Syria, Policy, and Strategy

Syria_Ethno-religious_composition.

Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Carter indicated that additional troops might be deployed to Syria in the future. Secretary Carter’s remarks were highly nuanced. He made it clear that any additional US Forces going to Syria would be contingent on identifying legitimate host country partners to partner with. This discussion of potential deployment of troops, however, misses something important: what is the strategic objective we are trying to achieve?

Unless or until someone can clearly articulate what the objective is for Syria, then everything else being suggested is simply tactical whack a mole! I have yet to see anyone, American elected or appointed official, European elected or appointed official, pundits, commentators, the Syrians themselves, explain just what the goal is: beyond removing Assad. And removing Assad is not the objective, it is a way to the end. Until someone can delineate what happens once the fighting stops, we do not have a coherent policy. The same goes for dealing with the related mess in Iraq.

And without a coherent policy we cannot have a successful strategy. As a close friend and colleague likes to say: “policy cannot ask of strategy what policy will not provide.” These issues go to an important question that is all too often not asked: what does it take to win the peace? Winning on the battlefield is, comparatively, easy: find the enemy, fix them in place, and reduce their capacity/capability to continue to fight. This is easier, provided you have the numbers, the will, and the logistics in a conventional interstate war. It is far harder in an irregular conflict where war is being made among the people. But in both of these the ultimate issue is what happens once the fighting stops. Managing the post conflict reality is really the hard part.

We had a highly developed understanding of the need to answer this question during World War II. After watching what happened with how World War I was resolved, and the inability of the victors to secure the peace, we developed the Marshal Plan for Europe and a similar plan for Japan and other parts of the Pacific theater. The result is that, unlike WW I, the allies not only won the war, but they won the peace. This was partially by enabling the losers of WW II to also prosper and to seemingly become the long term winners of the peace.

Until or unless we develop an actual set of objectives for conflict prosecution, termination, and post conflict redevelopment and stability there is little point in doing anything other than providing support for refugees and trying to contain the situation. This includes supporting our allies and partners in the region in dealing with the refugee and extremism/terrorism situations that they are facing. Without a coherent description of what Syria and Iraq ultimately should become, and without actual, reliable host country partners to provide that vision to us and to work with us to achieve it, there will be no resolution to the Syrian Civil War and the Iraqi conflict.






153 replies
  1. 1
    Pogonip says:

    Are you sure the objective isn’t to keep the MIC going?

  2. 2
    benw says:

    I guess it goes without saying that “the Syrians will welcome us with open arms” is not a coherent policy.

  3. 3
    Anthony says:

    @Pogonip: Most of the stuff we use in special forces operations are boring low margin weapons. The MIC makes most of its money from giant masturbatory defense platforms that we’ll never use like the F-22.

  4. 4
    Cacti says:

    Jihadists and jack-booted Novorossiyan fascists are now killing each other over Syria.

    Why stop them?

  5. 5
    Betty Cracker says:

    Well reasoned and well said. I get the feeling the Obama administration absolutely does not want to get dragged into the Syria morass but is being pulled in bit by bit to play whack-a-mole.

  6. 6
    Cacti says:

    @Anthony:

    Most of the stuff we use in special forces operations are boring low margin weapons. The MIC makes most of its money from giant masturbatory defense platforms that we’ll never use like the F-22.

    Along those lines, the most effective combat aircraft we’ve had since 1950 has been the A-10, and each one cost $13 million at the height of production.

    But close air support isn’t sexy, and so the Air Force has been trying their damndest to get rid of it for 4-decades, finally succeeding the with the laughable 148 million dollar F-35.

  7. 7
    piratedan7 says:

    The steps taken make me wonder if we’re not going to help make a play for a national kurdish state being brokered diplomatically somehow… witnessed by the only folks that seem to halfway have their act together in the Mission Accomplished segment of this byplay were the Kurds, the latest military Op to swat ISIL was jointly undertaken by the Kurds and our one soldier died in support of their efforts, I would posit that this makes them a de facto ally. Granted, the Iraqis and the Turks (and most likely the Syrians aren’t fond of them but we could be setting ourselves up with the creation of a psuedo pro western state based on their ethnicity. Granted this is all just spitballing, but with everything else morphing into sectarian slaughter no matter the players, I wonder if something like this may be part of the long range plan. Maybe even some kind of tacit negotiation to split up into sectarian states where each group gets a place to call their own, be it the Druze, Christians, Alawhites and allowing themselves to self govern under some sort of UN monitored plebescite. Granted the terrain lines are incredible fluid, but so are the populations of refugees forced into being because of the conflict. Not saying that this will happen tomorrow, but perhaps there a way to still give Assad some way out, keep the Russian sabres in their scabbards and let those folks that want to run a theocratic despot nation model the ability to do so with the possibility of getting folks out of the way.

  8. 8
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @Cacti: I think you missed the bit where Putin in a Whitey Bulger move is bombing everybody BUT ISIS, you know, the nastier pig fuckers on the chess board except for Assad himself.

  9. 9
    HinTN says:

    TL:DR After Bosnia, the anti-interventionist in me was “persuaded” that the same “help the people against the brutal thug” scenario was in play in Iraq, do I went along with it. Wrong! Completely different circumstances. My question is, now that we’ve broken it and the genie is out of the bottle, WTF is the right thing to do?

  10. 10
    Brachiator says:

    And removing Assad is not the objective, it is a way to the end.

    Removing Assad is not even an objective. Haven’t the Russians decided that Assad is their homie?

    Right now, hasn’t whatever policy had been declared by the US and its allies been countered and neutralized by Russian actions?

    Until or unless we develop an actual set of objectives for conflict prosecution, termination, and post conflict redevelopment and stability there is little point in doing anything other than providing support for refugees and trying to contain the situation

    What does this even mean in the absence of any group that could form a stable government if Assad were removed?

    And what does support for refugees mean? The only thing that is happening is that the US watches and does nothing as people flee the region. And a few weeks ago, this was the situation on the ground:

    According to UN figures, more than 4 million Syrians have fled the country since the civil war began, with another 7.6 million displaced inside Syria. “This is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. The EU recently called emergency talks to discuss the wildly escalating migrant crisis, which has reached “unprecedented proportions.”

    More than 300,000 refugees from Africa and the Middle East have entered Europe since January—already more than in the entirety of 2014—and over 2,500 have died trying. Although Angela Merkel recently loosened Germany’s asylum rules (the country expects to take in 800,000 this year), the UK has continually resisted taking in significant numbers of refugees, causing some strain between the two governments.

    Helping the refugees appears to mean assisting in the depopulation of their country.

    Should the policy then be to try to empty out every refugee camp and to install these people as citizens in whatever countries will have them? Simply setting them up in semi-permanent shanty towns is not humane.

  11. 11
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @piratedan7: They couldn’t even do a UN monitored partition of Palestine successfully so what makes you think a far more complicated situation is going to resolve itself that way now?

    The UN is the world, and the world sucks.

