly should not be supporting efforts to arm rebels who are hostile to the U.S.

All of this is elementary stuff.   It should be crystal clear to the White House that the last people to entrust with arming the Syrian rebels are the Saudis and Qataris, some of the biggest Islamists on the planet.

It is, perhaps, understandable that the U.S. may want to filter military aid through another country to preserve at least a shred of plausible deniability.   But the Saudis and Qataris?  For God’s sake, there must be someone less noxious who would be willing to funnel weapons to the rebels than these extremist countries.

It is almost as though the Obama Administration had no clue that U.S. interests do not align with those of Saudi Arabia and Qatar (and Turkey, for that matter).  We can only hope that this sort of bad policy is the result of clownish incompetence and not deliberate.


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