Thursday, August 29, 2013

something syria this way comes. (continued.)

A couple months ago, I posted that an intervention was imminent. Okay, well now it's really imminent, but way too late. The way I see it, the US and the West really dropped the ball on Syria. (Should've dropped the bombs sooner.)

When the revolution began in Syria, it hadn't taken on the sectarian and extremist tone it has now. The rebels were split between moderate Islamists (like the Muslim Brotherhood) and good old-fashioned secular liberals. Had they won a swift victory, I think you would've seen a Libya-like success story with a moderate democratic government replacing Assad. The US could've made it happen at pretty low cost, and would've garnered a ton of both loyalty and credibility with the incoming regime, and likewise the incoming regime could've benefited from US advice and backing. (Not to mentions tens of thousands of lives would've been saved.)

Back in November 2011-ish, the rebels were basically a united Free Syrian Army, relatively loyal to the Syrian National Council. (Al-Nusra didn't even exist.) The membership of the SNC was public, and like I was saying, it had some moderate Islamists and some great secular liberals. Even some Alawites supported the revolution.

But this was all against the backdrop of US presidential elections, and Republicans were already using Libya as a political attack. It was a political decision not to intervene, as it might've cost Obama the presidency. As time went on, things got shittier. The rebels became more radical, foreign fighters poured in, both sides pushed the sectarian line for their own purposes, cities turned to rubble, refugees poured out, and the death toll mounted. All of this was completely unnecessary, but unfortunately, it's too late now.

And the worst part is, there's no option left nearly good as intervention was back then. Today, the rebel ranks swell with extremist Al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda) shitheads, so there's really no one to support, yet non-intervention means losing all credibility when it comes to forbidding the use of WMDs. It's either help the extremists rebelling against Assad, who will use their victories to commit genocide against Alawites and impose Sharia Law, or let the genocidal autocrat use chemical weapons unchecked, setting a pretty terrible precedent for anyone else that that would defy America's red line on WMDs.

That said, what'll happen? After I broke ranks with the Economist on the Egyptian coup (I'm all for the coup), we're back on the same page about Syria. At this point, the US has to intervene to save face. (The red line, use of chemical weapons, has been crossed.) But with no one to support, they don't want to deliver victory to Islamist extremists. So they'll do something light, something that doesn't tip many scales, and something that just allows them to say "Look, we back up our words." If there's a way we can still bring victory to the moderate rebels in the FSA and sideline Al-Nusra, than I pray the dummies at the CIA figure it out before we intervene. If not, I'm basically expecting a really expensive PR fireworks show.

That's it for now. If you really must have more, I never posted this gem, but here's a Facebook argument where I called for intervention back in the good old days:

September 27, 2012
Yes, exactly what we need: another US-led bombing campaign in the Middle East in support of a nebulous group of rebels that probably hate us.

Jack: Can't we mind our own business? If conflict doesn't spill over borders I see no reason to be involved.

Elliott: We better start minding our own business.

Jack: Kony 2013!

Erin: Well spoken Elliott.

Chris Adell: intervene.

isolationsism is never a good idea, unless you want a world that suffers recurring existential wars. ignoring tyranny until it directly threatens america or americans is guaranteed way to allow expansionist ideologies to reach their apex before being confronted, not to mention espouses something of a nationalist moral double standard.

i understand the impetus for isolationism. america is the reluctant empire because it is the world's first liberal empire. the reluctance arises from liberalism's inherent inclination to "live and let live," but the empire arose from the occasional (and existentially necessary) realization that the containment policy of george f. kennan is a surefire way to fight forever and never win.

the best defense is a good offense, and a good offense means fostering liberalism around the world. to spurn global liberalism in the name of american liberalism (isolationism) would be a fatal mistake for the american empire.

as for the particulars of your "another bombing campaign," i would assume you're talking about libya? great americans and many brave libyans lost their lives, but because of them libya is so far a success story.