  12. 12
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @Brachiator: I have an idea. France doesn’t want Syrian refugees in France; fine. Let France invade and attempt to occupy and administer ISIS controlled zones.

  13. 13
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @Cacti: What we should get rid of is the Air Force.

  14. 14

    The big problem in by Syria and Iraq is that the people there don’t get along with each other, and we can’t force them to reconcile at the point of a gun. A major point of having different countries is to keep people who may not like each other separated, and a country that’s aggressively expansionist can be forced by a stronger military to stop invading its neighbors. That doesn’t work as well when the people we’re trying to keep from fighting are countrymen, which is why partition schemes are so popular.

  15. 15
    Keith G says:

    And without a coherent policy we cannot have a successful strategy. As a close friend and colleague likes to say: “policy cannot ask of strategy what policy will not provide.” These issues go to an important question that is all too often not asked: what does it take to win the peace? Winning on the battlefield is, comparatively, easy: find the enemy, fix them in place, and reduce their capacity/capability to continue to fight.

    Sooner or later, someone who lives in the White House is going to have to develop and then enunciate what our security interest are in the Eastern Mediterranean and point east and south. If for no other reason than we need a concrete starting point.

    The instability caused by current Islamic extremist (regardless of how it was enabled) is a security issue. The more the instability grows, the more serious are the security impacts faced by us.

    Coherent policy and enunciated strategies are not sufficient for success (ie a better security), but they are necessary for it, since it makes alliances easier to manage. Further, such policies make it easier to hold our leaders accountable – which may explain some of why such formulations are missing.

  16. 16
    Fair Economist says:

    @piratedan7:

    Maybe even some kind of tacit negotiation to split up into sectarian states where each group gets a place to call their own, be it the Druze, Christians, Alawhites and allowing themselves to self govern under some sort of UN monitored plebescite.

    Once these religious wars get going, de facto partition seems to be the only way out (that’s mostly what happened in the European Reformation, and more recently in Lebanon and Iraq). At the same time, partitioning a country where the largest cities (Damascus and Aleppo) are thoroughly mixed religiously is a really horrifying prospect.

  17. 17
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Ultimately, this conflict is about people starving in a famine.

    Unless we address that, we’re only treating symptoms.

  18. 18
    HinTN says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: If we could just take food in there I think we would be doing it. Assad, ISIS, you name the cabin, resists because it disrupts their hegemony.

  19. 19
    piratedan7 says:

    @Another Holocene Human: well, the international players have changed quite a bit since then haven’t they, if not the players then the field upon which they are playing? Aren’t the Turks and the Iraqi’s interested in stopping the conflict that is sending millions of people into their own countries? I’m not saying it would be easy or elegant but perhaps that’s better than saying “fuck it” and ignoring it..

  20. 20

    @Cacti:

    Jihadists and jack-booted Novorossiyan fascists are now killing each other over Syria.

    Why stop them?

    I seem to remember people saying about the same thing about the Assad government and Daesh, and that doesn’t seem to have worked out so well.

  21. 21
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @Roger Moore: Kerry and Obama have made it clear that they think Syria can only be solved through diplomatic means. Don’t expect those two to willingly ramp up a ground war, in other words.

  22. 22
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @Fair Economist:

    At the same time, partitioning a country where the largest cities (Damascus and Aleppo) are thoroughly mixed religiously is a really horrifying prospect.

    This is the shit that has been going on for a century throughout the former Ottoman Empire. Somebody smarter than me could tell you why that is.

  23. 23
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @piratedan7: Too bad Iran and Russia have a vested interest in prolonging it, then.

  24. 24
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @Roger Moore: Assad helped them get stronger so he would be the only palatable alternative.

    The refugee crisis shows you exactly what the Syrian people think of that choice. OTOH, Putin loves him some vile dictator buddies.

  25. 25

    @Brachiator:

    Removing Assad is not even an objective. Haven’t the Russians decided that Assad is their homie?

    That doesn’t keep it from being an objective (or a means to an objective), it just puts one more obstacle in the path of achieving it. My suspicion is that Russia cares less about Assad per se than they do about maintaining their influence and military bases in Syria. It’s possible, if more difficult, for both to happen.

  26. 26
    Another Holocene Human says:

    Nobody has mentioned our dear friend and ally Saudi Arabia’s role in all this, bankrolling violent extremist Wahabbist groups like ISIS (and similar groups in Africa). Despicable.

    Can’t talk about that too much. Might hurt Exxon’s feelings.

  27. 27
    gratuitous says:

    And, once we have a coherent description of what Syria and Iraq ultimately should become, that’s a very good time to figure out if war is the best tool for achieving that outcome. I’ll betcha a shiny nickel it isn’t the best tool, which may explain why we don’t get that coherent description; why appeals to Do Something in Syria or Iraq are made to people’s emotions (Look at all the suffering people and fleeing refugees! Don’t you want to help them by blowing the place the smithereens?); and why the urgency to Do Something doesn’t brook a lot of questions and analysis (People are dying right now, we must act!).

    We keep making war over and over again. Something tells me that we’re getting the exact results we want, we just don’t say it up front for some reason.

  28. 28
    Mike in DC says:

    Also, if a prominent secondary goal is to destroy/neutralize ISIL, how is that going to be accomplished without sealing and securing the borders, to prevent reinforcement and reduce revenues for the group?

  29. 29
    Keith P. says:

    Isn’t Chuck Norris supposedly really good at this kind of thing?

  30. 30

    There are no good objectives in Syria – nothing anyone could call a victory. The best outcome is that fewer people die than otherwise would. Opportunity costs are measured in suffering, not freedom or other notions.

    And good luck compartmentalizing what happens in Syria from Iraq or Turkey or possibly even Israel/Jordan/Lebanon. The key to solving big problems is often found in making small problems much, much worse. Russia and Turkey have their own agendas. We can’t achieve any positive objectives when all of our partners have completely opposing objectives of their own.

    So, our choices are to either sit back and watch the horror unfold, or jump in, try and minimize the suffering in the near term, and then sit back later and watch the horror unfold.

  31. 31

    Punditubbies of the MSM tell me that the surge worked, so why are we having these problems again?

  32. 32

    @Another Holocene Human:

    Assad helped them get stronger so he would be the only palatable alternative.

    A slightly more generous interpretation is that Assad focused his energies on the rest of the opposition because he knew the West was going to attack Daesh for him, and Daesh focused on the rest of the opposition rather than the government because they were easier targets.

    OTOH, Putin loves him some vile dictator buddies.

    Vile dictators have a substantial advantage over elected governments that they stay around for a long time. Democratic governments are always being replaced by other governments who want to change policies. Also, too, it’s easier to buy off one dictator than a whole electoral system. We’ve dealt with more than our share of dictators, and preferred them to elected governments, for exactly those reasons.

  33. 33

    @Another Holocene Human: For extra fun, Iran has largely stopped funding Hamas, who is now getting money from Saudi Arabia instead.

    Don’t see any mention in the GOPs outrage against the Iran deal that we should lay down economic sanctions against SA to stop the thing that they are so worried about Iran doing.

