Archive for the 'Syria' Category



I Want Free Guns

BY Herschel Smith
7 months, 2 weeks ago

I was noticing the nice, new weapon this Syrian jihadist was toting around, and especially that high powered glass he is sporting.

Jihadist_Weapon

If I was a Muslim jihadist, who has vowed to slaughter Christians once the U.S. “liberates” Syria and who likes to kill babies, maybe I could get some of that U.S. taxpayer love Obama has promised.

Instead, I’m a Christian.  But I sure would like to have another gun and some high powered glass, so I’ll have to work and pay for mine myself rather than use U.S. handouts.  Somebody has actually got to work and hold down a job these days.

The Stupidity Of Chemical Weapons As Justification To Attack Syria

BY Herschel Smith
7 months, 3 weeks ago

So let’s deal with objections right up front.  If chemical weapons aren’t adequate justification to attack Syria, then they weren’t justification to attack Iraq either.  Right.  And I didn’t agree with or support Operation Iraqi Freedom Phase I, while I did support OIF II and OIF III because I watched as 80-100 jihadists per month crossed the Syrian and Jordanian borders to fight us inside of Iraq, and because leaving would have had catastrophic consequences once the eggs were broken.  Briefly said, once there we had to stay and finish the job, however horrible it was.

But the horror of chemical weapons is being trotted out as justification for degrading Syrian capability to make those weapons, or deliver those weapons, or something.  It isn’t clear.  How that horror is different from what preceded it, I wonder?  Bashar Hafez al-Assad and his father before him were and are brutal dictators who rule by the use of fear.  Torture, beheadings, imprisonment of political opponents, assassinations and all manner of horror has been perpetrated on the Syrian people for many years.

And even now, anti-regime terrorists in Syria (our would-be allies) are actively working their horror (via Mike Vanderboegh).

Al-Qaeda linked terrorists in Syria have beheaded all 24 Syrian passengers traveling from Tartus to Ras al-Ain in northeast of Syria, among them a mother and a 40-days old infant.

Gunmen from the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Levant stopped the bus on the road in Talkalakh and killed everyone before setting the bus on fire.

According to media reports, the attack was carried out because the passengers who were from three different villages in Ras al-Ain, supported anti-terrorist Kurdish groups which were formed recently to defend Kurdish population against anti-Syria terrorists.

Bodies of a mother and her 40-days infant were also seen among the dead, which were recognized by their relatives.

So what about chemical weapons?  Michael Fumento gives us the straight scoop in a different context, i.e., the chlorine attacks in Fallujah, Iraq, in the spring of 2007.

Insurgents launched three more chlorine truck attacks in Al Anbar province on March 17, killing two and sickening an additional 350. Is this a disturbing new trend? No. Had those trucks been filled with high explosives, each could have killed around 100 people. Instead, combined, they killed two. Probably all those sickened will recover with little or no lasting damage, as opposed to losing limbs and eyes. Chemicals have never lived up to their reputation as weapons.

That’s why even though the Germans invented Sarin gas, which is vastly more deadly than chlorine, they decided not to use it. Hitler didn’t forego its use because he was a nice guy. Rather, his generals convinced him that high explosives are far more effective in causing deaths, not to mention that all the poison gas in the world can’t destroy material objects. That said, gas is a good terror weapon because most people have a more innate terror of being gassed than of being blown up or shot. But that’s primarily or exclusively because gas is such a rare threat. The more the terrorists use chlorine, the less the terror effect will be.

I remember this vividly since my son was deployed in Fallujah in 2007.  When the Marines finished taking over the industrial area of Fallujah from al Qaeda in the summer of 2007, they found many thousands of gallons of chlorine, all unused – unused because it was completely, tactically ineffective.  And I am on the record concurring with Michael’s assessment here and here.