Elliott: Adell, there are plenty of other ways to intervene besides bombing and support of nebulous rebels. You sound like a pre-Iraq invasion neo-con. Look how well that turned out. There is no existential threat to the United States in the Middle East right now other than our own foolish, interventionist foreign policy, which has had the comprehensive effect of alienating the entire region. We intervened in Iran in the 1950s to remove a democratically elected president, and replaced him with an autocrat whose policies fueled the Iranian revolution. We've tacitly supported the Assad family for generations because we know that Assad is more predictable than the Sunnis who might replace him, and what we really care about is maintaining the status quo vis-a-vis Israel. We supported Mubarak for thirty years (Egypt was the second largest recipient of US direct foreign aid behind Israel) and, because of our support for Mubarak's brutalist regime, we managed to ensure the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood and still more radical elements of Egypt's constellation of political Islam-motivated groups, who are now something less than our friends. And no, I'm not talking about Libya—I'm talking about Syria (read the article). Hence "another," Libya being the first. I'm not advocating isolationism (as if we've ever been isolationist anyway, since we've worn big pants post-WW1). I'm advocating diplomacy and humanitarian aid in lieu of bombs and bullets; I'm advocating a major investment in the capacity of our State Department and a divestment from our military. I'm advocating a culture of fixing our own problems first before we attempt to fix the "existential" problems of others. I'm arguing that American intervention—as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Vietnam, Israel-Palestine, etc.—creates false power dynamics that prolong and complicate conflicts. I'm advocating that we grant autonomy and agency to the citizens of the world and stop pretending that we know better than they do, or that it's our white man's burden to fix their problems. Because, guess what, it never works.

Jack: Some top CIA terrorism analysts of all people have more or less said what Elliott is saying. American Exceptionalism isn't exceptionally good, and in the end no matter how unpallatable it may be all nations are responsible for taking care of their own domestic problems. We are not world police

Jack: Also my Kony comment was totally sarcastic. I think it's a perfect example of how dangerous and expensive counterinsurgency wars start.

Elliott: I think you're right Jack. It's interesting to me that one of the reasons Democrats supported expansion of the Afghan war was out of fear that abandoning Afghanistan would throw Afghanistan's women back into the clutches of the Taliban. As if spreading the insurgency to far-flung corners of hitherto peaceful Afghanistan (Kunduz, Baghlan, etc.) made Afghanistan safer for women, or for anyone else? Civilian casualties skyrocketed. So did US casualties and US debt.

Paul: Spent three weeks in Syria. "Israel and its American puppets are allied with Assad." When I mentioned the US interest in weakening Hezbollah and Iran I was kicked out of Free Syria. Many of the Free Syrian Army have lost family fighting against the US in Iraq. The Jihadist group I spent a night with called the Taliban brothers. They don't probably hate the US. They do. Proceed accordingly.

Chris Adell: i'm not a pre-iraq necon, i'm a post-libya liberal interventionist. i'm not advocating we unilaterally invade and replace a regime with an occupation, i'm advocating we support a rebelling population against a genocidal autocrat. surely you can see that syria parallels libya much more than it does iraq.

the u.s. has and in many ways still has a miserable foreign policy in the middle east. it fails to recognize that to the extent that it fights for the individual liberty of americans at the expense of others, it can count on endless reactionary conflicts that radicalize populations against america (blowback). but to the extent that america fights for the individual liberty of all and articulates that, it can count on massively outgunning threats in the battle for hearts and minds (libya).

that the u.s. has gotten foreign policy wrong so often in the past does not mean the u.s. can't and shouldn't start getting it right now. that self-interested interventions have failed in the past does not mean all interventions fail. i'll agree with "it never works" in those self-interested and misguided cases such as iraq, operation ajax, etc. but i will not agree that intervention never works. the gulf war, the kosovo war, and libya are all success stories. syria would be one, too.