  34. 34
    Bobby Thomson says:

    @Cacti: I hate to admit it, but I agree with Trump. Let the Russians create Afghanistan II, but let’s just skip the part where we empower the Taliban.

  35. 35
    Keith G says:

    @gratuitous:

    And, once we have a coherent description of what Syria and Iraq ultimately should become, that’s a very good time to figure out if war is the best tool for achieving that outcome.

    To me, one of the pluses of a detailed policy study and debate is to try to imagine what most of the possibilities might be and how well we are willing to live with each.

    If we decide that we are not going to become a combatant in a military conflict in (__Name a Country_), fine. What then are our plans for dealing with the result of that previous decision?

    What does it say about us if we have an idea of what the best realistic outcome is for us and our security needs, but we do not do enough to give that outcome a chance to be realized?

  36. 36
    gene108 says:

    This was partially by enabling the losers of WW II to also prosper and to seemingly become the long term winners of the peace.

    I think the biggest difference is that (1) the war mongers in Germany and Japan got wiped out, both politically and in the literal sense by either combat during the war or war crimes trials after the war and (2) what remained of the political apparatus was willing to share power, with other parties.

    Of course a lot of the peace, in eastern Europe was imposed by Stalin at the point of a Soviet gun, so the above does not hold, but it does apply to Japan and West Germany.

    Anyway, before I ramble on too much, the problem in the Middle East is a failure of the people in charge to want to share power.

    Assad could’ve avoided the Civil War by allowing for some sort of power sharing with the Sunni’s.

    Maliki could’ve avoided the mess in the Iraq by not freezing out the Sunni’s, but even upon the end of his term, he believed that he needed assurances that he would not be killed, if he stepped down, before he actually stepped down. The whole notion of peaceful transfer of power just has not sunk into that region.

    Iraq’s new President Fouad Massoum on Monday snubbed the powerful incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and nominated the deputy parliament speaker as the new prime minister, raising fears of more government infighting as Maliki refuses to leave office and the country faces the threat of Islamic State fighters, Sunni insurgents who have taken over large parts of northern Iraq.

    In a televised address, Massoum nominated Haider al-Abadi, who was selected by a coalition of Shia political parties, and gave him 30 days to form a new government.

    The ceremony came hours after the embattled Maliki delivered a surprise speech at midnight accusing Massoum of blocking his reappointment as prime minister and carrying out “a coup against the constitution and the political process.”

    Maliki followed his speech by deploying militias and his elite security forces in the streets of Baghdad on Monday and partially closing two main roads— popular spots for pro- and anti-government rallies — as hundreds of his supporters took to the streets, raising fears that he might use force to stay in power.

    http://america.aljazeera.com/a.....abadi.html

    BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s defiant fight to retain power in Iraq appeared to collapse on Tuesday after his former backers in Iran, the military and his own party all signaled that he could no longer expect their support.

    He issued a statement saying that the security forces, which he had deployed around the capital on Monday in what some took to be preparations for a coup, should stay out of politics. And the conversation in Baghdad shifted to how he would leave office and on what terms.

    The shift came after Mr. Maliki made several last-ditch efforts to shore up support, only to be confronted late Monday night with delegations of officials, all pleading with him to back down for the good of the country.

    SNIP

    Mr. Abadi also praised the security forces, which was seen as an effort to reassure military officers who may feel they owe their positions to Mr. Maliki and are worried about losing their jobs under new leadership.

    The quickly shifting messages — from a possible military coup one day, followed by late-night meetings and subtle public statements that carry deeper meanings the next — were particularly emblematic of Iraqi political gamesmanship.

    “This is how it works in Iraq,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. The message from Mr. Abadi to Mr. Maliki was, he said, “exactly what you’d expect: He’s reassuring Maliki, ‘I will not throw you to the wolves.’ ”

    One Shiite leader, who spoke anonymously about the confidential negotiations, said Mr. Maliki was “calm now and realizes that all his friends left him and joined the other camp.”

    “If Maliki accepts backing Abadi,” he added, “and wants to be part of the team that forms the government, this will be his way to save face and keep his prestige as a top Shiite leader.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08......html?_r=0

    Until folks in that part of the world can wrap their heads around the idea of peaceful transition of power, without fear the incoming bosses will wipe out the out going bosses, it’ll be hard to get any lasting changes to stick.

  37. 37
    The Pale Scot says:

    test??

  38. 38
    Mary G says:

    This is why we have to elect a Democratic president and push her (I’m assuming it’ll be Hillz) to stay the hell out of this mess. Any of the Repubs will let the military rush right in to play with their toys and spend some more of our young people/human capital for nothing more than to protect their budgets and prospects of comfortable retirement working for the MIC. Hillary is an alarmingly hard-liner, but she is smart and I don’t think she’ll want her legacy to be Vietnam III/IraqII.

  39. 39
    gene108 says:

    Have a post in moderation, probably because of links / block quotes.

    Anyway, Tl;dr version: Folks in the Middle East cannot wrap their heads around the peaceful transfer of power, wherein the new bosses do not wipe out the old bosses for shits and giggles. Assad could’ve avoided the Syrian civil war by sharing power with Sunni’s, when they protested. Even Maliki had reservations about stepping down, when he was voted out of power, because stepping down when you lose an election just is not how things are done there. You step down, when the opposition steps on you and beats you down.

    Not sure how to change this thought process.

  40. 40
    Keith G says:

    @Another Holocene Human:
    Your point is well taken. The Kingdom is not our friend, and worse yet, abets those who would harm us. In all senses of the notion, it is a family run criminal enterprise.

    Can’t talk about that too much. Might hurt Exxon’s feelings.

    Like any efficient pusher, The Kingdom (not Exxon) knows how to keep customers hooked. It has been very helpful to Obama. Low prices have helped the slower-than-usual recovery, have taken away some the pressure Obama faced in the Arctic and on XL, and has given Putin an economic shit sandwich to nibble on.

    So yeah, it’s not Exxon’s feelings that are the issue.

  41. 41
    redshirt says:

    I say we take off and nuke it from orbit.
    It’s the only way to be sure.

  42. 42
    BobS says:

    Mr. Silverman, it may be outside your field of expertise, but what is the legal basis for a US presence in Syria (with respect to international law), and how is it any more — or less — legitimate than the Bush administration invasion of Iraq?

  43. 43

    I would also point out how notoriously hard it is to resolve a civil war from the outside (as opposed to WWII where you had unambiguously conquered nations under a unified government). We have hardly even resolved our own civil war a century and a half later.

  44. 44
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @Roger Moore: The last paragraph, yes, yes, yes to all of that.

  45. 45

    @redshirt: That is probably not too far removed from every likely outcome anyway.

  46. 46
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @🚸 Martin: I did not know that. Hilarious, in a black humor sort of way.

  47. 47
    Srv says:

    Merkler’s only hope is Putin, because our neoliberal neocons have no clue what they’re doing.