If your desire is tactical effectiveness, you use conventional ordnance.  In other words, as horrible as it sounds, you blow people and things up.  And it is horrible, just as horrible as killing far fewer of them with chemical weapons.  And it is just as horrible as your supposed allies in Syria shooting and/or burning infants to death.

I have my own views of the administration’s case (or lack thereof) for any strategic value in Syria, but whatever else one may believe about the situation, the use of chemical weapons as justification for military action is either ignorant or disingenuous.

Israel Strikes Syria

BY Herschel Smith
11 months, 3 weeks ago

More of that smart diplomacy we were promised, apparently.  Middle East on fire. Likely a thermobaric weapon the way it burns the oxygen up and puts the other fires out. UPDATE: I noticed that Matt Drudge has this video linked today. I sent it to Drudge last night, fully expecting them to link the video without acknowledging this web site or linking to it. They never disappoint. This isn’t the first time this has happened.

A Middle East Foreign Policy for the 21st Century

BY Glen Tschirgi
1 year, 6 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.

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

BY Glen Tschirgi
1 year, 7 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).

Russia Sending Ships With Marines To Syrian Waters

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 8 months ago

I’m a little late to the punch here, but it appears as if Russia is testing its expeditionary warfighting skills.

Amid the continued uprising in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry on Friday issued somewhat contradictory statements about a group of its naval warships steaming into the eastern Mediterranean.

The first statement said the warships were not planning to call on Tartus, a naval base Russia maintains in Syria. The second, issued several hours later, said it was possible that service boats from the group might call on Tartus to replenish supplies “if the time period of the trip is extended.”

Earlier in the day, Interfax quoted an unnamed Defense Ministry source as saying three landing assault ships, an anti-submarine ship and four smaller vessels might call on Tartus by Sunday. The ships are carrying a contingent of about 360 marines and amphibious armored personnel carriers.

The source didn’t specify whether the marines would remain in Tartus or leave with the warships. Tartus is a small port and won’t be able to dock more than two warships at a time, the source said.

Defense experts debated whether the naval group might be in the region to evacuate Russians based in Syria.

“I am absolutely confident that most likely their task will be to evacuate the personnel and equipment of the base,” Alexander Golts, a defense expert and deputy editor-in-chief of the popular liberal online publication Yezhednevny Zhurnal, said in an interview.

“However, this group is not sufficient enough to evacuate from 30,000 to 60,000 Russian citizens working and living in Syria,” Golts said, “unless the marines will be ordered to gain control of a landing strip at Damascus airport and help establish an air-bridge to take all Russians out.”

“Whatever their task, it is clear that given the rapidly deteriorating situation in Syria the Kremlin wants to have some sort of military presence close to its shores,” Golts added.

Uh huh.  360 Marines, barely more than a company.  And expeditionary warfighting is hard work.  It is fraught with difficulties – ships that leak, ships that break, parts that fracture, lack of replacement parts, the need to weld and perform complex in-situ refurbishment and maintenance, the need for replenishment of resources, the need for at-sea supply, the need for fuel, the need for involved medical treatment up to and including complex surgery, the need for egress from the sea-borne crafts should they fail, the need for air transport to and from the sea-borne craft, the need to be able to perform complex maintenance on that air transport, the need for complex logistics, and so on.

And in this case, they need all of the Marines necessary to be able to perform the mission.  360 isn’t nearly enough.  Should they actually be needed for land-based operations, they see combat, or they cannot use the port if it is not secure, this is a disaster in the making.

The Russians are curious about their current ability to conduct expeditionary warfare, and as commenter and loyal reader Jean and I remarked to each other, so are we.  While it is sad that the Middle East has devolved into a morass (at least in part I fault the current U.S. administration for that), this seems to be an opportunity for us.  It’s time to retask all available satellites, and queue up the signals intelligence.  I want to know how the Russians do at this.

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

BY Glen Tschirgi
1 year, 11 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
1 year, 11 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.

U.S. Outsources Syrian Policy to Islamists

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years 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.

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

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 1 month 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.


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