Elliott: Chris, do you know who the rebels are? Are you so naive as to think that just because Assad is a bad guy that his various enemies are saints? I would not agree that Syria parallels Libya more than Iraq—on the contrary! Syria is ethnically and economically diverse and has long had a Sunni majority ruled by a tiny, nominally Shiite minority; in that way, Syria is much more like Iraq than Libya (Iraq's Sunni ruling class ruled over a large Shiite majority and Kurdish + Turkmen minorities). By contrast, Libya's tribes are fractured, but they are fairly homogeneous in terms of economic status and religion. Syria is a Pandora's box of competing interests linked to outside stakeholders (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Turkey), at the crossroads of the Sunni and Shiite spheres of influence, far more strategically important than Libya. Hello—that's why it was a no-brainer to bomb Libya, for trigger happy NATO, but no one wants to touch Syria with a ten foot pole. America should fight for the individual liberty of all through soft power and by example, not by bombing other peoples' dictators. And how can we say we fight for the individual liberty of all when we supported men like Mubarak and the Shah until the bitter, bitter end? When we have prisoners held without being charged for years in Guantanamo Bay? When we kill hundreds of civilians with drone strikes in Pakistan? When we ensured the murders of tens of thousands by bolstering the most nefarious dictatorships in Latin America? "Getting foreign policy right" henceforth means leading by example, not by the sharp end of the spear. You cannot compare Syria to the Balkans (and by the way, the majority of the killing had already happened there by the time we intervened, and there are plenty of folks there who don't think American intervention worked out so well for them, and it's WAY to early to decide how Libya will work out, which, by the way, is a tiny country with a tiny population and abundant natural resources). I'm not sure you've given enough thought to what's at stake in a post-Assad Syria, and I do not mean to imply that I want to see Assad hang on, only that I think we need to let the Syrians fight their own revolution and allow an organic balance of power to rise from the ashes.

Chris Adell: i've spent a fair amount of time trying to answer "who the rebels are?" but no, i don't because no one does. anyone who says they know who is dominant in an admittedly amorphous and multifaceted group doesn't know what they're talking about.

that said, i wouldn't advocate intervention without first having studied the leadership of the free syrian army and syrian national council. the muslim brotherhood is well represented, but would not necessarily be dominant. on the ground, syria is much more susceptible to jihadist infiltration than other arab uprisings, which is actually one of the reasons i support intervention. time is on their side, and the longer we wait, the more radical and jihadist the rebels become. (and the more clout the MB has on the council, if the SNC is even relevant by the time this is all over.)

demographically, syria is neither like libya or iraq, but i wasn't speaking demographically. i was speaking about the parallel contexts for military intervention.

about the previous foreign policy failures, aka american support for tyrants, america will surely and rightly be received with the utmost skepticism by the arab street, but again, that the u.s. has gotten foreign policy wrong so often in the past does not mean the u.s. can't and shouldn't start getting it right now. and getting it right means both leading by example and carrying a big stick, or a big spear in your metaphor, and knowing when to use it.

i in no way was attempting to compare syria to the balkans, that was merely an counterfactual to your assertion that "it never works."

what is "organic" or "unorganic" balance of power is a senseless term with no regard for individual liberty. sometimes granting autonomy and agency to the citizens of the world means shifting the balance of power, and in those cases, i'm all for it.

Elliott: Chris, you sound like a DC wonk. Perhaps it's time for you to fly over to the Middle East and spend some time on actual Arab streets. Get a sense of how folks in the Middle East feel about US military intervention. Get a sense of how folks in the Middle East feel about the United States, period. While you're at it, spend some time with the US military and learn about the backbreaking, heartbreaking, and heretofore futile work of "delivering freedom to the world." Then come back and tell me that you think we ought to go bomb Assad's troops.

Chris Adell: the ultimate ad hominem trump card. you're right, then. i know nothing.

Elliott: Honestly you sound like Chris Hitchens, who for all of his brilliance let his ego get the best of him and provided frighteningly sound moral justification for Bush's war in Iraq. Sorry, but you simply can't protect people by bombing them.

Chris Adell: i'm flattered by the comparison. the consequences of a syrian intervention are all hypothetical suppositions so i can't say you're definitely right or wrong, but i wouldn't provoke you if i didn't appreciate your take. i'll leave it there.

Elliott: I wouldn't say it's an ad hominem trump card. It's just a pretty good idea to talk "to" the people that you're talking "for." I've spent much of the past four years in the Middle East, and another chunk of the last decade either in or alongside the military. So, if it's a trump card, it's not because it's ad hominem, it's just because it's true.

Chris Adell: fair enough.

Jack: I just don't want the government to have a reason for me to get recalled. Syria, figure your stuff out on your own because I have shit to do.