  48. 48
    Keith G says:

    @BobS: I’m part of the group who thinks that there is no legal basis now. Unfortunately, Congress sees no political point in pushing the issue since it keeps their finger prints off the whole thing…so they think.

  49. 49
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @gene108: Well, the US didn’t fucking help one bit with their botched invasion, corrupt practices, and total lack of interest in helping/protecting democracy makers in Iraq.

    Iraqis were NOT a bunch of stupid, unlearned thugs. It’s very inconvenient to believe that, though. It provides cover for so, so many crimes.

  50. 50
    BobS says:

    @Another Holocene Human: He sure does, while on the other hand Obama supports the kinder, gentler sort of dictator one finds in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, etc.

  51. 51
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @Keith G: You know, you’re right about that, SA’s actions lately have been very … convenient for the US.

    But OTOH, human rights disaster.

    And there is certainly speculation that SA driving oil prices down was done for reasons of their own.

  52. 52
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @BobS: Unlike BobS, who is more discerning, and prefers artisanal shade-grown dictators like Dead Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.

  53. 53
    BobS says:

    @Keith G: My question was with respect to international law, not US law, i.e. the AUMF.

  54. 54

    @Roger Moore:

    We’ve dealt with more than our share of dictators, and preferred them to elected governments, for exactly those reasons.

    The other challenge that we have is that our tolerance for death and suffering is much, much, much lower than our adversaries here (and even our allies). That means we have a weaker hand to play than anyone else, in spite of our technical superiority. ISIS or Assad can easily influence our objectives simply by publicly beheading some people or rolling barrel bombs onto schools knowing that we do not have the resolve to respond in kind – we will not send B-2s in on Assads location nor will we start rolling tanks in on ISIS strongholds. But our puppet dictators or rebel/terrorist groups have always been more than willing to do this kind of dirty work for us.

    Democracy can be very expensive.

  55. 55
    BobS says:

    @Another Holocene Human: Sorry, I should know better than to come here and say a discouraging word about Obama.

  56. 56
    Fair Economist says:

    @Bobby Thomson:

    I hate to admit it, but I agree with Trump. Let the Russians create Afghanistan II, but let’s just skip the part where we empower the Taliban.

    This position of his worries me for the general election. If we end up with Trump vs. Clinton, or even Trump vs. Sanders, he’s going to be the one advocating the anti-war position that the Democrat voters overwhelmingly support. This would be a very bad situation for us to be in.

  57. 57

    @Another Holocene Human: It’s why I think Iran may be the entity with the greatest shared interest with the US with respect to ISIS and al Qaeda, and why I think SA is deliberately undercutting oil prices (to minimize the amount of revenue Iran can earn). Our alliance with SA is not delivering much in the way of benefits. I struggle to see how Iran is any more horrible of a partner than SA is.

  58. 58
    Keith G says:

    @Another Holocene Human:

    oil prices down was done for reasons of their own.

    As always the astute pusher.

    Low prices (as they are hoping) will…
    – put downward pressure on demand for more efficient ant more expensive transportation alternatives
    – reduce the likelihood of new oil field exploration.

    And so the Saudi’s hope to hang on to their market share. Of course the wild card for them is global warming and the push back against all carbon energies. It is really vexing to them since the long term issue is not about price. That really fucks with their competitive strategies.

  59. 59
    BobS says:

    @🚸 Martin: Doctors Without Borders might not agree with your theory of American exceptionalism.

  60. 60
    benw says:

    Way OT, but all other WH candidates now have one week to convince the FCC they are legit in order to get a free 12 minutes of airtime on NBC networks, to stay even with Trump:

    http://deadline.com/2015/11/do.....201615196/

    I’d watch the crap of 12 minutes of Bernie Sanders competing on The Voice!

  61. 61
    Brachiator says:

    @Roger Moore:

    My suspicion is that Russia cares less about Assad per se than they do about maintaining their influence and military bases in Syria.

    Either way, Syria as a Russian client makes discussion about US planning and objectives pointless.

  62. 62
    Steeplejack (sky-high wi-fi) says:

    Test. Need this for later.

  63. 63

    @🚸 Martin: Somewhat. Sure I see a person get beheaded on video and I freak out. I see all these people from Syria without a place to call home. I want to open every door in my house/town to them.

  64. 64

    @Keith G: That is a particularly stupid strategy if it’s what they are doing. Lower prices aren’t going to notably affect renewable energy – that strategy is being driven by governments more than the marketplace anyway. The only real benefit to lower prices is to deny revenue to nations that are oil dependent for their economy.

    Iran needs oil prices of $130/bbl to sustain its economy. SA breaks even at $100, but Iran is a battered economy due to the sanctions. Even if they can start selling again, Iran remains in dire economic shape. SA has enough reserves and infrastructure built to ride this for a number of years. Qatar, UAE, Kuwait only need prices around $70. They can ride this a really long time.

  65. 65
    Pogonip says:

    @Anthony: You forgot (very lucrative) training and service contracts.

  66. 66
    Keith G says:

    @🚸 Martin:

    that strategy is being driven by governments more than the marketplace anyway

    Exactly.

  67. 67
    Keith G says:

    @BobS:

    My question was with respect to international law, not US law, i.e. the AUMF

    Okay, I got you.

    A casual observation….Our regard for international law seems opportunistic, and I am being as generous as possible.

    That said, here is a bit on our claim of collective security made in 2014

    In an NBC interview Tuesday, Antony Blinken, deputy national security adviser, said the Syria strikes were justified under “a doctrine of collective self-defense,” because Iraq had asked “the United States and other countries to act against ISIL because ISIL in Syria threatens them.” ISIL is another acronym for the Islamic State. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, offered the same justification in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

  68. 68

    @BobS: I have tried on purpose not to talk about this. We targeted that darn hospital and attacked it. From what I have read it is horrifying. My grandfather gave a ton of money to Doctors Without Borders. It was his pet thing as a doctor. I recall going with him to medical conferences. He’d find their booth and drag me there and heap praise on them. They are rock stars.

  69. 69
    Cervantes says:

    @efgoldman:

    And to think: 30 years ago we were complaining about $600 toilet seats.

    $640.

    And $670 for $5 arm-rests.

    And $7600 for the coffee-maker on board the C-5 (in fact, specified to outlast the C-5).

    And that coffee-maker did not even come with a coffee-pot — that was extra.

  70. 70
    Keith G says:

    @Cervantes: For once the military didn’t even have a pot….
    Much less a window to throw it out of.

  71. 71
  72. 72
    Russ says:

    Just let Syria, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Iran,Turkey, and the rest know that they can let us know we are here for them when they get it all figured out.

  73. 73

    New feature in EBBJ: the annoying mouseover effect on images is gone. You can still click on images to embiggen them, it just doesn’t do that silly overlay now.

  74. 74
    Steeplejack says:

    Attention, front-pager! Got a comment in moderation.

  75. 75

    @🚸 Martin:

    I struggle to see how Iran is any more horrible of a partner than SA is.

    Iran hasn’t established mutually beneficial relationships with American oil companies and political dynasties the way KSA has. Replacing KSA with Iran as our local ally would thus hurt some American interests directly, while the benefits to private interests who might establish new relationships are speculative. It’s the same story that makes us too conservative in lots of decision making; the costs are concentrated and immediate while the benefits are diffuse and take time.

  76. 76
    Corner Stone says:

    @🚸 Martin:

    Iran needs oil prices of $130/bbl to sustain its economy. SA breaks even at $100, …. SA has enough reserves and infrastructure built to ride this for a number of years. Qatar, UAE, Kuwait only need prices around $70.

    That sounds really high. Any cite you could help us out with?

  77. 77
    Mandalay says:

    @Another Holocene Human:

    France doesn’t want Syrian refugees in France

    That’s only half the story – the feeling is mutual. Compared to some other northern European countries such as Britain, Germany and Sweden, France is not job-friendly. It has relatively high unemployment, a relatively weak economy, and bans refugees from working while their asylum requests are processed.

    France may not want them, but they don’t want France either.

  78. 78
    Chris says:

    @🚸 Martin:
    The other challenge that we have is that our tolerance for death and suffering is much, much, much lower than our adversaries here (and even our allies).

    I may be overestimating my fellow citizens (for once), but I’m actually not sure this is true. Rather, I think that if you give the American people a long, open-ended commitment to a conflict with no coherent objective, no plan of how to get to victory (or what that’ll look like), and no compelling reason why we should be there, then, indeed, the American people will eventually start asking what the fuck we’re doing and why we don’t just pull out. Happened in Vietnam, happened in Iraq, will happen in Syraq if we keep getting drawn in. But I’m not sure that’s a matter of low tolerance for blood or the price of democracy so much as, well, latent common sense kicking in.

    Just like it’s not a matter of tolerance for the locals. It’s a matter of lack of options. America can pick up and pull back to the other side of the Atlantic and Pacific – the people who live in the war zone and neighboring countries can’t (not as a national entity, though as the refugee crisis proves, at the individual level a hell of a lot of people try). They’ll be dealing with that shit and its fallout for the rest of their lives whether they want to or not, and they’re playing the hand they’re dealt.

  79. 79
    D58826 says:

    @Roger Moore: The Ottoman’s had the answer:
    1. pay your taxes
    2. supply your conscripts
    3. keep the communal squabbles to a minimum
    4. then we will leave you alone.

  80. 80
    TS says:

    @gene108:

    Until folks in that part of the world can wrap their heads around the idea of peaceful transition of power, without fear the incoming bosses will wipe out the out going bosses, it’ll be hard to get any lasting changes to stick.

    And this is exactly why no US administration has charged prior administrations with any criminal/civil charges – despite some folks screaming for same.

  81. 81
    p.a. says:

    @Keith G: and hurt ISIS/ISIL/Daesh which uses the wells it controls to finance its medieval state.

    The Saudis may actually agree with ISIS iddology (as long as it’s not imposed on The Family), but they don’t control these particular fanatics, so they work against them. Although no bombing runs by the US supplied and trained Saudi airforce against Daesh, as far as I know. Wonder why?

  82. 82

    @TS: See also Ceasar, Julius. The reason he crossed the Rubicon in the first place was because his political enemies were aiming to have him exiled or killed as soon as his proconsulship was done.

  83. 83
    rikyrah says:

    Kentucky: Am I actually supposed to sympathize with Dennis Blackburn???
    Posted on Mon, 11/09/2015 – 1:06pm
    Over at the Washington Post, Amy Goldstein has a pretty good story about the Real People who are benefitting from the ACA in Kentucky…and those among them who voted for Republican Matt Bevin anyway:

    Dennis Blackburn has this splintered self-interest. The 56-year-old mechanic hasn’t worked since he lost his job 18 months ago at a tire company that supplies a diminishing number of local coal mines. “The old guy had to go home,” Blackburn says of his layoff.

    He has a hereditary liver disorder, numbness in his hands and legs, back pain from folding his 6-foot-1-inch frame into 29-inch mine shafts as a young man, plus an extra heartbeat — the likely vestige of having been struck by lightning 15 years ago in his tin-roofed farmhouse.

    Blackburn was making small payments on an MRI he’d gotten at Pikeville Medical Center, the only hospital in a 150-mile radius, when he heard about Big Sandy’s Shelby Valley Clinic. There he met Fleming, who helped him sign up for one of the managed-care Medicaid plans available in Kentucky.

    On Election Day, Blackburn voted for Bevin because he is tired of career politicians and thought a businessman would be more apt to create the jobs that Pike County so needs. Yet when it comes to the state’s expansion of health insurance, “it doesn’t look to me as if he understands,” Blackburn said two days later. “Without this little bit of help these people are giving me, I could probably die. . . . It’s not right to not understand something but want to stamp it out.”

    http://acasignups.net/15/11/09.....-blackburn

  84. 84
    Chris says:

    Unless or until someone can clearly articulate what the objective is for Syria, then everything else being suggested is simply tactical whack a mole! I have yet to see anyone, American elected or appointed official, European elected or appointed official, pundits, commentators, the Syrians themselves, explain just what the goal is: beyond removing Assad. And removing Assad is not the objective, it is a way to the end. Until someone can delineate what happens once the fighting stops, we do not have a coherent policy. The same goes for dealing with the related mess in Iraq.

    I just want to know who those “moderates” are that’re supposed to have it in them to install a government that’s anti-Assad and anti-ISIS and has enough support to stick around.

    @HinTN:
    TL:DR After Bosnia, the anti-interventionist in me was “persuaded” that the same “help the people against the brutal thug” scenario was in play in Iraq, do I went along with it. Wrong! Completely different circumstances. My question is, now that we’ve broken it and the genie is out of the bottle, WTF is the right thing to do?

    For full disclosure, so was I. (In my defense, I was still a minor when Iraq happened. Chalk it up to teenage stupidity).

    Big difference between Yugoslavia and Syraq is that the latter has no EU/NATO major regional power around. Since Yugoslavia was right on the border, the Big Brother wasn’t going anywhere and had a real interest in stabilizing the place (in a way that they didn’t for, say, all the similar ethnic wars going on in Africa at the same time). And the prospect of EU membership later on down the line was something the Serbs, Croats and Bosnians could be shown as a light at the end of the tunnel. Neither of these applies for this war.

  85. 85
    some guy says:

    allahu ahkbar Putin is bombing al Qaeda in northwestern Syria. The ground offensive against al Qaeda is proceeding slowly, but surely, and with the help of Hezbollah and Quds Force fighters the Syrian government can and will make headway against al Qaeda forces.

  86. 86

    […] Some kind of Syria policy would be nice. […]

  87. 87
    Chris says:

    @piratedan7:
    Aren’t the Turks and the Iraqi’s interested in stopping the conflict that is sending millions of people into their own countries?

    @Another Holocene Human:
    Too bad Iran and Russia have a vested interest in prolonging it, then.

    Near as I can tell, all the major regional powers are more invested in making sure the guy they really don’t like doesn’t win than they are in resolving the war, and “the guy they really don’t like” varies by country. Iran is more worried about ISIS, Saudi Arabia’s more worried about Assad.

  88. 88
    some guy says:

    @Chris:

    I just want to know who those “moderates” are that’re supposed to have it in them to install a government that’s anti-Assad and anti-ISIS and has enough support to stick around.

    there are no such thing, this is purely a figment of the imagination of Liz Sly (Post) and Anne Barnard (Times) as they lapped up the lies fed them by the Hariri press office in Beirut. there is no “moderate” rebels, there is Jahbat al Nusra, and Ahrar al Sharm, and ISIS. the official al Qaeda, the unofficial al Qaeda, and ISIS.

  89. 89
    sharl says:

    @Corner Stone: I was curious about where such numbers come from in general, being as I’m clueless on the topic (I assume this falls under the category break-even oil prices for OPEC members).

    It looks like this November 2014 WJS scrolling graphic covering FY15 (does IMF and their ilk define a fiscal year as 01Oct-30Sep?) backs Martin up, at least for Iran. Dunno if more recent information would still show ~$130 for break-even for Iran.

  90. 90
    Corner Stone says:

    @sharl: Not sure about the oil numbers re: Iran. They are a major NatGas producer which seems to be important to their strategic outlook.

  91. 91
  92. 92
    sharl says:

    @Corner Stone: A more recently published source says $72 for Iran. It says the data comes from IMF, and I’m presuming it is based on data-gathering methodology which has been consistent from year-to-year.

    A lot has happened in the past year.

  93. 93
  94. 94
    tybee says:

    dunno about the accuracy but from the last week in october:

    http://money.cnn.com/2015/10/2.....ddle-east/

    break even prices for oil

    Kuwait $50
    Qatar $56
    Iran $72
    UAE $73
    Iraq $81
    Saudi Arabia $106
    Bahrain $107

  95. 95

    @Chris:

    But I’m not sure that’s a matter of low tolerance for blood or the price of democracy so much as, well, latent common sense kicking in.

    Yeah, I agree that the voting public may not notice, but I do believe there are other agents that cannot tolerate it – either Congress or the WH, or the military themselves, or other entities with vested interests in the region or conflict. I think we are at a point where even our military cannot tolerate knowingly carpet-bombing civilians. That was not a problem in Vietnam and certainly not in WWII. We have spent tremendous money and energy to get out of that business and whether it’s a moral outrage by the voters or some Pentagon general that has pride of career or fortune from the defense contractors behind our precision strikes, there will be opposition to outright carnage. If nothing else, we believe ourselves to be uniquely efficient at this killing business, even if we don’t actually give a fuck about who is being killed. Its a place where american exceptionalism is something of a virtue.

  96. 96
    tybee says:

    halp! halp! i has a comment in moderation! halp!

  97. 97
    Cervantes says:

    @sharl:
    @sharl:

    Seems to me you want Table 6 in this document (PDF).

  98. 98
    Pogonip says:

    @tybee: Send in Special Forces!

  99. 99

    @🚸 Martin:
    I think anything that causes massive civilian casualties is going to be out in Syria because our motivation is allegedly humanitarian. Needing to destroy the village to save it was implausible in Vietnam, and killing civilians to protect them is not going to fly today.

  100. 100
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @BobS: So you don’t deny it, then?

  101. 101
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @🚸 Martin: I agree with your suspicion that low oil prices are meant to weaken Iran (and not for any other geopolitical motive). Would Iran be a worse dancing partner than Saudi Arabia? I find that hard to believe.

  102. 102
    Cervantes says:

    @BobS:

    Heresy of thought, heresy of word, and heresy of deed — and all formal, at that.

  103. 103
    Keith G says:

    @some guy: \

    I just want to know who those “moderates” are….

    We are going to make a decision. That decision may run from us pretending that we are invisible and trying to not a thing, all the way to us going medieval on their asses. I bet either extremes are very unlikely.

    So we are probably going to have to find or invent people who we can deal with. We might even call them moderates, although I do not think any exist there – at least not in the way we conceive of the term.

    We certainly are in a pickle. I do not think that there is a chance in hell of peace in that region growing from some organic movement. We might have a vary slim chance of peace if we could install several strong-man “executives” who would boost their effectiveness and chance fores for surviving by being the type of guy that we would fine repulsive – think Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on steriods. So that ain’t happening.

    If we learn to the “let it burn itself out” side…well it won’t for decades and the type of shit that will be spewing from that place will splash onto shores very distant.

    But this is why we need to begin assembling policy ideas and begin debate the sad, hard, and very fucking ugly choices ahead.

    This is the last big thing we must have from Obama.

  104. 104
    Keith G says:

    My comment above was inreponse to @Chris:

    But this friggen thing will not let me edit…..Tommy!!!!

  105. 105
    Keith G says:

    @Another Holocene Human:
    Reporting from multiple sources say otherwise, which is why I typed what I typed above. For example (my bold)

    Saudi Arabia is taking on more debt to finance its strategy of driving US shale and other high-priced producers out of business.
    In August, the country announced plans to sell $27 billion in bonds to make up for its budget deficit, which the IMF said at the time could reach 20% of GDP because of the plunge in oil prices.

  106. 106
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cacti: This is an excellent point. Provided we can keep things contained and mitigate problems for the actual Syrians, allowing the government forces, the rebels including ISIS, and Putin’s forces to grind themselves down is a good holding place strategy.

  107. 107
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Betty Cracker: They don’t. Moreover, it seems pretty clear that they see the political trap as well. GOP members of Congress constantly call for the US to do something, but both times they were asked to provide an authorization for the use of military force they voted them down. What they want is for the President to something on his limited authority, for it to go wrong, and to be able to use it for political advantage. I understand ideologically coherent parties, I do not understand playing games with something this important.

  108. 108
    PIGL says:

    @Another Holocene Human: Or maybe, the Russian Federation does not accept that the United States and it’s so-called allied have the right to unilaterally decide which sovereign nations get to experience regime change to suit their fucking whims, without reference to even the fig-leaf of international law provided by UN authority. The Russians have said as much, clearly and distinctly, the US has responded with contempt and dismissal of the international institutions it helped found after WW2. The Russians are not the bad guys here. If they are intervening in support of their interests, well why hell should they not, as the Americans have torn up the instruments of international conflict resolution.

  109. 109
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @piratedan7: The Kurds have laid out their boundaries. The lines they occupied on the Iraq side back in 2013 is where the Southern and Southeastern borders would be if they get what they want. The lines they’re working from on the Syrian side is where they would like them to be. All of that said, should they get an independent Kurdistan then they’ll set upon each other over who is going to be in charge/in charge of what, who will profit, etc. On the Iraqi side the major division is between the Talabani and Barzani factions, but there are also divisions between the Turkish Kurds and the Syrian Kurds. Establishing an independent Kurdistan is going to be a “be careful what you wish for” type of occurrence.

  110. 110
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @HinTN: Your question is a good one. And I don’t mean to punt on it, but that question is one of the most difficult ones to answer because the right thing to do may not be the moral thing to do.

  111. 111
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Brachiator: The official and stated current US policy is that Assad must go. Given Putin’s support I don’t see us risking an interstate war with a nuclear power over it under the current administration. You are absolutely correct about there being an absence or dearth of any group able to form a stable government. This is the crux of the problem – none of the groups fighting can articulate what happens on the day after and none of them have the ability to garner enough support to really give it a go to set up a government.

    As for refugees we should be doing several things: 1) taking more in here in the US; 2) providing assistance for our EU and Levantine partners, or coordinating that assistance from wealthy third party donors – be they states or individuals; to resettle those that have fled and get them as integrated as possible into the flow of life where they have fled to; and 3) develop a clear and coherent plan for how we either get them home or get them permanently integrated where they’ve resettled.

  112. 112
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Sometimes triage is the best one can do. I began tracking the Levantine drought and its effects on food availability in Iraq back in late Summer 2007. While it is accurate to assert that until we resolve the climate related drivers of the human geography problem of this conflict, there can be no real resolution the reality is far more complicated. Resolving the climate issues are a long term, multinational effort. By the time they’re resolved, provided we actually do make a good faith effort to resolve them, it’ll be decades from now. While we can walk and chew gum at the same time, trying to eat the elephant whole will give one a seriously upset stomach.

  113. 113
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Another Holocene Human: I did a couple of posts about that here a while back. Basically we’ve got a climate/drought induced conflict that was then quickly latched onto by the Saudis, the Iranians, and the Turks in their largely cold war for regional hegemony.

  114. 114
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @gratuitous: a military solution, whether war or Stability Operations or Foreign Internal Defense, are not the only ways we have to achieve our objectives. There is diplomatic, information, and economic power to be leveraged.

  115. 115
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @gene108: There are actually a lot of Sunni supporters of Assad and many Sunnis in his government and the Syrian military. That’s the problem with how the Syrian Civil War has been reported: neither side is homogenous.

  116. 116
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @BobS: Currently, as far as I know of, we have neither official US authorization or UN sanction. There is neither a Declaration of War, nor an Authorization for the Use of Military Force. Nor, that I’m aware of, is their a Security Council resolution authorizing intervention. That said, the International Committee of the Red Cross did declare it an official civil war several years ago, which does create some limited room for humanitarian intervention. We also have some moral requirements to be involved. ISIS developed out of AQI and AQI itself developed on our watch in Iraq as the official occupying power. Basically we broke it, we now need to buy it.

  117. 117
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @🚸 Martin: Third party interventions rarely go well. And because the third party interventionists can always redefine their end states and go home it is easy to give up too.

  118. 118
    Chris says:

    @Adam L Silverman:
    That’s the problem with how the Syrian Civil War has been reported: neither side is homogenous.

    Let me jump on that one – what do you recommend as actual good (English language) news sources that focus on the Syria/Iraq conflict? Blogs, newspapers, anything…

  119. 119
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Brachiator: They need to maintain their warm water Mediterranean port on the Syrian coast. It is their only warm water port with easy access to the Med and then the Atlantic. Its a huge strategic interest for them.

  120. 120
    The Sheriff's A Ni-*bong* says:

    @Keith G: You’re almost there. The shale oil boom has done a number six dance on OPEC and the House of Saud. They’ve gone full throttle on oil production just to keep their national economy from falling off the treadmill but they’re quickly starting to look like George Jetson walking Astro. And once the oil economy bottoms out, so does all the free money that’s been falling into the hands of middle and lower class Arabians to keep them docile. For what happens then, see the current state of Yemen.

    Which leads to why the Sauds are still throwing money down the ISIL hole, perhaps: A safety valve to unload dissident citizens as someone else’s problem.

  121. 121
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Chris: There are no Syrian moderates. I’m not trying to indicate that there are.

  122. 122
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Chris: Chris, I’m late in weighing into the comments as I got home after 9 and then had to eat. Let me pull some stuff tomorrow and post it in its own thread for you all.

  123. 123
    srv says:

    @The Sheriff’s A Ni-*bong*: I remember people saying that back in the mid-80s.

    The Saudis won. Texas’ raison d’etre is to go bust every couple of decades. Now we can lope in the Dakotans and Albertans too.

    The point was, Afghanistan was a place to burn through a generation. Now it’s Iraq and Syria. In another generation, it will be Europe.

    Fortunately, we’ll have a lot of millenials to burn through too.

  124. 124
    Cervantes says:

    @Chris:

    For starters: Patrick Cockburn, Juan Cole, Jonathan Steele, Philip Weiss, Charles Glass.

  125. 125
    BobS says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Thank you for answering. It would seem from your answer that our uninvited presence in Syria is about as legal as the Iraq invasion of 2003. As usual, one set of rules for us (which we regularly let Israel & currently Saudi Arabia play by) and our willing coalitions, and another for all those bad actors.

  126. 126
    BobS says:

    @Cervantes: Counterpunch, Moon of Alabama, Sic Semper Tyrannis, Daniel Larison, and Antiwar.com are also good.

  127. 127
    danielx says:

    This discussion of potential deployment of troops, however, misses something important: what is the strategic objective we are trying to achieve?

    Why, our Special Forces troops are helping the Vietna-, er, Syrians (but which ones?), Iraqis, um, Afghanis – fuck, whoever – to stand up for themselves, following which we will stand down.

    That seems to be the tactical objective, and it’s not working any better in Syria than it has anywhere else. As in all those other places, the problem is that our proxy opponents in Syria – ostensibly ISIS – are a hell of lot more willing to die for what they believe in than our proxy allies are to die for what they believe in. Not difficult, since corrupt governments are more the rule than the exception over there.

    Aside from that minor detail, everything would be fine – except that US forces have been engaged in combat on the ground in the Middle East and various other places for fourteen years, and the whole place looks a lot worse now than it did in 2001.

    Edit: “You will kill ten of our men, and we will kill one of yours, and in the end it will be you who tire of it.”

    – Ho Chi Minh

  128. 128
    Cervantes says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    The official and stated current US policy is that Assad must go.

    Yes.

    Can you see the conflict being made to end (or even pause) by any means other than a negotiated multilateral settlement?

    Should it be made to end (or even pause) by any means other than a negotiated multilateral settlement?

    Can a multilateral settlement be negotiated without Assad’s participation? Now? Soon? At some point?

  129. 129
    J R in WV says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Adam, thanks for the map of ethnicities in Syria.

    The large white area, a sort of semi-circle in the SE of the map – is that basically an empty quarter of useless blasted desert? With one dead-end road to what may be an oasis at Tudmur?

    And of course, as others have mentioned, there is a drought-caused famine, all the tiny farms are no longer producing, I imagine there are shortages of even drinking water at this point. No wonder millions of people are running for their lives. What else can they do but sit and die?

  130. 130
    Cervantes says:

    @J R in WV:

    The large white area

    … is largely uninhabited.

  131. 131
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @BobS: Not to sound flippant, but to quote Thucydides’, specifically the Melian Dialogues: “The strong do what they will, while the weak suffer what they must.” Not much has changed in several thousand years.

  132. 132
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cervantes: A negotiated settlement by the internal parties to the dispute under multinational auspices would be the least objectionable resolution.

  133. 133
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @J R in WV: When I got back from Iraq in late 2008 I did a guest post for Juan Cole’s Informed Comment on the drought and its effects on Iraq and what we were trying to achieve there. If I recall correctly Liz Sly interviewed me for an article she did about it as well. Professor Cole made the connection.

    Syria has more water than Iraq. As does Turkey. Those upriver are able to pull more. But I would think you are correct. The family farms in Iraq were bone dry, except for those wishing five kilometers or so of the rivers because the pumping stations were off line. I’ll try to dig some of the pictures I took while being moved about by helicopter and post them so you can get some idea what it looked like.

  134. 134
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cervantes: @BobS: Well you guys have done my homework for me. Thank you very much!

  135. 135
    Chris says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Oh, I didn’t think you were. Just venting frustration at the drumbeat of “why don’t we arm the moderates?” that hawks in Washington are all on about…

    Thanks, will look forward to tomorrow’s post. And thanks also to Cervantes for the starters.

  136. 136
    BobS says:

    @Adam L Silverman:What’s different is that we only do what we will because of our goodness and kindness. Or at least we do when a Democrat is president.

  137. 137
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @BobS: If you had become president in 2009, would you have just pulled all troops out of everywhere in the middle east immediately?

  138. 138
    Cervantes says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Not much has changed in several thousand years.

    Not easy to be sure but, if one thing has changed much more than any other, I bet it’s the level of hypocrisy.

  139. 139
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @BobS: Look, I’m a national security professional, or, at least, I am one when on mobilization orders (and no, I didn’t come up with that term). So I’ve got a bit of bias here, given what my profession is. We do what we do for what we think are our best interests. Whether they are or not we often don’t know till years later. And all too often they’re warped by our domestic politics. I think President Obama has done a fairly good job of trying to reduce our military entanglements in the Middle East and Central Asia and not get us into too many more. With the caveat that we were involved in the Libyan air strikes as well as in anti-Assad ones in Syria. Is his foreign policy perfect? No. Was George W. Bush’s completely abhorrent? Also, no.

  140. 140
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cervantes: I was reading something over the weekend, fiction. One of the two main characters, in a segment of dialogue that was a thought recollection made the remark to herself: “who has two thumbs and weapons grade hypocrisy?” I think that’s one of the best pieces of self reflection I’ve ever read.

  141. 141
    Cervantes says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    A negotiated settlement by the internal parties to the dispute under multinational auspices would be the least objectionable resolution.

    Supposing you and I think this, what do we do with Obama’s stated objective or pre-condition (removing Assad)? Is it merely a negotiating position, meant to gain concessions from Assad?

  142. 142
    BobS says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: It’s true that Obama inherited a clusterfuck from the previous administration –abiding by the terms of the SOFA was reasonable at the time. Libya, Syria, and Yemen are another story.

  143. 143
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @BobS: That wasn’t what I asked. Seriously though, given the fucked up world that Obama walked into, did he have any good choices?

  144. 144
    Cervantes says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    We do what we do for what we think are our best interests.

    Who you calling “we,” kemosabe?

    The problem with all these first-person plurals is that they (are meant to) conceal more than they reveal.

    They are used all the time but no one ever explains how what “we” are doing benefits, say, the seventy-eighth kid in the Bronx sent to die in Vietnam; or the single mom in Houston now working two jobs to raise her kids alone after her husband was blown to bits in Iraq.

    “We,” indeed.

  145. 145
    BobS says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Those are some pretty significant caveats when you’re asserting Obama has done a “fairly good job” keeping his fingers out of the fan.

  146. 146
    BobS says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: As I wrote, I think Iraq was handled about as well as it could have been given what there was to work with. As far as US military presence in Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, etc — end it.
    You’re asserting he made “good choices” in Libya, Syria, and Yemen?

  147. 147
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @BobS: I am asserting there were no good choices on Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

  148. 148
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @BobS: @Omnes Omnibus: Right now, the MENA region is a bit of a Kobayashi Maru test for anyone involved in foreign policy.

  149. 149
    C.V. Danes says:

    @HinTN: We either go all the way, or we get the hell out. There are no other options.

  150. 150
    Keith G says:

    @C.V. Danes:

    We either go all the way, or we get the hell out. There are no other options.

    I have no ability to testify to the righteousness of this quote. I hear this, and something like this, quite a bit.

    What bothers me about it is how over-simplified the “get the hell out” part is.

    I (and maybe, we) sorta have an idea of what “go all the way” means and the hellish conditions it will entail. How much rational energy have we focused on the conditions (1st, 2nd, and 3rd order) which will necessarily follow getting the hell out? Two years after getting the hell out will we find conditions so perilous that we are compelled to get the hell back in at an even greater cost?

    To me, this is part of why open policy discussion and strategic planning is so important. While the process is frustratingly imperfect, we need to do what we can to reduce ad hoc decision making. It seems to me that some of our decisions in re Libya and then Syria were made on the fly to address a brush fire without enough discussion (and even public debate) about what might be the issues waiting for us further down the road. and what we might need to invest to deal with those issues.

  151. 151
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    Dunno. I think our policy there is pretty clear. It’s just it doesn’t fit into the “USA Victory == Unconditional Surrender” meme any more.

    Obama on 9/10/2014:

    My fellow Americans, tonight I want to speak to you about what the United States will do with our friends and allies to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.

    […]

    It’s Containment 2.0 with a Slow Strangulation component and a parallel Negotiated Settlement component.

    Will it continue to be US policy after January 2017? Who knows. Let’s hope that the Negotiated Settlement is in place before then.

    FWIW.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  152. 152
    sharl says:

    @Cervantes: A much belated thanks! for that link. Time permitting, gonna try to see how business media outlets seem – at least to my eyes – to come up with different numbers despite (so they say) using IMF data. The differences have been in projected numbers (for FY15, FY16), rather than historical numbers that have actually been reported based on actual collected data (FY14 and earlier). My guess is that IMF doesn’t the license or luxury to get wild-&-crazy about how they do projected budgets, i.e., national and international political constraints necessitate that they stick to some mutually agreed-upon formula. Commercial media folks would not generally operate under such constraints. But as I said, I an new to this, so will see if I can learn something new here…

  153. 153
    Sam says:

    You ever notice the maps we look at keep getting larger? 2001: afghanistan. 2003: afghanistan+anbar+tikrit. 2015: Libya, Nigeria, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan. So we can start by dumping any and all “policies” tried in the last 14 years, to include: invasions, drone strikes, building up military clients and bombing campaigns. None of them work. The only time we had any relief at all was when we got the local tribes to fight the bad guys. Everything else made things worse.

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